This is the Alpha Game Holiday Survival Guide part II.
The holidays are a time of tremendous stress for women. They feel a pressure to perform that is driven by the media, their own expectations, and their awareness that they will be judged on their performance by other women. After all, how is a woman supposed to compete with the Martha Stewart clones who are baking special cinnamon cakes in the shape of each of their family member's faces using spice they personally flew to Sri Lanka to harvest by hand?
Throw in the decorating, the wrapping, the cookies, the meals, the entertaining, and the prospect of having to put on a smiling face for family members they don't particularly enjoy being around, and it should be no surprise that the holiday spirit can prove burdensome to women. But there is one thing self-respecting men can do to ease that burden, if only a little, and make the holidays more happy for everyone, since there are few things that will spoil them more thoroughly than everyone having to tiptoe around a woman boiling over with holiday rage just waiting to explode.
Don't bother offering to help with anything. You're not going to be able to do anything her way or to her standards. Besides, she's going to be judged on her performance, so even if you are a competent cook or gift wrapper, any assistance on your part will not count and thereby is rendered invalid on its face.
But someone has to do the dishes and this is an opportunity at which you should leap. First of all, your tackling clean-up lets a woman kick back and actually enjoy the meal she's prepared with everyone, without feeling the burden of clean-up looming over her shoulder. Having gone to the effort to provide such a feast, shouldn't she be able to enjoy it in peace? Second, it permits you to politely escape the postprandial conversation that, unlike most conversations of the holiday season, necessarily involves the "participation" of both sexes seated at the table, which in practice usually involves the women repeatedly interrupting each other while the men sit in silence wondering when they can escape the performance art and turn on the game.
(Do you think I'm exaggerating? This Christmas, I challenge you to time the male silence if there are at least three women at the table. The record thus far stands at 15 minutes of complete silence on the part of the men.)
This is a device I learned from that man among men, the Marine's Marine, my grandfather. I used to marvel at his selfless generosity, and the way after every holiday meal, he would quietly excuse himself and disappear into the kitchen. By the time everyone had left the table, the dishwasher would be running, the kitchen would be spotless, and everyone was happy and well-loaded with alcohol. Including, of course, my grandfather. When I asked him why he felt he needed to do the dishes, when at his age he deserved to take it easy, he laughed and pointed out that while he'd been happily cleaning up, watching the football game, and polishing off the rum, I'd been sitting there for 20 minutes, nursing my wine glass, staring into space, and listening to people ramble on about other people I couldn't identify if my life depended on it.
The man was a genius. I've since added my own spin to it, which is first making sure that everyone's wine glass is full. If you do it right, you'll have everything done before anyone even notices you've been missing from the audience. Women seldom appreciate it, perhaps because they realize on some level that you're doing it for yourself, or perhaps because it makes you look too subservient to others and thereby lowering their own perceived value, but that's irrelevant. Everyone is happy, everyone wins. Be a little Christmas miracle.