Features & Columns

Advice Goddess: Paint
the House Red

I'm doing some work on my landlady's house. She just CANNOT figure out what color to paint it. Now, when a man paints his house, he goes to Home Depot, grabs a few cans of paint and starts right in. Simple. Git 'er done. Not so with a woman. She'll agonize endlessly over a bunch of paint chips. She'll finally make a decision, but even then, it's subject to change without notice. So, my question: Has anyone analyzed this phenomenon and found a connection with, you know, a woman's "time of the month?"—Handydude

Some people are just irritating. It doesn't necessarily have anything to do with their ovaries.

Women's house paint preferences, sadly, have not been a prolific area of scientific study. However, there was a bunch of research suggesting that women's mate preferences shift with their hormone levels during the menstrual cycle—for example, findings that women went for more masculine faces in the fertile phase of their cycle. But these studies had methodological shortcomings, which can lead to false positives. When psychologist Benedict Jones and his colleagues ran a study using more rigorous methodology to check these findings, they found "no compelling evidence that preferences for facial masculinity track changes in women's hormonal status."

However, there do seem to be sex differences in decision-making. These differences emerge before the menstruation years, note neurobiologist Ruud van den Bos and his colleagues (referencing others' research on 7- to 9-year-old children). Their own research finds that men and women show "small but consistent differences in decision-making" that appear related to sex differences in the brain—in information processing and emotion regulation. Women appear to be "more sensitive" to potential losses (effects of bad choices)—which, in turn, might make an individual woman more hesitant to settle on a choice. (No choose, no lose!)

1The truth is, there are times when we all have difficulty making a choice. Psychologist Barry Schwartz explains that we (men and women) are driven to protect ourselves from regret. Fear of regret makes choosing especially challenging when we have a bunch of options without meaningful differences—like eight slightly different shades of off-white house paint: "Creme Fraiche? Coastal Ivory? Maybe Breezy Linen?"

As for your observation about the chop-chop way men choose a paint color, consider that maybe the average dude might not be so picky about the color of his house. If you want to help your landlady, get some techie friend of yours to Photoshop each color onto the house so the final result is less abstract. Suggest she invite friends over for cocktails to help her choose. This isn't just a social occasion; it's a regret-minimization tactic, allowing her to disperse the blame for any grim post-painting epiphanies, such as "Ugh. Tuscan Yellow. Or as we call it in the States, 'Three-Day-Old Urine Sample.'"

I'm not a very hairy guy—except in the armpit area. I've seen articles recently saying men should shave their armpit hair. Really? Do women go for this, or (sorry!) do they maybe think you're gay?—Fur Pits

Your body hair should not tell a story—like that Fidel Castro and Osama bin Laden actually aren't dead; they're hiding out in your armpits.

Body hair removal for men has actually gone pretty mainstream. Psychologist Gareth Terry, in a 2016 paper exploring attitudes about male body hair removal, found that gay, straight and bisexual men and women saw male body hair as masculine and "natural" to a point—the point at which they found it "excessive" and thus disgusting. As one bisexual dude, 24, put it: "If you have a rug on your torso or back, then try not to display it in public."

In the armpit hair arena, when psychologist Michael S. Boroughs surveyed 18- to 44-year-old American men, he found that 40 percent did some manscaping. Of these men, 62 percent just "reduced" the hair, and 38 percent removed it. Sure, some women might be into the Mr. Gorilla Pits thing. But hair grows back. Disgust is hard to reverse. So grab a beard clipper. Prune the hair down to a half-inch or so. As a guideline, if you're taking a woman to a forested area, it should require more than just lifting one of your arms.