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How to Answer
Wednesday, 01 February 2006 08:45
How to Answer
It is Saturday, a crisp spring afternoon, and you're exactly where you should be: stretched out on the couch in front of a televised sporting event. 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 enters the room and says,
'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 take our degrees again 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:
Is there someone else? Do you still fantasize about her? Are you tired of me?
JUST SAY YES:
Do you still love me? Do you ever fantasize about me? Do you like my hair this way?
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?'
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. 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.
On no account suggest another dress. You might as well say 'You're fat.'
'WHERE DO YOU SEE THIS RELATIONSHIP IS 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'. 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?
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 I were pregnant?
At the very least it gives you time to think up a better answer.
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 ta do with it? Are you talking to me? (NOTE: Are you having your period? is not advisable.)
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.
Here's a safe rule: If the result is greater than 12, then say 12. Let's move on.
'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. Apart from being a question that is easier to answer wrong than right, it is best treated in an ironic post-modern context. Try an attempt at humor:
HER: Notice anything different about me? YOU: New apron?
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 charity 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 apologize for your wanton self-esteem. Instead of apologizing, 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?
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 straight-forward lying.
'WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT?'
She means, 'You were looking at that girl, weren't you?' And you thought you'd perfected the 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 northwest 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.
'SHOULD I GET MY HAIR CUT?'
If you say anything, then when she does get it cut (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.
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