Single & Clueless asks Dr. Helen Fisher: Why do men seem more forgetful and women never forget?
So many times I have begun reminiscing with a boyfriend about a holiday we shared, a movie we saw, or a trip we took—only to discover how little he remembered of the event. While I could recall what I wore, what we discussed, even what we ate, it was all a blur to him. I enjoy remembering, but I must admit, there are things I would prefer to forget. While I remain plagued by things I did or said for days, weeks (or even years), many men live in the here and now. And at least one brain region is to blame: the hippocampus. This primary part of the memory system is packed with receptors for estrogen—the largely female hormone. Most likely for this (and several other reasons) women remember. Alas, we can also hold a grudge (one of the few things that concern businessmen about businesswomen). And we’re not alone. I know of a female chimpanzee that held a grudge for over 20 years, albeit for a good reason. While strolling with her infant one jungle morning, a deranged chimp neighbor seized her child to slaughter it. The mother rescued her wailing offspring. But she was hostile to the thief all her life. Ancestral women had to remember far smaller transgressions to rear their young—perhaps building women’s keen memory today.
But why do men forget? Testosterone may play a role. Transsexuals report that after three months of testosterone injections to transform from woman to man, they live more in the here and now. High testosterone men also focus on the here and now. And like women’s acute memory for offenses of any kind, men’s lack of memory for misdemeanors is most likely adaptive. For millions of years men had to put aside their differences to hunt together. Surely they remembered serious betrayals (as modern men do); but it was expedient to overlook, indeed even forget minor squabbles. You’ve probably seen this in the office. After an argument, all the men go out together for a beer, while all the women head home alone, often remaining hostile or wary for days or weeks.
So the next time he can’t remember the details of your wonderful vacation together, just remind him. He’ll be relieved you didn’t haze him for forgetting; and you can regale him with the juicy tidbits of these precious times.
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