Monday, February 9, 2015

Male Pattern Blindness

I can’t believe my wife is letting me do this! Men smile and shake their heads when I tell them. Kim’s friends can’t believe how much she trusts me.
I'm flying from Michigan to Florida. My assignment: buy a house near our daughter, Genne'. I have one day to accomplish the task -- an afternoon, really, for my return flight is the next morning. Kim doesn't fly, so it's up to me.
Kim is an artist, and our home is her work of art. She knows the secret language of colors—taupe, beige, eggshell, cranberry—while I’m a red, blue, and green kind of guy. I’m traveling to a land where I don’t speak the language.
I need to choose a house quickly—I’m not sure why. Maybe Kim wants me to feel like this is all my doing and she’s afraid I’ll change “my” mind. You know the drill: You are discussing some purely hypothetical options with your spouse, and the next thing you know you are on a plane about to spend a lot of money. A year ago Kim and I had a just such a hypothetical discussion about selling our last home, and when I woke up we were living in an apartment.
Like many middle-aged men, I’m conservative. I get comfortable doing what I am doing, wherever I am doing it—and seek only to continue doing it. As we went through the move from house to apartment, I kept a card in my wallet reading, “Change is Good.” I think I threw it away with all of the bubble wrap.
I told Kim I would phone her several times during the afternoon to discuss the options so we could make the decision together. “No,” she said flatly. “You decide.” I understand: It’s a test. Of what, I’m not sure.
The flight down is pleasant and uncrowded, which gives me too much room to think. What if I find a house way over our budget? Or more likely, what if I buy a house the way I buy shirts—the cheapest one that fits? I can hear it now: “Are we going to wear that house?” What if I find no suitable houses at all? What if I find one that I love but Kim hates? The first part is unlikely—guys rarely love houses because most of them come with a permanent list of chores attached. What if (worst yet) her “You decide” means “Guess what I would have decided”? I look out the window. With any luck, my plane will crash.
I arrive at Genne’s by one in the afternoon, and we study the house plans and data sheets that she has spread out on the kitchen table. Then we—including my grandson—pile into the car. It’s good to have another guy around, even if he’s only eight.
We start in on the houses in the surrounding neighborhoods, and here’s where it starts to get blurry. They all look the same. My notes identify each house by asking price. I scribble “not like houses in Michigan” and jot down helpful phrases such as “bathroom,” “big” and “closets.” Sometimes I write “yes” or “no,” often on the same house.
Several times I ask myself what a woman would notice here. What would a woman say? In one house I ask Genne, “Do you think this house makes me look fat?” She pretends not to hear me.
We make it back to Genne’s by 5 p.m. I’m glad that Kim has not asked me to phone at this point, because I know she’d ask me some picky little questions, like “How many bedrooms?” or “What color is it?” or “Does it have a kitchen?” and I’d be stumped. This is known as “male pattern blindness.”
At dinner I sort things into piles: six in the “no” pile, four in the “maybe,” and in the “yes” pile, zero. I’m probably supposed to be stepping back to evaluate all the houses systematically against a checklist of criteria. But I don’t have one. Instead, I’m mainly thinking about how good the meat loaf tastes and wondering if my grandson is going to eat all his fries.
Genne' says she spotted another “For Sale By Owner” sign, and we drive over to take a look. This house resembles most of the others, but it has some winning features. One of the most important is that I like the young couple selling the house. Another is that it is getting late. The fact that I can’t see anything wrong with it is another plus. In the twilight I can’t see the exterior or yard at all—but then I don’t see much anyway, so I don’t give that very much weight. We negotiate the deal in the driveway. It takes less than two minutes. You can buy books on how to buy a home, and I’m sure there is a chapter about people like me, but that’s how I did it.
I call Kim and gave her the news. She asks, “What color are the kitchen counters?”
I’m ready. “Beige.”

“Is it a yellow beige or a pink beige?”

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