Friday, September 08, 2006

Blind man's bluff

Of all the apocryphal questions that women ask men - and this list includes such beauties as "Do you really love me?", "Do I look fat in this dress?"[1] and (after you've spent the night before getting madly drunk) "Do you remember what you said to me last night?" - the absolute worst has to be: "Notice anything different?".

Such an innocent sounding question that. So casual, so by-the-way. Like a gently tossed grenade. You smile. You say something like "Of course!" trying to drag out the words while speculation spins in your head like a roulette wheel. It's probably a new hair style, you think. But it could be new nailpolish. Or new glasses. Or just glasses (did she wear glasses before?). Or a new dress. Or new shoes. Or a new purse. Or a new outlook on life. Or maybe it's a trick question and there's nothing different. [2] Hell, it could be anything. She's still waiting for an answer, looking increasingly sceptical. You hazard a guess. Obviously, you get it wrong, thereby proving that your relationship / friendship is nothing but a hollow shell, that you neglect her, take her completely for granted, and don't appreciate her at all. I mean, how could anyone NOT see that she was using a new shade of mascara.

I don't get this. I mean, who in his right mind spends time memorising the colour, length and shape of hair of all the women of his acquaintance. What do I care if your hair is short, shoulder length, waist length, ankle length, third-vertebrae-counting-from-the-tip-of-the-coccyx length? Or whether it's straight, wavy, curly, or fluctuating sinusoidally? I don't even know what a split-end is (though I've always imagined it as a Hydra like creature - you know - Hercules the mighty Hairdresser's trying to give you your fortnightly trim, but every time he cuts a hair two new ones sprout up in its place), so there's no way I'm going to notice if you got them fixed.

You'd think women would be appreciative of the fact that one could see beyond the way they looked [3], that one didn't think of them as over-excited mannequins, that one actually cared about their opinions more than about their hair. Yet we continue to be haunted by this obsessive need to pay attention to appearances, to notice, to compliment [4].

Not that women are the only ones guilty of this kind of attention seeking, of course. Watching La Moustache the other day (it's a brilliant film, btw - like watching a French version of Murakami) made me think about the fallacy of assuming that just because someone loves us or is interested in us they must be paying close attention to every detail about us. The movie itself is more concerned with the question of whether the main protagonist actually had a moustache in the first place, of whether he's just hallucinating, but I kept thinking - so you shaved off your moustache and your partner didn't notice. So what? Is your facial hair really so important a part of who you are that her blindness to it makes you doubt her feelings for you?

Now if it was something truly important that the other person didn't notice - Like say, you were sitting in a coffee shop reading Dancing in Odessa and your boyfriend / girlfriend walked in and didn't ask you who this Kaminsky person was and what the poems were like - then you'd have a real reason to be upset. But all this pettifogging about hair and clothes and 'look' is so redundant. It always reminds me of those 'spot the difference' puzzles they used to print in the papers - you know the ones where you'd have two drawings of this guy standing on the deck of a ship and in one the island would have two trees and in the other it would have only one and there'd be some 22 other such differences and you were supposed to spot all of them. And all the while what I was really interested in was - why was this guy out there on the ship in the first place. Why was he staring wistfully towards this desert island with its one / two trees, with his cap / hat pulled down low over his eyes. Had he signed up with the Navy to get over his heartbreak? Was there someone on the ship looking for him and was he trying to avoid letting them get a good look at his face? Here was a man living through an intense and suspense-filled moment; who cared whether the funnel of the ship he was on had one stripe or two.

[1] A classic double-barelled question that - confuting the issue of whether she looks fat with the agency of the dress in achieving that effect.

[2] People who say women don't enjoy quizzing don't know what they're talking about. Women, in my experience, are natural quizmasters. They secretly hope you'll manage to figure out the right answer, but meanwhile, they love watching you squirm.

[3] In my younger, more naive days, I once made the mistake of telling someone I was dating how I wasn't interested in the way she looked. I wasn't with her because I thought she was good looking, I said, I was with her because I thought she was intelligent and interesting and funny and because we had so many shared interests. I spent the next fortnight having to apologise.

[4] Obviously, you shouldn't even think about offering honest criticism. Make an articulate case for why you don't like it (whatever it is) and you'll immediately be accused of having a negative attitude and being dismissive of everything she tries to do - all of which is linked, of course, to your own male insecurity which makes it impossible for you to celebrate a woman's achievement (said achievement, being, of course, her new earrings).


alok said...

