Male and female differences apparent in The Great Purse Debate

Categorized as 02/27/12 Grounds for Insanity column

It happened the other night. There I was, scrabbling around in my handbag, trying to find the Chapstick. Digging, digging, blood pressure rising…

From the bowels of the closet, this is what The Mister heard, “I’m ready to throw this thing in the English Channel!”

In the bowels of the closet, this is what I heard, “Lord, help her find the perfect purse.” I hadn’t thought you could pack a “roll of the eyes” tone into an arrow prayer, but, by cracky, if he didn’t nail it.

I laughed. “Here’s the deal,” I said. “I’m going to gut it out for the rest of the winter with this totally unsuitable black purse. But come spring…” I peered at him meaningfully. He paled, feeling helpless in the face of my handbag issues, and headed for his favorite spot on the couch to Google something manly, like basketball scores, on his smart phone.

A woman and her purse is a mystery to a man. In his world, “If it doesn’t fit in your pocket, you don’t need it.” But in her world, “I have to make this fit because I might need it.”

It’s odd. The very men who snort and whiffle at the size of a woman’s handbag (“what do you have in there, the kitchen sink”) are the same ones who expect you to have everything and the kitchen sink.

Nurturers that we are, we just want to be prepared for any emergency; hence, the big bag. With the first-aid kit. And the cough syrup. And the fruit snacks. And the paperback. And the Fix-A-Flat. Because you never know.

A man doesn’t understand, either, that color matters. All he wants is a sturdy, serviceable wallet to tuck squarely in his back pocket. He’s not out to make a fashion statement or to “express his personality.” But a girl? Oh, my.

Color and style matter. A lot. And personality? Oh, yeah. Whether in bright reds or florals, sober solids or playful prints, a woman carries hers on her arm. It’s a wise man indeed who learns to check the emotional weather vane by noting which purse she’s using. That way, he’ll know whether to tack into the wind or to spend the evening tinkering in the garage.

When I expressed my handbag angst to my friends, I found I’d struck a nerve. “I’ve spent days of my life searching for just the right one,” someone lamented. Others chimed in, expressing their own purse-related stress and the difficulty in finding one with the right pockets.

Yet another reader spoke up, telling me of a handbag company, a home-based program by which you could earn purses and bags for free. There was a plethora of colors and styles, she said, and she’d “made out like a bandit” when she’d hosted a show.

Her extremely practical, left-brain husband was stumped, utterly unable to understand her fascination with the bags. To which she replied cheerfully that they should simply be considered as her “tools,” an answer which left him scratching his head (the left side, of course).

Someone else added that in her opinion, new purses should come with a 30-day trial period. After all, a model that seems perfectly suitable in the store can turn out to be completely unsuitable in the field. But you can’t know this upon brief inspection for 20 minutes in the purse aisle. You can’t.

“Eureka!” I’d shouted then, and promptly informed readers that if I were president, I’d mandate a 30-day trial period on all new-purse purchases. Right after I signed National Pajama Day into law, of course. Then, I added, I’d nominate this quick-thinking friend to be my Secretary of Commerce. Women cheered, waving their bags, and two folks gave me their votes.

Which is how I know what’s behind the volatility of the current presidential race. Those poor fellows haven’t found the silver bullet, the golden key to unite a wavering electorate and galvanize their campaigns. They keep debating things like taxes, immigration, the economy, and national security while the women of America have one simple question, “But what about the handbags, gentlemen? What about them?”

Sigh. Deep sigh. I really don’t have time to run for office right now. I’m too busy raising boys, doing laundry, balancing a budget, creating jobs (chores), welcoming immigrants (their friends), teaching ethics, and securing the borders (think ‘pantry’) for any such nonsense.

If the candidates finally get tired of the same old rhetoric and want some fresh ideas, I’ve got a few. I can give ‘em 15 minutes or so between laundry and tracking those immigrants. If their people will call mine, we’ll set this thing up.

As stated, this girl plans to gut it out until spring with her black, too-small handbag. Once the crocuses come up, though, all bets are off, and she’s going shopping. In last summer’s darling pewter flip-flops, of course. All she wants, she says, is the perfect purse; one that will let her find the Chapstick and get to her phone.

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