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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.)


9 Responses
  1. Little Sistah says:

    ha ha aha ah ha!

  2. Dave Kinnoin says:

    I’m busted, too, but not as bad as Tom and Bob, and I don’t give a crap about watching sports. I recommend that domestic goddesses not be so understanding and forgiving. So what if you don’t say, “May I have your attention” prior to gushing every detail of your day. On the non-attentive lover’s first
    infraction, I recommend you tackle him and demand that personal favor you’ ve been craving for so long.
    Good luck.

  3. Larry Portzline says:

    The stereotyping! Shame, shame. This man listens. It’s my WIFE who faux-listens. But since she works third-shift delivering babies at the local hospital and is constantly sleep-deprived, she gets as much leeway from me as I can muster. I’m not patting myself on the back (or trying to stir up the gender war), I’m just suggesting that it’s a two-way street!

  4. Sam Harper says:

    Very funny! And very true. Take it from an expert faux listener. xo

  5. Phyllis says:

    Wow, Jessica!!!! I’ve dealt with many faux listeners before which made me seem so insignificant. As if what I have to say isn’t worth an honest response or the consideration to listen. Doesn’t matter who the recipient/listener is even. Family,friends,boyfriends,therapists LOL. My new defense mechanism is: the moment the faux ears turn on, I lapse into full Swedish,German, or Norwegian. I figure that if I get a response it better be foreign. Oddly enough, sometimes it works. Thus my plan backfires :'(. At least their listening though. Usually the rest of the time I get a vague response like “Gee, I thought you could find chartreuse colored garments at Old Navy or Penney’s?” or “That’s great, Dear. Didn’t you say we’re eating at El Coyote tonight?” Where the hell did that come from? So, through my experiences, I tap into my inner “Rose Nylund” (Golden Girls) and just let the faux listeners have it.

  6. Submarine Mark says:

    LOL! You’re only now catching on to this? I have been so busted at this over the years it is now expected that when my dearest Linda chooses to discuss the days events, such as the very moment that Dallas’ J.R. is shot, I must mute the volume on the TV and turn my full attention to the discussion at hand!(I still don’t know who shot J.R. and please don’t tell me…I’ve grown comfortable not knowing.)

  7. Lloyd says:

    As usual that is another priceless article. I am not like most men I would give you my undivided attention, and I hate sports, I only cheer for the SF Giants, 9ers, Warriors, and Cal Bears.

  8. Okay, this was just damned funny and very well written. Guilty as charged…often (but not always). I adored the happy ending about the two of you discussing your needs- hallmark of a healthy marriage. Kudos.

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