How A Strategically Placed Question Mark Caused A Week’s Worth of Tension

A short story about how men and women think differently.

In my household, I’m in charge of paying the bills.  I’m in charge of all paperwork, actually.  Actually, I’m in charge of all things related to organization: I keep the social calendars, school calendars, doctor’s appointments, and baseball schedules.  I plan the menus and stock the pantry.  I arrange closets by season, sock drawers by color, and linens by bed size.  I created our filing system for bills, our notebook for recipes, and our binder — with plastic protective sleeves — for all major household appliance warranties.  I could keep going, but I trust you get the point: managing the home is my job.

My job.

A job I take seriously — as seriously as the husband takes his job. He and I have had many, many discussions about this very thing.  Many discussions.

So a few mornings ago, I was working at my desk.  A desk I specifically requested during the planning phases of  last year’s major kitchen renovation.  It’s customized to suit the way I work.  It houses all my important supplies.  My computer is here, and so is a pretty glass jar for containing like-colored pens and pencils.  I have a  fabric-covered pin board — coordinated with the window cornice — for all important paper reminders.  Depending on my mood, I sometimes even have a little vignette on display, made from equal parts Threshold for Target and some sort of something from etsy.  There’s always a faux bird or some chinoiserie involved.  It’s style and it’s substance and it works.

I like it here at my desk.  It’s my space.  And it’s my space.

So, I was working at my desk — my space —  hunkered down to pay some bills and update the household budget.  Breaking for a moment of review and reflection, I propped my elbow on the keyboard stand, wedging my thumb between my teeth.  Total concentration mode.  I stared at the numbers on my computer screen, reasoning out the different ways to manage some new payments we’re now responsible for.  Serious stuff.

And then I saw it.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw at first what I could only recognize as something “other.”

Something that did not belong.

And I knew immediately that I did not like it.

Now, I have grown accustomed to the stray action figure or nub of crayon or handheld gaming system left errantly within the boundaries of my territory.  The perps are young and mostly innocent.  And as a mom, I’m supposed to pardon these kinds of things, which I do.

But this was no child’s play.

This was the handiwork of a skilled invader.

Etched in black Bic pen against the stark white of an MVA envelope was a large question mark.

A question mark.  A very particular kind of question mark, actually.

It’s top arc was not round and friendly, but sharp and impatient.  It’s tail did not wisp into the oblivion of endless possibilities, but continued dark and deliberately down in a pressing and urgent probe.

This was no casual query, but an inquisition.  An interrogation, clearly.  And all this communicated without the added effort of actual words.  Just an effectively drawn and strategically placed symbol.  A “what” and a “how” and a “were you” and a “do you” all rolled in to one piece of haughty geometry, assuming its validity by default.

Apparently, not only was I being interrogated, but it seemed I was also already being accused.

On further inspection, I noticed that the question-marked envelope had been opened already.  It had my name on it, but it had been opened nonetheless.  And not just opened, but molested, really.  Ripped into with such fervor that fine pulpy fibers were jutting out from the top edge previously  secured with a seal of glue.

I sat back in my chair and considered the scene.

Someone assumes that without nudging, I won’t be able to do my jobSomeone doesn’t trust that I will open and properly address an important piece of mail.  Someone is worried that I will somehow fail to renew my driver’s license.

Suddenly, my desk felt fake, like some kind of imaginative play set-up.  My computer might as well have been a cardboard display.  I half-expected to open my drawer and find a bunch of rubber date stamps only covering the first part of the century, like the office cast-offs a dad would bring home to his daughter, “just for fun.”

My pretty glass jar and my pin board and my little vignette at once felt frivolous — silly, really.

In an instant, I felt gutted.  Minimized.  Mocked.

All because of that damn question mark.

Little did my poor husband know that his reckless question-marking would lay the foundation for a week’s worth of tension in our house.

Did he not take me seriously?  Did he not appreciate all that I did?  Did he not trust my capabilities to handle important things all on my own?  Each of these questions seemed to work their way in to our every discussion.  It took me some time to not see the watermark of cavalier punctuation on his face.

