A User's Guide to Girlfriends and Wives

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It is Saturday, a crisp spring afternoon, and you're exactly where you should be: stretched out on the couch in front of the television, just about to watch all your favourite TV that you've recorded over the last few weeks. Opening beer number two, relaxed in the knowledge that the pizza you ordered is even now on its way. Nothing could improve this moment, except maybe a bigger television. Suddenly your girlfriend or wife enters the room and says,


What exactly do you think you're doing ?


Is this a trick question or what ?


Yes, it is. The trick is that no matter how you answer it, you will immediately find yourself driving down to your nearest home improvement centre, where you will spend the rest of the afternoon trying to decide the type of curtain rod that's right for you.


How does this work ?


It has as much to do with the nature of the question itself as with anything else. Women are expert at posing questions that seem to have no right answer. Here's a common example.


Do I look fat ?


There is no answer to this question that won't be interpreted "yes". "No" means yes. "Yes" means yes. "I don't know" means yes. "It doesn't matter" means yes. The briefest hint of a pause before speaking means yes, yes, yes. Most of us would rather go to the dentist than field this one, yet it may well come up several times a week. Your only real choice is to say no, clearly and immediately, leaving no possibility for any subtext, and making it sound like a widely acknowledged fact and not simply your opinion. This doesn't work, but all the other options are worse.


There are several other questions for which "no" is the only answer, and several more that call for an emphatic and unqualified "yes". In all of these cases, elaboration, justification or any attempt to be funny is unlikely to pay off. Consult this handy chart:


Just Say No

Just Say Yes

Unfortunately, many female inquiries require more than a simple yes or no response. Some of them are more like riddles. Such as this one:


Which shoes look better ?


Typically you're already late for dinner when your girlfriend or wife confronts you, with one pair of shoes on and another alongside them. This is no ordinary choice. It's a devious chicken and egg puzzler, the sort of choice that would lead even Hobson to say to Mrs. Hobson, "Whichever, you old trout !" If you pick the shoes she already has on, she'll think you're trying to hurry her. If you pick the other pair, she'll think it's because you know you can't pick the ones she has on. Some men try a non-linear approach and opt for a third, unoffered pair of shoes, but this is inevitably taken as either an attack on her judgement or an opportunity for her to attack yours. On no account suggest another dress. You might as well say, "You're fat." This raises the question of why she's asking you at all. She knows you don't know which shoes look better, and she knows you don't care, so why is she trying to elicit your opinion ? This is part of an ongoing campaign to domesticate you. As part of the same campaign, she will occasionally consult you about alternative table settings or new towels. In these two cases a disdainful and dismissive "beats me" should do the trick, but don't try that with the shoe dilemma, or you'll miss your reservation. Instead, suggest that she try on the other shoes, then tell her the first ones look better. This lets you more or less off the hook, as long as you don't raise a fuss when she decides that the second pair are better after all.


Where do you see this relationship going ?


This could be described as an essay question, since you're obviously not going to get away with snappy little answers such as "forward" or "upstairs" or "I dunno". Another problem is that you and your girlfriend or wife are operating at cross purposes here. She wants a heartfelt expression of your feelings and an honest assessment of your future together, and you want an easier question. There is certainly no point in answering a toe-curling query like this one without at least a rough idea of precisely what it is she wants to hear. Questions such as this one are a category unto themselves, i.e., questions that should be answered with another question. See how easily some of the more difficult leading inquiries can be parried through the simple deployment of reflexive interrogation.


Her: Where do you see this relationship going ?

You: Where do you see this relationship going?

Her: Do you think she's attractive ?

You: Who ?

Her: Will you marry me ?

You: Where am I ?

Her: What if I were pregnant ?

You: Are you pregnant ?

Her: Why ? Do I look fat ?


Whoops! We're in a bit of trouble here. You should have seen that coming. Try a more surreal approach:


Her: What if I were pregnant?

You: What if we were pregnant? .... (Cool, huh?)


Some all-purpose question-answers include: How much is a lot ? Why do you ask ? Should I be ? What are you saying ? Does it matter ? What's love got to do with it ? Are you talking to me ? (Note: Are you having your period ? is not one of these.) Let's try a math question. How many people have you slept with ? Hmmmmm....Now, you can tell her the truth, unless the truth is more than 12, or you can have a guess at the number she's more or less expecting. Like most arithmetic problems, the answer is a lot easier once you have a formula. This one should work as long as neither of you has sex for a living.


Number of people she's slept with + Number of people she knows you've slept with + Number of people you actually have slept with.

Add these up and divide by 2. If you round up to the nearest whole person, you should end up with a realistically healthy but not particularly shocking number. If the result is greater than 12, then say 12.


Why don't you lighten up ?


This rhetorical gem is used whenever you express your disapproval of shoplifting or speeding, or whenever you go to a nightclub and spend the whole time dancing to some unbelievable crap you've never heard and then go out and buy it ! There is no good answer to this question. You could draw attention to her inconsistency in this matter, noting that she doesn't like it when you act like a kid or when you act like your dad, (God forbid); then again, if you do that, she's liable to see your point and break up with you. Speaking of breaking up, how about this one ?


Are you saying you want to end it ?


Women, like lawyers, rarely ask a direct question, unless they already know what the answer will be. As for women lawyers, I don't know what they do, and I'm pretty sure I don't want to know. The point is, when a woman asks you this question, she knows you're going to say no. Even if you want to say yes, you'll say no. You can't turn the question back on her, because you have no idea what her answer is going to be. If you are trying to break up with her, you'll have to say no and start the whole painful process again. If you aren't trying to break up with her, then it's best to change the subject. Let's try something easier.


