So many times I have begun reminiscing with a boyfriend about a holiday we shared, a movie we saw, or a trip we took—only to discover how little he remembered of the event. While I could recall what I wore, what we discussed, where we went, even what we ate, it was all a blur to him. And these were highly intelligent and kind men; in no way duds. I enjoy this trait: remembering. But I must admit, there are things I would prefer to forget. While I remain plagued by things I did or said years ago, many men seem to live in the here and now. And it’s not hard to blame a region of the brain: the hippocampus. This primary part of the memory system is packed with receptors for estrogen—the largely female hormone. So women remember. Alas, we can also hold a grudge. And we’re not alone. I know of a female chimpanzee that held a grudge for over 20 years. While strolling with her infant one jungle morning, a deranged neighbor seized her child to slaughter it, as she had done to others. The seasoned mother rescued her wailing offspring. But she was hostile to the thief all her life. Like female chimpanzees, ancestral women had to remember even far smaller transgressions for years, as they struggled to rear their helpless young.
But why do men forget? Testosterone may play a role. Transsexuals report that after three months of testosterone injections to transform from female to male, they begin to live more and more in the here and now; they remember less of the past. High testosterone men also focus on the here and now. And like women’s acute memory for offenses of any kind, men’s lack of memory for transgressions is adaptive. For millions of years men had to put aside their differences to hunt together. Surely they remembered serious betrayals (as modern men do too); but it was expedient to overlook, indeed even forget, minor squabbles in order to do their job. These ancestral differences play out in business. After a vicious office battle, all the men will go out together for a beer, while all the women head home alone, often remaining hostile or wary for days or weeks.
So the next time he can’t remember the details of your wonderful vacation together, just remind him. He’ll be relieved you didn’t haze him for forgetting; and you can regale him with the juicy tidbits of these precious times.