Men and Shopping: Mystery Solved

During a recent trip to the mall, I found myself watching a young couple. They were hand-in-hand (or hand-in-pocket) walking between stores and sharing a soft pretzel. It was clear that the woman, who had several shopping bags in her hands, was having a good time. Her guy, however, seemed to be losing steam. The expression on his face told me he clearly would have preferred to be somewhere else – maybe just about anywhere else.

It got me thinking about my own feelings about the mall. While I don’t want to spend every day there – and while my tolerance tops out at about two hours – I rarely object to getting in the car to go.  I like to check things out when I hear about a new store opening, or when there’s a great sale. Sometimes I’ll go myself, sometimes with a friend, rarely with my husband.  Why?  Because even when there’s a comfy “man chair,” as he calls it, conveniently situated right outside the dressing rooms, it isn’t sport for him the way it is for me. He’ll go if I ask. But I generally don’t because it stresses me out just knowing he’s wondering how long this expedition is going to last.

Is this always the way it is with men and women and shopping?  I suspected not. My father – who found Paul Smith before most guys half his age – liked a good trip to the mall.  Even Cher, in “Clueless,” had a male shopping buddy who didn’t need to be dragged along.  But Daniel Kruger and Dreyson Byker, professors at University of Michigan, recently completed some actual research on this phenomenon.

The pair say that the shopping strategies of men and women rather developed generations ago when our female ancestors gathered plants, while their male counterparts hunted for animals – and that those strategies directly impact our enjoyment.  Kruger says one big reason women get a bigger rush from our shopping expeditions is the way we navigate a store. “Women are better able to navigate using objects,” he says, “and they see unexplored areas as opportunities to find something new.”  Men, who spent days at a time traveling hundreds of miles on a hunt, use “environmental cues like the sun’s position to determine where they are and where they’re going,” says Kruger. “They see new territory as more ground they need to manage.”

In other words, women find the fun in the unknown. We get a rush from flipping through racks and – surprise – spotting the perfect piece.  Men find the same exercise tedious. That explains their tendency to power shop, whether for holiday gifts, clothing for themselves or new gadgets.  They just want to finish the job and get out of there.

Moral of the story: If you want to enjoy the experience, make sure you have the right company.  Even if that means you shop alone.

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