Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Why Men Don't Ask Directions

Can I just get this off my chest?

I don't know how this misnomer became so widely accepted so as to reach the status of being a cliche but somehow, it has. It's been joked about so often that people actually think men have an aversion to asking driving directions.

Generally, it seems as though the pop-psychologists you meet in everyday life attribute this perceived phenomenon to their belief that men think asking for help is a sign of weakness. Let me enlighten you.

I think it is probably true that men often do not ask for driving instructions when women passengers in the car would like them to. But this is not due to any aversion to appearing "weak". It is because usually, at the moment when women want us to ask directions, we are busy solving a problem.

The problem of course is how to find our destination. At that moment, we are focused on evaluating the alternative solutions to that problem, calculating the likelihood of success for each, and determining the most efficient path forward. Efficiency is often a key consideration because the show is starting and you need to arrive in time to be seated -- there is no time to waste on ineffective solutions.

In a great many instances, asking directions is not an attractive option. In fact, it is commonly futile. Especially when asking a random pedestrian or a cashier at a gas station. This is because so many factors can doom this approach to failure. The person you approach may not be familiar with the location you seek, they may know where it is but not how to drive there, they may be horribly deficient at describing a driving route, they may not speak the same language as you. An objective review of history shows that asking directions is rarely an effective choice.

My favorite confounding factor is that, for some reason, random pedestrians are often reluctant to admit that they can't help you and instead spew some unhelpful suggestions. This creates an especially combustible situation when female passengers in the car insist on following the obviously unhelpful suggestions while the male driver of the car dismisses the advice as blather. The ever-present possibility of wasting more time by being forced to pursue bad advice is factored in prior to choosing the "ask directions" solution. This makes that option even less attractive and unlikely to be chosen by most men.

Asking directions can be a reasonable alternative in some situations. For example, when we are driving to a location to which we have never been and we are seeking a well known destination like a sports arena or a concert hall. In this instance, it may be our best alternative and I think most men choose it. But when we are circling in a familiar location, seeking a recognizable clue that will get us back on track, it is almost never constructive to disengage our honing system and turn over navigation to a stranger. Especially given that, in such a situation, said stranger may be less informed than us.

Men seek the best solution to arriving at the destination in a timely manner. Don't blame us if "asking directions" is a poor alternative in many situations.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous1/27/2010

    I don't ask for directions either, just give me the address (38 Shore Road) and I'll find my way. No need to explain in great detail, of which I'd only be able to retain 5% (turn on Shore Road, it's on route 237 5.1 miles north of Woodstock, on top of the hill where the speed limit is posted at 50 mph, follow the road 3/8 of a mile, it's the third cottage on your right, grey, with purple shutters with pine cone cutouts, you will usually see my wife's red SUV parked in front of it, along with my blue Toyota, and yes, there's number 38 above the door, in gold lettering).
    If my printer stops printing, email stops sending/receiving, whatever the problem du jour - I don't grab the phone to call the helpline but try to work out the problem by myself. 9 times out of 10 I can figure it out, and learn something while doing it. That 1 out of 10, sometimes the helpline DOES have the answer. You just have to spend half a day formulating the right question.