Building Bridges

Issue # 20 of 43 

David LeClaire
By: David LeClaire

Humble Beginnings

You may have heard it before... We are what we are because of thousands of years of programming from our genetic ancestors. How much is there to it? It's hard to say where to draw the line between what we want to believe and what is in fact "the truth." With a closer look at the average "modern day" man and woman, it seems reasonable to say that at least part of the evolutionary theory may be valid when it comes to trying to understand many of the differences between the genders. While some may want to believe that we have evolved to the degree that any personality imprinting from our past ancestors is irrelevant, there are some common behaviors that suggest otherwise.

We have evolved from the early humans whose way of life was as real to them then as your life is to you today. Men and women were living a life that did not include restaurants, frequent flier miles, minivans, or the Internet. It's impossible to comprehend the true length of our lineage, much less anything further back than our grandparents. Yet regardless if we were poofed into existence by God or started as a genetic mutation of some other form of life, we most certainly go back to some pretty humble beginnings physically and socially.

Today's environment is certainly different from that of our ancestors. Similar to a fourth generation zoo animal who no longer needs to worry about survival, we still possess the same genetic imprinting as we always have. Now our brains are more in control than they used to be. Just as zoo Zebras no longer need stripes, we no longer need the ability to sneak up on animals for our survival. Still, five hundred years from now, the ancestors of zoo Zebras will still have stripes.

It makes perfect sense that genetically we were originally programmed for certain things to aid in our survival. That we no longer need to rely on many of our basic instincts for survival is irrelevant when one acknowledges that we were given these gifts as a species as was the giraffe, greyhound, and polar bear. What are some of those original genes that we were given to help us survive? Do they still play a role in our daily existence and challenge the genders in their efforts to get along?

One of the original gifts that genetic imprinting gave early man was the instinct of fight or flight. The intense adrenaline surge in the face of danger helped man react quickly. It seems that even today men tend to have a shorter fuse than women and can become intensely angry and defensive in a flash. Since men don't always feel comfortable with this intensity when they are around the woman they love, often their brain kicks in the flight response as a safety valve in order to diffuse their anger and emotion.

Back when men spent the majority of their days on the hunt, dressed in either hides of animals or even nothing at all, life was certainly different than now. There were no semi-automatic weapons or four wheel drive trucks. Life was simple, and men were doing what came naturally to them. Men didn't go to seminars to learn how to change, modify, or redirect their lives. Rather, they were great "hunters," and did so in a manner that was significantly different from the rest of the animal kingdom.

A modern "hunter" will joyfully tell you the tricks of the trade that help them be successful in their predatory escapades. Here, some basic rules are just as true as they were thousands of years ago. One of the more simple concepts is silence. To be effective in the wilderness, man has to blend in as much as possible. This means being cautious and stealthy. Man's ancestors would spend days on end out on a hunt. Space, open air, and quiet were a way of life. They often didn't return until they had been successful. When the food was almost gone, they would go off again to hunt.

A friend of mine was out hunting recently when he noticed that over an hour had passed since he or the other two men he was with had said a word. Neither of them was the least bit uncomfortable with it. Silence came just as easily to these 3 men as it did a couple thousand years ago to the "hunters" of that time. Doug mentioned this to the other men. They grunted in agreement, and then fell silent again for another hour or so.

While complete silence isn't always necessary out on the hunt, not having the need to talk is a good trait to have come naturally if must rely on hunting for your meals. It's hard to be stealthy and to blend into the habitats of others in the animal kingdom with a lot of chatter. It could even be said that what was a natural benefit to our early ancestors could be a significant Achilles Heel as men try to get along with women in today's more cognitive and verbal world.

Women are no longer satisfied with the primitive "hunter" who just brings home some fresh meat - they want someone to talk to and relate with. Men can no longer use the excuse that men just don't talk. While it may not be as easy for some men to open up, it is possible. There is no genetic floodgate that needs to be opened, just a willingness to try.Yet many women could adjust their expectations of how expressive their partner can and should be. Women can also be more understanding regarding the years of conditioning and the remnants of genetic imprinting that influences their partner, becoming more patient as he stretches to be more verbal.

Doug was going for a two hour drive to the coast to stay at a romantic bed and breakfast with his wife. He was patiently driving and day dreaming, enjoying the drive and peace and quiet. At the same time, his wife Natalie was feeling disappointed. To her, the silence was disturbing. She was hoping they would have been able to catch up and share some interesting conversations along the way, but Doug didn't seem to want to talk. She wondered what was wrong, why he was being so quiet.

Natalie continued thinking, "I wonder if something is bothering him? Maybe I did something to upset him and he just doesn't want to get in a fight. Maybe he's bored with us. Or it could be that he's worried about something at work and doesn't want to worry me about it. I wish he would just open up and talk to me more easily."

In actuality, Doug was thinking about how the fall colors on the trees reminded him of being a child. Yet because this silence doesn't come that naturally to some women, they may think it's odd or something to worry about when their man is quiet. In fact, many times there is nothing to worry about; he's just daydreaming or being quiet. To be fair, some couples are reversed of the norm, with the man being talkative and the woman more withdrawn.

The man, when he is verbal, is often brief and speaks in short sentences. That can easily frustrate some women, as they want and expect more of an "effort" on their man's part. They enjoy a more verbal approach, and can be disappointed with his lack of interest or ability in communicating.

At the same time, men can become irritated by all of the talking being done by women. As Doug shared with me: "Talk talk talk. Can't women just relax and not always have to talk? When it's been a long day, I just want to come home and have a little peace for an hour or so. But as soon as I open the door, my wife wants to tell me about her day, asks how mine was, and how I felt about it."

Another significant difference between the genders is the need for "space." Keeping in mind that everyone's definition of a balanced relationship is different, here is an example of what a man recently expressed to me regarding his need for space: Joe said that his relationship was perfectly balanced when his partner was home for four days and then gone on business for three. Four on, three off, four on, three off. Week in and week out. Why? Because he loved being with her for four days, and then he could have his space for a few. By the end of the three days, he would miss her again, and thoroughly enjoy being with her for the next four.

Many women don't have or understand this need for space, and take it personally that their partner likes to be away. Our hunter ancestors were very independent and quite used to being alone. The time by themselves didn't "mean anything" then, and it doesn't always now. The average urban man isn't going off into the woods for days on end, yet it doesn't mean they have no need for some space or solitude.

The busiest male executives may never make the time for any of this quiet personal time or ever learn to enjoy the peacefulness of being alone, and can still lead satisfying lives in spite of it. Some men's work environment gives them this space, such as some construction jobs, farming, accounting, or engineering. And many men whose jobs don't give them that quiet take up hobbies like reading, computer games, going to the gym, or getting away by going fishing, hunting, or hiking. I'm not implying that women don't enjoy having some space, but rather that it is more important to many men.

This desire to have time outside of the relationship is natural, and doesn't mean men are seeking it to avoid their partner. Some men feel overloaded with the level of involvement that many women require, and want life to be more simple and basic for a short while. Yet they truly love and appreciate the woman in their lives, and know that too much time by themselves can also be quite boring.

David LeClaire has spent much of his time teaching at community college and private school, and lead communications training for Fortune 500 companies. Now a popular and active Seattle area sommelier, this graduate of Central Michigan University led seminars for a wide variety of organizations. LeClaire is the author of "Bridges To A Passionate Partnership." He can be reached at

Building Bridges Table of Contents

Text © 1998, David LeClaire. Part of the original Sideroad.
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