story so far: I had just signed up for an online dating site, but was having trouble making up my mind. We pick up on the action ...
By now, I was scrutinizing the photos with the intensity of a CIA analyst, desperately searching for visual clues, trying to give my brain something to work with. We are told that looks matter far more to men than to women. My answer to this is if I looked like George Clooney I wouldn't have to spend so much time thinking about what to put in my profile. Yes, looks do matter to men, but not in the way women think they matter.
A few years ago, I entertained (but not very seriously) the idea of starting up a new magazine, "Boneriffic." If we're going to have fake superficial standards for female beauty, I figured, then it made no sense that those who are incapable of getting it up for women should be the deciders. What dickless wonder, for instance, came up with the brilliant idea that vulnerable teen-age girls are supposed to mature into womanhood with high-strung cadavers as their role models?
It's not about physical dimensions or specs, and men know this. Women are their own harshest critics. Women: If you don't believe me, just listen to your own conversations. Trust me, if men said the same things about women that women say about women, there would be no new generation left on earth to even discuss the topic of sexual attraction.
You see a fellow member of your gender - a potential competitor in life's ultimate prize - and you say something like her eyes are too close together. We see the same human being, the manifestation of all things possible, and say it's a good day to be a bicycle seat.
It all comes down to the simple fact that men are wired to get boners, and for once Darwin and the Bible are in precise accord. So, back to my magazine, "Boneriffic." Real men, real boners. I would publish photos sent in by truck drivers of their sexy wives and girlfriends. Not only that, I would recruit these same truck drivers as designers for a whole new Boneriffic fashion line. Think Victoria's Secret meets LL Bean.
So, anyway, here I was, just signed up on my online dating site, my carefully plotted out strategy laid waste by the unexpected operational limitations of my prefrontal cortex. It could think, but it couldn't decide, not without some input from the part of the brain where emotions reside. Enter the midbrain's dopamine-sensitive ventral tegmental area (VTA). Rats whose VTAs get stimulated with an electrical current get erections and start mounting the nearest available female.
This is the part of the brain (the right VTA) that also lights up with humans in love, anthropologist Helen Fisher of Rutgers University reported in a lecture at the 2004 American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting. (Simultaneously, the fear-mongering amygdala goes silent.) Romantic love, she went onto say, is a "drive" rather than an emotion, a "need" that compels one to seek a specific mate. Technically, testosterone/estrogen-driven lust (the craving for sexual gratification) is separate, as is oxytocin/vasopressin-influenced attachment (the sense of calm one feels with a long-term partner), but the three are also connected.
"Don’t copulate with people you don’t want to fall in love with," Dr Fisher cautioned, "because indeed you may do just that."
All kinds of emotions are in play, but they exist in relationship to the various drives, depending on how the eternal lust-love-attachment tango is playing out. The prefrontal cortex is also participating - assembling data, putting information into patterns, making strategies - but one gets the impression as a very junior partner. Case in point:
My brain was gridlocked. On paper, there was little to distinguish Prospective Soulmate #1 from Prospective Soulmate #2 from Prospective Soulmate #36. Which one? The mountain-biking attorney who loves to cook or the nature mystic small business owner who spends her time off raising autism awareness? Maybe it was the one who actually subscribed to - not just purchased as plane reading - "The New Yorker." But which one was she? The scuba diving emergency room nurse or the equestrian special education teacher?
I needed visual cues. The eyes have it - something that looked straight into my soul and locked in. A zillion and one things you can't explain, that would translate into a feeling or intuition, that would provide the prefrontal cortex with food for thought, that would help me make up my mind. I'd been at this since early afternoon and it was now approaching one in the morning. I'd set myself the modest goal of initiating contact with at least one prospect before going to bed and time was running out.
"Tomatoe Girl!" something in my head cried out. The one with no obvious interests who couldn't spell tomato. My prefrontal cortex had eliminated her in the opening minutes of the first round, but something in my midbrain was demanding a rehearing. Obediently, I dialed up Tomatoe Girl's profile and checked out her photos, and instantly felt a stirring below the equator. Oh shit, I could only think.
"Boneriffic!" my VTA was screaming. My poor prefrontal cortex didn't stand a chance.
To be continued ...