A wise person observed that “women marry men hoping they
will change. Men marry women hoping they will not. So, each is inevitably
disappointed.” I’ve been helping men and women have successful relationships
for more than fifty years now. As a man, as well as a therapist specializing in
working with men, I know that even good men can be difficult to live with.
However, trying to change them, often backfires and makes any problems even
worse. I’ve recently written about the 5
Stages of Love and Why Too Many Stop at Stage 3.
Before you can love a man, you have to know the truth about
males and to do that you need to understand some things about evolutionary
science. I was flying home from Seattle two days ago and the man sitting next
to me caught sight of the book I was reading—Sex, Power, and
Partisanship: How Evolutionary Science Makes Sense of Our Political
Divide by Dr. Hector Garcia.The guy scanned the title and said, “I
can’t agree with that.” I assumed he may have been turned off by Sex,
Power, or Partisanship, but I was wrong. “Evolution,” he said firmly.
“There’s no evidence for it. It’s just academics trying to undermine our
I handed him the book and he seemed almost reluctant to
touch it, particularly when he saw all the places I had put underlines and
stars. I thought it was a great book and it deepened my understanding of what
evolutionary science can teach us about sex, love, and relationships in
addition to sex, power, and partisanship. But if you don’t believe in
evolution, please stop reading now.
For those continuing with me, here are some important things that evolutionary science can teach us about men.
Men are not from Mars and women are not from Venus
We evolved here on Earth, but the two sexes have faced different evolutionary challenges that contribute to reasons why men (and women) are the way they are, feel the way they feel, and do the things they do. Men and women aren’t from different planets, but we are different in significant ways.
Males must compete for access to females
Like the sperm we make, males compete with other males to be
chosen by a mate. As a result, men live with constant, though usually hidden,
Jungian therapist Eugene Monick concludes that these biological realities of sperm competition can tell us a lot about male insecurity and fear of failure. “What the sperm experiences in its life struggle toward the ovum is the ground or archetypal pattern for a man’s daily struggle for virility.” We know that only one sperm will succeed while most will die. “This is the raw material of masculine psyche, the fuel for a male’s terror,” Monick concludes.
Throughout our evolutionary history, in the competition to mate, most men failed
Throughout human history some men (think alpha males like
Genghis Kahn, Wilt Chamberlain, and Warren Beatty) had sex with lots of women.
Most men were not chosen. “Looking back across the entire history of the
human race, and taking nature’s criterion of success as passing on your life to
others,” says Dr. Roy Baumeister, author of Is There Anything Good About
Me, “we can say that most of the men were failures. Being male goes with
biological failure in a way that being female doesn’t.”
It may be difficult to believe now, but according to Baumeister, throughout evolutionary past perhaps 80% of women had children, while only 40% of men did so. Most men never found a mate and never had sex (talk about frustration).
In order to succeed, males take greater risks in life
Even alpha males worry that they will be replaced by a more successful male. In modern times most men will find a partner to have sex with, but men never overcome the fear of being left out of the evolutionary lottery. As a result, males are gamblers. Some are hugely successful, many more strikeout. All males, subconsciously, are afraid they won’t be successful enough to find and keep a mate.
Men’s greatest fear is being killed by other men
In his book, Sex, Power, and Partisanship, Dr.
Garcia says, “Compared to most animals, we seem inconceivably vulnerable.
Imagine walking unarmed through the natural environments of the world, which
swarm with fearsome animals with the power to eviscerate us with claws or
fangs, trample and crush us, or inject us with a pharmacopeia of deadly
poisons.” Yet, the most feared predator, isn’t a wild animal, is another man.
“Even today,” says Garcia, “men account for an
astronomically higher percentage of all kinds of violence than women, and
recent psychological research suggests that men have been so dangerous across
evolutionary history that our brains are primed to fear them…Men from the
outside tribe were a prominent threat to our survival across the history of our
species, and our brains ‘know’ this.”
Even more fearful to men of being killed by another man was his fear that the other man would take his woman and kill his children. “Male mate competition has been an essential source of male violence,” concludes Garcia.
Males are programmed to become warriors
In her book, Warriors and Worriers: The Survival of the
Sexes, social scientist Joyce F. Benenson says, “Every one of the
ancestors of people alive today managed to avoid an early death and to pass
their genes to their children. I believe that men and women have evolved to
specialize in preventing death from different causes.”
Benenson goes on to say, “Boys and men are less afraid of
death than girls and women are, and they take more frequent and greater risks.”
Hence, she makes the distinction between the inherent difference of females to
become worriers in order to stay alive to care for the young and
men’s tendency to become warriors to attend to the threat from other
In reflecting on males Benenson asks “What do boys fear? Based upon my years of study of children and, more recently, adults, I believe that boys’ and men’s specialty is worrying about enemies.”
Men change when the conditions of life move us
Like all of us, men resist change when we feel pushed or
pulled in a certain direction, particularly when we don’t feel understood and
loved. Recognizing our evolutionary tendencies will go a long way to connecting
deeply with a man. Our evolutionary history may have prepared us to fight other
men, for instance, but we can all help to create a more peaceful world where
men don’t need to fight for their lives to protect themselves and their
I discuss these issues in more depth in my upcoming
book, 12 Rules for Good Men, scheduled for release in November and my
current book, Mr. Mean:
Saving Your Relationship from the Irritable Male Syndrome. I look
forward to your comments and questions.
This article first appeared on Jed’s blog.