Humankind has spent an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out the differences between the genders.
After all these centuries, men still find women mysterious and women still marvel at how closed off emotionally men can be. Haven’t we learned anything over the years? Is there really no genetic or emotional blueprint we can use to explain why men and women act SO differently in a relationship?
Although no easy roadmap to the genders exists, there is some information we can glean when we look at the unique biological, sociological, and evolutionary qualities of men and women.
In our latest Expert video, Senior VP of YourTango Experts Melanie Gorman asked a group of our relationship Experts — T-Ann Pierce, Clara Wisner, Kathryn Foster, and Helen Fisher — for their opinions on the major things we need to consider when we look at the physical and emotional divide between the genders.
You can see their full discussion in the above video, but here are FIVE things they agreed that we must all remember when we talk about men and women.
1. Men and women evolved differently.
This is just a biological fact. For eons, men’s brains were fashioned to fit their jobs — hunting and protecting their pack from enemies. To accomplish those tasks, they had to learn to detach, to suspend their empathy. Meanwhile, women’s brains developed much more relational roles. Women gave birth, they worked in communal environments.
The way men and women’s brains evolved over the centuries definitely plays a role in how they relate today. That’s why women often want more empathic dialogue from their men, and men feel criticized because they don’t have the same emotional capacity. It’s just how they’re wired.
2. Those evolutionary differences don’t make things easy.
Another issue to consider is something Expert Clara Wisner calls “evolutionary mismatch.” That refers to the fact that men’s and women’s bodies and brains have evolved for vastly different environments than they’re living in today. Most men don’t hunt for a living anymore and not every woman now needs to procreate or hold a relational role.
This can cause anxiety and confusion for men and women, but openly talking about those feelings of mismatch can help bring more peace and harmony into a relationship.
3. Men and women don’t always agree on sex and romance.
Because men developed without the same capacity for empathetic dialogue as women, the two genders often have very different opinions when it comes to assigning significance to sex and relationships. For example, men are FOUR TIMES more likely than women to believe that sex and emotional intimacy are the same things.
That being said, there have also been several modern studies that actually say that men fall in love faster than women do. So men and women need to realize that, when they talk about romance, they might have a completely different definition than their partner — which is why communication is SO important.
4. Gender isn’t everything.
While, yes, there are big differences between men and women — mentally and biologically — it’s important to recognize that some things are bigger than gender.
We are more than just men and women. We are also individuals. If you’re trying to study the evolutionary variances between genders, you also have to take bio-individuality into account. Because there are differences between ALL human beings, not just men and women.
5. The relationship between men and women evolves over the years.
This is a particularly important thing for long-term couples to understand. If a couple gets married in their 20s and quickly figures out their differences, they need to realize that their relationship will continue to change and evolve with every major life milestone they encounter.
Careers, having children, dealing with retirement or disability — all of those issues can completely change the relationship between a couple on so many levels. They need to realize that part of the evolution of their romance will involve them continuing to reveal themselves to each other, over and over again, as they grow and change throughout time.
Just remember — women and men have had a symbiotic relationship since the beginning of humankind.
Yes, they can annoy each other, and, yes, they will not always understand each other, but the more we talk about and acknowledge the differences between the genders, the easier it will be to eventually find common ground.
Are you a woman struggling to understand your man? Or vice versa? If so, please visit the websites of our Experts and contact T-Ann, Kathryn, Clara, and Helen directly. They’re here to help.
Helen Fisher, Ph.D., is a Senior Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute, and Chief Scientific Advisor to the Internet dating site Match.com. Visit her website for more.
Tom Burns is a writer who has been featured on Babble, Brightly, Mom.me, Time Magazine, Reading Rainbow, The Huffington Post, xoJane, and various other sites. Follow him on Twitter.