Friday, September 5, 2008

Tips for Men

"What do women want?" It's the oldest question around, and virtually impossible to answer because women are unique, complicated and mercurial. All paranoia aside, I do have a few recommendations to help men avoid conflict with the women in their lives. I've been told by Cranky that men like lists, because they are straightforward and difficult to screw-up. Therefore, I have compiled my suggestions into a simple list:

1) Laundry - Do not do a woman's laundry for her. Women's clothing is exorbitantly expensive, and is generally made from unpractical fabrics like silk, wool, rayon and the ubitquitous and easily-shrunk "cotton blend." Nothing will get you into hot water (no pun intended) faster than having your wife, girlfriend, sister, mother, mother-in-law, etc find her brassiere and favorite (think $$$) blouse tangled into a shrunken, soaking pile at the bottom of the spin cycle. The only thing worse would be for her to retrieve these items from the dryer, after a 75 minute tumble on nuclear high. Unless you are familiar with the meaning of terms like "hand-wash, dry flat" and "line dry, cool iron", or my favorite, "dry-clean only," stay far, far away from a woman's soiled garments.

If you really want to help, extract your laundry, including any communal sheets and towels, from the pile and proceed through the steps of wash, dry and put away. Be sure not to leave your clothing in the dryer, or in a pile on the bed, as this will be perceived as only completing half the task, and therefore, not helpful.

2) Gifts - Chances are you have a special occasion coming up soon. Whether it's a birthday, an anniversary, a holiday or that dreaded made-up holiday we call "Valentine's Day," you do not want to be caught flat-footed. Always ask if there's something she wants. With any luck she'll provide a list (see note at top about the usefulness of lists), and all you'll have to do is fill her order. If she cannot, or will not, provide a list don't panic. Here are a few tried-and-true gift choices that will not fail:
  1. Flowers and a card (very safe bet for new relationships; add a homemade mix CD to kick things up a notch).
  2. Jewelry (do not give jewelry if you are not serious about the relationship, and/or are not willing to spend money on a quality piece).
  3. Dinner at a nice restaurant (not Olive Garden, Famous Dave's or the Outback - think something downtown with cloth napkins, where reservations are recommended).
  4. Tickets to see a show, a band or a game (only do the game or band if she is a fan; if she hates football, she'll see right through those Redskins tickets).
  5. Make dinner for her (don't touch this one unless you know how to cook, and are prepared to do the shopping and the clean-up).
  6. Take her on a picnic (have all the gear and food ready before you involve her).
  7. If it's a birthday, call her friends and arrange for a surprise happy hour at a bar she likes.
  8. TIP: For any of these suggestions that require travel, you are expected to provide transportation to and from the event. For those who are still confused, that means she drinks, you drive.
Here is a list of gifts NOT to give:
  1. Scented candles, or other useless trinkets.
  2. Household appliances (nothing kills the romance like a new vacuum cleaner with a set of refill bags).
  3. Books or videos about diet and exercise (she'll wonder what are you trying to say).
Finally, there is another element to gift-giving which men often overlook. Selecting, purchasing and sending gifts for friends and family on the man's side of the social calendar. These are your responsibility, as are any thank-you notes for gifts received from your friends and family. Do not expect your woman to take care of these, unless she offers to do so, in which case she is entitled to a gift of gratitude selected from the list above.

3) Groceries - Have you ever gone to the store, list in hand, only to come home and get reamed out for buying the wrong things? Technically, it's not your fault. There's a little thing called "product labeling," awareness of which is the cornerstone of the savvy grocery consumer. Food marketers spend millions of dollars on packaging, for the sole purpose of confusing, misleading and essentially tricking the customer into buying the wrong thing. Generic brands mimic the brand leaders in an attempt to steal their market. Low-fat, low-cal, sugar-free, fat-free, all are tricks to get the diet-conscious consumer to pick their product. Often the product is loaded with preservatives, sugar and/or salt in an attempt to compensate for the lack of flavor which results when fat, sugar and calories are removed from food. You may be thinking that the obvious solution to this dilemma is to simply call your spouse and ask for clarification. While not a bad idea in theory, it's best to leave this option for a last-resort. Calling her from the store runs the risk of making her feel like it would have been easier to do the shopping herself. Better to ask for brand names, and a detailed description, before you leave for the store. Let's role-play:

Her: Can you pick up milk on your way home?

