Last weekend my wife and I went shopping for new clothes for me. I should rephrase that as – my wife dragged me to the nearest clothes store, kicking and screaming (in fact ‘bleating’ may be the mot juste here). We don’t go shopping very frequently and the few times we do, it serves to remind us of the fact that we have antipodal views on what, where, when, why, how, how much, and any other possible criteria associated with (a) choice of items and (b) the process of shopping. Long ago (when I was single) in my small and cozy little world, there was not much to think about when it came to buying new clothes, and decisions were fairly easily taken the few times I needed to take them. The most agonizing decisions for me those days revolved around which white shirts I should buy and how many of them I should buy on this shopping expedition (i.e., this year). I used to be happy in that world ... but then in my wife's big wide world of several thousands of choices in matters sartorial, life is not so simple. Apparently, apparel is a complex affair. And according to my wife, I have the dress sense of an aardvark.
We've been married for a decade now, but know each other over two, and have gone shopping together for (my) clothes, several times over that period. Has anything changed over time? Well, yes. I am less reluctant now, to experiment with pinks or with checked patterns, than I used to be. But I draw the line somewhere, and she knows that. Differences are quickly aired and understood. Sometimes even this is redundant – a twitch of my upper lip, when shown a disagreeable sample, is enough, though I may nod with hastily mustered vigor while making some positive-sounding noises. We have learnt to conclude these sessions at the optimal level of happiness averaged out across both of us. We emerge from the store pleased with what we have achieved together as opposed to walking to the parking lot quarreling over my quirkiness. To give you an example of how this works – we settle for the bright red paisley patterned shirt once in 5 years, and that works for both of us.
While getting in and out of trial rooms (the part I hate the most) and at various other times in the shopping ‘experience’ when I'm by myself for small slices of time, I can't help reflecting on yet another truism about men and women: that men aim to be as consistently recognizable as possible at every appearance, while women aspire to present the most vividly unexpected apparition each time. Over the years, I have developed more and more conviction in the belief that I've found the key to this whole gender thing – my own version of 'women are from Venus and men are from Mars' (I hope I got that right). It is about consistency and variety … about the excitement, versus the insecurity, of change.
It is as though men are saying "Look, this is me - the same old me you knew yesterday and the day before that, and the same me that will be with you tomorrow and the day after". Men want to impress upon you the fact that they are consistent and steadfast. They want to provide security through the assurance of no-change, and make you comfortable by making everything about themselves predictable – to the point of being boringly so. Hence they lead structured, orderly lives and their wardrobes are full of white shirts and gray trousers neatly organized in a row. Deviations from normal plain white would be to the extent of cream / light blue / light gray / yellow shirts; some pin-stripes and some different collar styles or cuff styles perhaps, to break the monotony.
Women, on the other hand, seem to be saying "Hey! Guess who this is – it's me! Today's me. Not the woman you knew yesterday, not the one you knew the day before. Which do you prefer? Well it doesn't matter because I can be all of those and more." Women want to enchant you by presenting a variety of expressions. They want to surprise you with a refreshingly different look each time, hinting at the excitement of change. There are two sides to this message if you can read between the subliminal lines: (1) If you don’t recognize me, then good – I can be ‘the other woman’ and in fact be all the other women (2) If you do recognize me, then perhaps I’m looking different because I’ve moved on? You need to woo me all over again! And this is not just about clothes – it is more holistic: it is about the appearance per se. The range of tools available to a woman to do this is ... well almost infinite! I could go ahead and talk about different styles of clothing, make-up, hair styling choices etc. but this would only expose my abysmal ignorance in these areas (I referred to moisturizing lotion as make-up some time back and got an earful) and would confirm my stereotype. I'd rather ’fess up to it in so many words, than indulge fecklessly in malapropisms of a language I do not understand.
To summarize: Men provide an image of consistency and predictability to women because they believe it keeps women secure and comfortable, and women present an image of variety and unpredictability to men because they believe it keeps men excited and in anticipation. If you want to test this out, try telling a woman that she’s predictable to the point of being boring, and a man that he’s inconsistent and unpredictable (caveat: don’t try this at home). Then try the reverse. Tell me what you get.
P.S. In case you’re wondering why we never go shopping for her clothes and you want to tell me what a chauvinist you think I am, let me take that hit up-front and meekly accept all of it, rather than present my (typically male) PoV and hopelessly try to explain why that is an even more challenging experience for me. What I do enjoy is shopping for things for her when I’m traveling, but that’s an entirely different story …