So there’s a study out that “proves” that women worry more than men.
Like we didn’t know that. Like we women don’t spend most of our waking hours (and being worried, of course, most of our hours are waking) fretting our female hearts out, using this delightful template:
“Did I remember to pay the credit card on time, or are they going to use this as the excuse they’ve been waiting for to jack up my APR and put a check next to my name so that when, 10 years after we should have(!), we finally do go to buy a home — right after the market has recovered to precrash levels (so much for college for the kids) — the bank’ll say, ‘Sorry we have to gouge you, Ms. Waited-Too-Long.’ All because of one stupid check! And there goes the house, the education, the trip to England, where we’d cross the street without looking the right direction and end up…”
Ah, life’s a real picnic when you’re hard-wired this way. Yet that’s what the study, conducted at the University of California, Davis, concluded: Females, starting at age 3, tend to believe that a negative past event forecasts negative future events. In other words, if something bad happened once, we don’t expect something good to happen the next time.
Well, actually, the whole study wasn’t quite that tidy. The protocol involved reading a story to boys and girls (and some adults) and then asking them why they thought certain characters reacted a certain way. The females generally thought the characters were motivated by a fear of possible harm, and this supposedly proved that the females themselves think in terms of future harm and … aw, heck. Frankly, the whole thing seemed way off base as a way of measuring who worries and why. Yet it totally resonated for most of the women I spoke to.
“ It’s like a three-phase approach,” said Rosemary, a woman I met at my pediatrician’s office (where else?), about her worrying technique.
“I seem to worry before an event, during and after it.” Though some of her worries are pretty frothy — “Am I going to look too sexy or too old for the event?” — the ones that really haunt her have to do with hurting other people:
“I just spoke to my mom, and she said, ‘ You sound upset.’ I said, ‘I’m not at all upset.’ And I hung up,” Rosemary said. “Then I thought, ‘ Now is she upset? Should I call her back?’ While my husband would think, ‘It’s fine.’”
Psychologists believe that some worry arises from an excess of sympathy. The more you feel for other folks the more you worry about your effect on them and their moods. That seems to be more of a female thing.
It’s also more of a female thing to be the family’s main caregiver, and part of that job description is to worry. If not, who would drag the child to the doctor to make sure the sore throat isn’t pneumonia?
“I worry that my children are cold at night. I worry about car accidents. I worry if I take a walk and see a person; I think, ‘Oh, God, I hope they’re not crazy, because nobody’s going to hear me if I scream.’” That’s what my dear friend Marla said when I asked about this topic.
And I always thought of her as the mother who didn’t worry.
Shrinks advise us brooders to ask ourselves why we continue to fear the worst when we clearly can see that the children did not freeze, the car didn’t crash and the crazy man was actually sane (or at least found another victim).
But what if the shrinks are wrong and this technique actually makes things worse, hmm? Or drives us insane? Or leads us to blithely cross the street right when — BOOM!
Think about that.
I know I will.
Lenore Skenazy is a keynote speaker and author of the book and blog “Free- Range Kids.”