I don't get this. I mean, who in his right mind spends time memorising the colour, length and shape of hair of all the women of his acquaintance.

actually nobody does. however, one would if one is seriously interested in pursuing romantic possibilities with that "acquaintance".

you are lucky, even your acquaintances expect this from you :)

Divya said...

Would like to know what you mean by 'apocryphal question' ? Apocryphal means of doubtful ownership or authenticity.
Not sure if it makes sense in this context.

Falstaff said...

Alok: now, see, I take the view that if keeping tabs on hair style is a prerequisite for pursuing romantic possibilities with someone, then it isn't worth it. (this might explain why I'm permanently single, of course)

divya: Apocryphal also means fictititious / mythical, which is the sense I'm using it in here. I'm not sure that women actually ask these questions as often as pop culture would have us believe - they're cliches more than anything else, though cliches with some truth to them.

padawan said...

you reminded me a lot of a very funny post about that stuff. do you spek spanish? i couls send it off.

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

Ahh! My sympthies. I always open the door when my husband comes a knocking with a 'Hello! Say you like my hair cut'. Or a 'Is dinner ok? Say yes or starve.' That way he doesn't get a black eye/starve and I exist in my happy, self made bubble. Unfortunately, this is not a two way street. My husband often leads me to our book/cd/dvd case and says 'So?' And I'm meant to realise he's ordered them alphabetically or by genre/year of publishing/colour of spine.

Also - pettifogging? I have this urge to say pshaw! :D PSHAW

Anonymous said...

"Do you look fat in this dress"
"Do you think this colour flatters me ?"
"Do you like to cuddle ?"

Women really are that simple - just tell them whatever they want to hear. One interesting thing you may want to hear is that women actually dress and look good for other women !!! We value the opinion of other women who tell us we look good. We know that the other men in out life ( especially Significant Others) really are not paying attention unless we sprout another head.

I love playing the guessing game - purely to see the guys squirm. Most women I know do it just to see that effect. The answer that will get you out of most situations - " You look good but I cannot place my finger on it. Hmm... how do you manage to always look so good ?"

P.S. I am handing it a hard realization that I am handing out useless advice on a blog.

P.P.S. I do not even know you so it makes the advice even more useless.

P.P.P.S I could not help handing out the advice when I realized that every like 4th post has something about you not having a girlfriend so I had to poke my nose in to help :)

P.P.P.P.S I got addicted once I started writing the post notes and am beginning to see why you like it !!

P.P.P.P.P.S Help I am out of control!

Falstaff said...

padawan: No, I don't speak Spanish. I'm assuming a translation's not possible.

shoe-fiend: HOw can you not notice if someone rearranges the CD collection? :-).

Also, come on, pettifogging is such a lovely word. It's one of those words where the sound conveys the meaning.

anon: Hmmm... I don't know. My own theory is that women use these questions to see how well you handle them - given that you clearly don't know what she's talking about, how cleverly / smoothly can you handle the situation. It's like the interview question where they ask you about your weaknesses. They know you're not actually going to tell them, but they just want to see how you manage to weasel your way out.

P.S. Ah, but all advice is useless anyway.

P.p.s On the contrary, giving advice to total strangers is the only thing to do. By contrast, giving advice to people you know is actively harmful.

P.p.p.s: Really? No, no. This post for instance is not about not having a girlfriend (or wanting one), it's merely a general observation.

p.p.p.p.s: Now look what you've done.

~N said...

are you running out of things to blog on? this was very generic and the theme has been beaten to death.

Rajesh J Advani said...

God bless firefox.

Dictionary tooltip

I think you should advertise this one. Your readers would be grateful :)

Neela said...

What kind of women do you hang around with? I think more Wed matinee shows are in order.

And darling, if someone told me he wasn't interested in the way I looked and it was all about my charm and intelligence and interestingness, I would lead him upto the altar in a second. Imagine never having to make an effort for the rest of your life. Never have to pick that exact shade of concealer or blush. never having to do more than comb your hair. Never having to choose dresses based on their fat-reducing perception rather than on their comfort.

Oh wait. I did lead him upto the altar.


Neela said...

You should think carefully about the options program I told you about (you know, you as insurance). I think you could do a Platinum version just for women who don't want to make the effort.


ggop said...

Quick comment to padawan - Use Altavista's babelfish to translate to Spanish.


Swathi said...

