Untouchable topics

I’m good at banter.

That’s the conversational technique of talking but really saying nothing. It involves discussing safe, generic topics, but with wit and sincerity. Controversy and opinions are avoided in place of complacency and a smug cynicism.

Not that I don’t enjoy a lively debate, but I’ve grown tired of points of view that are ill-informed and in many cases, offensive. I just don’t have the energy to defend my position or condemn others, especially at social occasions. I’ll leave that for late nights with close friends whom I respect.

So I keep it light and avoid the big four; politics, religion, abortion and immigration.

At a recent dinner party, I thought I was on safe ground when I volunteered that women seem to be more prone to accumulate possessions than men. I suggested that perhaps it was something deep in our collective subconscious where women were “gatherers”, while men were “hunters” and therefore forced to travel light.

Both men at the table heartily agreed and began to recite a litany of “junk” that their wives refused to throw out.

“Every unessential item takes time out of your life,” one male guest announced with conviction. “Even though you don’t use it you must make a mental inventory of it, considering where to store it, how to move it and so on.”

“Mind clutter,” stated the other man and they both nodded in agreement.

Their wives looked flushed and it wasn’t because of the wine. They both began calmly but emphatically to deny that they had more stuff than their husbands. It ended in shouting matches with one couple vowing to measure the square footage each was allotted in the attic, while the other duo were making lists of “worthless” items that each other could sell at their upcoming garage sale, planned during the heat of the moment.

After an uncomfortable silence, I ventured to change the topic. Since it was the season to be shopping, I explained that I had observed that my wife and I had quite a different approach to this activity.

I usually research my purchases before I go to shop and have a pretty good idea of what I am going to buy, and how much I am prepared to pay for it before I enter the store.

On the other hand, to my wife shopping is an event – an adventure undertaken with anticipation and excitement. She may have a general idea of what she is looking for but is open to anything that might catch her eye. Shopping is a leisure activity to her, something to be enjoyed, while to me it is something to be endured.

“My wife doesn’t know what she’s shopping for until she sees it,” was the response of one of the fellows to my theory.

The other summed up his partner’s shopping habits in one word, “Compulsive.”

At this point I subtly began to move sharp instruments from the dining table and breathed a sigh of relief that we had put off serving any hot beverages.

The caustic response from one woman was that since it was her own money she spent she wondered why it was any of his business. But perhaps she should return the leather jacket she had “compulsively” bought him for Christmas.

Our other female guest recalled the time her husband went grocery shopping on his own. He spent three times what they usually budget for food and most of the non-perishable items still remain in the deep recesses of the refrigerator and at the back of top shelves of the kitchen cupboards. When he challenged her she began to list off items that were so rare as to be on the grocery endangered list.

When you’ve been married for as long as I have you recognize looks that say, “this hasn’t ended here. Just wait until we get home.” Those looks were flashing back and forth between spouses the rest of the evening.

As for me, I’ve added two more topics to the list of “untouchables” and plan to bone up on banter about the weather.

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