A few days ago, our daughter, who lives near Cincinnati, had to drive to Louisville for her job on a Sunday. She dropped off our 14-year-old granddaughter and 15-year-old grandson with my wife Diane and me for several hours, instead of leaving them home alone. It was unfortunate for her, but lucky for us.

On grandma overdrive, after swimming, chocolate chip cookies, and lunch Diane decided that she wanted to take the kids shopping for clothes and out for ice cream. The girl, who is very interested in clothes, was quite willing to go. Our grandson, on the other hand, started complaining and did everything within his power to avoid the shopping trip, including calling his mother trying to get a last-minute reprieve. Nothing worked. Diane can be pretty persistent, but even I was surprised that she managed to get him into the car. It reminded me of the time when he was about five years old and threw a tantrum at Conner Prairie state historical site. Diane, despite recovering from surgery, physically hauled him out of the gift shop, while he screamed and kicked all the way (he was demanding a wood rifle).

Our granddaughter, who visited, received a sewing machine two years ago and remarkably taught herself to sew by watching YouTube videos. She has also carefully studied the history of fashion. When Diane took her and two other granddaughters to a tea last summer, at a historic house near Lexington, she politely explained to the tearoom staff how their costumes were not the correct styles for the historic period they were supposed to be representing.

When they arrived at the store, Diane gave the girl free rein to go off on her own and pick out three things. Diane told her that she would shop with our grandson, because he needed the encouragement. Our granddaughter said she was a bit intimidated at first, but she soon warmed up to the idea of being independent and making her own choices. She ended up finding four interesting and very cute things to wear and was enormously pleased with herself.

Boys, however, are a completely different story. Our grandson insisted that he didn’t want anything and that he didn’t need anything. Diane, however, was used to this sort of attitude, since our youngest son was pretty much the same when it came to shopping. After considerable coaxing, our grandson finally agreed to some new shirts. He had a number of rules, however. The shirt could not have a collar. It could not have any unusual texture, design, or writing on it. It had to be short-sleeved and the color had to be dark and muted, and preferably blue.

It seems like boys this age are very self-conscious. Most of all they don’t want to stand out in any way or draw attention to themselves. They certainly don’t want to attract teasing or bullies. Other kids can be exceptionally cruel and creative in their name-calling and they are constantly scanning for new potential victims.

Getting new clothes could potentially put you on the radar for unwanted attention. I think that’s why they prefer to just stick with clothing that is tried and true. Why rock the boat? This may also be why the clothing they chose tends to be so bland and nondescript. They really want to blend into the background like a chameleon. Clothing is camouflage for them.

I remember once when we were shopping for our youngest son and his sister-in-law suggested that he get a vest. I could see David was horrified at the prospect. He turned to her and said, “I’m just not very vesty.” She seemed extremely peeved, feeling he should value her fashion advice.

It should be noted that it’s not only teenaged boys who try to evade shopping; it’s a fairly common male trait. In Britain a survey revealed that 80% of men didn’t like shopping with their partners and 45% avoided such trips at all costs. Men also reported becoming bored after shopping for only 26 minutes. Women, however, can easily shop for two hours or more without becoming disinterested. Couples often get into fights on shopping trips because the men become impatient and think the whole thing is taking way too long.

There may be some evolutionary factors as to why males, including teenaged boys, are so reluctant to shop. Researchers from the University of Michigan believe that early hominoids spent a good deal of their lives gathering and hunting for items necessary for survival. They say “Modern humans still devote considerable time and effort to foraging, although the foraging context is now in the settings of shopping malls, grocery stores, and Internet sites.” Due to physical differences and the need to care for infants, men became predominantly hunters, while women became predominantly gatherers.

This division of labor resulted in the evolution of gender-specific foraging strategies. For example, men generally are better than women, at orientation and wayfinding. Women, however, are usually better than men at object memory and location memory. Studies in markets have shown that women have a better memory for the location of specific foods and their accuracy is even better for highly nutritious items.

Hunting typically involves trying to make a kill as quickly as possible and then returning the valuable meat to a place of safety, to be consumed immediately. Gathering, however, involves browsing, comparing alternatives, and making careful selections. To be successful takes significantly more time, diligence, and patience.

According to psychologist Steve Taylor, from Leeds University. “…men appear to be more mono-focused… they have one thing in mind: kill an animal and go home. … it’s not so necessary for them to examine their food acquisitions.” He also says that perhaps “The rush to get home was based on the knowledge that if a hunter left an animal lying for too long, other animals or insects would start to eat it.” If these primitive strategies are applied to modern shopping, it may explain why males hate shopping and why they make quick selections, without carefully considering all the alternatives, and become so easily bored and antsy to get home.

Once several years ago, Diane and I went shopping together. She selected some clothing items and left them with me to watch, while she went to try on some other things. While she was gone, I’m embarrassed to admit that I fell asleep sitting up (a convenient skill). To make matters worse, some overzealous clerk took all the items, I was supposed to be guarding, and returned them to the racks. To my chagrin this incident still occasionally is brought up and explaining the nature of evolution never helps.

Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D., teaches psychology at Ivy Tech Community College in Sellersburg and lives in Jeffersonville. He can be reached at tstawar@gmail.com.

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