BY MIA FREEDMAN My daughter wants to know when you can have children. She’s six. I overheard her asking her father about it the other night. “What’s the best age to have a baby? 15? Is that a good age?” Unfortunately, she chose the wrong parent to discuss this with. Dads are unprepared for such questions because they rarely dwell in the hypothetical future. It fries my husband’s brain to imagine his little girl being in high school, let alone pregnant.
Me, I’d have dived happily into a detailed chat about the various pros and cons of having kids at different ages, whether she wants kids at all, how many she’d like to have, and what she might call them. We may have also discussed who’d be with her in the delivery room because, you know, that’s something to consider.
I’d be so into that conversation.
Meanwhile, my three year old son doesn’t want to know anything. He just wants to hit things with sticks.
This perfectly illustrates my theory that women live in the future and men live in the present. We’re always looking over the horizon, gathering information about what options will be available when we arrive. Whereas men are grounded more firmly in the here and now. ‘Is anyone in immediate danger? No? OK, we’re good then.’
Really, this explains so much.
Like why women are so obsessed with anniversaries (the past). And why we believe our lives will be better when we tone our upper arms, meet that guy, get that job, grow our hair, learn to zumba or are finally satisfied that Jennifer Aniston has found the right guy and we can finally stop worrying about her (the future).
My three year old’s ability to exist so completely in the moment used to frustrate me (“I know you’re killing lions but you need to put on PANTS so we can go to PRESCHOOL.”) but these days I envy him because I find being present a constant struggle. As a writer, I’m always somewhere else in my head. This drives people nuts when they try to talk to me and I don’t hear them because I’m mentally planning this column or angsting about some entirely imagined situation.
Perhaps you are too. A Harvard University study in 2010 found that people spend nearly half their time thinking about something other than what they’re doing.
The exception? During sex, when 90% of people said they were focussed on the task at hand. Dare I suggest many of the women were fibbing? Every woman I know admits to having a wandering mind sometimes in bed. “I try to be in the moment but invariably I start thinking about whether Tony Abbott really will be Prime Minister after the next election and whether I’ve taken the chicken out to defrost,” says one.
The study concluded that looking back, forward or even just daydreaming generally makes people less happy, even when they’re thinking about something nice.
My dog is an excellent example of this. He is always present and appears exceedingly happy. He doesn’t fret about possible interest rate increases. He doesn’t ruminate over the way his last relationship ended or wonder if he should have finished university. It’s easier for him though because he doesn’t have opposable thumbs which rules out using a smartphone, that notorious saboteur of enjoying the moment.
I know this because I live it. Instead of enjoying the rare sight of my kids cuddling each other, I scramble to capture the moment and SMS it to their grandparents. Instead of watching Q&A and learning something, I’m mentally composing wry tweets to show off.
I’m present tense.
We’re a generation constantly living just outside ourselves, not experiencing moments but coolly packaging them up to share on Facebook.
When I asked four women about how present they were, they all replied: “Hardly Ever”. Some were trying to change this, like my friend K who insists: “I’m really making an effort to listen to my kids when they talk to me, not just with one ear while I check my emails. It’s hard, because technology is always in reach and what’s online is often more interesting than hearing a detailed account of why your children didn’t like their lunch.”
Some of my younger friends, however, are pushing back on the now thing. They’re present tense. “Sometimes I just want to worry about the future unnecessarily,” complains one 21 year old. “And sometimes I want to have sex or exercise while thinking about what I’m going to wear out on the weekend.” She doesn’t call this unhappy. She calls it multi-tasking.
Last Sunday, we went to the park. Phone-free. We walked, talked about nature and paused frequently to look at small creatures. I admit I was a bit tetchy at times. Like when the kids hit the playground and I sat on a bench. Just. Sitting. And of course I drifted off into my head many times. But I pushed through it, yanking myself back into the present.
When we arrived home, I had 10 missed calls and six texts alerting me to Whitney Houston’s death and causing me to jump immediately online. Would it have made any difference if I’d heard that news an hour earlier? To the world, no. To my family, absolutely. So. I don’t think I’ll ever stop living in my head but I will try to venture out much more often. Phone-free.
Do you tend to live in the past, the future or the present?