MUNICH — Anybody who has ever stepped foot in a big-city shopping mall is familiar with the sight: men waiting, with that glassy-eyed stare off into the distance of pure boredom.
Researchers commissioned by a British fashion label have apparently found that men spend one full year of their lives waiting for women — outside bathrooms, in cars with the motor running, or making the shopping rounds. They spend a total of 22 weeks alone hanging around outside changing rooms.
Hamburg-based writer Moritz Petz even devoted a whole book to the subject of waiting for women — Warten auf Frauen — in which he works through his waiting experiences and calls excesses of this form of time-wasting an “unbearable condition.”
Instagram also deals with the subject of waiting men. On a page titled “Miserable Men,” there’s an entire gallery of guys from all over the world ... waiting. They sit slumped in their chairs, brooding, dozing. One man gives himself a foot massage. Others lie flat and sleep. Many of the men are surrounded by shopping bags.
The waiting men are reminiscient of the two drifter characters in Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot. Just like Estragon and Vladimir, they are presumably pondering the meaning of their situations. But as everybody knows, Godot is never going to show up — unlike the woman behind the changing booth curtain.
The question with regard to her is not if or what but when? It could be any minute now — or a little bit longer still. Few men manage to use their time usefully in these situations. Some pick their fingernails. Others vengefully ogle other women. Others still sit in quiet desperation.
A waiting person isn’t receiving a gift of time. On the contrary: Time is being stolen from their lives. And anybody who thinks they can make up for lost time is severely mistaken. “You can’t do anything with time except live it,” says renowned time researcher Karlheinz Geißler.
This applies to waiting for women too, of course. The best recourse is to learn how to live with it. The question is how.
At another's mercy
“It’s the forced passivity that makes waiting situations weigh so heavily,” says Magdeburg-based sociologist Rainer Paris, who has studied the phenomenon of waiting extensively.
How waiting is perceived depends on the end goal. “The woman is doing something she enjoys, but there’s nothing more in it for him than waiting. If all you can do is wait, then you feel as if you’re at somebody else’s mercy.”
Therefore, waiting is only fun when it leads to something pleasurable. Which is why it’s more frustrating to wait for a woman in a changing booth than it is, say, to wait for Christmas. “The waiting person has just one thing in their head: When is this going to end?” theologian Regina Speck wrote in an article in December.
Speck also points out that we have faith based on experience that there will be an end to the waiting, which is presumably why so many men let themselves get into this situation, time and time again. In that sense, it is indeed like Waiting for Godot: Hope dies last. The waiting person wants all too much to believe “two more minutes and we’re done.” He even believes it after 10 minutes. After another 10, all he wants is for the whole thing to be over.
Sociologist Rainer Paris explains that men and women perceive shopping differently. “Most men buy what they need,” he says. “She buys what she likes. So she’s totally absorbed with selecting what she wants, while he’s thinking, when will she finally finish? From her perspective, she’s not making him wait. She just forgets him and the fact that he’s waiting.”
Experts recommend avoiding this dynamic and making exact arrangements to meet up again within a specific period of time and in a specific place. “Many outlet malls have installed stuff for men to do while they wait,” Paris says. “Or they can sit in the café and read the paper.”
At least this approach respects the time and interests of both people. What most people don’t appear to realize is that waiting is more than just a bothersome waste of time. It’s a major indicator of the balance of power in a relationship, says Paris.
“The one who can impose their schedule on the other is the one who’s calling the shots.”