Living with Engineers: It’s All in the Timing

wrist watch

Another engineer’s wife and I were having a discussion about household chores yesterday.  We were bemoaning the fact that if we want our husbands to do something for us, we either need to tell them right away, or it won’t happen at all.

The engineer’s mind is a constant one-way track of processing information.  It’s what makes them so brilliant and efficient: they zero in on a task, giving it their complete focus until it’s done.  I’m almost always thinking about other things while I’m working on something, which is why it can take me longer to achieve something with the same level of quality (or sometimes just can’t do things as well).  Jon, on the other hand, can spend an entire afternoon nailing down hardwood on the landing of the stairs without a break, he’s so focused and intent upon his task.

As is true with most people, our greatest strengths are also our weaknesses.  If I want Jonathan to do something, he’s either going to do it immediately, or he’s going to forget, because he’s already mentally moved on to another task.  This leads me to have to remind him to do what I asked.  I either end up feeling like I’m nagging him, or bad that I’m asking him to do something I could do myself.

I’m not going to leave my own mental hang-ups at Jonathan’s feet.  That’s something I’ll have to get over on my own, and I’ve already asked him how he feels about me reminding him.  He doesn’t usually mind, because he acknowledges that he tends to forget; in fact, he often relies on me to remind him to do things he wants to do for himself, such as make doctor’s appointments.

It was nice to hear that I’m not the only one who has a husband in a similar head space.  I know that engineers share many of the same traits, but I don’t often like to assume things about people.  Now I know that I’m not the only one who can be frustrated by the situation.  If I ask him to clean up the kitchen after dinner, he sometimes only does part of it, getting distracted – especially if his mind was already on something else by the time I asked.  I come downstairs the next morning, to find old bits of food or gunk left in the sink, or some dirty kitchen implements, those that might have been pushed to the far side of the counter, still sitting out.

The worst actually has to do with his lunches.  He puts his lunch together from leftovers in the morning before he leaves.  Sometimes he’ll spill a bit of food in the process, and he almost never remembers to wipe it up (if he even notices that he spilled).  I’ve asked him time and time again to do it, but because I’m not asking him at the time that he’s spilling, the chances of it getting done are slim.  If I ask him enough times he’ll eventually remember, but I’m going to feel like I’m nagging him in the process.

That’s just engineers for you: they’ll get any task done that you want, but the timing has to be right.


*(The above image by John Kasawa is from