photo courtesy of therapytoronto.ca
What ‘cha thinking about?
It’s a classic question I used to ask my husband. And when I asked, in return, I often got a blank look to go with his very long pause. And then, his answer, “Nothing.”
This was always hard for me to understand. Nothing? How can you be thinking about nothing? How can you not have something going on in your head that you are considering, debating, or pondering?
So once I persisted. “No really, just tell me. You have to be thinking about something. Just tell me. I don’t care what it is, I just want to know.”
What I learned is that much of the time, what my husband is thinking about isn’t much. It isn’t about me or our relationship or our kids and what they’ll do when they grow up, or whether or not we should allow our daughter to drive to her friend’s house in this god-awful snow.
Nope. Turns out he’s often thinking about the following:
One or two other things I’ll leave to your imagination.
Not necessarily, but quite possibly, in that order.
I don’t believe my husband is so unusual. And he’s a bright guy, so I’m sure in those times when he’s planning out the work budget or figuring out our personal finances or playing Sudoku, there’s much more going on up there. It’s just that when he’s at home relaxing, what he’s thinking about is nothing like what I’m thinking about.
Because I’m thinking:
Should we eat leftovers for dinner or do I need to cook?
If I cook, what can I make with three chicken breasts to feed a family of 5?
Do I need to send Sarah (our eldest, in college) her birthday gift in the mail, or should we visit her? Will she even want to spend her big day with us, or is that totally lame when you’re turning 20? Or would she secretly be hurt if we don’t come?
Will my kids ever actually put their coats on the coat rack?
Will I ever get Abby (our youngest) to keep track of her stuff? Is middle school with her going to be a three-year nightmare?
Am I ever going to get published in The Sun?
Will I ever get my book done? And what if I don’t?
Should we splurge on Hawaii next year or is it too much money, too commercial for my taste?
Do we even have rice if I end up making the chicken?
I think there are two things going on here.
One is that men and women think very differently. Men focus on one thing at a time, think about only one thing at a time. They also tend to live more in the present moment than women (I’m obviously speculating here…). Women, on the other hand, tend to multitask both in actions and thoughts all the live long day. We think about work when we’re home with kids, we think about our kids when we’re at work. We think about how to get to the grocery, get dinner on the table and get the laundry done all the time. We think alot and we’re always thinking ahead.
The second is that my particular neurons fire out messages to my brain all day long. About a lot of really boring, really useless stuff. Yes, occasionally such messages and thoughts help me to be organized and keep me on top of things. But still, they also keep me from living in the here and now. From slowing down and enjoying life. My husband suggests it must surely be exhausting to be me. Seeing as I have never been any different, I’ve never really considered the question.
But what I have considered is this: perhaps sometimes it’s just better not to ask what your spouse is thinking. Because he just might tell you. And then, if you’re me, no matter how he responds, it will just give you more to think about!
Am I alone in my strange ways? How do you think?
Wow – you have spoken for countless women today. I, too, ask my husband this simple and yet inexplicably answerless question. I often receive a sigh, that look and a lengthy silence in reply, Oh – except on the rare occasion when he might say, “Ummmm … nothing”.
I cannot imagine what it would sound like in my head to think in such a linear and in-the-now way – but can only suppose that these very different brains are what make marriage the adventure it so often is!
