Valentine Validation: Give men a checklist for holiday bliss

Originally published in Home Style Magazine - February 2004 Early February always brings an interesting vibe to our house.

The flu usually has invaded our dwelling, while significant chunks of our savings have fled our accounts. Low gray skies and lower temperatures have driven our children in from the outdoors and to each other’s throats. And chores put off during the rush of November and December suddenly loom like the wind-driven waves of a winter nor’easter in the eyes of my wife, Stacy. It causes her no end of worry and fret.

Meanwhile, out on the horizon, Valentine’s Day blinks like a lighthouse on the jagged, rocky shore. Put another way, I’m pretty sure I have a problem but I have no idea what it is, exactly, or what to do about it.

So I turn to the expert: Dr. John Gray (after Dr. Ruth, before Dr. Phil), of Mars and Venus fame. His diagnosis: Generally, women feel simultaneous and equal pressure from all unaddressed issues, even if some of the issues are not actually important. Generally men, conversely, prioritize and weigh tasks, determine the most important one, and feel the pressure of just that issue.

Blame it on the Neanderthals: Prehistoric woman learned she couldn’t afford to focus on just one child, allowing the other half-dozen to be picked off by saber-toothed tigers, woolly mammoths or hedgehogs the size of bison. Meanwhile men followed a different evolutionary route (which, by the way, had nothing to do with refusing to ask directions — we chose this path as far as you know). The successful knuckle-dragging man needed only to kill a single mammoth or hedgehog. Then it was Grog Time™. Focus on one thing at a time, get it done, and then we’re done.

Squeeze both world views into one modern house and conflict ensues. Defusing this psycho-emotional fusion bomb has consumed more resources, person-hours and wood pulp than the Manhattan Project.

The solution, apparently, has come down to this: Change the men.

But most of us are OK with that. Guys (generally) want to reduce the stress on their wives. All we need is some training. Classical conditioning. Stimulus response. Like Skinner’s rats or Pavlov’s dogs, we’re pretty simple animals really, and we’re willing to learn.

But the best technique that pop psychology has had to offer women is the empty adage uttered ad nauseam by everyone from Oprah to Abby to Phil Donohue: “There’s nothing sexier than a man doing the dishes.”

Hah! Has any guy ever received that implied reward after doing the dishes? Ever? Has any man ever received a sugar cube after vacuuming, or changing the baby, or cleaning the litter box? Pavlov’s slobbering dogs could tell you this is no way to train an animal. All bell and no cookie doesn’t the trick teach. Instead you end up with a belligerent old hound laying on the couch, emitting foul odors and growling at requests to get off his butt.

Yeah, so, occasionally we screw up the tasks. I remember once joking to my brother that Stacy clearly didn’t think I’d remember to bring back a rake (“a high-tech, lightweight, adjustable gardening rake”) that Ken had borrowed. She even called on the cell phone while Ken and I were talking about it.

It was humiliating. It was insulting. It was ridiculous. It was about a 50-minute round trip when I had to go back to Ken’s house later that day.

But here’s the point: We have no idea what we’re doing. We want Valentine’s Day to go well — really. But evolution left us a few pages short of the whole story, and we won’t figure it out before next week.

So just give us the list. Tell us: Get these things done by Feb. 10 and all is well. Simple.

Of course, also keep in mind another old saying: You are allowed to tell a man what to do, or how to do it, but not both.

Do those rocks sound closer to you?



Chuck Hansen’s books are available at Nose-Sucker Thingees, Weeds Whacking Back & Cats in the Bathtub (a collection of humor essays) and Build Your Castles in the Air: Thoreau’s Inspiring Advice for Success in Business (and Life) in the 21st Century.