By Amy Alkon
Q: My boyfriend and I just moved in together, and it’s going well, except for how he leaves empty containers and trash everywhere. I asked him to please just put these in the garbage. He did this—for a single day. These empties everywhere are driving me crazy, not because I mind picking them up but because I feel disrespected. It’s weird, because he’s otherwise sweet and attentive.—Exasperated
A: That used Q-tip is only a collectible if he used to be Elvis.
Of course, because your eyes go right to the empty cans and fast-food carcasses, you’re thinking his must, too. Maybe—but maybe not. Psychologists Irwin Silverman and Marion Eals contend that men and women evolved to have differing spatial abilities, corresponding with the sexual divisions of labor—men as hunters and women as gatherers (of salad and appetizers).
Experiments by Silverman, Eals and others support this theory. Men have more distance-oriented visual and navigational abilities, which would have been useful for tracking prey across a big plain: “Yo, bros, I believe that’s dinner!” Men also excel at “mental rotation”—turning objects around in their minds—which would have helped them land a spear in a moving four-legged dinner entree before it got away.
Women, on the other hand, do far better (sometimes 60 to 70 percent better) on tests of “object location memory”—remembering objects and their placement in a setting. This ability for noticing and recalling detail would have helped them remember wee landmarks pointing back to where to find those yummy grubs. (It’s less helpful with a boyfriend who waits to toss trash until it requires a backhoe.)
The fact that your boyfriend tidied up upon request suggests that he cares about your feelings. His doing that only once maybe just means it isn’t a habit. Habits—behaviors we do pretty automatically—get ingrained over time through repeated action. They are triggered by cues in our behavior and environment. Unfortunately, for him, the action of throwing back, say, the last drop of Mountain Dew has been associated not with slam-dunking it into the wastebasket but with leaving it on the coffee table for the archeologists to find.
You could try to help him make the trash-trashcan association, maybe by one day tacking notes on the empties—like “Hello, Mr. Archeologist. I was enjoyed in 2016.” The reality is that he may not always remember, in which case you should remind yourself that a guy who’s otherwise “sweet” and “attentive” isn’t leaving the mess to mess with you. You and he can also figure out ways he can do his part around the house (washing the cars, bringing in the garbage bins, etc.) so you can pick up after him with a laugh instead of loathing. Someday, you two may bring new life into the world, but it shouldn’t be a mystery fungus inside a Chinese food container that got kicked under the bed.
Q: My girlfriend of two years seems to be gradually moving me out of her life. Seeing her two or three times a week has dwindled into maybe once—and no overnights. She’ll meet me at the movies and then ditch me afterward, saying she’s got a bunch of things to do. She denies anything’s wrong, claiming she’s just “very busy.” I think there’s more to it.—Left Hanging
A: It seems you’re right; she’s really looking forward to your dates—the way a cow looks forward to a personal tour of the slaughterhouse.
People talk about what a high falling in love is, and they aren’t wrong, because their body’s basically in the throes of a biochemical drug binge. University of Pisa psychiatrist Donatella Marazziti looked at blood samples of people who’d been madly in love for less than six months and found that they had serotonin levels comparable to people diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Luckily, obsessively having sex is more fun than obsessively washing your hands.
Falling in love also alters testosterone levels—though differently in men and women. Men’s drops—making them more cuddlywuddly—and women’s goes up, increasing their interest in sex. Unfortunately, this increased interest is temporary. Marazziti found that T levels went back to normal between the one- and two-year mark—which is when the feeling, “We’re perfect for each other!” can start to be replaced by, “We’re perfect for other people.”
This may be how she’s been feeling. To get an answer—beyond knee-jerk denials that anything’s wrong—email her. Ask her whether you two have a problem, and tell her to take a couple of days to think about it. Upon reflection, she should either decide to try to fix things or break up with you—and not in a way that mimics continental drift.