Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Man-time, Woman-time

Have you ever found yourself in a conversation with someone of the opposite sex about your relationship with this person (sigh!)? If they're talking of their future together, he is thinking of next week and she is looking to that distant time in which they'll both be rocking their chairs on a porch.

You have entered (clear throat, put on Rod Serling voice) the man-time, woman-time zone.

Time isn't an absolute. As a reporter I learned there's journalist time, for example. You're a reporter, you go interview people or you go to the scene of the fire, whatever. You go back, write the story and move on. Next morning a reader picking up the paper exclaims: "Look at that, Martha, the old train depot on the other side of town burned down!" That's the public's news; your news as a reporter is the story that will come out the following day. So journalism time is always ahead of public time.

OK, you'll say that with 24/7 Internet coverage that's a thing of the past. Still, face it, the news you're reading in the fastest news site is "olds" to the reporter who wrote it five minutes ago, who is now working on the story you'll read several hours or days from now. The reporter is always a step ahead.

Much the same happens with men and women. At that first long, warm kiss, the guy is wondering what she'll be like in bed on the third, seventh or umpteenth date; the woman is designing her future bridesmaids' outfits.

That's not just because guys tend not to think of marriage, but merely a function of how far ahead they each think.

In one group of which I am a member, women have to be told that they can't sign up for an event a month ahead, while organizers find themselves pleading with men to RSVP at least two days before.

Why is that? I'm not exactly sure.

Part of this may have to do, of course, with a difference in time pressures. A study published some time ago in the Journal of Marriage and Family found that while women and men had similar amounts of free time in 1975, by 1998 women had 30 minutes less leisure time per day than men.

However, last fall the Bureau of Labor Statistics' second annual American Time Use Survey revealed that women spend an average 42 minutes a day more than men caring for children and their households, while men spend 34 minutes a day more on the job. The net yield is that women's leisure time is, on average, 8 minutes shorter every day.

Deborah Tannen, author of several books on the differences in male and female behavior, focuses on qualitative distinctions. Women spend more energy connecting with others, men spend more energy focused on particular tasks that may or may not involve others.

We're still at sea as to why the different perception and use of time -- much less what to do about it. I suppose first comes awareness of the difference, which of course is somewhat stereotypical and need not apply to every last individual man or woman.

It helps to know that when I think future and she thinks future, we mean entirely two different things. My inclination is to deal with the immediate before the long-range.

"In the long range we're all dead," remarked John Maynard Keynes.

I may well be hit by a truck tomorrow; so if I worry too much about the day after tomorrow, what a waste of today that is!
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