I’m finally over it now.  Indignation is an exhausting front to maintain, and it almost always gives way to surrendered resign.  At least I feel at home behind my desk again, like I belong there.  I’m stamping and hole-punching and stapling and typing, and it is most decidedly not feeling like pretend play, but like real work that has meaning.  It’s an actual job, and I do it well.  No question.

And while this whole 900-word story speaks volumes about my own inner workings, and how I see things playing out in my little corner of the world, my husband, upon getting the full explanation for my unrest, had only this to say, 19 words total:

“The question mark was just reminding you to renew your driver’s license.  Are you about to get your period?”








  1. debi

    Yes, oh yea men and women do think and react differently. Your blog made me feel validated in my thinking process and of conjuring various scenario’s which involve feeling taken for granted or not able to handle situations, or that I may need help, and yes sometimes feeling someone is keeping tally on how much I spend on groceries, clothes (PURCHASED AT TARGET OR KOHL’S OR LOWE’S)

  2. shannon

    What I want to know is, did he open the envelope with one of his feet planted on a kitchen chair, hunter stance? Because that’s how I picture it. Great post!

    • Lauren


      There you are!!!! So glad you liked the post.

      Seeing as how he opened it without me, I can’t be sure, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there was an aggressive crotch display going on at the moment. Better yet — he probably opened it with his paring knife in between taking swipes at a severed deer head from your husband’s latest excursion.


  3. Carol Trueman

    Timeless tale in the meaning of it, Lauren. Just points out the dichotomy in the minds of men versus women. My tale of it is very old but significant nonetheless. As a fairly young wife, I asked my then husband what he thought about adopting a child. We had been married for five years at that point and I was unable to conceive due to a life or death hysterectomy at age 19. He knew of this from the onset, but he was also very immature too. I worked as a teacher in the public schools in California for about three years and when it became unbearable to work in that environment, I switched to teaching in a wonderful private school but earned half of what I earned in the public sector. He never liked that I did that. So when I asked him this fatal question, his reply was this: “If you wanted a child you should have saved your money and not quit teaching in the public schools.” It wasn’t long after that I left him as I thought a better response would have been, “Let’s see how we can work on this together”. A question mark from him would have been a welcome sign. Instead, it was a blow to my spirit from which I never fully recovered other than to pursue a different course that lead, for a while, to a better life. I try not to be too sensitive these days because you end up feeling taken for granted and that is not a good place to be. But why is it that women get these curt replies from their mates? Is is that they are not as deep thinkers as women nor as sensitive? Can’t live with them and can’t live without them! :-)

    • Lauren


      Oh, my, that must have been awful. Sorry you had to live through that. Makes a question mark seem welcome, indeed.

      I vote for both — men definitely are not as deep thinkers and they are definitely not as sensitive. I think it would help me to remember this — it would make my life a lot easier.

      Again, thanks for sharing your story.


  4. Laura

    I really appreciate your description of the JOB that is taking care of all the bills, schedules, etc. I have that job too. Sometimes I’m automatically po’d because I don’t think the husband understands how much work that can be. So i start off irritable already. But just hearing somebody else describe it, and its frustrations, and how threatening it can feel when your competence is questioned, well, that’s very therapeutic. I hope it was therapeutic for you to write it, too.
    The hub and I often talk about how men speak “Man” and women speak something he refers to as “womanese” – because I hint around rather than just saying exactly what I want. He finds this confusing.

    • Lauren


      Oh, I am so glad you commented, and even more glad that you could relate and that in doing so, you felt validated.

      It was definitely therapeutic to work my feelings out by writing about them. It always is, which is one reason I write; more importantly, though, I write to make connections with other women, so thank you for confirming that I did so with this story. Yay! You just made my night 😉

      And, like you, I find it difficult to make my husband understand exactly how I’m feeling. he thinks he does really well if he sits still for more than four minutes to listen to my ramblings. Then, I notice the knee start to bounce under the table, and then his eye start darting around, and i know I’ve lost him. Oh, well……


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