Another Valentine’s Day is on the horizon. It’s the day that is imprinted on womens’ DNA and conspicuously absent from mens’. Whereas women don’t need a calendar to remind them of the date, men need to have it programmed on their iPhones, printed on the inside of their windshields, and noted on the door to the refrigerator. Why? Quite simply, men and women are different socially, genetically, and psychologically.
In order to understand these differences, we need an unbiased examination of the variables. Because I’m currently “between girlfriends,” I’m eminently qualified. But, despite the differences on which I’ll elaborate, I can report that both men and women thrive on love. Yes, love.
Anthropologist Helen Fisher says that her studies show that there is a craving for romantic love that is a distinct biological urge, separate from sexual arousal. Research on college students (the human equivalent of lab rats for some scientists), reveals that for those who claim to be deeply in love, the neural pathways shown on MRI examinations that were “lighted” are the same as those that drive hunger, thirst, and drug addiction.
Life and death
Obviously, hunger, thirst, and drug addiction are all issues with life and death consequences. Can the need for love really be that strong? Well, here’s where the line between love and sex becomes blurred, especially for men. Men may pretend to be disinterested in matters of love, but they do seem to be preoccupied with sex, and this tendency may be hardwired into the brain.
This is the conclusion that was derived by researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center. They experimented with roundworms, creatures that have a simple nervous system that might give clues as to behavior among higher animal species. Female roundworms can impregnate themselves. Consequently, they have no need for males and spend their lives searching for food. Male roundworms would rather die than miss the opportunity to mate.
Here’s how the scientists arrived at that conclusion. They genetically modified male roundworms to be more like females. In this condition, the roundworms spent more time eating and less time mating. However, male roundworms that weren’t modified would leave a food source and go around a one-way barrier for the chance to mate. Because they couldn’t return to the food, they obviously “chose” to die rather than miss the opportunity to reproduce. Pure Darwinism! But, Prof. Douglas Portman, a member of the research team, cautions that human activity is heavily influenced by cultural and social factors, yet “the results suggest that there are also biologically based differences in the nervous systems, themselves.”
Here’s where the conclusions drawn by the University of Rochester Medical Center researchers mesh with the observations of Helen Fisher. She told The New York Times that “people freshly in love become lost in their cravings, with each exhilarating encounter with their love object functioning like a hit of cocaine to an addict. When you’re in the throes, it’s overwhelming. You’re out of control; you’re irrational. This drive for romantic love can be stronger than the will to live.”
It has long been suspected that men don’t understand women. A corollary to this statement is that women understand men only too well. Now, this is closer to a scientific fact. Let’s begin with an examination of elementary biology.
Women’s reproductive cells normally contain two X chromosomes; men’s have an X chromosome and a Y chromosome. All offspring, therefore, would be female were it not for the possibility that a Y chromosome would link to an X chromosome during the process by which reproduction occurs. Huntington Willard, a genetics researcher at Duke University, explains that the Y chromosome determines maleness, but “science has long known that its genes are otherwise fairly inactive.”
This means that, except for their sexual characteristics, men are largely the products of one chromosome, an X chromosome. But women have two X chromosomes, and — according to the journal “Nature” — both X chromosomes are “chock full of active genes.” So, each woman is the end product of about twice as many genetic instructions as any man. And, with the male deficit of active genes on the Y chromosome, it seems almost inevitable that men cannot understand women.
If you’ve been paying attention, you may wonder why there are about the same number of male babies as there are female babies among human beings. After all, mathematically, the chances of an XX coupling far exceed the possibility of an XY pair. Yet, in nature, there are approximately 106 male births to each 100 females. The reason: The Y chromosome is smaller and lighter than the X. Consequently, it can “swim” faster and is more likely to reach the ovum (egg) than the Y. By puberty, there is usually a balance, probably because being male also involves more risk-taking, hence more accidents, and more childhood deaths.
The differences at the genetic level also explain why “men just don’t listen to women.” Perhaps that’s why there are more childhood accidents and deaths among males.
There is a scientific basis for why, when women are speaking at great length, men tend to tune them out. Female voices are more complex than male voices, with a natural melody and a greater range of sound.
British researcher Michael Hunter says that the act of listening to female voices activates the auditory center of a man’s brain, which must then analyze the different sounds at the same time that it’s interpreting the words. In a sense, the brain is forced to multitask, and that is much more work than is required to listen to another man.
Also, men process other male voices in a different portion of the brain. So, the study may explain why people who hear voices generally only hear male voices. According to Hunter, “The brain would find it much harder to create a false female voice accurately than a false male voice.”
I hope my male readers will listen to this male voice: Valentine’s Day is Wednesday. Get out of your recliner right now and put in your order at the florist and candy stores. If you don’t do it today, you’ve still got Monday and Tuesday. However, if you wait, you’ll probably forget. But, that’s a topic for another column.
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Jim Glynn may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.