Do You Hear What I Hear (Habit: Selective Hearing)

Years ago, I wrote a book (never published) about all of the habits of mine that my wife finds annoying. I contend that these are typical male habits. My wife says that they are specific to me. Love to hear your thoughts. I’m now posting these habits weekly on my blog. Please let me know if you agree with me or my wife.

The habit below is from the section That Was Cute Before We Were Married.

One of things my wife often comments on in our marriage is how amazed she is by my hearing. It isn’t that I can hear high-pitched sounds like a dog or low-pitched ones like an elephant. The sounds I can hear are are within the standard human register. What my wife complains about is that she can be yelling for me and I won’t hear her, but she can utter certain words almost silently and I will come running.

As proof, she cites an incident that happened at our house one Sunday morning. It was about 7:00 a.m. The kids were asleep and my wife and I were trying to enjoy a last few quiet moments before they woke up.

The silence was broken by a faint noise that, for a few seconds, I could not place. When it hit me what it was, I said to her, “Honey, your cell phone’s ringing.”

“I don’t hear anything.”

“I’m going to check it out.”

“Get it later,” she said

“No. Need to check it out. It’s early. Could be an emergency.”

Given how faint the ring was, I knew her phone had to be downstairs. I looked around, but couldn’t find it. I called upstairs, “Do you remember where you put your phone?”

“I think it’s in my purse,” she said.

I saw her purse on the kitchen table. I walked over, lifted the cover flap, and started checking the pockets until I located the phone. Displayed on the readout were the words “1 missed call.”

I checked the number. I didn’t recognize it, but it had a New York area code. Since we no longer have friends in New York, I figured it was likely a wrong number. The phone then beeped, letting me know we had a voice mail. I checked it, only to hear the message, “Rachel, it’s Monica. I’m in a cab and I’ve just crossed the Brooklyn Bridge. You better be there.”

The surreal Friends-type moment was lost on me at that hour, so I returned to bed.

“Who was it?” my wife asked

“Wrong number,” I responded.

My wife chided me for just letting it go and then dialed Monica back, suggesting that she should try calling Rachel again. Then she looked at me and asked a question every husband has heard in some form. “How the heck could you hear that cell phone, yet you can’t hear me when I am YELLING for you?”

I thought about it for a second and suggested a few things.

“Well, our house has a two-story family room next to our kitchen. Sounds emanating from this area are audible in most of the house, including our bedroom. Therefore, if a TV or radio is on in this area, you can hear the sound in many of the rooms upstairs, though you may not be able to hear what is being said.

My wife looked unconvinced, though it may have just been my glassed-over eyes, so I kept going. (Yes, I know. My mistake.)

“Given where the cell phone was and where we were at the time of the call, I could hear the ring,” I said. “Also, the house was dead silent when the phone rang. If there were many distractions in the house, then yes. I would not have heard it ring. However, with nothing to distract me (and I’m not referring to the kids), I was able to hear the ring even though you couldn’t.”

“Yeah, right,” my wife said.

In her opinion, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened. For example, I love my alma mater, Auburn University. My wife is convinced that somebody can say the word “Auburn” and I will hear it across a noisy, crowded room. Further, not only can I hear it clearly, but when the conversation pertains to Auburn football, my wife is convinced I can’t hear anything else.

“You still haven’t answered my question,” my wife said.

“Which is?”

“How come you can’t hear me when I’m yelling for you?! The other day, I was in the bedroom and you were in the kitchen. I called for you and you didn’t hear a thing!”

“You were in the walk-in closet. You were three rooms from me. Besides, it wasn’t exactly quiet. I was preparing dinner. The TV was on. Of course, I couldn’t hear you.”

“You’re full of it!”

Complaints about my “selective hearing” aren’t new. We had the same issue in our prior house in Oregon and it was half the size of our house in Georgia. And no amount of me saying, “Well, your voice has to travel down the stairs and circle around the walls. There’s plenty of opportunity for the sound to be absorbed,” does anything to change her feeling on it.

“No,” she says. “This is your way of showing your true feelings.”

The guilt gets heavy. “I’m sorry it looks that way. It’s not the way I feel.”

Maybe I can hear certain sounds better than others. I don’t know why the ring of a cell phone or the discussion of college football cuts through so cleanly. Maybe it’s a male thing. I know of no way to make that cell phone ring sound louder. However, I do have one question. What do you think would happen if I casually said in a soft voice, “Do you want to go shopping for diamonds?”

Yeah…my thoughts exactly.

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