“The fewer trips to and fro the better,” answers Frank.
“I’d say it’s stubbornness,” says G.J.
“It’s a ‘macho’ thing,” adds Carlton.
“Mostly, I think it’s laziness,” admits Douglas.
“Because we can,” boasts Eian.
These are just some of the replies I got when I surveyed a group of male friends about the near-universal phenomenon of men willing to risk their backs just to not make a second trip to the car. Jeremy, a teacher, suggested it was simple geometry: “The fastest route from point A to point B is a straight line. Therefore one trip beats the hell out of two or more, which then becomes a zig zag,” he explains. For Steve, it was more a matter of pride. “If you don’t do it, are you even really a man?” he laughs.
For me, it’s all of the above: I want the chore done with as fast as possible, and I also want to show off a little. I’m certainly aware that I often spend more time trying to figure out how to do it all in one trip than it would have taken for me to make two trips. But what’s the real cause of all this?
As hard as it may be to believe, there have not, in fact, been heavily researched scientific studies into this topic. So with the same tenacity and determination I display when trying to one-trip eight full bags, a sack of cat food and a watermelon, I reached out to some people who might be able to shed some light on how a dummy like me makes such a poor decision in the first place.
Knox College psychology professor Frank T. McAndrew tells me that it most likely went way back. “Maybe it’s left over from our caveman ancestors’ desire to demonstrate the ability to drag home a bigger mastodon than other guys,” he suggests. But with mastodons in short supply these days, all we have left to prove our manly ability to hunt for our tribe is plastic bags filled with eggs, milk, yogurt and pre-cut chicken breast fillets, so we just make the most of it. He also offers up a slightly less scientific, but no less convincing answer: “My Irish grandmother used to refer to this as ‘lazy man’s load.’”
Laziness is also what New York Times bestselling author Steve Santagati figures is the primary urge, saying, “Men are lazy. Why make several trips when you can crush six bags in one trip? Sure, the circulation in your fingers is cut off and your loaf of bread is now a bun, but both will spring back.” Santagati also feels that some guys see it as exercise, but agrees that they probably just want to prove to themselves or their partner how strong they are. Finally, going back to the caveman comparison, he suggests, “A more atavistic reason would be to ensure that no one steals their hard-earned food supply.” Since many ancient urges still play a part in our modern thinking, it’s not such a far-fetched idea.
I also reach out to social researcher and best-selling author Shaunti Feldhahn, who — while not ruling out primitive caveman compulsions or general male laziness — offers insight into another area of our thinking. “Guys will create competition where there isn’t any,” says Feldhahn, who has interviewed more than 15,000 men in her career. She explains that we often find scenarios to challenge ourselves, or pit ourselves against others when it’s completely unnecessary to do so. Women, she says, are unlikely to do this to the same degree, citing a half-million dollar study surveying hundreds of people, conducted by herself and her colleagues.
In my own, much less scientific research, while I did find some women who said they compete in the grocery challenge, it does seem like this is mostly a guy thing. Feldhahn offers that this may tap into the “core insecurity” in men. “The key insecurity in 82 percent of women is, ‘Am I lovable?’” explains Feldhahn, clarifying that they’re primarily concerned with whether or not they’re worthy of being loved on the inside. For men, meanwhile, 75 to 85 percent of us are concerned with the thought, “Am I able?” This leads to us relentlessly trying to prove ourselves. “You may not be able to climb Everest, but doggonit, you can bring in four boxes from Costco at once!” jokes Feldhahn.
To offer a bit of neuroscience, too, Feldhahn cites the fact that a great deal of scientific research shows that men get satisfaction out of “doing things,” and that we’re more “task-oriented” than women. So basically, we’re just pre-programmed to think this way, no matter if it turns our fingers blue.
So since, regardless of what we tell you, you’re going to keep doing it anyway, here’s the right way to get it done, according to strongman competitor Richard Valentine (who boasted of this talent back in our profile of the power gut):
- Start with the large, unbagged paper products, like paper towels and toilet paper, and tuck them between your arm and torso. The rest of the groceries can go in any order except for jugs of milk or water.
- Begin lining your palm with bag handles from the crease of the thumb upwards to where the fingers begin. Valentine can fit about seven bags here, but he’s a professional, so don’t get discouraged if you have a little less.
- Then, add two bags per finger, starting from the pinky, and bend in each finger as it gets loaded (unless you have a jug of milk to carry).
- Finally, with your bags secured in your fists, grab the milk by the handle, and haul your load indoors.
Please note, this only works with plastic bags — as Valentine says, paper bags are “the devil,” so remember to choose plastic at the register. And if you’re worried about the environmental impact of the plastic bags, well, the idea that paper bags are better is speculative at best and possibly even outright false, so don’t let your social conscience get in the way of proving to yourself that you’re a real man, dang it — a real man! Hnnnnngg!