I'll never forget trying to leave the house when my third child was an infant - as I started to walk out the door, I noticed he was crying (the "I need you now!" cry), and I hesitated to see how quickly my husband would respond. Turns out, he was putting groceries away at that moment, and didn't even seem to acknowledge the baby's cry - to my astonishment.
When I asked, "Hey, you gonna get that?" he stared at me and very matter-of-factly told me he'd get to it as soon as all the groceries were put away.
OK--this blew my mind.
In my world, you put the groceries down, tend to the child, then resume when the baby's calm. But, in my husband's mind, there was a task half-done, and that task needed to be completed first!
This particular story always comes to mind when I'm talking to couples about "drawers." More specifically, the idea that men (mostly) are most comfortable opening one drawer at a time. And, until that drawer is closed, another drawer can't be opened.
His chest of drawers often includes the "family" drawer, the "work" drawer, the "leisure" drawer, etc. And, yes there is a "nothing" drawer (for times when he just wants to do nothing). But, when one drawer is opened and in the midst of being "tidied up," it's nearly impossible for him to open another drawer. When my husband didn't respond to our baby's cry, he was in the midst of the "housework" drawer. And, he simply couldn't close it.
Women, it turns out, can comfortably open several drawers at a time, and we are more adept at leaving one drawer halfway completed in order to tend to another drawer in need.
When I describe this to couples, I often get a sigh of relief from men, who have long wondered why women just don't understand they need to complete a task before moving onto another one. And, women feel less frustrated because they understand he's not trying to be unhelpful. He just needs time to close the drawer he's in.
I've actually been known to ask my husband, "can you please close the drawer you're in to help me?" And, painfully, he will often comply. But, at least we understand our chest of drawers now, and we know how to respect how the other uses them!