Sex Education: Love. Come Again?
26th February, 2010
All in the Head?
If there's one way to make a man run – to you or from you – it's to tell him that you love him.
He will either, not understand you - as the relationship with you, so far, has been based purely on sex - or, he'll thank you for releasing him from the burning desire to let his feelings show.
But what is it about love that men don't seem to get but women do?
First of all, love is an emotional-based symptom that afflicts those who are, at best, very vulnerable. Of course, you could argue that love comes from a place of strength. And you would be right. For, to love someone takes great strength. In admitting that you have found an individual to be extremely likeable to the point where you are prepared to allow yourself to give up your life for them, you are achieving something quite tremendous in your own life.
What is love? What is the difference between love and lust? What types of love are there? What is it that makes us 'fall in love' with someone? What does it mean to love ourselves?
Soooo many questions! Let's take things little by little, by taking our first step to begin to define love.
What is it?
Oops – here comes the science bit!
Obviously, if you find this boring you can skip it. But it makes interesting reading! So if you can wade your way through it, I promise you - you'll have a better understanding of how this article (and love) is put together.
Please remember, that throughout this article, I am talking generalities. To get a better idea of what my mind is thinking, think of a pole laid on the floor with lines drawn around it. Each one of us sits on one of those lines. At one end of the pole there is an extremely male version of us, and at the other end of the pole there is an extremely female version of us. Then there are the majority of us who sit somewhere in between. If each of us could pick a mark on that pole – we could begin to sit comfortably there and, more importantly, begin to accept others as slotting into their chosen position.
Now, we all know that we are all born neutral. Up until the tender age of six weeks (nestled comfortably in the warm womb) we don't have a gender – and if you didn't know that, where have you been all your life? At the fetal age of six weeks though, all hell breaks lose when a surge of testosterone alters the chemical set-up within and our biology changes for good.
Without the testosterone, the baby becomes female = XX.
With the testosterone, the baby becomes male = XY.
This testosterone hormone is what makes all the difference to our looks, our attitudes, and, ultimately, our behaviour.
Now, I know what you're thinking.
Yes and in a normal sex education class, that would lead us onto the reproductive organs … but here, instead, I'm going to verge off a bit to discuss other parts of the body. Namely, the brain.
I've heard of a chap called Simon Baron Cohen, who did us all a big favour recently with a little-known research project (from which he published a book in 2005), on hormones that link to brain structure. He's a professor at Trinity College, Cambridge, and studies something to do with developmental psychopathology. But what he does or what his title is, is not nearly as important as what he has discovered. For those of you who haven't spotted the link – yes, he is related to that "Ali G/Borat man (Sacha)!
There was also another study done by another man called Joe Lurito (sounds like a make of crisp, doesn't he?). He mapped out gender in the brain by putting those EEG spike things on people's heads and exposing them to a taped John Grisham novel.
So what was so important that would make all the difference to the way we see men and women – and how we experience love?
Well, Ali G's relative found out that that hormone (testosterone) makes a big impact on how we behave, how we speak and interpret language, how we interact with others and also how we empathise with each other. And the other one (the scientist whose name sounds like a pack of Dorito's), discovered that while men use only their left brain when listen to language, women use the whole of their brain.
Food for thought, me thinks. Which leads me neatly on to how this all impacts on our biology.
We'll focus on six parts of the brain:
1. The Prefrontal Cortext is the CONTROL CENTRE.
2. The Corpus Callosum is the DATA CONNECTOR between the left and right brains
3. The Amygdala is the ALARM SYSTEM
4. The Anterior Cingulate Gyrus is our agitating WORRY CENTRE
5. The Hippocampus is our big fat MEMORY PROCESSOR
6. The Reticular Activating System is our ATTENTION GRABBER
Got that? Trust me, you will soon.
The CONTROL CENTRE is good for women because it puts the brakes on REACTIONS – and helps us to consider things before we do things. It is good for men because it helps them to release and to act quickly.
The DATA CONNECTOR is bigger in women so allows them to VERBALISE for longer and more frequently. Men have a smaller one, so are naturally short and to the point.
The ALARM SYSTEM is bigger in men so it allows them to ACT IMMEDIATELY - without a huge amount of thought (typical?) - to the danger that threatens them. This is why when men get highly emotional (angry), they are quicker to express it and get it over and done with in the moment.
The WORRY CENTRE is larger in women which allows her to DWELL on consequences. Because women's brains are highly networked (through the DATA CONNECTOR) they are always thinking of many different things at many different times - and don't let go. Whereas, men's brains are more focussed and single-minded.
The MEMORY PROCESSOR is bigger in women and allows them to REMEMBER more emotional detail. So, try not to complain when he doesn't remember your birthday - it's really (biologically) not his fault. Women's brains are designed to remember these 'emotional' triggers – first dates, holidays, arguments – whereas he's designed to forget them as unnecessary information. Sorry gal pals.
