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Why men never know what women want

Yesterday morning, I rushed in late for my daughter’s school play and sat next to a woman who I took to be my wife. Erroneously, as it turned out. No wonder she looked bemused when I asked her what she’d done with my jogging kit.

According to a survey published yesterday, I needn’t feel too bad: millions of British men are ignorant of such basic information about their wives as hair colour, job title, date of birth or name of best friend.

But if women are sometimes surprised by how hard men find it to remember the little details, they should have tried living with our fathers. The name of a wife’s best friend? My father could scarcely remember the name of his own wife he had so many, so he called them all "darling" to avoid confusion during interregnums.

The survey was commissioned by a seller of scents to show that because men are useless at choosing presents women must not be "subtle" about what they are hoping to be given. But shyness isn’t a condition I’ve noticed in many wives. Men are no worse at present buying than women; we simply try harder to disguise our disappointment. When we say "this year, darling, you have surpassed yourself; this is the craziest cardigan I’ve ever seen", play back the words. Wives like to believe they know everything about us, and sometime in late February the charity shop gains a few more cardigans, so everyone’s happy.

Yet I guarantee that a female’s first words, before she has even ripped open a Valentine gift this Sunday, are likely be those of my wife: "you have kept the receipt, haven’t you sweetheart?" The word "sweetheart" is delivered in the tone of a train conductor warning about suspect packages. If women won’t even pretend to like our trinkets, is it any wonder we stop trying to please them?

The first present I bought my (now) wife was a stunning, admittedly rather short, silver dress from Harvey Nichols. Her response? She threw it back shouting "so you think I’m a prostitute, huh?". Give a wife a homely present, on the other hand, and it will be, "so this is how you see me now: Nora bleeding Batty?" That was pretty well the reaction of a woman I know when she received from her brand new boyfriend a hot water bottle, albeit one covered in cashmere. It was hardly the steamy gift she’d been hoping for.

I confess men can, on occasion, fall short, and even I can see why the more exacting wife might assume a husband should know certain details. A friend (who has been married for years) was astonished to receive earrings from her husband for her birthday. Her ears have never been pierced. Another acquaintance who bought his wife lingerie cleverly checked her bra size beforehand against one in her drawer. He failed to notice that it was her old maternity bra.

A trawl of friends reveals a sorry litany of presents bestowed on gobsmacked wives, including a rape alarm, dog basket, deep fat fryer and an exercise machine carrying the motif "pound buster", to which the only possible response was "dearest, you shouldnhave – really."

Kathy Lette, author of Men – A User’s Guide, says her husband gave her ladybird earrings, two Christmases running. And he once described her blue eyes ("my only attractive attribute") as brown: "Don’t Make My Brown Eyes Blue finally made sense to me. My mother said it was grounds for divorce. Actually, it’s grounds for homicide.

"For men, sensitivity is like airbags in a car, an optional extra. Women spend more time thinking about what men are thinking about than men spend thinking at all. While a woman ponders love and happily ever after, a man is wondering: ‘do I have time to clean the car and get laid before kick off?’’" Ouch.

But there is something to be said for husbands bearing unimaginative gifts, for how much more alarming are husbands who try? A woman in our village was mortified on Christmas morning to open, in front of children and relations, a Rampant Rabbit. Much better to be another local wife who every year receives a jumper from M&S. "I’d worry if he gave anything else," she offers. "I know where I am with him."

Yet, just occasionally, husband really does know best. A few years on, the only thing a certain woman mentions more warmly than her now beloved husband is that cashmere hot water bottle

-The Daily Telegraph

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