Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Same, But Very Different -- Female vs. Male Brain Hardwiring & Our Perspectives on "The One"

First the bad news: There is no "The One".
Now the good news: YOU are "The One"...
"Marriage is not about finding the right person. It's about becoming the right person. Many people feel they married the wrong person, but... it's truly about growing to become a better spouse."
Ladies, I get a lot of flack, especially from the more mature girls out there, for being attracted to women younger than myself who look after themselves well (i.e. are 'trim').  I try to explain that men's "visual preferences" in what attracts them to a potential mate does not age, evolve, develop or mature as their bodies and brains do; it is natural human hard-wiring (automatic responses) for men to continue to be attracted to women who are in their fertile years, but the rain of derision and cynical critiques continue!

Now this from Dr. Louann Brizendine, author of "The Female Brain" and "The Male Brain", clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, from an article on CNN.com (click for link).  Maybe some of you single gals (and married!) can turn this info to your advantage...
The Bottom Line
The human brain is the best learning machine on the planet and human beings are capable of making major changes in our lives. But there are some things that the male brain and female brain are not likely to change anytime soon. And it makes more sense to deal with these brain realities, than to argue with them or ignore them.
The best advice I have for women is make peace with the male brain. Let men be men.
We're the Same, But Very Different!
Although women the world over have been doing it for centuries, we can't really blame a guy for being a guy. And this is especially true now that we know that the male and female brains have some profound differences.
Our brains are mostly alike. We are the same species, after all. But the differences can sometimes make it seem like we are worlds apart.
The "defend your turf" area -- dorsal premammillary nucleus -- is larger in the male brain and contains special circuits to detect territorial challenges by other males. And his amygdala, the alarm system for threats, fear and danger is also larger in men. These brain differences make men more alert than women to potential turf threats.
Meanwhile, the "I feel what you feel" part of the brain -- mirror-neuron system -- is larger and more active in the female brain. So women can naturally get in sync with others' emotions by reading facial expressions, interpreting tone of voice and other nonverbal emotional cues.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the male and female brain is that men have a sexual pursuit area that is 2.5 times larger than the one in the female brain. Not only that, but beginning in their teens, they produce 200 to 250 percent more testosterone than they did during pre-adolescence.
If testosterone were beer, a 9-year-old boy would be getting the equivalent of a cup a day. But a 15-year-old would be getting the equivalent of two gallons a day. This fuels their sexual engines and makes it impossible for them to stop thinking about female body parts and sex.
And So Begins the 'Man Trance'
All that testosterone drives the "Man Trance"-- that glazed-eye look a man gets when he sees breasts. As a woman who was among the ranks of the early feminists, I wish I could say that men can stop themselves from entering this trance. But the truth is, they can't. Their visual brain circuits are always on the lookout for fertile mates. Whether or not they intend to pursue a visual enticement, they have to check out the goods.
To a man, this is the most natural response in the world, so he's dismayed by how betrayed his wife or girlfriend feels when she sees him eyeing another woman. Men look at attractive women the way we look at pretty butterflies. They catch the male brain's attention for a second, but then they flit out of his mind. Five minutes later, while we're still fuming, he's deciding whether he wants ribs or chicken for dinner. He asks us, "What's wrong?" We say, "Nothing." He shrugs and turns on the TV. We smoulder and fear that he'll leave us for another woman.
Click to enlarge
Not surprisingly, the different objectives that men and women have in mating games put us on opposing teams -- at least at first. The female brain is driven to seek security and reliability in a potential mate before she has sex. But a male brain is fuelled to mate and mate again.
Until, that is, he mates for life.
Despite stereotypes to the contrary, the male brain can fall in love just as hard and fast as the female brain, and maybe more so. When he meets and sets his sights on capturing "the one," mating with her becomes his prime directive. And when he succeeds, his brain makes an indelible imprint of her. Lust and love collide and he's hooked.
The 'Doting Daddy Brain'
A man in hot pursuit of a mate doesn't even remotely resemble a devoted, doting daddy. But that's what his future holds. When his mate becomes pregnant, she'll emit pheromones that will waft into his nostrils, stimulating his brain to make more of a hormone called prolactin. Her pheromones will also cause his testosterone production to drop by 30 percent.
These hormonal changes make him more likely to help with the baby. They also change his perceptual circuitry, increasing his ability to hear a baby cry, something many men can't do very well before their wives are pregnant.
And a word to the wise for all the young mothers who are reluctant to let your husbands hold and care for your newborn. The more hands-on care a father gives his infant, the more his brain aligns with the role of fatherhood. So, hand over the baby.
His Emotions Run Deep
Although men have earned the reputation for being more stoic than women, they actually have stronger emotional reactions than we do. They just don't show it very often.
Studies of men's faces show that the male brains initial emotional reaction can be stronger than the female brain's. But within 2.5 seconds, he changes his face to hide the emotion, or even reverse it. The repeated practice of hiding his emotions gives men the classic poker face.
It's his poker face and his analytical response to personal problems that can put him in the doghouse. She's crying as she talks about what's wrong with the relationship, and instead of hugging her, his mind is racing to find a way to resolve the problem as soon as possible. With practice and because of the way their brains are wired, men use their analytical brain structures, not their emotional ones, to find a solution.
They enjoy this advantage, but women often take affront to it. When you're telling your husband your problem and he tries to solve it instead of hearing you out, you may think he's being insensitive. But that's not what's going on in his brain. He's working to solve the problem so he can relieve your pain as quickly as possible. Not because he doesn't care or doesn't want to listen, but because he loves you.
So, ladies, while married men both love and are deeply bonded to their wives, and they learn/adapt to continuing to feel sexually stimulated by their partners even as their partners' bodies change (and MANY will never cheat), single men of any age (especially those who have never had the satisfaction that comes from being fathers and happen to be highly testosterone-charged) are naturally going to pursue what I'd call 'pre-cougars' in their early 30's (that would be two stages earlier than 'pre-sabre-toothed tigers').  Sorry!  (But I still find mature women more interesting to chat with.  ;-)

