You Can Change Your Jeans But Not Your Genes


Research marches on.

I have more than one patient now, and many patients in the past, who are women whose men have cheated on them.  It has run from the one night stand to the entire family kept elsewhere in the state or nation, unknown to these long-suffering women, who invariably come to me more than a little bit depressed.

I have been sometimes asked ahead of time if and how a woman can avoid this.  For many years I have been recommending pre-marital evaluations to friends as well as patients.  Many years ago women were shocked and shrugged their shoulders.  I was “ruining” romance.  I always told them that it was their call how they chose to live life.

Me, I always thought that men’s lives have been too long destroyed by the paintings on the front covers of paperback romance novels.  My bias is clear from my book which is in dire need of a fresh edition, “How to Locate and Marry your Lifetime Love.”  I used all I could assimilate of psychological science to locate and marry the hunky guy about 2 feet from me as I write.  He’s been delightfully present for 25 years, so I think I did something pretty good. To other women, I would always say, “If you think he cares enough to spend his life with you, don’t you think he should care enough to sit through a quick no-fault psychology test?

Me, I like to use the book to teach regular women to do it on their own.  Got to work on that book … But how can a woman know if she is about to marry a cheater, and avoid same? The personality test I have recommended for years — the Briggs Meyers — is now available free of charge in many places on the internet. Since then, there are myriad psychological tests available for assessing the compatibility of couples.

But women are generally asking me a single, simpler question.  How can we see a cheater, before marrying, for purpose of elimination? There is only so much one can say while leaving the office on the way to checkout and the waiting room. “It’s genetic,” I said. She nodded.  “Both his father and his mother,” she nodded knowingly and with obvious pain on her face. I knew I was right about the genetics, for I had been hearing about that in the psychological literature.  But we know so much more about genetics now.  Did anybody know why? Answer is a resounding “YES.” It depends on those lovable chemicals vasopressin and ocytocin.

Some men are inclined to wander.  Scientists of the past have tended to blame it on evolution.  The more a male gets his sperm “distributed,” the more likely his genes are to remain in the gene pool for the next generation. As usual, the New York Times presents research understandably for the enlightened public.  There are different kinds of gene subtypes for the production of vasopressin and ocytocin.  The situation as reported here is largely explained by the work Dr. Zietsch of Queensland, Australia. Vasopressin effects “trust, empathy, and sexual bonding.”

Thomas R. Insel, now director of the National Institute of Mental health, did some elegant work with the vole, a teency rodent, using a virus to change the vasopressin gene, using monogamous voles and lascivious voles. The types of vasopressin really do make a difference. Sometimes there is power in the observations of regular folks.  It does seem as if some men and perhaps fewer women, might be chemically equipped to need more sexual “novelty,” and to look for that outside of marriage. This is not a case of cause and effect — moreover, who even knows how to take into consideration the difference between humans and voles. Keep your mind as open as you can. I have heard the expression in both France and America.  “If you want to know what your fiancée will be like in 20 years, look at her mother.” Women would be well advised to look at their fiancés and their fathers as well.

Genetics are not necessarily always destiny.  You are never locked into your fate totally by genes.  I am only saying to use all the science you can find to help you through life.  So far I have managed to lose a great amount of weight and to marry well, mainly because I was smart enough to figure out the science to do it. Human free will exists and has power and I have seen it. You always have degrees of freedom. One story I always liked from one of the books by Robert Schuller, positive thinking evangelist. He spoke of interviewing two sons of a  man who had an alcohol problem and seemed a failure by any measure.  One son was as his father.  The other, a wildly successful pillar-of-the-community type. When asked why he was as he was, both sons had answered, independently, “With a father like mine, how could I be any other way?”

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