Tell me why: does ogre green really matter?
“It looks like Shrek.”
He says this with the snarky, disapproving expression common to the teenage male. And then he adds the final judgement: he shrugs, “Whatever.”
I am biting back an irritated protest, a self-righteous explanation, and a very strong desire to wipe the smirk off his face physically. If you have a teenage boy, or have ever interacted with one, then I hope you understand. Because this particular species of man truly knows how to yank my chain.
He knows I love this color. He knows I saved my money and waited a long time to make this change. He knows this entire process of remodeling our house has been several weeks of last minute construction changes (oops, can’t take that wall out), budget overruns (but I really love my new kitchen counter. With passion), missed deadlines and two straight weeks of takeout and microwave meals. In other words, it’s been stressful. And the final touch was, in many ways, the easiest: add color to the outside of the house. The painters came on schedule, did a beautiful job, did it in record time, then cleaned up their materials and left. Kind of glorious, when you consider how everything else has been going… but I digress.
The point is, I picked out this color five years ago. I knew I wanted my house to be this color, this tropical shade of green that blends in with the palm trees and plantings that surround my house. And finally the day had come when I was getting my way. It’s called Ryegrass Green, by the way. And it’s beautiful. Or… it’s Shrek.
My son’s comment irks me. And he knows it. And so the next day, and the day after, he repeats it. He embellishes it. And I am really quite done with this. With him.
I vent to a friend. He says, “He just likes to get you riled up. It’s what teenage boys do.”
That’s the question. Because the very next day, my son digs in again on the Shrek theme and just as I open my mouth to shut it down, once and for all, he glances at my face and smirks. He smirks! And he says, “Relax, Mom, I’m just giving you crap. I don’t mind the color.”
This does not make me feel better. In fact, the urge to shut it down, to shut him down, skyrockets. I breathe. I count to ten. Breathe again. Hold my breath. Drink water. I do all the right things that good parents are supposed to do in order to avoid inflicting permanent and possibly illegal damage on their beloved offspring.
I leave the room to call my friend. “Tell me why.”
Because here’s the thing: it’s not just teenage boys. Grown men do this. Mature men with real jobs, college educations, kids of their own… grown men with grandchildren and pension funds… men still living at home with mom and men who have been married and divorced multiple times. I have been goaded, prodded, egged and flat-out antagonized into passionate reactions over topics and ideas that they don’t really care about. This feat has been accomplished by former boyfriends, my brother, my uncles, various friends and sometimes even random acquaintances of the male persuasion.
Why? I’m told because they just want to see how a woman will react. Because it’s funny. It’s entertaining. They’re bored. They’re curious.
Yes, I am gender stereotyping. But I stand behind this.
This is not a ploy common among women. When we are goading you into a fight, when we’re doggedly chasing an argument, prodding you, egging you on and being antagonistic, we have a goal in mind. We are looking for you to respond in certain way. We are actually, genuinely, trying to make a point, to communicate an idea, to move an agenda forward. We don’t want to irritate you, we don’t want to watch you blow up, yell or otherwise throw a tantrum.
We are not sitting back “just to see” how you will respond to our antics. We are not expending energy on instigating a strong emotional reaction because that’s just a lot of work with no payoff. And if we’re really honest, we women actually spend a lot of energy trying to manage other people’s emotional reactions – our significant others, our kids, our parents – and we take the work quite seriously. Emotional outbursts are obstacles we must work around, through and over to be on our merry way. We are busy. We need to get things done. And your foolishness is wasting energy I need to dedicate towards changing the world. Or at least disciplining my teens.
So I’m told to “chill”, to not take things so seriously. But it’s not that I don’t have a sense of fun. I’m fun. I am funny. I can relax, chill out and enjoy a good joke. But why must I enjoy being provoked?
And yet, to know that at the end of the day it’s just a diversion brings me a sense of relief. I am still confused by it – I still ask the question “why?” – but at least in knowing that the other person is not as invested in the topic as I am allows me to relinquish the energy I would spend defending things like my choice of Ryegrass-Shrek-Green.
Or, as my lovely neighbor put it, “It’s a happy avocado color!” She’s a woman. Clearly.
Natalie Hahn is a principal at Dirty Girls Consulting, focused on helping men and women tackle the challenges of communication and life transitions. We explore breaking free of traditional standards, how we communicate between the sexes and redefine the “midlife crisis” to accomplish professional and personal goals, creating an authentic, fully loved life. Read more Dirty Girl Consulting blogs here.