Understanding How Men and Women Think

Don Stoner and girls

by Donald W. Stoner (REV. 2007/10/30)

Because I am the veteran of a mother, three sisters, a wife (for thirty-three years now), four grown daughters, six nieces, four granddaughters, and sundry other female acquaintances, I believe I speak with a certain amount of authority when I say that I do not understand women. Even so, I have (finally) been able to map out a few of the more obvious differences in the way men and women think. This has led me to a theory of what causes those differences and why they are actually necessary.

Beginning with an old joke:
Adam: Hey God, why did You make Eve so beautiful?
God: So you would love her, Adam.
Adam: Uh, Ok, ... but then why did You make her so stupid?
God: So she would love you, Adam.

Probably the most glaring "deficiency" in how my wife's mind works is that it somehow causes her to be attracted to me. I see absolutely nothing about myself which ought to attract any reasonable human being to snuggle up with me by the fire on a cold winter night. In fact, I find the concept of snuggling up next to me to be completely repelling. By contrast, I regard snuggling up to my wife to be quite pleasant.

The reason why women have to act so differently than men do is that God 1 had to design them so they would be attracted to men. We are talking about a pretty major rewiring of the human brain between the sexes here. What could possibly possess a beautiful young female to think we disgusting males were worth getting close to? Please notice that this isn't merely a major rewiring - in some respects the wiring has to be completely "backwards." 2 A difference this big absolutely has to spill over into other aspects of our behavior. It simply has to affect "the way the creatures think" (Arthur's line from the musical film Camelot) in ways that we can never possibly grasp.

These differences had left me completely baffled for the first fifty-seven years of my life. Then, quite recently, I was having a brain-storming session with my older son and one of my daughters. My daughter happened to say something that made both of us males laugh together. She asked us what was funny, and so I explained. Then it was her turn to laugh. The short version of the story is that, an hour or so later, we had hammered out a theory about one of the major differences between male and female thought - an oversimplified theory to be sure, but a theory which might lead to something upon which we could all agree! Subsequent questioning of many other members of both sexes has confirmed that we all see at least this one difference in somewhat the same way. Here is what we figured out:

The Relationship Between Logic and Emotion:
Part 1, Examining Logic

plane of logic

To understand the difference between the minds of men and of women, we will need some way to picture what is happening inside those minds. Beginning with logic: Logic could be said to comprise a "plane" (as pictured at right). Every "logical" decision we make might be represented by one single point on that plane. Should we get dressed or shower first? The logic in our minds will provide an answer to that question. Of course a simple plane isn't really the way logic is "shaped," but it will give us a simple mental image that we can use to think about how logic might fit into the bigger picture.

For a starting point, it appears that men and women use logic in the same way; it seems that we both agree on what "logic" is and how it works. Although there can be no non-circular, yet logical, proof that logic makes sense, 3 men and woman both appear to agree to its rules - and to the fact that it works. Logic appears to be "hard wired" into both of our brains in the same way.

logical diagram of areas

If men and women are both given this pair of statements:

Area A exists within area B
Area B exists within area C

They will both come to the same conclusion:

Area A exists within area C

Likewise, they will both agree that the mathematical statement "7 x 8 = 56" is a true statement.

A man, observing this fact might say, "Then what's the problem; why do we still get in fights?" To this, a woman might reply, "That misses the point completely." - And then they might both stare at each other in disbelief.

Part 2, Examining Emotions

If both sexes agree about math and logic, then this, obviously, is not where we need to look for the problem. We must take a closer look at our emotions. Can we understand our emotions in any meaningful sense? The idea of "understanding emotions" sounds a bit like an oxymoron. In fact, we can never really "understand" our emotions, 4 but we can, at least in theory, identify critical differences in the way men and women experience emotion.

