Many a woman has spent time agonizing over “what he meant by that.” Whether it’s a text at the beginning of a relationship, a hint at a proposal, or an off-hand comment years deep into a marriage, women often read into everything a man says or does, frequently leaving men bewildered.
I think it’s safe to say that at some point every woman has pondered what a man meant by something he said or did. This isn’t because women are petty or overly emotional but, in fact, quite the opposite. Women have this tendency because we are intelligent and complex, and we want men to be the same.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to take a shot at men here. The human person, be it male or female, is complex. And both men and women are intelligent. Experiences and feelings range among individuals, and everyone has a unique way of relating. Men and women are certainly capable of both feeling and being complicated; however, there are some intrinsic differences in men’s and women’s brains, and while that certainly doesn’t make one superior to the other, it does definitely affect how they think, speak, and act.
Science Has Proven Differences in Male and Female Brains
Men and women are different. Not unequal, but still different. The chemical differences in the male and the female brains have been studied for years and are not just mere opinion, but rather are fact rooted in scientific study. Stanford Medicine published an article drawing on years of research showing that critical differences due to various hormones and chromosomes can appear as early as 2 and 3 months old. UC-Irvine professor of neurobiology and behavior Larry Cahill, PhD., says that “the human brain is a sex-typed organ with distinct anatomical differences in neural structures and accompanying physiological differences in function.”
The human brain is a sex-typed organ with distinct anatomical differences in neural structures and accompanying physiological differences in function.
What this means is that sexual differences, beyond those that exist in just the reproductive organs, have an effect on the brain. While men’s brains are larger overall, women have a larger hippocampus, an area of the brain critical in learning and memorization, whereas the amygdala, an area in both hemispheres of the brain that experiences emotions and recalls experiences, is larger in men.
In his groundbreaking research, Dr. Cahill found that when watching movies that produced strong emotional reactions, the opposite sides of the amygdala reacted in the brains of the studied males and females, backing up the claim that “women retain stronger, more vivid memories of emotional events than men do.” These more intense memories have no doubt been at the heart of many an argument between partners, leaving a woman wondering how a man could not remember such a significant or meaningful event.
It has also been found that the two sides of a woman’s brain “talk to each other more than man’s do.” A University of Pennsylvania study found that “females’ brains consistently showed more strongly coordinated activity between hemispheres, while the males’ brain activity was more tightly coordinated within local brain regions.”
The two sides of a woman’s brain “talk to each other more than man’s do.”
This scientific principle is illustrated through a common analogy that women’s brains are like one tangled string that connects everything together in a seemingly endless cycle, whereas men’s brains are compartmentalized into different boxes, in which one is taken down at a time, opened, and then neatly put away. This coordinated activity between hemispheres is what seems to cause this complicated nature intrinsic to women, and the separation justifies the less complicated nature of men.
The science shows that the perceived complicated nature of women is grounded in brain function, and because of this, it would be exceptionally hard, if not nearly impossible, to break away from it.
The Differences Provide Balance
It’s incredibly difficult to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and try to understand life’s experiences through someone else’s eyes. As women, our brains really can’t comprehend what it would be like to experience life with a differently wired brain, say one that's more compartmental like that of a man. By the same token, men struggle to comprehend the world the way a woman sees it, where experiences are more emotionally charged and interwoven. Because of this, women want men to be complicated; we want them to understand life and it’s experiences as we do.
The reality is that men and women are going to experience life differently. No matter how much women desire it, men’s brains don’t work in the same way.
While it’s certainly important to be more empathetic and to understand others better, particularly those we date or marry, the reality is that men and women are going to experience life differently. No matter how much women desire it, men’s brains don’t work in the same way; the areas of their brains don’t process and recall emotional experiences in the same way, nor do their brains cross over information in the same way. We may want that as it would make our lives much easier. There have been countless times when I personally have wished my husband would see, understand, or relate to a situation in the same way that I do.
Women struggle to feel that their deep and complicated emotions are truly understood, often lamenting the seemingly simplistic response of the men in their life. There's nothing wrong with desiring to be understood; I believe that wanting to be known and understood is the deepest and greatest need we have as humans. But, we have to remember that the ways we understand, the methods our brains use to process, take in, and communicate information work differently.
While these differences can often be challenging and seem less than ideal, they actually make men and women so beautifully made for one another. The fault of one becomes the strength of another; the areas in which we lack understanding ourselves are understood by the other. These differences in understanding can certainly be trying, but it’s precisely these challenges that provide some of the greatest opportunities for growth.
The fault of one becomes the strength of another; the areas in which we lack understanding ourselves are understood by the other.
In understanding and recognizing these differences, perhaps women will be less disheartened by the words and actions of men, and men will be more understanding of the complicated needs and desires of women.
Women are complicated, and neuroscience shows why. Men have a different way of processing and perceiving the world, and while this may cause women some frustration, knowing the facts about how the male and the female brains work differently helps to foster mutual understanding. Men can and should attempt to understand the complex emotions women experience, even if those feelings are different than their own perceptions. In turn, women should be understanding of a man’s way of relating and processing and be cognizant of these differences.