What Really Makes Women Tick

If you find your woman’s behavior baffling at times, it’s all down to chemistry. Here, one expert explains how hormones can make her act differently throughout the month — and how to cope.

By Chelsea Kaplan

avigating your woman’s emotional ups and downs is about a pleasant as getting a root canal (and hey, at least with a root canal, you might get some laughing gas and a prescription for painkillers afterwards). The good news is, your woman’s not crazy — she’s simply
Girls (much like boys) like to win.
physiologically wired to experience bouts of blubbering, bossiness and baby obsession, says Louann Brizendine, M.D., a Bay Area psychiatrist, professor and author of The Female Brain. The (slightly) painful news: In order to better understand her emotional ups and downs, Dr. Brizendine says that you need to learn a bit about how she’s wired (and, yes, that includes her menstrual cycle) — so, plan accordingly. No worries, OK? In order to get you started, we asked Dr. Brizendine to shed a more scientific light on what truly makes women tick in order to help you gain a more thorough understanding of your better half.

Why is she so baby-obsessed? I just want to hang out and enjoy being a couple.

If she’s got nothing but babies on the brain, consider that it’s her sense of smell — and not the ticking of her biological clock — that’s got her so fixated on procreation. Believe it or not, “baby lust” is often triggered in a woman’s brain by simply smelling another’s newborn, Dr. Brizendine explains: “The sweet smell of an infant’s head carries pheromones that stimulate the female brain to produce the potent love potion, oxytocin, creating a chemical reaction that induces ‘baby lust.’ In many ways, this is nature’s ‘sneak attack’ to trigger the desire to have another baby.” So if you’re hoping to steer the conversation away from conception, keep her away from your brand-new nephew.

Why is she so bossy? It’s like she always has to be right!

From the time they’re little girls, females they try their hand at bossing their fathers around — and their playmates and siblings, too, says Dr. Brizendine. “Doing so is a form of female competition — and girls (much like boys) like to win,” she explains. However, “winning” has different meaning for girls and boys, she notes. For men, winning is usually defined as emerging victorious in a struggle or “besting” another male. For women, however, it often means ensuring their security, explains Dr. Brizendine: “To forge connections, to create community and to orchestrate a girl’s world so that she’s at the center of it, the female brain must be aggressive. Her brain protects what is important to it — which is always, inevitably, a relationship.” The bottom line: when you’re feeling hen-pecked, try to keep in mind that her nagging is really an act of love intended to protect what the two of you have together — and less so an act of emasculation.

Why is she always so emotional? Things that I’d easily let roll of my back could have her crying for days!

Knowing how to ride your girlfriend’s emotional roller coaster is one of the hardest things for men to understand when they’re in a relationship. What will undoubtedly help you, however, is getting to know a bit about her menstrual cycle.
All-male groups and all-female groups have different standards of behavior.
As cringe-worthy as that idea may be, Dr. Brizendine explains that doing so can help you gauge when to steer clear of conflicts with her or put a crying jag into perspective: “On some days of the month, just about anything might reduce her to tears. The female brain is responding to different waves of hormones that change every week of the month, and the week right before her period starts is the worst for being emotionally sensitive, crying, getting irritable or testy, as estrogen levels are at their highest.” The week her period is finishing and the week after that are the “best” emotional weeks of the month for having a “heavy” or emotionally charged conversation, as estrogen levels are lower, says Dr. Brizendine.

Why isn’t she interested in more frequent sex?

I hate to break it to you, gentlemen, but this one’s also all about timing and understanding her cycle. If you’re looking for love, try planning a romantic evening for one of the two days before she ovulates. “Typically, ovulation occurs on day number 14, or right in the middle of her menstrual cycle,” says Dr. Brizendine. These are the days she will be most interested in having sex, she asserts, because during this time of the month, the female brain receives messages from the hormonal surge to get in the mood and reproduce. Of course, this is also a time when she’s particularly fertile, so unless you’re ready to become a father, proceed by using some protection!

I like my guy friends and all, but her girlfriends are practically her entire world. What gives?

All-male groups and all-female groups have different standards of behavior — both when it comes to friendships and interpersonal aggression, says Dr. Brizendine. While guys can insult and tease each other in the most brutal verbal assaults and then later, act like everything’s just fine, girls can — without any direct verbal confrontation — be involved in prolonged socially vicious acts and display aggressive behavior towards each other. At the same time, guys can hang out and bond with their buddies over a beer and a game, but it’s less likely that they will be interested in discussing their feelings with one another or forging an intimate emotional connection like women enjoy doing together. Unless she’s a cast member on a “Real Housewives” show, it’s likely that her “mean girl” behaviors have waned since her teen years, giving way to an increased sense of importance placed on her valued friendships. Dr. Brizendine says that scientists believe female brains are wired to want to outwardly keep the peace with other females in case they need them for protection so as to ensure their own survival; it is referred to as the “tend-and-befriend” female social system, which has evolutionary origins in our species.

For the other side of the story, read What Really Makes Men Tick.

When DC-based journalist Chelsea Kaplan isn’t helping you solve your relationship problems, she’s making jewelry. Check it out at
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