Note that the author does mention 'The One' above in relation to a male's instinct to bond emotionally.  I believe, having read 1,000 women's profiles in which they mention that they are waiting to meet 'The One', that men and women do see this VERY differently.  Men use their analytical tendencies to evaluate the issue, while women use their emotions.

What nets out is that your average man does not really believe that there is ACTUALLY a single individual woman out there that he will magically and mysteriously match with at some metaphysical level -- he's satisfied when he comes across a lady who is 'good enough'.  Women, on the other hand, really DO believe, in their heart of hearts, that this fantasy is true.  [And the nature of online dating, with its endless supply of new profiles of (apparently) available men, encourages girls to believe it can deliver the fantasy!]


Emotionally many women find it extremely difficult to let go of this fallacy (although I've noticed that divorced women, having been through their idyllic 'white wedding' and experienced some failure/disappointment, are somewhat better at being open minded with regard to recognizing that you need to check each other out over time, i.e. MORE than a single 'coffee date').  Especially among the women in their late 30's (even early 40's) who may have been engaged or lived common-law, but have never been married, the fantasy continues to be held tightly clenched to their breast, blocking them from meeting literally hundreds of potentially ideal mates.

These girls (using the term intentionally, as they are still nursing a 'girl-like' fantasy), versus the men who pursue them, both online and off, do not use the notion of "the chemistry between us will decide if we move on past the initial 'coffee date'" the same way that men, or more mature girls, do.  Guys see the first date as a chance to evaluate (per Lori Gottlieb's very accurate research) Men's 3 simple criteria for a second date:  
  1. Is she attractive enough, 
  2. Interesting enough, 
  3. Warm/giving enough to spend another 2 hours with?  
These women, who have not let go of what I call their 'princess phase' (click for post), at that first meeting with a guy they've 'met' online continue to have expectations as high as they were at 16.  Much higher, in fact, as at 16 years old they 'fell in love' with the paper boy, the guy sitting next to them in geography class, their hot teacher, their next door neighbour, the guy selling fries at the fairground, etc.


TODAY they are waiting for lightning bolts and a musical sound track -- so when the guy sitting across from them at the 'coffee date' (secretly their "Mr. Right", but nervous as hell on that particular day, or more than a little 'put off' by their 'shopping list' approach to questions, etc.) doesn't lean in and begin showing signs of instantaneous rapture, they write him off and refuse a second date.  In fact, if, from his poorly photographed profile pics, she does not see what, in her mind's eye, is the face of her fantasy "Knight in Shining Armour", then into the delete bin he goes!  The endless supply of more and more guys' profiles online seductively makes them feel like he's just around the corner, and the appeal of carrying on is quite irresistible, sadly.

Sure, we regularly hear 'fantasy-perpetuating' stories about immature dreamers living in a fantasy dimension of their own creation who claim they found 'love at first sight' (there a LOT of those stories in celebrity magazines about starry-eyed 'Taylor Swift-types'...), but come back a year or two later and you find that what they found was actually 'projection': projecting the ideal each had in their minds onto the man until reality catches up with them and demonstrates that we cannot change someone else into what we want by loving them enough -- people are who they are and we have to love them as is.  Realistic, level-headed people recognize that 90% of really strong, lasting relationships began with several meetings or 'sightings' in a row and gradually developed into a mutual attraction.

You are NOT going to recognize your next viable relationship match from a head shot, ladies (see my post about eHarmony).  You'll have to kiss a few frogs and work as hard at online dating as you do in the gym or at your job to find him -- and it will take a few dates with him to recognize that he MIGHT be a match!  (See my follow-up post: "I'm a Confident Woman with a Positive Self-Image.  Really?")

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for this information. I personally agree with every bit written above. Especially the part of being emotional. Women are good at expressing emotions, but men are the ones whose emotional attachment in a relationship is greater.
    Quite often I have seen that men find it difficult to cope with break-ups, but women most often get along with another guy as if nothing had happened.

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    1. Very true and the reason why is always rooted in evolution. Women, as the weaker sex responsible for protecting their young, benefit HUGELY by having a dedicated male partner. Men are programmed to desire sex with every woman who appears to be in good child-bearing condition, but the most secure way for them to see that their offspring survive is to stick around until the kids are in their teens. The only mechanism humans have to encourage this is romantic love on the part of the male. When men bond, it tends to be quite strong, despite the fact he will embrace opportunities to mate with other women. Women, on the other hand, have an ability to quickly 'flip off the love switch' if they find out that their man has been fooling around. Interestingly, the cult of Mohammed follows their ancient leader's convenient way to get around all of this by exerting vicious and total control over women, allowing men to do as they please. Within that cult natural human morals are bent to favour the males exclusively.

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