Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Spreadsheet Shaming

There is a "viral" story going around the internet about a woman who's husband made a spreadsheet of her stated reasons for not wanting to have sex with him over a seven week period. He emailed this spreadsheet to her as she was leaving for a trip and then cut off contact.

Lots of people have weighed in on this to talk about subjects from relationship breakdowns, communication skills, the idea of feeling "entitled" to sex in a relationships, and so on. I notice, though, a common theme, and that theme seems to be that you aren't supposed to make spreadsheets about your sex life.

And that theme is awful.

I'll be first in line to say that you shouldn't email spreadsheets about your sex life to your partner as they are leaving on a trip as a way of expressing negative emotions. That really is poor communication and it isn't making things better.

But gathering information itself is not a bad thing. I don't know anything about this particular relationship and about who might have been upset with who for what reason and how that manifested, so I'm not going to speculate. For the majority of people are who dealing with a mismatched interest in sex, however, I would tend to think that the two people's perception of the situation is something like:

"We never have sex"
"We have plenty of sex" or maybe "You are constantly pressuring me for sex"

The problem wasn't the gathering of information, it was the way the information was presented. It was also with the fact that the third column in his spreadsheet was titled, "Excuse" instead of the term I used above, "Stated Reason."

After all, if his wife feels he nags her overmuch about sex then having a record of how many times he asked is evidence in support of her thesis just as much as have a record of how many times they actually did have sex. If he feels like she never has sex with him then replacing "never" with "about every other week" is a much better place to start a conversation from.

Someone might rightly point out that the actual problem from his perspective is that they don't have sex as much as he would like and has nothing to do with the absolute number. Yes, the real issue is feelings. But we often skew facts to support our feelings. The actual facts will almost always be less useful than the invented facts in our heads to whatever emotional position we are taking. Without being able to rely on silly statements of fact, we are backed in to the corner of recognizing the problem is subjective.

If anything a big problem with his sheet is that he isn't collecting enough information. He's got a field where he fills in his wife's stated reason for not having sex but not a field about how that made him feel. He doesn't record any information about how it made him feel when they did have sex, it's all framed in a negative way. He records the date but not the time of day. He uses "Yes" and "No" instead of boolean values or 1 and 0.

If I were to ever begin a spreadsheet about something I was unhappy about in my relationship, it would be with an open mind to the fact that gathering data might prove to me that the problem is entirely with my perception. I'm rarely wrong about anything and I am a near perfect objective judge of facts, but I can't discount any possibility. The inherent idea that there is something wrong with making a spreadsheet is just bigotry.


  1. i'm not against spreadsheets to do all kinds of things.

    if i make a little spreadsheet to record every sound i heard for a particular half hour, it's information gathering.

    if i do it with the intent of showing my neighbor what an asshat she is, it kind of demonstrates what an asshat i am.

    plus collecting this information probably skewed his results. i have an idea: let me pester my wife every day no matter how inopportune the time or mood and then record her rejections of my entitled little self.

    hey, can we have sex? how 'bout now? now? now?

    if he'd given me a sheet like that before leaving the house, i'd have the locks changed before he got home.

    1. The context makes him look like a real idiot, and putting it on reddit makes her look like one too, and the moral of the story is don't get married so young.

      If we look at the nuance of the situation then I entirely agree the spreadsheet was a bad idea. All you need to see is that the last column is labeled "Excuse" to know what the intention is.

      But honestly the way people reacted to spreadsheets in stories I read about this was actually upsetting to me. As someone who feels perpetually outcast and shamed for understanding things differently than others, a lot of it seemed to me like talking bad about objective analysis and about people who understand the world differently. We don't have to draw everyone who makes spreadsheets about their sex life into a situation which is about a relationship having a public meltdown.