Washington Post Columnist John Kelly Discusses Couple's Driving Roles

By John Kelly
Monday, May 11, 2009

I've always thought that if you use a Metro station's Kiss and Ride area, you should be required by law to kiss the person you're dropping off or picking up. Spouse, co-worker, creepy neighbor -- it doesn't make any difference. What part of "Kiss and Ride" don't you understand?

We shouldn't be afraid to show a little affection.

But what concerns me today isn't affection but aggravation, which is what Silver Spring's Tim Brennan says he sometimes feels when he's stuck in his car behind someone being dropped off at the Metro in the morning. Often, Tim says, a vehicle will pull up and an awkward little ballet will commence: The male driver will get out and head to the Metro while the female passenger gets out, walks around the car, gets behind the wheel and drives away. Tim has seen the reverse happen in the afternoon: A woman will be waiting in the car for a man. When he arrives, she gets out and lets him drive.

Said Tim: "When you have this rearrangement of the crew to drive the car, it just seems to be sort of adding time for no reason that doesn't seem like a silly gender thing. Obviously, the woman was competent enough to get the car down there to pick the guy up. I've seen many people do this tap dance, and I've never seen it with reverse gender."

So what gives? Are some men so worried about their masculinity that they can't be seen in a car driven by a woman? Do they think they're better drivers than their wives or girlfriends and thus want to maximize their time at the controls? In which case, don't they worry that their wives will drive into a tree on the way home?

Said Tim: "What I find sort of ludicrous is that this often happens in situations where time is of the essence, where you have a lot of people trying to pull into a confined space, where there's all this weaving and people stopping and people double-parked. You'd think people would be particularly efficient about getting in and out of there."

I don't think I'm that bad. I am a really good driver, and although I think My Lovely Wife is a slightly less really good driver than I am, I'll happily accept a ride from her to or from the Metro. But I do have one peculiar demand: I simply must take the last shift on our annual nine-hour drive to the beach in South Carolina. I must be the one who drives over the causeway, who pulls into the sandy, shell-studded parking space, who puts the minivan in park and announces, "We're here!"

I've eased up on this somewhat. I used to insist on doing the first leg, too, but because I no longer drink caffeine, I let Ruth drive for the first two or three hours. I doze while my coffee-fortified wife pilots us through the early morning dark.

Tim is an economics professor, and he confesses that this might explain why he has his "disciplinary antenna out for inexplicable inefficiencies" of the sort he encounters at the Kiss and Ride. "I assume that there's some household dynamic in that house: The man does the driving and he probably is the only one who gets out the barbecue grill or whatever."

Married couples work out all sorts of little divisions of labor: who grills the barbecue and who bakes the cakes, who does the laundry and who does the vacuuming, who mows the lawn and who cleans the toilet -- or, if you wait too long, who mows the toilet.

The ideal relationship reaches a sort of equilibrium. It needn't be the case that the husband must like doing the laundry and the wife must like washing the dishes, just that neither feels he or she is being taken advantage of.

I don't know what that means for the macho Metro drop-off. Ladies and gentlemen, can you explain yourselves?

Auto Envy

I was with a few people not long ago commiserating about the high cost of college these days. It's not unusual to spend $50,000 annually, what with tuition, books and other assorted fees.

"My husband says it's like dropping a Mercedes off a cliff every year," said my friend Carol.

"Mercedes?" said a 6-year-old girl nearby, perking up. Oh my, I thought, the status-symbol yearning starts young these days. She covets the three-pointed star.

Then she said, "I have a friend on my soccer team called Mercedes."

My e-mail: kellyj@washpost.com

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