HA, I really think men must hate this question. You are right that it is our differences that make it fun. If my husband thought through things like I do, I’d have to become a much better listener! 🙂
Oh Tracy…I’ve said for years “when you ask a guy what he is thinking, and he says “nothing”..believe him!! It’s funny, you have actually been married longer than I have, but you are younger and married to my “little brother”…so I never think about you, or any other woman thinking these thoughts. I love my husband, but just the other day, I had to test this scenario ONE MORE TIME…just to see if anything had changed. Nope….he gave me some simple answer about listening to what was on the car radio. Funny…women are constantly “going”…I know I am never….EVER without what I consider to be, a profound reflection running through my head. Yeah, the minutia is in there too….but I do think about a lot of the unanswerable questions in the universe. I may never get the answers, but just pondering the questions kinda makes me feel profound. I tend to think it makes us a lot more interesting. …sorry guys!! 🙂 I did ask one of my male friends (in my 20s…would never have been so full of conceit at this age), if it ever scared him, how women think so much, all of time. He said “no….I think sometimes you (women) just get wrapped up in thinking, and it paralyses you from taking action…..sometimes you just need to act”…and you know what….I was schooled that day!! 🙂
Haha Vanessa, even your little bro thinks like a man-lol! There are days, most days actually that I wish I didn’t have all these thoughts going through my brain. Life would be a lot simpler if I would just live it instead of thinking about it. 🙂
Intrigued, I decided to make this the topic of our dinner conversation tonight. I shared your post with my professor husband. Before asking him about his own thinking, he proceeded to tell me that he had just read an article (probably in some journal) that confirmed your observations through scientific study. I then asked him if he followed that pattern or if he tended to think about many things at once, like we women do. He said he thinks about a lot of different things, but only focusing on one thing at a time. Unlike me, who while I’m doing dishes or putting clothes in the washing machine I am thinking about all the other things that need to be done and what I need to do next, feeling guilty for not doing something other than what I’m doing and obsessing over some conversation I had with a friend. That was a long sentence, but it expresses the exhaustion I feel that you describe so beautifully.
Tracy, your husband’s observation that it must be exhausting to be you is spot on. And definitely something to give thought to. Wonder what it’s like to think about “nothing”? Maybe we should give it a try!
How interesting Sabra! So there is proof that men and women think differently, it must surely be a part of our genetic makeup. I know in those times when I do manage to turn my brain off so to speak, I am much calmer and happier. We women need to try to do this more often (but not all the time-we have too much to do that wouldn’t get done!).
Interesting. I think most women can relate to this. I am always thinking about the next meal, what I need from the grocery, or what I need to be doing next. It is like we are always planning ahead, and you are right, a lot of it is boring thoughts. It is pretty hard to be thinking deep thoughts when you are doing laundry, cooking, or any of the other mundane things women have to do everyday. It is like we are constantly following a mental list of chores!
Perhaps it comes with the territory of running a household with leads itself to mundane chores. I know some men stay at home or cook and clean too so I am sure roles play into it as well as gender and genetics. I think we women could benefit from turning off the chore list in our head every evening!
which not with, I am not awake yet!
Hmm, I’m feeling like a fish out of water here 😉 As a member of the aforementioned male species, I suppose I can shed some light on at least one person’s perspective. Replace football with baseball. Nachos remains the same. But, I never try to think about work 😉
But seriously, I think we each have our times of the day (regardless of gender) where our brains are in overdrive. And other times where we are in a vegetative state, recuperating from the overdrive session. At least that’s the way it is for me.
I think about many of the same things that you do concerning the family, things that need to be done around the house, how we are going to address the faulty heat pump and appliances in our aging home. Sometimes these thoughts overcrowd the mind and it just shuts down due to overheating 😉 In that respect, I think that women (from my experience) are much more adept at multi-tasking in both thought and action. And I appreciate that blessing and curse placed upon my wife as she picks up the slack on so many fronts.
Probably one of the most beautiful (and nerve-wracking) things about marriage is being able to share thoughts and ideals, sometimes through words, but mostly unspoken, allowing both to grow alongside each other as individuals and as a couple.
Me? I’m always thinking about something. It’s just that sometimes it’s difficult to verbalize those thoughts. And at other times (ahem, like right now), the thoughts spill out in a more or less cohesive manner 😉
Interesting. While we have our ways of thinking based on gender, roles and genetics, we also each think differently simply because we are different, each of us unique in our experiences. My hubby says he, like you, sometimes finds it difficult to verbalize his thoughts. But yes, after so many years of marriage, you often sort of already know what you need to know, even if it’s never been said, if that makes sense. The silence or unsaid thoughts are already for the most part understood. 🙂 So yea for that!
Yes, Tracy, I smiled the whole time I read this post! I often wish I could just turn my mind off -temporarily – on command. It seems that this is what my husband does better, even though on a bad day I would criticize his inability to multi-task! I would sleep better, relax more, and worry less; or so I think. But rather than worry about my inability to stop my crazy mind, I guess I’m better off to embrace my differences!
What we need is a remote with a pause button! Wouldn’t that be nice? Just a 15 minute reprieve from all the noise in our heads. 🙂 Oh well, somehow I don’t think that is an invention I can count on! Better to just breathe…