The question this time, from the men's side of the table: what should you do when the women you're with asks you: "What are you thinking?"
Every male in the world has had to deal with this question, which is more often than not uncorked at entirely inappropriate times, such as when you are watching sports, locked in a passionate embrace, or reeling in a feisty marlin from the Gulf of Mexico. Regardless of what you're doing, you must come up with a complete and satisfactory answer, or stand accused of Hiding Your True Feelings. Which means, of course, you'll spend the next week pretending to be sorry. So you've got to come up with something. And it had better be good.
Now, the obvious question here is: WHY do women want to know what we're thinking? Simple: they assume we're thinking in the first place. Hard to believe, but there it is.
Why on earth would they think that? Well, go up to a woman and ask her what she is thinking. I have just done so with my wife, and this is what she is thinking about:
"Off the top of my head, I'm thinking about the party we're having Saturday, and how I'm going to fix that chandelier in the front room so that people can walk around without hitting their heads. Underneath that I'm thinking about my work schedule this week and whether or not I'm going to have time to do some of the things I need to do at home as well. And under that I'm wondering if it's too late to get tickets on a plane to Ohio for Christmas. AND I'm thinking about getting a snack."
Not only is she thinking about something, she's thinking about four separate things. If I check back in five minutes, she'll still be thinking. Women are always thinking, and often about practical things.
Men, on the other hand, are actively thinking for about five minutes out of every hour (usually not in sequence). So, at best, you have a one in 12 chance of catching a man actually having a thought. What are we thinking about?
3. Steve Miller tunes
8. The black unknowable nothingness that frames our existence, and whether a benevolent and omnipotent higher power can possibly exist within it (or Beer)
In summary, randomly asking a man what he's thinking has precisely a 8.83% chance of turning up a real, verifiable, honest-to-God thought. You might as well bet on the New York Jets. Sound harsh, guys? Fine. Quick--what are you thinking? Had to think about it, didn't you. You lose. Sit down.
Despite the overwhelming evidence that men, in fact, are almost never thinking, women will still demand to know their innermost thoughts. In a way, it's touching; women are expressing faith that, if prodded long enough and frequently enough, they may yet boost the number of times we think in an hour. And they will. Unfortunately, most of what we'll be thinking is "stop asking me what I'm thinking." And that's just going to get us in trouble.
The best way to keep a woman from constantly asking you what you are thinking is to have a ready, pre-memorized answer for the times that she does. Here are some tried and true responses, with the pros and cons of each:
"I'm thinking that tonight it'd be nice to stay at home and sit by the fire together."
Pros: Romantic; Sounds as if you're spontaneous. Cons: Requires fireplace (or a cement floor and ventilation); Romantic moments often prompt even more "What are you thinking" queries.
"I'm thinking how much I love you."
Pros: Generally provokes a positive response that short circuits any need for further conversation; Is often also true. Cons: If you use it too much, she'll know it's a line, and then you're really in trouble.
"I was wondering if there is actually life on other planets."
Pros: Cosmic; Shows you are a deep thinker. Cons: Woman may wonder if this is an intro to the same sort of "alien sigmoidoscopy" story that ruined her last relationship.
"I was imagining, if I were an animal, what sort of animal I'd be."
Pros: Imaginative; Allows woman to spend many happy minutes trying to establish your place in the animal kingdom. Cons: She might think you resemble a marmoset or skink; She may forego the animal world altogether and go straight to yeasts.
"I'm just thinking about how true the lyrics to 'Dust in the Wind' really are."
Pros: Shows depth of musical knowledge; As last resort to forestall conversation, you may break out into song. Cons: If she's a connoisseur of 70s melodic rock, you may find yourself in a bitter, divisive quarrel about which is deeper, "Dust" or Aerosmith's "Dream On".
Keep in mind that these responses are not to supersede an actual thought. If you find yourself having one at the moment she asks, go ahead and share it, as long as it's not something along the lines of "This relationship blows" or "I really like margarine". With a little practice, you should come out okay.
But, hey. That's just what I think.
John Scalzi is a writer and editor. His wife almost never asks him what he is thinking. He can't decide if this is a good or bad thing.