Why Men Havenít Got a Clue

ERIC: Have you seen my set of spanners?

MABEL: Why are you being like this?

ERIC: Eh? Like what? I just asked you where my spanners are.

MABEL: Youíre always being like this.

ERIC: What? Wanting to know where my spanners are?

MABEL: You know what I mean.

ERIC: No I donít.

MABEL: Yes you do.

ERIC: No I donít. I have absolutely no idea what youíre talking about, and for some reason known only to yourself it seems, you are not telling me.

MABEL: You know where we should be today.

ERIC: [Thinks hard] At your cousinís wedding?

MABEL: [Silence]

ERIC: At your cousinís wedding? Is that what you mean?

MABEL: [Reluctantly, annoyed] Yes.

ERIC: But you said you didnít want to go.

MABEL: No I didnít.

ERIC: Yes you did. I asked you straight. I said ďDo you want to go?Ē and you said ďNo.Ē Youíve never liked her anyway.

MABEL: All right, I said that but-

ERIC: You also said that you wanted me to fix the lawnmower today.

MABEL: Thatís not the point.

ERIC: How can that not be the point? It is precisely the point. You said you didnít want to go to the wedding, and that you wanted me to fix the mower. Weíre not at the wedding, and Iím trying to fix the mower, only I canít find my spanners.

MABEL: We should be at the wedding.

ERIC: Why?

MABEL: Because itís my cousin, and we were invited.

ERIC: But you said you didnít want to go.

MABEL: You were supposed to persuade me to go.

ERIC: Supposed by who?

MABEL: By [very frustrated]Ö byÖ Oh youíre so useless!

ERIC: What? I asked you a straight question. You gave me a straight answer. What am I supposed to do Ė assume that you always say the exact opposite of what you actually mean?

MABEL: Doh! You men, youíre all so useless! You really havenít got a clue, the lot of you! [storms out]

ERIC: [To self, muttering, ironic] Well, that made sense. Women. [Shouts] Tell me if you find my spanners!

It seems to be commonly the case that men really havenít got a clue. They havenít got a clue, because women make sure that they donít get any clues. In the above example dialogue, Mabel was very reluctant indeed to make anything clear to her husband Eric. What tiny hints she gave were through tight lips. That Eric really didnít know what she was talking about made her angry with him. Poor Eric was required to be a mind reader. If he asked her later ďWhat was my clue? How was I supposed to have worked out what you wanted me to do?Ē then Mabel would probably not tell him anything very useful.

Certain readers of this article might conclude that I am a sexist fiend, and say that the above dialogue could equally well have happened with the sexes reversed. You, though, dear reader, Iím glad to learn, are different from that sort of reader, and though you might not shout it out in public, you know full well that this is a definite difference between men and women, and that conversations like the above occur 99% of the time with the sexes as represented. It really is the case that this mode of behaviour Ė wanting another person to guess at the hidden truth of what you want Ė is a female one.

It is not true, however, that women behave like this all the time. If Eric acted on the assumption that Mabel always meant the opposite of what she said, and gave her tea when she said coffee and coffee when she said tea, Mabel would get very annoyed with him. Similarly, when Mabel is at work, she does not expect the girls on the shop floor to read her mind this way. Mabel behaves this way mainly with Eric.

My theory is this: men havenít got a clue, because if they had a clue, theyíd fake their love of their wives. This requires a bit of explanation.

One problem men have is that they canít always be sure that their wives/mates will be faithful to them. It could be that a man is cuckolded if he is not sufficiently jealous of rivals and vigilant at guarding access to his woman. This is a direct consequence of the simple facts that men donít carry babies inside them, and that their mates are occasionally out of their sight. A problem that women have is that their husbands/mates might develop an attraction for other women, and that this might lead to the menís devoting fewer of their resources (time, money, food, attention, parental assistance) to their wives, and more to other women (or to hobbies such as gardening). The loss of a husbandís resources will lower the success rate of the children produced by the marriage. There is therefore a selective pressure on women to monitor their husbands at all times, to check for how much attention the men are paying to them.

If a man spends a lot of time and mental effort trying to please his wife, then sometimes he might accidentally or by stroke of genius manage to act as his secretive wife would want him to. If ever he does, she will be pleased because she has received a signal from him that he is indeed devoted to her, and she will award him many points. Though it perplexes men, it is nonetheless true that flowers solve a lot of problems. Alas, flowers do not always solve everything, however. If they did, men would soon learn to have many affairs, and to buy lots of flowers. It has to be trickier than that.

Mabel could have just told Eric that what she wanted was for him to realise that she was feeling guilty for not planning to go to her cousinís wedding. Then he could have rid her of that feeling, perhaps by going with her to the wedding. However, Mabel would not have learned much about Ericís devotion. She might have been left feeling that Eric might be annoyed with her for dragging him to the wedding. She might have thought that he was only doing what he was doing in order to shut her up. Instinct therefore drove her to be secretive about what she wanted, and to force him to guess. She is not driven to be so secretive with questions such as what the time is, but just with the things she wants. This sort of conversation does not happen much:

ERIC: Whatís the time?

MABEL: Iím not telling you.

ERIC: Eh? What time is it? I need to get to the shops before they shut.

MABEL: Youíve got to guess.

This does not happen, because it is not a test of a husbandís devotion in attending his wifeís needs, though it could be an effective test of his patience.

One major reason I have for believing that this is an evolved instinct, rather than some clever trick which almost all women have invented independently, is that if a woman is asked why she behaves this way, she cannot explain it. She is following her feelings, rather than some consciously conceived plan. Also, no woman is taught to behave this way. Girls at school are not shown how to behave this way in classes. Mothers do not say to their daughters ďNow remember to act annoyed if he doesnít read your mindĒ (okay Ė they might when Iím not listening, but I doubt it). Despite no teaching and no conscious understanding of what they are doing, women behave this way. Of course I am not saying that all women do this all the time. I am just saying that this behaviour is fairly common in women, whereas in men it is rare.

I think that the same explanation works to explain another human behaviour. Couples often find themselves having the same discussions/arguments over and over again. The wife wants something discussed. Eventually the matter is resolved to her satisfaction. A month or so later, she raises the topic again, saying that the matter is still unresolved. After another lengthy and unpleasant discussion, the matter is resolved again, often in exactly the same way that it was resolved before. The wife is content, until some while later, when the cycle repeats. My guess is that this too is a mate-monitoring system which Nature has devised to keep women vigilant.