On my last birthday came the familiar white envelope in the mail. Inside was a card supposedly signed by my brother, even though the handwriting belonged to his wife. I would have been indignant, except that my wife writes the cards to my brother's family.
In fact, most men I know do not send greeting cards. Our fireplace mantel sags under the parade of colorful cardboard accumulated from female relatives and friends. It is a guilty secret that is no secret at all. We all know that the Christmas card from Uncle Phil was written by his wife, because Phil couldn't recognize us in a lineup.
I call this phenomenon "male cardophobia" (as distinct from its opposite, known as "female greeting card addiction").
Fortunately for men, our natural skill at avoiding unpleasant chores equips us to keep greeting cards out of our lives. At our house every other week, as I play a computer game, a card plops down on my keyboard. Without taking my eyes off the screen, I scribble my signature before it is whisked away by my wife. For all I know, I just signed a graduation card for my niece, or a million-dollar life insurance policy on myself.
Women may blame this on Y chromosomes and testosterone. But the real culprit is simple male practicality. Men don't want to climb aboard the endless merry-go-round of birthday cards, anniversary cards, and state-of-the-family letters clogging the U.S. mail like Christmas fruitcakes. This relentless cycle of Hallmark Moments is like a horror movie where one alien egg multiplies into a horde devouring the Earth.
Consider what happens when a woman sends a Christmas card to her sister. Since she can't write to just one sibling, she mails cards to them all. Now one card has multiplied into five, until all of her siblings (or their wives) write back. Then five cards become 10, begetting each other like a family in Genesis.
Women see greeting cards as a way of bonding, a support system comforting everyone with the thought that no matter how far they are apart from friends and family, someone remembers them. Cards may be nothing more than cardboard printed with corny greetings and adolescent toilet jokes, but somehow they add a graceful touch, a reminder of the days when people took the time to stay in touch.
As far as men are concerned, greeting cards are useless. They do not tell you how to fix cars or pick a winning stock. Better to use a cell phone to leave a greeting while you are stuck in traffic (though why men have their spouses make social calls, otherwise known as "male telephobia," is another story).
Indeed, communications technology is the only known treatment for male cardophobia. E-mail may lack the personal touch of handwritten letters. Yet men who won't spare 10 seconds to scrawl a "thank you" on a yellow sticky, will e-mail entire essays on how the Redskins blew yesterday's game. Go to any Internet chat forum on politics and watch the male of the species expound words by the page.
Perhaps it's because men feel more comfortable expressing themselves through technology instead of pen and paper. Or maybe men like e-mail because it's so convenient to send a message while surfing the Internet or playing computer games. With a few keystrokes and a click of the "Send" button, out goes a message that doesn't require licking envelopes. If emotion must be expressed, a smiley face can be inserted at the end of a sentence:)
In the meantime, if you get a card from a man, check the handwriting.