Men And The Art of Faux-Listening
I like to call myself a domestic goddess. This makes me feel better when I have to clean up the dog vomit or wait six hours for the cable guy. While I spin around the house attending to such details, my husband goes out into the world to pursue what I’m pretty sure are crucial and fascinating things.
When he comes home at day’s end, I consider it share time. The way I figure it, it’s his house too. It would be unfair to withhold updates on the dog’s digestive complaints or the cable guy’s indifference.
When I show and tell, I have always believed that I have most if not all of Tom’s attention. This is because while he listens to me, he limits himself to one additional activity, such as watching ESPN—he keeps the volume respectfully low—or texting. For a champion multi-tasker, this restraint is impressive.
But when I told my friend Nancy about this she said, “Honey, he’s not listening. He’s faux-listening.”
Nancy went on to tell me that her husband Bob had what was, for a time, a foolproof system for appearing to be listening when he actually wasn’t. When, during a key NBA game, his wife would begin her litany of the day’s domestic events, Bob would pay just enough attention to pick up key words like “Radio Shack” or “groceries” and then skillfully punctuate her rant with a sympathetic, “Did you speak to the store manager?”
This strategy worked for a while, but Bob’s wife is no fool. Inevitably, she caught on.
One evening, after describing the demise of their dishwasher she added, “And I screwed the stock boy at Best Buy.,” Bob picked up the last two words of that sentence and, alerted to a cue, looked up from the Lakers Game and said, as usual, “Did you talk to the store manager?”
While this response to Nancy’s statement may have been oddly appropriate in content, it lacked the proper emotional tone.
Bob was so busted.
This story came to mind the other day when I began telling my husband about my run-in with a sales clerk at Brookstone. Tom was tapping on his Blackberry, never the best time to launch a conversation, but I was bursting with my story.
“So the guy tells me that a pillow is a ‘personal item’ so it can’t be returned once it’s opened. So I said that only when you open it do you know that the pillow smells like swamp gas. Who can sleep on that? He goes, “The smell will dissipate in time.” Can you believe he…”
At this point Tom looked up and said, “How do you spell ‘orchestra’?”
This led me to an “Aha!” moment: Tom was not faux-listening. He was just plain not listening.
What ensued was a lively discussion about the virtues of daily conversation, which ended peacefully, with the kind of promises that you know will have to be revisited during the NBA finals.
Anyway, domestic goddesses, beware the signs of faux-listineing and conduct regular tests, as Nancy did. (And if you end up with a smelly pillow at Brookstone’s, do what I did: talk to the store manager.)