He may tromp through the kitchen with his mud-encrusted shoes, leaving trails of dirt across the floor. She might pause the TV at a vital moment so she can ask him what he’s feeling. He side-steps the pile of cat puke instead of cleaning it up, while she snarls “fine!” when asked if there’s anything wrong.
Honestly, sometimes it’s amazing to consider that the human race has managed to flourish as it has, considering how very different men and women can be. Sometimes it quite literally seems as though we’re of different species when our reactions to the same situations or stimuli are polar opposites.
Although many differences between the genders can be attributed to social conditioning, there are apparently some solid reasons as to why men and women can be so at odds when it comes to interpersonal relationships, communication, and just trying desperately to understand one another.
I Just See Things Differently
Did you know that men and women actually see differently? And that doesn’t just mean one person not paying attention to dirty socks being left on the kitchen table, or that the milk in the fridge went bad a week ago. According to scientific studies, there are physical differences in the thickness and cellular composition of male and female retinas: men and women quite literally do not see things the same way!
Male retinas have more magnocellular (M) cells, which are responsible for observing and tracking motion, whereas female retinas have more parvocellular (P) cells, which help us notice textures and colors. This was probably of great benefit during our hunter/gatherer days, when Blork went out to hunt dangerous and delicious animals for dinner, while Blerta gathered non-poisonous leaves and berries for scrumptious side dishes.
Nowadays, conflict arises when dudes will stand in front of the fridge with the door wide open and complain loudly that they can’t find X item, which their exasperated female partners or housemates will find within about five seconds of looking in there. Unless the mayonnaise sprints its way through the fridge in a desperate attempt to get away from your guy, he might honestly just overlook it as he scans the chilly shelves.
Funny how beer always manages to be spotted, though. Hmm.
What Was That?
If you’ve ever muttered something under your breath and your wife/friend/girlfriend/daughter heard you anyway, don’t be too surprised: women have a much better sense of hearing than men do, and as such can hear whispers, mutters, and comments when supposedly out of earshot.
Women also startle a lot more easily than men, and have a much higher emotional response when we think we’re going to anticipate pain or other unpleasantness, so if your lady freaks out in the middle of the night because she thinks she can hear strange sounds in the house, don’t just dismiss her as having an overactive imagination: she might really be hearing something weird!
On the other hand, men have an innate ability to tune out “white noise”, or repetitive sounds that either irritate them, or that they’ve dismissed as irrelevant. This can result in a hell of a lot of frustration when women are trying to call attention to something when a man is otherwise engaged or distracted, as he quite literally will not hear what she’s saying, but she’ll assume that he’s not just listening or bothering to pay attention to her.
How’s that for being from totally different planets?
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I Can’t Believe You Did That!
She’s cautious about skiing down a high slope for the first time, whereas he and his buddies think it’s a great idea to ride a wheelbarrow down a steep hill into a shallow creek. (If you think that the latter is a weird exaggeration, check out the Darwin Awards sometime.) Each condemns the other for their behavior: he may cluck at her and call her a chicken, while she calls him a complete idiot and berates him for his juvenile irresponsibility. Hello, fight time.
Why such a discrepancy? Well, for two major reasons: first of all, women have a higher degree of awareness of possible pain, which makes them much more hesitant to engage in behavior that could potentially maim or kill them. Men, on the other hand, don’t just overestimate their abilities –both mental and physical – but also have a tendency to engage in dangerous antics for thrills… especially when there are other guys around to cheer them on and/or partake in such risky and ridiculous antics themselves.
This can lead men to berate the women in their lives for perceived cowardice, while women end up shaking their heads and being appalled by men’s juvenile, irresponsible actions. Add to the fact that guys are less likely to seek medical attention when seriously hurt, and there’s a recipe for a fight just waiting to happen.
Why Do You Keep Picking Fights?!
Have you ever noticed how many men seem to enjoy a good fight? Or even just a rough football game? How some guys smile and laugh after having been in a scuffle, or get into a really good mood after fighting verbally with a neighbor or even a coworker?
It turns out that men get positive hormonal “rushes” from conflict and danger. When under stress and conflict, guys get a flood of pleasurable chemicals into their brains, which gives them a massive high… and a massive boost to their sex drive. (This is likely why many people have experienced “angry sex” or “make-up sex” either during or after a fight: conflict honestly turns many guys on.)
Meanwhile, conflict has the opposite effect on women: when ladies get stressed and upset, they freak out and feel vulnerable, sad, and scared. You’d think that Mother Nature might have wired all of us the same way in that regard for the sake of conflict resolution, but noooo.
In fact, there’s such a discrepancy between the XX- and XY-chromosomed crew that whereas men will get randy from those happy conflict hormones, women’s heightened anxiety makes them lose any interest in intimacy. Most women are literally incapable of having an orgasm while those stress hormones are active. Again, how on Earth have we ridiculous humans managed to propagate at all?
These are just a few examples of the myriad ways in which men and women are so very, very different. If we take things like women’s monthly hormone fluctuations into consideration – wherein emotional stability, clarity of thought, objectivity, and overall stability can change dramatically from one week to another – it’s hard to imagine how we ever get along with one another at all, let alone form close, long-lasting relationships.
The key to sorting through these differences is communication. We might never be truly able to understand another person unless we manage to Vulcan mind meld with them for a few minutes, but we can do our best to communicate with one another. Talking things out, sharing perspectives (and frustrations, albeit when both are calm and not in the middle of a shrieking session), and even seeking couples counseling can be a huge help in bridging the massive, echoing chasm that exists between the genders.