Tim Barto: The details that separate men from women



Men can menstruate, give birth, and win NCAA women’s swimming championships, but the true test that differentiates between the sexes is in the details of conversation and observation.

A few days ago, I had lunch with a friend who announced his fourth grandchild had just been born. Patriarchal displays of congratulations ensued, and happiness abounded. The lunch was delicious and the conversation great. All well and good . . . until I reached home. I told my wife about the nice conversation, the jaeger schnitzel that was just like they have in Germany, the great things our friend was doing in his ministry, and, oh yeah, his daughter gave birth again yesterday.

“She did? Boy or girl?” my wife asked.


“You didn’t ask him what sex the baby was!”

“Sure, I did,” I responded. And I did, in fact, ask that question. The answer just wasn’t stored in the memory banks. “It was a girl, I think.  Or a boy.  One or the other.”

“How do you not remember if the baby was a girl or boy?” Incredulous my wife was, although, honestly, she should know better by now.  We’ve been married 32 years. 

It was an all-too-familiar replay of last week’s conversation. Again, it stemmed from me having lunch, this time with a young man smitten with our daughter. I was there to make sure he was worthy of her, but I went alone. (Having passed the test, he soon gets to meet Mama for the real trial.)

“Is his hair color light or dark?”


A slightly cocked head and terse lips were my wife’s only response to my lackluster reply. 

“Sort of a, you know, light-dark mix. Brownish in a blonde kind of way.”

“What was he wearing?”

A look of frustration greeted my wife’s stare, then she just turned and walked away. I gotta’ give her credit for a rather noteworthy act of restraint. Either I need to quit having lunches with guys, or I need to quit reporting on the lunches I have with guys, or I need to learn to remember the details, like colors. Colors are evidently at the top of the women-folk’s important details list — hair, eyes, house, coat, shoes. Names are up there, too – nieces, nephews, children of friends, that couple we met four months ago when visiting a new church. 

“So, I saw Kim at Fred Meyer yesterday … “

“Who is Kim again?” I was the one asking the question this time.

“You know, Dalton’s wife. We met them at that new church back in November?”

“We went to a new church in November?”

Only the whites of her eyes were visible, they were rolling so violently upwards. “She was wearing a long beige sweater. He had a vest and tie on.”

“Heh heh. Yeah, so how is Kim?”  

The detail minefield is exacerbated when your wife happens to be from a culture that calls every female friend over 18 “aunty” and where all the children of our friends earn the title “cousin.” We’ve visited people on no more than five occasions and my wife gets frustrated because I don’t know what their relationship to us is. So I practice.

“Aunty Liane is Aunty Wendy’s sister, right?”

“Wow, I’m proud of you, Honey.” My wife was, indeed, proud, but such success comes with a heavy price: more details. “And they have another sister – Aunty Lisa.”

“Right, Isao’s Mom,” I said confidently.

“No, Wendy is Isao’s Mom. Lisa’s son is Max. He’s the one attending the merchant marine academy.”

“Cool. I didn’t know that.”

“Yes, you did. You talked with him last visit. Wendy’s youngest son is attending there, too. They’re roommates.”

And on it goes. I have to fill out a scorecard each time we take a vacation.

Part of the problem, though, is that I simply forget to tell her the things I actually remember, such as my mom was discharged from the hospital, our nephew is getting pinned as a Warrant Officer, our friends’ kid (a cousin, of course) made All-American at UCLA. That kind of stuff. Eventually, I get around to it, but it just doesn’t impress me as something I should immediately yap about after I hang up the phone. My wife differs. 

And I know it’s a female thing. My guy friend – Ernie or Frank, or something like that – told me his wife does the same thing. And my newly married daughter commiserates with her mother about how our new son-in-law, Aaron (or Elijah, or Nebuchadnezzar – one of those Old Testament names), always forgets to give her details of their conversations.  

Women have this penchant for details, a biological need for bits of information about people and a desire to strangle us guys who don’t share the same penchant. So, if a man wants to claim himself a woman, he’d better master the art of expecting detailed information but being eternally disappointed when those expectations are shattered. 

Tim Barto is a former Naval intelligence Specialist who used to always try and anticipate questions his skipper would ask at the end of the brief. He is not so skilled at anticipating his wife’s questions when returning from lunch.


  1. Oh my gosh that was hilarious ????. And completely on target as just change the names and it could be a conversation between my husband and myself just last week….?. Excellent point as well. A tough ‘row to now’ for all those bio-men out there that want to be gals. Good luck with that!

  2. Don’t let Lucinda see you talking like this. He ain’t down with the cis-ness. I mean they or them or that……you know the thing. C’mon Man!

  3. Made me LOL because it’s so true. I’ve given up on my husband remembering any such details. I just automatically fill him in. Birthdays of children are another thing. But I won’t go there

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