The ATTENTION GRABBER is a filter that passes on only the IMPORTANT MESSAGES. Men ignore the subtle hints and so need more extreme stimulus in this area to get busy - hence, why men are able to take more RISKS and become BORED more easily.
There's also a seventh area – but it's not actually a 'part' of the brain, it's more to do with the chemical nature of it. The NEURONS that fire away make the blood flow faster, which means that there's more oxygen and sugar to fuel our THOUGHTS. It is more active in women which is why she's able to 'multi-task' and he's able to 'sleep more and thereby process more' information.
So how does this relate to the 'real world'? As we've all experienced, it causes all sorts of problems – and delightful solutions too! Because of these differences in the structure of our brains, these two scientists (Baron Cohen and Lurito) have separately, and inadvertently, discovered that there are differences in the way we are able to see, hear and touch as well.
EYES: Men and women see differently because the structure of the eye is different. Men have more 'rods' in their eyes and women have more 'cones' (photographers and opticians will understand this). Cones see Colours, Rods see Range. It's like putting blinkers on a man – he can see far away and pin point things, whereas women scan and take in all different shapes and objects. This highlights another of those fascinating reason why you can plonk a man down in the middle of no-where and he'll (more-or-less) find his way out by 'following his nose'. Yet a woman will need landmarks/buildings and familiar objects to navigate by.
EARS: Women are able to hear many different sounds and hear them louder and for longer. Our normal everyday talking voice is performed at a certain scientific frequency (500-1500 hertz) and women are more in tune with this frequency. Because women are able to hear many different sounds, louder, and for longer, we are able to pick up the tiny changes in tone. Men, on the whole, are unable to do this – this is the reason he won't hear the emotionally loaded message and will miss the point you are trying to make!
TOUCH: His skin is thicker. This is the reason why men like a firm touch and because hers is naturally thinner, she likes to be stroked gently.
SIXTH SENSE: This is where the NEURONS and THOUGHTS come into play. Because the eyes and ears are able to function differently, men and women pick up different things. For instance, a flicker of an eye brow a squint of an eye, a raise of the shoulders and arch of the back, a cross of the leg, a lowered tone of the voice, all noticeable to the women's brain, but not needed so much in a man's.
Women's brains are highly super sensitive – hence why emotions are our 'thing'. That MEMORY PROCESSOR and ALARM SYSTEM encourage her to remember an event in minute detail and for longer - which is why she 'holds on' to things that a man will simply forget about.
Remember this – when men and women experience stress, they act in different ways. Stress is activated by another hormone (cortisol). Men use the mechanism of 'Fight and Flight' whereas women use the mechanism of 'Tend and Befriend'.
What this means is that when men are stressed out they have a less frequent but more intense experience of it – which encourages higher levels of another hormone (adrenaline) to be released.
Cortisol helps us to concentrate, whereas adrenaline gets our body ready for the fight or flight. High levels of Cortisol lowers the level of seratonin. Seratonin is the 'happy hormone'. This is one of the reasons why many men suffer with heart disease, and why many women suffer with depression.
How to remember these hormones:
Cortisol = Concentration
Seratonin = Smile
Adrenalin = Action
There's another one called Ocytocin and this is responsible for helping women feel much, much better in life (so you could refer to this as the Orgasm hormone, though we're not quite sure whether this is the full case or not, yet!).
Anyhoo, when these hormones come into play, this is one of the reasons why a man will leave the room when his woman shouts at him. He's sincerely not ignoring his woman, the love of his life. He simply has to - because his stress response is increased to such an intense degree that his heart cannot take it.
So, rather than act on his own natural impulses (to fight with, or hit out at the object) the best way for a man to deal with the stressful situation (biologically) is to leave the room until his stress levels are lowered.
So, if he shouts to you
"Where's the cheese?"
and you say
"In the fridge!"
This won't help either of you.
Use your brain (see above) and try not to scream at him:
"Its' right in front of you!!!"
He really isn't trying to get you to get it for him. The rods in his eyes, literally, won't allow him to see it.
You'd be better off giving him a couple more minutes of your time to tell him exactly which shelf, which corner and which packet it's in.
Remember: Keep your instructions short - to the point and increase your volume. Please don't have a conversation about it.
Some reading this article will probably be saying they don't agree with any of this, simply because none of it applies to today's workplace and home situations. But if you think back a couple of million years the reason becomes apparent.
All these brain functions seem to stem from when we were either warriors or settlers (or nomads), hunting or gathering (or begging) on the plains millions of years ago. That was when men needed to use their skills to flee from, or fire at, any threat - to protect their family. While women (as they had the babies) stayed with the family and needed to protect it by 'making friends' with others (safety in large groups) or the enemy until it was safe to leave.
Ultimate aim of all this biological input into our differences:
Procreation and Protection.
So what has this got to do with this thing called love? Is really all to do with lust then?
For some subtle answers to that question, you'll need to read the next article.
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