Puttin' on the Heat

The game evolves into a dance called the Thermostat Tango



Illustration by Brad Fitzpatrick

It’s getting chilly in New Hampshire, time once again for the annual ritual of arguing about whether or not it’s time to turn on the heat. The teams for this sport generally break down along gender lines. So as not to perpetuate stereotypes, we’ll call the participants Player 1 (or “the woman”) and Player 2 (“the cheapskate,” as Player 1 refers to him).

Preliminary play begins when Player 1 executes subtle moves such as shivering and noting that ice is forming on the shower curtain. Player 2 will disregard these initial moves until they become too obvious to be ignored.

The game proper then begins as Player 1 utters the traditional call, “It’s freezing in here.” Player 2 will parry this opening gambit with a standard move such as “Put on a sweater” or “Fresh air is good for you.”

Now the action gets serious. Player 1 may employ the classic “I can see my breath” maneuver. Here, Player 2 must proceed with caution. A quick, thoughtless response about how to prevent that could result in a two-night suspension on the penalty sofa.

Sensing an opening, Player 1 will press her advantage, claiming an inability to feel her toes. Player 2 will not be drawn in; he’s heard that before, and no one in the family has lost any toes yet.

Shifting tack, Player 1 will draw comparisons to the neighbors, who have had their woodstove going for weeks. Player 2 will deflect this quickly; he doesn’t give a rat’s patootie what the neighbors do, they are inveterate spendthrifts who have actually been known to pay someone else to take their garbage to the dump.

At this point, Player 1 may begin sporting items of outdoor wear such as earmuffs or mukluks. This is a calculated risk, designed to demonstrate just how cold the house really is, but it could backfire. After all, this is what her opponent was suggesting all along. He will assume he has won.

"Player 1 may employ the classic ‘I can see my breath’ maneuver."

In some households, the game evolves into a kind of dance called the Thermostat Tango, in which participants attempt to sneak the heat up or down when opposing players aren’t looking. This can be prevented by installing a programmable thermostat, a device that’s easy to set up as long as you have three thumbs and an advanced engineering degree.

Then there are the diehards like my friend Ted, who lives in a giant old Colonial with roughly the same amount of insulation as a Cheerios box. Regardless of how cold it gets, he refuses to turn on the heat until the day after Thanksgiving. At that point, the house is basically a large, clapboard-sided freezer. They could leave meat on the kitchen counter and they’d still have to thaw it out for the 4th of July barbecue.

Here’s a bit of advice for Granite State women: Understand that, for your man, putting the heat on too early feels like a failure of manhood, a blot on his Yankee credentials. If you want him to be on your side, you should play up how much you appreciate his strong, manly care for your well-being.

And hide the oil bill.


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