Single women, your boyfriend’s brain is very different than yours. If you try to evaluate him like you’d evaluate a girlfriend or sister, you’re going to fail. You’ll miss cues. The male brain and the female brain diverge immediately upon conception. So, if you want to make a wise marital match, spend a little time getting to understand a bit about the male brain.
Dr. Louann Brizendine studied at UC Berkeley, Yale, and Harvard and is now on the faculty of UCSF Medical Center. She states, “The vast new body of brain science together with the work I’ve done with my male patients has convinced me that through every phase of life, the unique brain structures and hormones of boys and men create a male reality that is fundamentally different from the female one and all too frequently oversimplified and misunderstood.”
Her book, The Male Brain, can help young (or middle-aged) women understand what’s going on in a suitor’s brain.
Let’s look at some highlights to help single women while they are dating. There are also many applications for within marriage.
- Some men’s brains are more neurologically inclined toward monogamous behavior than others.
A study of lizards provides a “three types of men” analogy. There are “orange throat” lizards who basically guard a harem of females and mate with all of them. The males with yellow throats are called “sneakers” because they hang around the orange throat’s harem and mate with any of the willing females when the orange throat lizard isn’t looking. The “blue throat” lizards mate with one lizard for life and guard her 24/7.
This activity is partly guided by the vasopression receptor in the male’s brain, which is true in the human brain as well as the lizard’s brain. The longer the receptor, the more likely he is to be a “mate with one for life” kind of guy (the “blue throat”). As Dr. Brizendine puts it, “When it comes to fidelity, the joke among female scientists is that ‘longer is better,’ at least when it comes to the length of the vasopression receptor gene.”
If you’re not a scientist this isn’t something you can observe, but you can observe behavior. If your boyfriend has cheated on others before, it’s more likely he’ll cheat on you. If he left his former girlfriend to cheat with you, the time will almost certainly come when he will leave you to cheat with someone else. You’ve got to let his actions demonstrate the way his brain is wired. If you forgive him once for cheating on you, it’s far more likely you’ll have to become a “serial forgiver” if you want to stay with him. Some guys are just more wired for monogamy than others.
This isn’t to say biology is destiny. When you date a man surrendering to the work of the Holy Spirit and submitting to the truth of Scripture, he won’t be a powerless victim to his natural urges. But it will be more difficult for an orange throat to act like a blue throat. If you want a faithful mate, look for a “blue throat.”
- Sex takes up a bigger part of the male brain and guys are more comfortable than are women about lying to get sex.
Dr. Brizendine’s research has found that “Men have two and a half times the brain space devoted to sexual drive in their hypothalamus. Sexual thoughts flicker in the background of a man’s visual cortex all day and night, making him always at the ready for seizing sexual opportunity.”
The ongoing level of interest in sex between a male brain and female brain are widely different. Dr. Brizendine explains, “Women are surprised that the penis can operate on autopilot and even more surprised that men don’t always know when they’re getting an erection. The autopilot penis is part of a man’s daily reality for most of his life, though it happens less as he gets older.”
Further complicating this increased interest, and making it more dangerous, is that deception can be a big part of a guy’s mating strategy. Dr. Brizendine says, “Researchers found that three out of four men said they were willing to lie or ‘modify the truth’ to persuade women to have sex with them…Men exaggerate their wealth, status, and business and social connections.”
I heard a man once speak about the trick of collecting ATM receipts at the bank, which are often left lying around. He said to find one that had a balance of over $20,000 on it. When a young woman asks for your phone number you casually take out the receipt from your wallet, acting as if it’s yours, and write your phone number on it. You can bet she’ll turn it over. “When it comes to verbal deception, researchers have found that men are biologically more comfortable with it than women.”
Since women tend (not always, but tend) to be looking for a relationship, they may not understand why a guy would blatantly lie to get sex when he’ll inevitably be found out. The reason he’ll lie is because he may want a one-time sexual encounter more than he cares about a long-term relationship, so he’ll jeopardize the long-term for the short term.
If you’re looking for something long-term, be faithful to save sex for marriage. And don’t believe everything you hear. As they say in journalism school, if a guy says his mother loves him, look for a second source.
- Distinguish between a guy who is interested in you and a guy who is interested in having sex with you.
One thing that was universal about men and women was that in the first flush of infatuation followed by sexual activity, the relationship becomes literally intoxicating—but because men generally have lower levels of oxytocin, it can hit a male brain with more force. “In one study, men and women said they spent up to 85 percent of their waking moments daydreaming about their lover.”
As soon as the relationship becomes physical, you unleash neurological ingredients that are almost impossible to control. If the release comes during a honeymoon, you’re serving a lifelong love. If it comes before that, you risk becoming obsessed with someone who could make you very miserable as a spouse. You simply cannot properly evaluate someone you are infatuated with and sleeping with at the same time.