**nods head vigorously** agree with whatever u say..

btw, I was surprised that men actually notice the shade of nail polish that women wear.In fact it seems that it is an entire topic of conversation among my office collegues !! (so we need to remember that as long as there are men who actually notice these things, there are women who are asking such questions..)

Anonymous said...

I would think if you like the person you would atleast notice if she colors her hair green, or cuts her long hair short. Either ways, good looks is definitely a plus with intelligence and humor.

And definitely don't notice nail polish unless they are gay.

- The conscience

Anonymous said...

Anonymous above :) I think you are wrong. My male friends and colleagues constantly surprise me with what they are noticing. No man I know comments on how I look when I first meet them - but once we establish a comfort zone - I find they know when I am wearing a new outfit and if I do something to my hair. They may not notice if I change the colour of my nail polish but since I wear it like once a year - they always notice when I do. And that could kick start conversations about the color. Not to mention I think men gossip far more than women. Except women gossip about everyone ( even people they have only hear about) while men gossip about very specific people they are interested in. My 2 cents.

witnwisdumb said...

@ Anonymous: Gossiping isn't gender specific. I know men who gossip, and women who don't. And vice versa.

@ Falstaff: Ah, something relatively light, at last. Found the 'gently tossed grenade' really funny.

Gauravonomics said...

@ Falstaff/ Alok/ Swati/ Anonymous: Interesting anecdote. I noticed yesterday that a colleague had changed her hairstyle. Now, we work together, but haven't ever talked about things other than work, and I very tentatively commented that she looked different. She was so pleased that we are buddies now! So, you do notice, and they do like it, even if there are no romantic possibilities involved.

@Falstaff/ Anynymous/ Shoefiend: ROTFL! The post as well as the PS PPS PPPS part! I have Put Vote

Caffeinism said...

It's nice to see someone feel a blue eye liner, a drop shaped bindi and new ear rings are not everything...believe it or not I know men who try and get their gf's/would be brides change her hair style, her bindi all even if he has know her for say 10 min!!(this is one of those arranged marriage things)! So much of this has been happening lately that I had lost hope of ever finding a man who would put something other than looks(read what women wear) first.
Nice post!

@neela- but are you always dressing up for someone else? Is that how everyone is? I don't know.I mostly dress up for myself especially on days I am feeling low!It cheers me up :-)

dazedandconfused said...

Fal, you missed out on a deadly question-

"What are you thinking?" (To be read as, 'Are you thinking something about me?!')


Anonymous said...

Hilarious post!

Falstaff said...

~n: I thought it was amusing. As for the topic having been done before - what topic hasn't? At any rate, hopefully you'll find the new post a bit more to your taste.

rajesh: What? You mean you don't find my prose style folksy and simplistic?

Neela: Yes, love. But we've already agreed that the reason you're married to the Cosmo Husband of the Decade is because of the many, many ways that you're not representative of the larger female population. And while it's heartening to hear your take on this, I don't see that it helps me much, given that at the point when you were leading said up to the altar (doubtless with someone singing 'The Voice that breathed o'er Eden' in the background) I was still in short pants.

Don't know how the platinum version would work. I mean the whole point of the service was that women didn't have to make the effort in the first place, right?

Swathi / the Conscience: In my experience, whether or not nail polish gets noticed is a function of the shade of polish used. A change from a matt finish to a shiny finish is likely to go unremarked, but if you suddenly turn up with your fingernails painted scarlet, most men would notice.

Anonymous: Of course men gossip (well, at least as much as women do) - only they call it 'bonding'.

witnwisdumb: Thanks. If you want more light stuff, you have only to ask, you know.

gaurav: Thanks. Personally, I would never have the nerve to tell someone that I liked their new hairstyle. I'd worry that they hadn't actually changed their hairstyle and I'd end up putting my foot in it. I have really, really bad visual memory.

caffeinism: Thanks. Though I could find you dozens of men who don't care what a woman wears. Most of them, unfortunately, are only concerned with what she doesn't wear. Also, to be fair, I know plenty of men who wouldn't put appearances on the top of their priority list, though it would still rate fairly highly for them. As Neela would say - who are you hanging out with?

d&c: Ah yes. Especially lethal when asked in those intimate / affectionate moments.

zero: Thanks

Kusum Rohra said...

Hhmm I second shoe fiend about happily living in the bubble. I too am the kinds who will ask him questions and also tell him what the expected answers are. :)

It's perfect that way. * sigh *

And your acquaintances too ask you this? Then they have others plans of not-being-just-acquaintances, I am sure.

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