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September 29, 2004

Morning Babble

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Do all women love to gab first thing in the morning? Or only most?

This may of course be nothing but an artifact of my limited experience, but I've been struck over and over by the way many women love starting the day with a long session of the usual female thing -- expressions (and "validations") of feelings, the pulling-apart of relationships, the mulling-over of all kinds of indefinite (to my mind) "issues" ...

This whole chewing-over-of-the-emotional-and-relationship-dimension seems to be as much a part of women's desired morning routine as is the usual fussing with foodstuffs, the warming-up of coffee and toast, the gasping at the deliciousness of butter and baked goods. And, as far as I can tell, it's always to be conducted in that in media res way women are so fond of. Amazing, isn't it, how women expect their men to be able to get on board with their thought processes without providing the slightest introduction? Amazing too, how they feel irritated when you ask for a hint or two that might enable you to join in. Sigh. You'd think they'd appreciate the effort we make to tag along; instead, they feel annoyed that we aren't already right there with them. Men: never quite adequate to what women need them to be.

What does this need for gab mean? Perhaps just that -- in the same way The Woman needs loving and feeding -- she also needs long episodes of being attended to while she digests and incorporates her experience.

How do you guys contend? Much as I adore The Wife, I do sometimes find being plunged into the morning-babble a challenge. (I assume I'm taking note of a standard thing here, by the way; the breakfast-table scene showing the woman gabbing while the hubster hides behind a newspaper has been a cliche of cartoons for decades.) If I'm to be at my best in a conversation of the womanly kind, I need a little preparation; while I enjoy playing a gallant supporting role in The Wife's dramas, giving such a performance is something that requires real effort. And suffice it to say that I don't exactly roll out of bed already deep in the thick of such matters, as The Wife appears to.

So, over the years, the two of us have negotiated some half-formal/half-informal agreements about how best to deal with the morning-babble thing. A degree of attentiveness is always required -- there'll be no hiding behind the newspaper for me. But I'm cut a little slack too. It's understood that I get to joke and tease a bit; a man who can't tease his woman is a sad thing. And it's agreed that reprieves from attending to morning babble will be granted on my busier days.

Despite the general success of these negotiations, I find I still need to be vigilant. The Wifely love of morning-babble is an impressive force that's always doing its best to have things its way. If I don't regulate the proceedings a bit -- fondly, appreciatively, and respectfully, of course -- babble-time grows, endless coals are raked over ... And at the end of the process, with breakfast finally swept up and conclusions (opaque to me, but ...) finally reached, The Wife will enter her day full of vigor and clarity.

But while she's feeling stoked, I'm collapsing in exhaustion. My failing, of course. As far as I can tell, I have the capacity to process exactly one female-style "feeling," and to participate fully in exactly one female-style relationship-analysis, per week. Above and beyond that rate, I start to bend under the burden like an overtaxed hod-carrier. In fact, I've been known to attend to the Wifely morning-babble only to return to bed afterwards for a restorative nap.

To be fair, The Wife probably has justice on her side when she argues that I make an equivalent demand on her. Her claim is that that my version of her morning-babble is artchat. And lord knows that I love gabbing away about the kinds of things I write about on this blog. Lord knows as well that, in my view, The Wife should feel thrilled and enraptured by my observations and ideas; it's a little bit of a comedown to learn that she finds paying attention to these artchat monologues as taxing as I find playing sounding-board to her morning routine. But perhaps these are the kinds of discoveries that leave hubbies and wives a little more mature than we'd otherwise be.

In any case, what puzzles me most about womanly morning-babble isn't the "babble" half; the womanly drive to gab about incomprehensibilities is something that makes sense to me in an evo-bio way. It's the "morning" part of the phenomenon that stumps me. Why should women be especially drawn to gab in this way first thing in the morning? Any theories? When I ask The Wife about this, she gives me one of those "You really oughta understand, and it's a sign of your deep personal failings that you don't" looks.



posted by Michael at September 29, 2004


My wife does like to gab in the morning - and at all times, in fact - but the subject matter is never feeling & relationship analysis. She's the executive of the family, and I think she spends her nights dreaming about real-estate markets, rental incomes, renovations, business strategies, and long-term retirement plans. She's usually brainstormed a handful of new schemes before breakfast, and is constantly bouncing them off me. She does get irritated if I'm not right on board - with a spreadsheet open to analyze her ideas, preferably.

