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New Year’s Resolutions

I don’t make them anymore. A couple years ago I resolved not to be so obsessed with self-improvement, but I forgot to put an expiry date on that resolution, much to the chagrin of my family. It reminds me of a highway sign in central Ohio that I saw about 950,000 miles ago: buckle up next million miles. I put the seat belt on then and was so close to being able to take it off when I passed it again on my way to Canada last week. Very frustrating. It’s like getting to the end of a maze and they move the end point when you come around the last bend.

I am determined, however, to stay on topic better this year. I think resolutions are good things if you keep them in balance, but I think goals are a lot more useful. So if you are thinking about making a resolution for 2009, be careful. Don’t make it something that guarantees you’ll be frustrated. You are what you are.

If you want to change something about what you do, then do it, but don’t ask for a complete perfection by January 2. If you want to eat healthier, then turn that into goals that can be attained. For example, rahter than resolve to eat healthier (too vague), resolve to eat three more vegetable servings per week and one less candy bar. Nice and specific and more or less doable. Plus, if you do eat that one less candy bar, you might find the other six you’ve been eating aren’t so hard to give up.

Another avoidance: don’t resolve to be nicer to your wife. Too vague and unaccountable. Ask her one thing you could do for her this year and prepare yourself for the worst. It will almost certainly involve something that will unman you, like picking up your underwear after taking a shower, folding your own laundry, or, God forbid, washing the dishes once a month. But once you’ve asked, you can’t escape. Don’t even try to modify it with a clever comeback, like, “but what could I do for you in the garage?” or, “what about the back yard?” If you want to try those options, you’ll have to frame the whole conversation around them.

For example, you could send your kids out to play in the garage and encourage them to trash the whole thing. Then you could bring your wife out there and the two of you could survey the damage, heads shaking soberly and lips smacking tiskily. Now’s the time to be a hero. Start patiently and calmly putting away the things you know your wife care’s about most, like the camping gear and the tool kits. While you’re doing so, you turn to her and say something warm and glowing, like, “you know what dear? I’ve always loved it when we can come out to the garage and clean up. My memories of our times in the garage have turned it into one of my favorite places.” It’s best to say this with your arms around her and if you can manage one of those effeminate moves like looking her in the eye that would probably make it even more effective. But don’t over-reach. You are on fragile ice at this point (new year’s goals are not for the cowardly or frigid of nerve).

Before she realizes what’s hitting her, you quick follow up with a bold offer, like, “What one thing could I do for you this year out here in the garage?”

Now look, you always have to be prepared for the worst when you ask your wife that question. But at least you’ve put the odds in your favor that whatever favor she is going to ask of you, it might be in the garage. And after all. that’s your favorite place. Especially after all the time you’ve already spent in the doghouse.

Men, you have to remember that women are much more subtle than we are. They don’t always or even frequently tell you the truth. So beware of this clever ruse even more than the doghouse, which is where she wants you: if she says, “I don’t want you to do anything for me,” DO NOT BELIEVE HER.

It is time to think hard when she says that. It probably means you are already in trouble for something and she’s leaving you to your own resources (which I think women do just to remind us that we don’t have any). You might need to go after the only two things that can really and truly score points with her: her father and her children. If she says she doesn’t want anything from you, you probably can’t do any better than to say, “OK, let’s go visit your dad this weekend,” or “OK. Hey, how about I take the kids to the beach for a week. You can stay home and rest and I’ll spend a few days bonding with those fabulous children you bore me through hours and hours of excruciating pain that I could never even begin to imagine because it is totally something only a woman could endure without cursing violently (and I don’t even remember what you said when I squished your arm in the hospital bed anyway) and now you have spent so many hours and hours pouring your wisdom and virtue and purity into them and it’s probably pretty safe for them to be exposed to someone like me, don’t you think?”

That might work.

The point is, make your resolutions specific and precise.

And stay on topic when you are talking to her. Wives hate it when you go off topic and start talking about, say, how things are really going at work or some interesting guitar riff in a Led Zeppelin song or a plot twist in a James Bond movie – you know, the stuff that really matters.

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