Notice anything different about me ?


Well, slightly easier. This question is of a piece with two others:


Have you forgotten what today is ? and

Have you been listening to a word I've said ?


Apart from being questions that are easier to answer wrong than right, they're the kinds of things women say in sitcoms. They are best treated in an ironic post-modern context, i.e., just say what Ward Cleaver would say.


Her: Notice anything different about me ?

You: New apron ? ... (Ouch !)

Her: Have you forgotten what today is ?

You: Of course not. It's Thursday.

Her: Have you been listening to a word I've said ?

You: That's nice, dear...


Funny, huh ? Well, it's not your fault if she doesn't get it. If she wants a better answer, she's going to have to start asking better questions. Questions such as:


Have you taken a look at yourself lately ?


This question and its cousin, the almost always uncalled for "Who do you think you are?" are ways of gently reminding you how much of a factor pity was in her original decision to go out with you, and how that decision could be rescinded if you behave in any way that cannot be described as abject. You probably brought this rebuke on yourself by mentioning that you reckon Brad Pitt is getting a little chubby or by speculating that Jack Nicholson doesn't have to wait until his birthday for oral sex. You're not really supposed to answer either of these questions. You're just supposed to apologise for your wanton self-esteem-having. Instead of apologising, just smile. Your manifold inadequacies as a boyfriend-nay, as a man-are a kind of revenge all by themselves. Next !


Do you believe in fidelity ?


Like most philosophical questions that seem to pop up out of the blue, this question doesn't pop up out of the blue. This general query about fidelity is in fact a coded inquiry about the extent of your fidelity on a specific occasion or occasions. Your response will also have to be coded. Consult this translation chart before giving your answer:


You say: Yes

You mean: How much does she know ?

She thinks: He's hiding something.


You say: It depends

You mean: How much does she know ?

She thinks: I knew it !


You say: Why do you ask

You mean: How much does she know ?

She thinks: Bastard !


You say: I dunno. Do you ?

You mean: How much does she know ?

She thinks: How much does he know ?


There are several more variations, but they're not worth going into. By the time she asks you this question, you're already in deep trouble. It doesn't really matter what you say, as long as you don't blush when you answer.


Let's look at an example that calls for more straightforward lying.


What are you looking at ?


She means, "You were looking at that girl, weren't you ?" And you thought you'd perfected that trick of keeping your neck still and just letting your eyes swivel. Obviously, the truth is not the best answer here. We all know that the truth can set you free, sometimes before you've found somewhere else to stay. It may seem easy enough to answer this question with a cunning lie, but when men are caught off guard, their ability to deceive is impaired.


Here are a few of the more common mistakes men make when asked, "What are you looking at ?"


Too specific: "The rust around the bolts on the handle on the flap of that mailbox on the north-west corner."

Not specific enough: "That thing."

Too good to be true: "A diamond necklace in that window back there that would be perfect on you."

Too true to be good: "A see through nightie in that window back there that would be perfect on you."

Too obvious: "Nothing."

Way too obvious: "That blonde babe over there with the big...I mean nothing."


Here's one that requires a little interpretation.


What are we going to do now ?


This one often crops up whenever some kind of emergency or seemingly insolvable problem arises. The part that requires interpretation is the mysterious "we" in the middle. This means two things: In one sense, "we" clearly means "you", as in, "What are you going to do now," but there is also a sense of "we're in this together," implying that you bear equal responsibility for the fact that she's just dropped her keys down a grate, or that she stores her jack and spare tyre in her garage so they won't get stolen.


In such situations you'll probably find that the only answer to "What are we going to do now?" that you can think of is "We are going to break up. Goodbye." Most likely you'll decide not to say anything. After which she will probably let loose with the rather ill-advised:


Why don't you say something ?


Whether you answer this one is up to you. There is only one question that you should never, ever answer. Keep silent, cower behind your Fifth Amendment rights, pretend you didn't hear, run away, whatever, but don't say anything when she asks:


Should I get all of my hair cut off ?


If you say anything, then when she does get all her hair cut off, (and let's face it, she's already made up her mind), and she hates it, (and she will hate it), it will be your fault. Even if you say absolutely nothing, the best you can hope for is that she will come home with all her hair cut off, stare you straight in the eye and say:


Does it make me look fat !!?


....You're on your own.....




Household Chit H0005 (Husband/Boyfriend)





I request permission for a leave of absence from my home duties for the following period:



Time of departure


Time of return 



Should permission be granted, I do solemnly swear to only visit locations stated below. Nor shall I speak to another female other than those listed without gaining oral permission to do so from my better half. Nor shall I consume above the allocated volume of alcohol without first phoning for a taxi or ordering a Tandori. I understand that even if permission is granted my wife/girlfriend retains the right to be pissed off with me the following day for no valid reason whatsoever.



Amount of alcohol allowed (units)





Locations likely to be visited





Females likely to be encountered





Strength of curry permitted






I am a low life. I know who wears the trousers in our home, and it ain't me. I promise to abide by your rules and regulations. I understand that this is going to cost me a fortune in Cadbury's Roses and Flowers. You reserve the right to obtain and use my credit cards in my absence. I hereby promise not to sleep overnight on a park bench next to a tramp. On my way home, I will not pick a fight with a person who only exists in my inebriated mind, nor shall I conduct in depth discussions with said entity. I declare that to the best of my knowledge (of which I have none) the above information is correct.









This decision is not open to negotiation other than on my terms. Permission for my Husband/Boyfriend to be away for the period



Time of departure


Time of return