Making Him Wait, The "Hold My Purse" Edition

The average man spends a year of his life waiting on women — outside bathrooms, in cars, beyond changing-room curtains. It may be the truest modern measure of gender politics.

A miserable man
A miserable man
Violetta Simon

MUNICH — Anybody who has ever stepped foot in a big-city shopping mall is familiar with the sight: men waiting, with that glassy-eyed stare off into the distance of pure boredom.

Researchers commissioned by a British fashion label have apparently found that men spend one full year of their lives waiting for women — outside bathrooms, in cars with the motor running, or making the shopping rounds. They spend a total of 22 weeks alone hanging around outside changing rooms.

Hamburg-based writer Moritz Petz even devoted a whole book to the subject of waiting for women — Warten auf Frauen — in which he works through his waiting experiences and calls excesses of this form of time-wasting an “unbearable condition.”

Instagram also deals with the subject of waiting men. On a page titled “Miserable Men,” there’s an entire gallery of guys from all over the world ... waiting. They sit slumped in their chairs, brooding, dozing. One man gives himself a foot massage. Others lie flat and sleep. Many of the men are surrounded by shopping bags.

The waiting men are reminiscient of the two drifter characters in Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot. Just like Estragon and Vladimir, they are presumably pondering the meaning of their situations. But as everybody knows, Godot is never going to show up — unlike the woman behind the changing booth curtain.

Misrable Men via Instagram

The question with regard to her is not if or what but when? It could be any minute now — or a little bit longer still. Few men manage to use their time usefully in these situations. Some pick their fingernails. Others vengefully ogle other women. Others still sit in quiet desperation.

A waiting person isn’t receiving a gift of time. On the contrary: Time is being stolen from their lives. And anybody who thinks they can make up for lost time is severely mistaken. “You can’t do anything with time except live it,” says renowned time researcher Karlheinz Geißler.

This applies to waiting for women too, of course. The best recourse is to learn how to live with it. The question is how.

At another's mercy

“It’s the forced passivity that makes waiting situations weigh so heavily,” says Magdeburg-based sociologist Rainer Paris, who has studied the phenomenon of waiting extensively.

How waiting is perceived depends on the end goal. “The woman is doing something she enjoys, but there’s nothing more in it for him than waiting. If all you can do is wait, then you feel as if you’re at somebody else’s mercy.”

Therefore, waiting is only fun when it leads to something pleasurable. Which is why it’s more frustrating to wait for a woman in a changing booth than it is, say, to wait for Christmas. “The waiting person has just one thing in their head: When is this going to end?” theologian Regina Speck wrote in an article in December.

Miserable Men via Instagram

Speck also points out that we have faith based on experience that there will be an end to the waiting, which is presumably why so many men let themselves get into this situation, time and time again. In that sense, it is indeed like Waiting for Godot: Hope dies last. The waiting person wants all too much to believe “two more minutes and we’re done.” He even believes it after 10 minutes. After another 10, all he wants is for the whole thing to be over.

Sociologist Rainer Paris explains that men and women perceive shopping differently. “Most men buy what they need,” he says. “She buys what she likes. So she’s totally absorbed with selecting what she wants, while he’s thinking, when will she finally finish? From her perspective, she’s not making him wait. She just forgets him and the fact that he’s waiting.”

Experts recommend avoiding this dynamic and making exact arrangements to meet up again within a specific period of time and in a specific place. “Many outlet malls have installed stuff for men to do while they wait,” Paris says. “Or they can sit in the café and read the paper.”

At least this approach respects the time and interests of both people. What most people don’t appear to realize is that waiting is more than just a bothersome waste of time. It’s a major indicator of the balance of power in a relationship, says Paris.

“The one who can impose their schedule on the other is the one who’s calling the shots.”

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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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