Chosen not choosing
In his memoir My Life and Times, American author Henry Miller made the observation: "Men always say, 'The women I select.' I say they select us. I give myself no credit for selecting.
"Sure I ran after them, I struggled, and all that, but I can't say: 'Oh, that's gonna be mine. Now that's the type I want and I'm gonna get it.' No it doesn't work that way," Miller wrote.
Like Miller, I reckon there are very few men who can accurately claim to have done the fundamental, back-channel choosing in their relationship, despite delusions to the contrary. More than likely, the man was out somewhere, or at work, and circumstances pushed him into the orbit of a particular woman.
After a few drinks or a few weeks of bumping into each other, she showed signs of interest, the guy kidded himself he was taking the reins and, well, you know the rest.
The temptation here is to say, "Well, I saw her at the bar, or I approached her in the photocopy room, so of course I chose her first."
But is that all that's going on here?
Last year's much discussed book A Billion Wicked Thoughts, by cognitive neuroscientists Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam, asserted that arousal in men and women are completely different beasts.
If a man has an erection, or is in any other way physically aroused, it's almost entirely certain he will be psychologically aroused as well.
"Men's brains are designed to objectify females," wrote Ogas and Gaddam, because our primary concern is the biological fitness of women for childbearing. Thus, everything we require in order to feel desire is visible to the naked eye."
The New York Times reported this was backed up by a well-known study by sex researcher Meredith Chivers "where there was a nearly perfect concordance between male reports of sexual arousal and evidence of physical arousal measured by a device attached to participants' genitals".
"By contrast, Chivers found that a lot more blood flowed to the genitals of her female subjects than their self-reports would suggest.
"Straight men were physically aroused by videos of straight sex, but not by videos of gay sex or bonobos mating, and their self-reports confirmed what the sensors measured. Straight women were physically aroused by everything, including the bonobos, but their self-reports often contradicted what the sensors measured," The Times says.
What this means is that a woman can be physically turned on by someone or something (even monkey porn) but remain psychologically detached, even disgusted, by what she's experiencing.
And men? Well, the old chesnut about the little head making decisions for the big head may not be completely true but it's close.
The Times said: "Chivers's study shed light on the failure to produce a 'female Viagra': while increased blood flow to the penis is sufficient to incite a man to sexual desire, increased blood flow alone will not produce feminine desire."
Ogas and Gaddam argued that women had developed a neural structure that "inhabits a woman's conscious mind and intercepts signals coming from her body, preventing them from triggering conscious, psychological arousal".
The authors termed this structure the "Miss Marple Detective Agency", a process contrived by evolution to protect women from getting carried away by their genitals because they have so much more to lose if they have "reckless sex" and get pregnant to a loser.
The Miss Marple Detective Agency - or the above-described split between physical and psychological arousal in women - developed to ensure her bloke would be a "strong and decent man willing to invest in a stable, long-term, child-rearing relationship".
In other words, on the whole, it is not enough for a woman just to be turned on physically; she also has to be satisfied a guy is not a creep, player, murderer, weakling, etc.
Of course, women still indulge in impulsive one-night stands and "reckless sex" with creeps, players, murderers, weaklings and bad boys, but overall, Ogas and Gaddam argue, while the man is slobbering away, kneading his stiffie through his jeans at the bar, the woman is sitting back, watching, deliberating and ... choosing.
I reckon most men know this too, but have trouble admitting it even to themselves. I also reckon much of the world's misogyny is rooted in this fact: I'm chosen, not choosing - but that's a topic for another day.