Don’t ask men to explain why it takes them so long to put on their shoes.
There are many things men are all too happy to explain, at length, condescendingly and pedantically — the electoral college, the differences between the Game of Thrones books and television program, membership qualifications for various athletic halls of fame, exactly how difficult a given drum solo is, etc. — but why it takes them so long to put on their shoes is not one of them.
This is because men don’t believe they take a long time to put their shoes on.
I know this, in part, from experience. I am familiar with my girlfriend’s belief that I take a long time putting on my shoes. But do I actually take a long time to put on my shoes? Until recently, I would have said no; it’s just that my girlfriend is short, and therefore closer to the ground, which means gravity has a stronger pull on her, which warps her perception of time. I would never have imagined that “my boyfriend takes a long time to put his shoes on” was a common refrain.
But it’s not just me, and it’s not just my relationship. Based on the reactions I got when I mentioned this article, waiting for men to deal with their shoes is one of very few universal experiences shared by straight women. The amount of time men take to put their shoes on is one of the great untapped bad stand-up riffs of our time.
And men don’t buy it. “Do you take a long time to put your shoes on?” I asked my friend Abe recently. “No?” he replied, confused. “[My girlfriend] Caroline definitely has told me I’m slow at it,” my friend Dan admitted, in the kind of vague, skeptical way you might back out of a conversation with a 9/11 truther. “I can time it,” Abe offered. “Like … one to two minutes.” Another friend, Jeb, told me his girlfriend had once accused him of being not just slow but bad at putting on his shoes, a charge he flatly denied: “I’m dope at it, just like I’m dope at everything.” There is no arena in life to which masculine confidence does not extend.
Does Abe take a long time to put his shoes on? “Yes,” his girlfriend Xochitl replied, unequivocally. What did Caroline have to say? “Dan takes forever.” As though I needed further confirmation, I asked a female friend who’s been in relationships with both men and women. “Are you kidding?” she replied. I was worried I’d offended her, but she just couldn’t believe I was asking a stupidly obvious question. “It’s like night and day. [My current girlfriend] takes a long time putting on her shoes, too, but [my ex-boyfriend] was the worst.” (Based on conversations with gay men, the in-couple dynamic of slow shoe-putter-on-er and fast persists across all couples, even when it doesn’t fall along gender lines.)
Of all the many compromises women are forced to make, a few extra seconds waiting during shoe preparation is not, on its face, the worst. But consider this: If your dude takes an average of 30 extra seconds to put his shoes on, and the two of you leave your home together five times a week, you’re spending more than two hours every year waiting for your so-called “life partner.” The average American woman gets married at 27 and has a life expectancy of 81 years. That’s 117 hours — nearly five days — of her life spent waiting for her husband to pick out and tie his fucking shoes.
So understanding why men take so long to put on their shoes requires asking women who date and marry men, some of whom have devoted significant (and irritated) portions of their lives studying their partners’ shoe-dressing habits.
One common theory: laces. “More of [Abe’s] shoes are lace-up,” Xochitl theorized, and they have “more laces in general.” It’s true: Unless you’re dating Daniel Lara or a gladiator, your dude’s shoes will almost certainly have shoelaces, while yours most likely don’t. (One of the few women I spoke with who was unfamiliar with the stereotype realized that it might be because she mostly wears sneakers, and therefore might take a similarly long time to tie them on.) Laces are a highly complicated interface that require us to draw upon years of accumulated knowledge and skill; further, they demand a degree of dexterity not traditionally attributed to men.
Indeed, consider the entire physical process of the man donning shoes. Men are less flexible and their centers of gravity are, on average, higher, but a shoe that requires laces requires its wearer to sit or kneel. As Xochitl puts it, “Abe also can’t stretch very well, so there is more foot heft.” Consider, too, that larger feet means larger heels, which in turn means more complex rotational angle-of-entry calculations — undertaken, again, by a less flexible, and generally heavier, body.
And even setting aside our physical limitations, men are vain and insecure; we’ve been socialized since an early age to seek attention and approval. “[Dan’s] picking out his shoes, and asking for my opinion,” Caroline told me, “and then switching back.” “They make a performance of it; like, a lot of pausing between one shoe and the next,” another friend suggested. “They’re seeking acknowledgment of a difficult job well done. They’ve hunted those shoelaces, and brought back the dead carcass of the bunny-loop tie.”
I tried to think about this as I put my shoes on: Am I seeking acknowledgment for this minor task? Is it time to switch to Velcro? But trying to think while working only made me take longer. It seemed clear that the problem wasn’t the shoes, or my girlfriend, but me. Men just aren’t built for shoes.