They are going out to dinner. He turns to her and asks, "Where do you want to eat?"
From his point of view it is a simple matter for which there is a direct answer.
She hears him, holds his question in the air and looks it over. From her point of view it is the opening line of an exploration, the beginning of a process.
Slowly, she runs through her Rolodex of local options. One place was too crowded last time, another too expensive, a third she liked but he thought too "veggie."
Three or four possibilities finally present themselves before her mind for screening purposes. She responds to his question with her questions: "What about Chinese food? Are you in the mood for pizza? How did you like the fish place last time?"
"I'll go anyplace you like tonight." He repeats, "Where do you want to go?" There is an edge of impatience now lining his voice.
The woman senses something familiar about this dialogue. She begins to see a choreography to the way they make plans. She remembers now all the other performances, prompted by all the other questions: What time should we leave? Which movie do you want to see? Which color do you like?
As a rule, he thinks that she has trouble making up her mind. As a rule, she thinks that he is impatient.
But this evening, she finally realizes how different their goals are, how different their minds are working. He is always looking for a decision. She is always searching for a consensus.
What do you want for dinner? He is asking, literally, for the name of a restaurant. She on the other hand wants to find out what he feels like eating, what she feels like eating, what their first choices are, what their second choices are, is there a choice that will satisfy him, her, them.
His question is simple; hers is complex to the point of absurdity.
She thinks now of the women in her family. To make a date with her mother, sister or aunt requires at least two, possibly three, phone calls. As a group, they can barely compose a menu for a family dinner without the services of a polling agency. They are famous for conference calls, drive each other crazy in the need for agreement.
It happens even with her women friends. They are not, individually, uncertain. One makes editorial decisions about national policy with confidence; another makes plans for natural conservation with aplomb; a third makes a career of challenging conventional wisdom.
But put before them a question-- Your place or mine?--and they begin to waffle. "What do you want to do?" "I don't know, what do you want to do?"
The woman is, of course, exaggerating, but not by that much. There is a problem, somewhat endemic to her sex, about this kind of decision-making.
The way she figures it, women are, as a whole, more likely to consider relationships in making decisions. They think in context. A choice as simple as the restaurant is recast as a concern about pleasing everyone.
Like members of some Japanese quality circle, they prefer to spend the time reaching agreements, rather than writing directives. At worst, their pursuit of consensus ends in paralysis, or stifled differences.
Their men, on the other hand, often regard this process as interminable and chaotic. At worst, their pursuit of decisions ends in bossiness or submission.
Of course, there are other movements in this dance of indecision. An arabesque of martyrdom, a plie of self- sacrifice. Sometimes, under the guise of pleasing others, the women she knows waltz away from conflict and responsibility. If the movie is lousy, if it rains at the seaside, if the pizza is cold, it won't be their fault.
Her own motivations are, probably, one part thoughtful, one part self-protective, one part chicken.
The woman considers all this. She has, as usual, gone too far. They are only talking about dinner, after all. One dinner. No one will arrest her for selfishness if she chooses the restaurant. In fact, the consensus is that it's her turn to make the decision.