Thursday, January 26, 2006

Dear Girlfriend,

In a post 9/11 world besieged by tsunamis, hurricanes, suicidal fanatics, and incompetent wingnuts, you have chosen to devote your energies to lamenting my lack of sartorial polish. I won't begrudge your priorities, but let me clue you in on something: I did wear matching socks today. Not right now, as I'm typing while lying in bed, barefoot. But earlier today, a set of blue argyle socks adorned my feet. I also fit my belt into all five loops on my slacks. And, believe it or not, I didn't forget my keysphonewallet when I left for work. I even remembered my lip balm.

It may shock you to learn that I wear matching socks approximately 87.6% of the time. That's about 8 out of every 9 days -- pretty good in my book. To put it in perspective, Kobe Bryant is more likely to miss a free throw than the chance of you catching me donning mispaired socks. And who cares, really? If, by chance, my left foot had on a dark grey sock with 2 mm horizontal grooves while my right had on a dark grey sock with black vertical pinlines, who will look closely enough to tell? Besides you, that is? Heck, if somebody's wearing a black sock and blue sock, I probably can't tell. I mean, does anyone look at other people's socks? I personally prefer to ponder the dangers of Iran's nuclear capabilities in my idle time.

As for belt loops, isn't the function of a belt to make sure your pants doesn't fall off? By that measure, I'm doing fine; I haven't accidently dropped trou since maybe fourth grade. So a loop gets missed once in while. Maybe even 23% of the time. But that means 77% of the time, I've secured my belt perfectly. 77%! Shouldn't that count for something? That leads to keysphonewallet. By my calculations, a good 68.2% of the time, I will be entirely successful in leaving the house with those indispensable items. To better understand that percentage, just consider that Matt Leinart is less likely to complete a pass than I am to flub the simple task of taking the keyphonewallet with me. Please note that Leinart won the Heisman Trophy two years ago. Admittedly, on a few occasions, I have inconvenienced myself and others because I had to return home to retrieve said items. But did anyone suffer permanent scarring as a result of my absent-mindedness? Did anyone lose a limb? Let's keep things in perspective here.

Instead of haranguing me about cotton stockings, we could be enjoying delightful, illuminating conversations about David Foster Wallace's essay on porn awards, the mythology behind Chinese spring rolls, Martina Hingis' comeback, the recent Canadian elections, the MacBook vs. PowerBook, Scalito's confirmation hearings, or any of the endlessly fascinating subjects that I follow daily.

You know what I think the problem is? Unrealistic expectations, a scourge of relationships. Come to think of it, high expectations might be the central culprit behind human misery. Nobody gets props for getting things right. They just get blamed when shit goes down. Wouldn't the world be much better off if people got plaudits for getting things right? Recall the central lesson imparted by Steven Levitt, author of your beloved Freakonomics: the power of incentives to affect behavior. Imagine a world where the DMV awards you money for stopping at a red light, instead of you getting fined for running a light. Instead of blithely ignoring the cashier who gives you back the correct change, one should express appreciation for competence and a job well-done. What's the harm of saying, "thank you so much for your accurate sorting of the $2.37 in two one-dollar denominations, a quarter, a dime and two pennies, owed to me. Great job!"? Statements like that will not only cheer up the cashier, it may encourage continued excellent cashiering. And you know about the big media flare-up this month, when activists blogrushed Washington Post's ombudsman Deborah Howell for her misstatements concerning the Republican Abramoff scandal? Wrong approach, I say. How about adding a comment commending Howell for her perfect spelling? How's that for "civility." And why not give plaudits to chefs who don't serve burnt pasta? If you temper your expectations, you might enjoy your meal, rather than nitpick pasta texture. Wait, that's what I do. But you get the picture.

All I'm saying is a different approach, one that takes into account advanced microeconomic theory and the latest research on behaviorial psychology, might serve you better. "Hey, good job not missing any belt loops, bud" might be more effective than "ai-ya, what am I gonna do with such a hapless boyfriend! I wish I could quit you!" Give it some thought.

Yours sincerely,

The Boyfriend.