It appears that men and women both feel love, hate, and all of the other normal emotions. Neither can come up with an emotion for which the other will not have a matching emotion. This gives us the illusion that we understand each other when, in fact, we do not.

plane of emotion

We might assume that emotion, like logic, could be represented as a simple plane. This plane could be said to include love, hate, fear, security, and other specific emotions. Every specific emotion might be represented by a point on this plane. Likewise, every decision a person has to make could be "answered" by the emotional "plane" as well as by the logical "plane."

But what happens when the answers provided by the two planes are not the same? Consider the question, "Should I punch my boss in the nose?" Our emotional plane might provide the answer: "Yes, do it," while our logical plane might say: "Wait a minute! There's a problem with that course of action!"

The common generalization that men are directed by logic and women by emotion (although partly true) is not a sufficiently complete or accurate description of the real truth to keep us out of trouble. It would be more accurate to say that neither men nor women understand exactly what the other means by the term "emotion." Male and female emotions are sufficiently different that they really ought to have two separate words to describe them.

This difference turns out to be much stranger than anyone would be likely to guess. It's very much like the difference described in Edwin Abbott's mathematical classic Flatland, "Flatland" tells a story about an inhabitant of a two-dimensional world (specifically, a square) who was unable to understand the third dimension. There was simply no way that a visiting three-dimensional being (a sphere) could explain it to the square. The square saw the sphere as merely a circle which had the ability to change it's diameter or even to disappear. Since the square could not see the third dimension, it had no way to understand the sphere's attempts at demonstrating its special kind of existence. It was completely blind to the greater reality which the sphere inhabited. It's in this "third dimension" that the differences between male and female minds are to be found.

Part 3, The Male Mind

male logic and emotion planes

Emotionally, men live in what could be thought of as a two-dimensional world. A man's "third dimension" comes into play regarding the spatial relationship between his logical and emotional planes. The man's emotional plane resides "below" the plane of "logic" and does not have any spatial connection to it at all. In the male mind, "logic" always presides over "emotion" Whenever a man's two planes provide conflicting answers - yes, I want to punch my boss (emotion), but no, I shouldn't (logic) - he understands that logic (the "high" pllane) is giving him the "proper" answer and emotion (the "low" plane) the "improper" answer. A man may choose to hit his boss anyway; but, in his brain, this is always "crossing the line"; it is understood to be taking the "immoral" or "low" road.

This is, of course, a major generalization. There are certainly men whose sense of logic exercises very little control over their actions. Irrespective of whatever causes these exceptions, and whatever ought to be done about those men, what is presented here is the proper "norm" - the standard used by those whose consciences are in proper working order (and who are properly attentive to those consciences).

null image for formatting solid of emotion

Part 4, The Female Mind

Women appear to have the exact same logical plane as men do. They also appear to feel exactly the same set of emotions men do (love, hate, fear, security, etc.), but ... (Ok guys the hair should be starting to rise up on the back of your neck right about now) ... in a woman's mind, emotion isn't limited to a flat plane. Their emotional region is more like a three-dimensional solid than a flat plane.

Like a three-dimensional sphere viewed by a flatland square (or by a human male), a woman's mind is wired with an additional emotional dimension; all of those common emotions contain an additional dimension which a man cannot experience - yet which all women consider to be obvious. 5 A man understands what "love" is; but a woman understands the difference between what I will call "high love" and "low love." A man understands what "hate" is; but a woman intuitively understands the difference between "high hate" and "low hate." (It appears to be as simple for a woman to tell the difference between "high love" and "low love" as it is for a man to tell the difference between simple "love" and "hate.")

Of particular consequence, the female emotional region extends up and through the plane of logic. This means that the female "low" emotions reside below the plane of logic and female "high" emotions reside above the plane of logic). female logic and emotion Allowing a "low" emotion to "trump" logic can be (depending on the particular separation distance involved) just as "immoral" or "low" in the mind of a woman as letting any emotion "trump" logic would be in the mind of a man. But here's what's really strange (to a man): In a woman's mind, it can be as immoral to let logic "trump" a "high" emotion as it would be for a man to let any emotion "trump" logic. (It is equally strange, to a woman, that men live in such a "flat" world.)