You: Sure. What kind of milk?

Her: What do you mean? [Note the tone of annoyance that implies "You idiot, it's just milk!"]

You: Well, there's six different brands of milk, and at least four types of milk under each brand. Can you please be more specific? Last time you gave away an entire gallon, because I bought the wrong type. [Add your own tone of irritation that says "Aha! Didn't think of that did you? Now who's the idiot?]

Her: [chastened] Oh, good point. Anything 2%, prefer the Organic Valley, but if they don't have that brand, just go for whatever in 2%.

Start insisting on this level of detail for all list items, and eventually you'll even begin to recognize your household's preferred brands. Now you can shop with confidence!

4) Her Friends - A woman's friends are her most prized possessions. If you are lucky, these friends do not include her mom, or her sister, as that creates the double-whammy of an in-law and an interloper who is privy to the most intimate details of your life. Generally, there are a couple of rules to follow with regard to her friends.
  1. Always be a gracious gentleman in their presence. Nothing scores her points like having a good man. Nothing scores you points like making her look good in front of her peers.
  2. Never hit on the "hot" friend. Inevitably, there is one friend in her group who is better-looking than your girl. If this person happens to be her sister, be extra careful about following this rule. If you find yourself wishing you had hooked up with her "hot" friend/sister instead of your partner, it might be time for a break-up. Trust me, women are keenly aware of where they fall in comparison to other women on the looks hierarchy. She's spent her whole life in the "hot" friend/sister's shadow, don't make her feel inadequate in her relationship.
  3. Never, ever, ever try to force a friendship between your woman and your buddy's wife, your mother, your sister or some other female figure from your side of the social calendar. Women select their friends carefully. Each potential comrade is carefully chosen, vetted and bonded based upon a complex set of criteria. If she decides to befriend a woman from your side of the social calendar, be flattered as it is the supreme compliment. But be wary, as this friendship could be a strategic alliance formed for the sole purpose of intelligence gathering that will result in one or both parties gaining greater control over you and your actions. If you suspect this is the case, skip down to number six, and start planning your exit.
5) "Guy's Night Out" - This one is a sacred cow among menfolk, and for good reason. It affords men an opportunity to socialize with other men, where the conversation can be unfiltered, competition (if a game is involved) fierce and unapologetic and nobody orders a salad or discusses calories and weight-loss. A good woman will understand your need for this time. However she may envy you, and become annoyed if you make these nights of glory too frequent of an occurrence. This is especially true if she has recently relocated on your behalf, meaning her friends and family are far away and she hasn't seen anyone socially in several weeks. Same holds true if she is a stay-at-home mom, who has been on duty for the past 16 hours, and was looking forward to taking a shower without interruption when you get home from work. Then there is the condition that may render her incapable of understanding your need for time exclusively in the company of other men. This condition is called "lone-she-wolf syndrome." You'll know she suffers from this if she has ever uttered any of the following statement: "All my friends are guys," "Women are so boring, I hate talking about shopping, babies and diets," or my personal favorite, "Whenever I go out with the girls I get dirty looks if I have more than two cocktails." She doesn't bond well with her gender, and will not understand your need to do so with yours. Well, actually she understands all too well why you want to go out with the guys, and is hurt that you won't let her join you. The only solution to this is cohabitation. Once she has you (and your buddies) underfoot all the time, she will savor a night at home alone. If this fails, hope that she finds a hobby that involves drinking, or a group of tomboys that play roller derby.

6) hard to do. Bottom line: be a man about it. Don't be a douche and hide from her. This will just cause her to escalate her attempts to communicate with you. Be honest. Tell her that it's not working out for you. As in "I'm not in love with you, and I don't see the point in continuing things." Do not go into a litany about how annoying her voice is, or how much you hate her friends. If you have already met someone else, it's best to leave this detail out of your explanation. She does not need to know about the cute girl at your work who threw herself at you during sales week in Tampa, nor does she need to hear how hot the sex was, or how great the new girl looks in her thong. The exception being that this someone else is her best friend, and you guys are going to take things public. If this is the case, I suggest a politely written note (minus details of the hook-up) left for her on your way out of town. That's right, the only decent thing to do in this situation is relocate.

Got another one you'd like me to explore? Send it via the comments link, and I'll see if I can shed light into the mysterious cause behind the conflict in your relationship.