Women, this is so important: during this phase you may mistakenly think that he wants you, that he’s enthralled with you and intoxicated by you. In fact, it’s the sexual pursuit and the chemicals that come from such frequent sexual activity (which is also affecting your brain, by the way) that makes him seem so devoted. The frequency of sex will die down—it always does. And when it does, the chemicals making this man interested in you will evaporate because they are largely based on the sexual activity. In a very real sense, a boyfriend will “put up” with the romantic stuff to get to the sex. Once the sex goes, so goes the romance. Put this together with the male propensity to lie and the fact is that he is primed to promise you a lifetime just to buy another hour in bed.
According to Dr. Brizendine, “Researchers have reported that men want an average of fourteen sexual partners in their lifetime, while the women said they wanted an average of one or two.” This discrepancy alone tells you that when women and men are considering “dating” each other, they may have two wildly different agendas.
- Men are actually neurologically wired to misbehave more than women.
I am not calling sinful misbehavior a biological necessity; the only perfect person in the history of the world (Jesus) lived with a male brain. The apostle Paul, who also lived with a male brain, claimed to be “flawless” in terms of human righteousness and keeping the law. Maleness thus cannot be an excuse for sin.
But men are biologically less in tune with the consequences of bad behavior. The anterior cingulate cortex is “the “fear-of-punishment” area of the brain and is smaller in men than in women. Furthermore, “testosterone decreases worries about punishment.” The prefrontal cortex, which Dr. Brizendine calls the “CEO” of the brain, focuses on good judgments and “works as an inhibiting system to put the brakes on impulses” and is “larger in women and matures faster in females than in males.”
Put all this together and you are dating a person whose biological ability to process negative consequences arising from bad decisions is less than yours; whose fear of being punished is less than yours; whose processing area of the brain devoted to making good judgements is more limited than yours; and whose inhibitions are naturally less than yours.
Men are always accountable for not controlling their urges. But an analogy may be helpful here. Your boyfriend is more likely to be able to bench-press 250 pounds than you are, but girlfriends are more likely to make better decisions based on consequences, punishments, and reasonable inhibitions. Now, a woman can lift a lot of weight and end up pressing much more weight than many men ever could. And in the same way, a man can surrender to the work of the Holy Spirit and fill his mind with Scripture and learn to walk with wisdom and discretion. But biologically, a case can be made that it actually is easier for women to “behave.” While dating, be prepared to be the one who wants to think through the possible negative consequences of becoming physical right away, getting married right away, or doing something romantic but foolish.
- Older men become more like women neurologically
Because older male brains produce less testosterone and vasopressin, the ratio of estrogen to testosterone increases in the male brain, which means “hormonally the mature male brain is becoming more like the mature female brain.”
A man is gradually growing into a person who will likely be more in tune with your emotions, more capable of making sound judgments, and more relational overall. If you divorce a man in his forties, you’ve likely lived with him through his most difficult relational years and may miss his most in-tuned empathetic years.
This isn’t a promise—again, biology isn’t destiny, and stereotypes tend to be true but aren’t absolutely true.
This explains in part, but of course doesn’t excuse, why older men are often able to date much younger women. It’s not just the money. A younger woman may well be tired of a twenty or thirty-something male brain with its hyper-competitive, territorial, and sexually predatory nature and find it refreshing to have an older man who is more relationally aware. God’s ideal plan is that this man’s new awareness should be a gift to his wife who has been with him for three or four decades. When a man leaves his wife at this stage it’s a double-hit: she suffered while putting up with him in his more insensitive years and then she misses out on what could be his most relational years.
The younger woman’s devotion may be confusing to the original wife. The ex-wife may remember what this man was and thus not understand the new wife’s affection, while the new wife appreciates what he is and not understand the ex-wife’s rejection. This is terribly sad and goes against God’s creational design.
For the married women still reading this, if you value relational connectedness and understand the slow evolution of the male brain, it really is true that things are “getting better all the time.” A gentler, kinder, more relationally aware husband may be on the way.
Christians can become uncomfortable focusing too much on biology, as if it undercuts moral responsibility. I think most of you know I would never do that. Understanding a little science, however, can help single women be more aware of the issues they need to watch out for while dating. Every one of these issues are best addressed by living life the way God calls us to. In this case, modern neuroscience simply proves what we’ve known all along: God’s way is always best.
If you’re new to this blog and want more insight on making a wise marital choice, check The Sacred Search: What if It’s Not About Who You Marry, but Why? Link….
This blog is not written for women in abusive marriages. The advice offered in these posts will challenge both husbands and wives, but the advice could be counter-productive if it is applied in an abusive relationship.