Our life-plan changes about four times a week. This keeps things interesting, but it also exhausts me the way the feelings & relationship chat seems to wear you out. She thrives on these business plans, though.

I'm more inclined to purposeless, casual chatter - stuff that strikes her as a waste of time - or to long, comfortable silences. I get the impression that we're a minority, in this conversation dynamic.

It seems we've both been conversationally transgendered.

Posted by: Nate on September 29, 2004 12:45 PM

In this house, mornings are either 2 people running on separate time frames or a soild routine etched in stone. The routine does include talking, but
1. Not before coffee and tea
2. Nothing heavy. Chat is kept to light conversational tones, lazy delcarations on how goof the coffee is or how wonderful the San Remo looks in this light.

The routine manges to get alot done without being taxing. It is interesting, without coffee I have all the patience in the world to tend to tea, spend time fussing with breads and meats, and setting a table.

Then again, the only experience I have with a woman in the morning is usually one trying to crawl herway out from a hangover and demanding a cigarette and a mimosa.

Posted by: JL on September 29, 2004 1:09 PM

As I have told my wife, women's brains contain word bladders that fill up during the night and must be emptied first thing in the morning.

(To be fair, she is not nearly the worst example of her species.)

Posted by: Fred on September 29, 2004 1:11 PM

I am woman. I am quiet. I must be in the minority as I prefer my morning routine to be quiet and solitaire. My mind is up and ready to go, but there is no need at this point in my life to share every thought or work through a process out loud, at least not first thing in the morning.

Posted by: RLJ on September 29, 2004 1:19 PM

Nate -- That's a good point, I forgot about career-babble. The Wife adores refocusing the career on a daily basis, at least. Me, I trudge off to work.

JL -- What's your secret to keeping morning conversations to the light and the conversational? I need coaching here.

Fred -- "Word bladder," that's a perfect description. I'm going to steal it, if that's OK.

RLJ -- You're focused first thing in the morning? Good lord, how I envy you. I seem to hit my own hour or so of decent focus around 11 a.m. Before that, all is blear. After that, all is downhill.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 29, 2004 1:40 PM

You guys have time for gabbing in the moring? The only person who's gabbing to me is the Chock-full-of-Nuts guy. Maybe that's a result of dealing with two kids before we get out the door, but our gabbing is generally reserved for the evenings.


Posted by: Gerald on September 29, 2004 1:50 PM

Well, it's definitely not universal! In fact, I'm known for biting the head off people who dare talk to me before 11! In the morning, I need peace and quiet (only my cat is spared and can get some good out of me!).

Posted by: Sereenie on September 29, 2004 2:01 PM

I think I can offer you a compromise solution to please both of you, Michael.

Let me offer you some refreshment. Do you know what these

He indicates a dish piled high with glazed chestnuts.

Cappezzoli di Venere. Nipples of Venus. Roman chestnuts in
brandied sugar. Won't you try one? They're quite surprising.

He offers her the dish. She takes one and puts it in her mouth. He watches

Oh! They're wonderful.

He takes one himself.

Posted by: Tatyana on September 29, 2004 2:07 PM

To: Michael
Fr: Fred, aka Bleauhard de Chardin, aka The Fredosphere
Re: "Word bladder"

Steal away!

Posted by: Fred on September 29, 2004 3:34 PM

My wife sleeps in until after I leave for work, and she'd rather watch TV or read than talk to me (although occasionally I get the post-work debriefing).

I didn't know how lucky I was!

Posted by: Paul N on September 29, 2004 6:03 PM

As an academic couple who rarely has class before 10, we have a leisurely morning routine that involves a gradual wake-up, morning pilates and a walk, then a cappucino and toast breakfast and computer time before we head out the door. The husband is just as happy to engage in the usual chatter as I am: weird dreams and what they might mean, upcoming committee meetings and their ensuing dynamics, etc. Unless, of course, we haven't had enough sleep, and/or he's grumpy, and/or we're rushed. Then, there's no talking to the man.

Posted by: Megan on September 29, 2004 7:58 PM

My husband and I both work in the evenings, so we spend a fair time together every morning. I think we gab at an equal rate, but it tends to be about who was giggling in their sleep, cute/funny/disgusting things the cats have done, and what a mess our apartment is.

I generally don't start thinking about the abstract until late evening. Even then, he will only join me about half the time.

I do tend to 'think out loud,' which strikes me as a terribly self-indulgent habit.

By the way, I just found this website a few days ago, and it's splendid.