An example of a female "high" emotion would be a wife's love for her husband. In the traditional marriage relationship, the wife must yield to the authority of her husband (this is examined in some detail here). Having this "high" love enables her to submit to her husband's reasoning - even in those situations where she cannot agree with it. Her "high" love enables her to subject her merely logical protests. Like a man, a woman may "cross the lines" (men, remember that they have two different "lines" - not just one like men have); but a woman still knows where those lines are and that she "shouldn't" cross them. It would be "improper" (or even "immoral" if the separation distance is sufficient).

This is worth repeating: To a woman, there can be times when it is simply "wrong" to take the "low" road of logic. In a woman's world, abandoning logic in favor of "emotions" will either be taking the "low" road or the "high" road depending on whether the emotion is a "high" or "low" one. (Men, you had better try to understand this!) It makes no sense to say that one way is simply "right" and the other "wrong"; it's just how the sexes have been differently "hard wired." We can't "fix" it; instead we must learn to understand it.

Perhaps we can never really "understand" how each other's minds work, but it is very important to know that this difference exists and to be ready to deal with the different situations this difference will cause. How this difference plays into the decision-making process in the marriage relationship will be examined in a separate post here. Also in this separate post, an attempt will be made to explain how to avoid the normal misunderstandings.


Women sort their emotions into two categories:
1) "High" emotions which morally transcend logic.
2) "Low" emotions which logic morally transcends.

Men consider logic to morally transcend all emotion.


1. I make no apologies for invoking Christian terminology in this post. A secular metaphor might be invoked to reach exactly the same conclusions, but only with a great loss in elegance and poetic effect.

2. With all due respect to the difficulties experienced by those individuals who find themselves wired somewhere in the middle, solving their problems is still completely out of my grasp. Attempting to address the problems faced by the rest of us will be a sufficiently difficult challenge to take on here.

3. If we were to use "logic" to prove that "logic" is valid, we would be using "circular reasoning;" yet if we didn't use "logic" we would be using an "illogical" method.

4. Since we can't even prove the validity of logic, we shouldn't be too surprised that we can't really "understand" emotions.

5. One of the differences between the "wiring" of the male and female brains, is that there is more cross linkage between the two hemispheres in a woman's brain than in a man's. Men have this cross linkage inhibited, but it's left active in women. We might speculate that the extra cross connection might be related in some way to how this additional dimension of emotion is achieved.

Additional note: The Problem of Specifics

The preceding was written as if generalization could be safely made regarding female emotions. However, I have been informed by one clear-thinking woman that she doesn't really feel generalizations - only a collection of specific emotions and the specific "height" attained by each emotion. Further, it is understood that different women feel different specific situations differently, and the same woman will even feel the same situation differently depending upon time-of-month etc. In spite of this, there is some degree of certainty felt by each woman regarding each situation at any given moment.

Also, from the female perspective, there is a problem with writing to men about women as a whole; in the female view, it doesn't solve the individual issues between a particular men and a particular women. The rationale behind this is that a woman isn't concerned with how well men understand the woman population as a whole. Women are all different, and she wants her man to understand her (and, preferably, she wants him to understand her alone). (Furthermore, since this is an emotional issue, what she really wants is to feel that he understands her.)

Unfortunately, approaching the problem that way doesn't enable me to write to men in general on how to help each of them understand their particular woman. (Although, it could certainly be argued that it would still provide help for women who are trying to understand their particular man.) So, with all due apologies, I have addressed only the general case. Fortunately, even if the sexes can never really understand each other, we are at least able to map out the problem in sufficient detail that we have some kind of a guide toward modeling each other's behavior. The preceding is to be taken with caution, understanding the limitations imposed by the subject matter. It is intended to be used as a starting place from which to proceed.