Musings & Observations / Barry Halpin
Would you like some cheese with that whine?
Erin is standing there, cellular phone in hand, with that bewildered look I am all too familiar with. It is deja-vu for the umpteenth time, but at least I know what is coming next.
She tosses the phone onto the couch with obvious irritation.
"Dad, I just don't get boys! He tells me to call and we'll get together this weekend, so I decide to call just to talk and there are these silences and it's soooo frustratiiiinnnngggg! I don't even know if he's breathing. I try to keep the conversation going but there's nothing. I don't get it. Do all boys do that? You know, you were once a boy."
An eerie silence and I'm suddenly traveling in another dimension between light and sound. There's a signpost up ahead. Next stop: The Whining Zone!
For anyone who hasn't been paying attention lately, whining has taken over from baseball as the official national pastime. According to recent studies, considerably more time is spent on whining than on any other activity. We are truly a culture of whiners.
From the workplace to the supermarket, from the beaches to the country clubs, whining is everywhere. There are some who are only comfortable whining to people they know, while others will whine to anyone who will take the time to listen: strangers on a plane; in a doctor's waiting room; or on a supermarket check out line.
From time immemorial, the human race has and will whine about anything imaginable. Favorite topics include health, diet and appearance, and work, but the award-winning topic -- the one that people whine about consistently -- has always been, and will always be, relationships and the annoying qualities of the opposite sex.
"He's so annoying and such a jerk."
"Don't call him ever again."
"No really, what should I do, you're the expert on boys, you know how they think."
Over the years Erin has taken whining to a fine art and has recently added a feng-shui component, planning out the best times and places in the house to whine. She has developed the uncanny ability to whine in a particular style and pitch, that has somewhat of an enchanting quality, not unlike the singing of the Sirens of Greek Mythology.
I try to resist the call but it plays havoc with my prefrontal cortex, leading me to try and explain the inner workings of the teenage male brain, a maddening and futile endeavor.
"Erin, maybe you caught him at a bad time, but most importantly (I had to be careful here not to divulge too much about the male psyche as it is against the bylaws of the Boys Club) guys are not the best communicators on the planet, especially when it comes to the phone. According to Dr. Louann Brizendine, the neuropsychiatrist who wrote `The Female Brain,' boys don't use as many words per day as girls -- 20,000 for you and 13,000 for us -- so maybe it was just a case of him having used up his quota for the day. Don't take it so personally."
She looked hurt, nonetheless.
"Then he started whining that I make pointless phone calls. When I asked him what was pointless about just wanting to talk, he said exactly that."
Then it hit me, I was privy to the perfect example of whining begetting whining, a sort of impromptu whining dance. I wondered what would happen if everyone in the world simultaneously whined at just the right pitch. Could it cause something cataclysmic to happen, like California disappearing into the San Andreas fault? No matter what, I knew it wouldn't be a good thing.
In recent years, many people have championed the psychological battle cry, "Don't sweat the small stuff," as a way to maintain mental health in our hectic and over-scheduled world gone increasingly mental! We're told to choose our battles wisely and we'll be a lot happier.
However, when it comes to relationships and the opposite sex, we seem unable to stop whining about the things that bug us about each other, and guess what, it's both the small stuff and big stuff.
The way he chews his food, that goofy little nervous grin that seems to be eternally cemented on her face when she's with his friends, his refusing to ever ask for directions or admit he's lost even after driving around in circles for hours, how she never consults him before making social plans, how he won't discuss the relationship, how she's always asking him when he's gonna grow up and how no matter what he says he's never right.
Those annoying little habits we have that drive each other bonkers and sometimes ballistic. The habits we have to deal with on an ongoing basis, that we are compelled to gripe and complain about, that eventually lead us into battle. A battle we seem hard-wired to fight ... the eternal Battle Of The Sexes!
It is time for Erin and me to get out and do some sociological field research on the state of whining today. We head to the local `Latte Low-Carb Cybercafe,' a hot spot for the incredibly hip and trendy. We order double skim cappuccinos, a low-carb mango-kiwi muffin and a raspberry scone and settle into a corner booth.
One group of girls nearby is giggling while dishing about how guys are totally clueless, fear the C-word, "cuddling," and how for some it's not even part of their vocabulary. Erin smiles as we eavesdrop on that conversation.
Then we overhear one guy ranting to his friend how his girlfriend was using the dreaded C-word a lot, "commitment," and always wanted to discuss their relationship and how it was going, while he thought it was going quite well, no discussion needed.
Quite a few young girls complain about the enormous but fragile male ego, one girl comparing it's fragility to a newborn's skull. Her friend gets a kick out of making pinging noises as she flicks her finger at the imaginary skull/ego.
One young man laments how it is difficult to take his girlfriend to the movies as she invariably points to the screen and asks if she is as pretty as (fill in the starlet).
His friend says he understands perfectly as his girlfriend constantly asks him how she looks and when he tells her she's beautiful, she responds, "You don't really mean it, you're just saying it because you don't want to hurt my feelings."
Erin looks over and asks, "Dad, do you think it's possible I'll ever meet the perfect guy who I will never want to whine about."
"Sweetie, talk to your mom, she'll tell you that hope springs eternal."
Barry Halpin is a prevention specialist for Liberation Programs, a substance abuse health-care agency based in Stamford that provides substance abuse counseling to adolescents and their families in Darien. He's also the director of the county-wide Peer Players, an adolescent theater company. E-mail him at email@example.com.