Posted by: Michelle on September 29, 2004 10:58 PM

I have no idea why Mrs. Blowhard or these other women would be chatty in the a.m. - but I do think that in new situations (and being awake is a new situation) women are more likely than men to want to find out where they stand and make connections.

Or... perhaps men who perceive women as being too talky as the sun rises actually only notice that the women are talking more than they themselves are, a situation that will change when the slow-moving men finally wake up and go on with their speeches.

In any case, it most certainly a sign of your deep personal failings. And what do you mean "I get to joke and tease a bit"? What we know of Mrs. Blowhard, despite the slanted source, indicates that she is a woman of rare qualities, insight, and wit. Am I alone in doubting that she would feel anything other than joy in the face of joking and teasing?

Posted by: j.c. on September 29, 2004 11:03 PM

There is a book addressing this conundrum:

The Essential Difference: Male and Female Brains and the Truth About Autism by Simon Baron-Cohen.

Psychologist Baron-Cohen (Cambridge U.) offers a scientific explanation for the baffling behavioral and aptitude differences between males and females: they have different brains. His study draws on clinical case studies and scientific research to explain why women are better at empathizing and communication, why men are better at understanding and building abstract systems, and why autism is actually an example of the extreme male brain.

Not having read the book I have no idea how persuasive a case it makes. But it sounds like a plausible explanation.

Posted by: ricpic on September 30, 2004 10:10 AM

Well, I have a different theory. May be it's not man/women, but rather owl/nightingale thing.
In other words, some people's biological clock makes them active towards night hours (owls), some- morning hours (nightingales). It changes during lifetime, but slowly.
For example, I was a definite owl during my college years - couldn't wake up till 11am and surely wasn't disposed to talking - on any topic-but was quite alive and kicking at 1 in the morning, when I did most of the studying.
Now I think I slowly change into a "morning person": after my first coffee at 7:00 my eyes open and I even notice the weather.

Posted by: Tatyana on September 30, 2004 11:25 AM

I find it much more annoying when my wife wants to start a meaningful conversation about some controversial issue last thing at night when I want to go to sleep.

If she doesn't have her say she lies awake thinking, but I sleep better if I avoid arguing.

Posted by: Graham Lester on September 30, 2004 11:47 AM

I second Graham Lester's experience. My wife often gets her biggest ideas at times when we're least able to do anything about them. Midnight works well.

When we both worked at the same pharmaceutical company, she would wake up at 2:30 in the morning, sit up in bed, and say (for example) "Water bath!" I'd made some groggy noise and she'd explain, "I forgot to turn off the heat in the water bath!" while she threw on some clothes and drove to the lab (only ten minutes away, fortunately.) We had several of these: "Lab freezer!" "Cell culture!"

Unlike my wife, I had to remember, each morning from the ground up, what I did for a living and what I might have been doing about it. Waking up, I would tell her about my dreams, things like teaching geese to rollerblade, and she would tell me about hers: she was at work in the lab.

Posted by: Derek Lowe on October 1, 2004 2:24 PM

Some nights my wife wants to talk about deep emotional things or problems right when I NEED to get to sleep. Some mornings she wakes up with (or just after) me, and when she does she wants to talk about things, dreams, etc. Around half the time I'm ok with this (if I've had my coffee already when she gets up!), about half the time I'm not (aka "grumpy bear in the morning").

Thank God she's starting to figure out that when I'm in 'Grump Bear Mode' it's not personal, and has far less to do with her than with my trying to figure out, as Derek Lowe put it, "remember(ing), each morning from the ground up, what I did for a living and what I might have been doing about it."

Those mornings it really is like waking up into a whole new world, and reorienting myself to it (usually after especially vivid or lucid dreams). I do that best when I can clear the cobwebs out of my head solo, and not have to start right off with interaction. "Don't ask me to think right now" is how I put it to her those times.

Posted by: David Mercer on October 1, 2004 3:56 PM

Yars ago, when i was still waking up in same bed with my husband and wanted immediately voice out the dream I was just shawn (if you don't make it vocal right away, you'll lose it forever, you know?)the usual response was: "It's not healthy having dreams. You better see a therapist soon."

teaching geese to rollerblade
excerpt from today's Live Journal browsing (translation from Russian):
Dreams of our life
Contrary to the proof of factual existence of little melancholic balding Duck-o-giraffes, locations of their utmost concentration present no doubts...

Posted by: Tatyana on October 1, 2004 4:32 PM

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