Human Nature

In my last post about The Natural History of Love by Diane Ackerman, I mentioned that I often get frustrated with Ackerman’s biases. While that is true (and likely always will be), it does not mean that I find no value in her work. She is a thorough researcher (at least as far as her world view is concerned), she writes beautifully, and the details she presents about her subjects are fascinating.

I just finished a section titled “The Battle of the Sexes,” which I found quite insightful and wish more people would read, as I believe that a good understanding of human nature goes a long way in helping one navigate this world. Here is a good chunk from that section:

If men and women are designed to fall in love, mate, and bear young, then why are they always fighting? Because their biological agendas are different. … The male’s investment is a bit of spunk on a romantic evening. The female’s investment is many years of self-sacrifice. It’s in her best interest to choose someone who will stay by her and help support her child. Biologically, it’s in the male’s best interest to love ’em and leave ’em. …

The battleground is minute. The time limit is roughly thirty years of life. Both adversaries are generals. Both desire the same goal—the perpetuation of their genes. What differs is their strategy. She wants a man who will stick around, and because that’s never a surefire thing she becomes very choosy. She hopes to fall mutually in love with someone protective but nurturing, faithful and fit. She tests his sincerity, grills him about whether or not he really loves her, if he would go through fire and water for her. She uses words like “always” and “forever.” She’s jealous and possessive, but with a twist: it doesn’t matter if he screws around, provided he’s not in love with those other women. She knows he’s driven to sow his seed in other fields. What she cares about is his practical fidelity, his staying with her to make sure she and her offspring survive. So, angry and tearful, she forgives him once or twice, or pretends not to know, but puts her foot down if it’s chronic or seems serious. He’s also jealous and possessive, but he allows her no slips. If she becomes pregnant by someone else, he’ll end up supporting a child with none of his genes. To him, that would be catastrophic.* So, if she even looks lasciviously at another man, he goes on the rampage. This is not true just for individual men, but whole countries. …

Overwhelming an enemy is not enough. Bloodthirsty warriors want to murder unborn generations, making sure that only their own genes will survive. Perhaps the most obvious example of this was in 1300 B.C. A monument at Karnak, Egypt, chronicles King Menephta’s revenge on the Libyan army, which he vanquished. It lists the severed penises that his army brought home: Phalluses of Libyan generals—6. Phalluses cut off Libyans—6,359. Sirculians killed, phalluses cut off—222. Etruscans killed, phalluses cut off—542. Greeks killed, phalluses presented to the king—6,111.

Men and women have trouble understanding each other because their bodies speak slightly different dialects of survival. … When men get together, regardless of what they’re discussing, there is always a subtle element of competition, a jockeying for position and power.** When women get together, regardless of what they’re discussing, there is always a subtle element of making connections and bonding. …

The purpose of ritual for men is to learn the rules of power and competition. Watching sports together, for example, they see the formal enactment of ritual, become loyal to a team, learn to conceal their vulnerability. The purpose of ritual for women (going to lunch together, sharing a favorite salon, etc.) is to learn how to make human connections. They are often more intimate and vulnerable with one another than they are with their men, and taking care of other women teaches them to take care of themselves. In these formal ways, men and women domesticate their emotional lives. But their strategies are different, their biological itineraries are different. His sperm needs to travel, her eggs need to settle down. It’s astonishing that they survive happily at all. Love provides many remedies in this battle:  a no-man’s-land where both are safe, a messenger between the lines, an island of bliss in a fen of misgiving.


*This was illustrated in the novel I just read, Dances with the Daffodils by Matthew Connolly, and I think I’ll be encountering a similar situation in the one I’m reading now: Dandelion Summer by Lisa Wingate. Further, it reminds me of the phrase that might be the most dangerous in the English language: “mother’s boyfriend.”

** I recently witnessed this when my new contractor met the electrician, a friend of mine who has worked on my house many times in the past. It was rather amusing to watch the new guy assert (in subtle ways) that the electrician was on the contractor’s turf, seniority be damned.

  2 comments for “Human Nature

  1. Dennis Ruffing
    June 17, 2017 at 11:51 am

    Whose turf??

    • Cheryl Ruffing
      June 17, 2017 at 11:35 pm

      I see what you did there, Dear.

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