Going with the flow 

There is one thing worse than putting on a display of sorrow, frustration and anger that makes Disney fireworks look like an empty lighter and then having some man look at you and say, "Is your period due?" That one thing worse is eyeballing the calendar and realizing it is. You want to think your emotions are your own and then you realize, like a drunk who professed his love for everyone in the bar the night before, it was just the chemicals talking.

This is not a very feminist or postfeminist or girl-empowering thing to say, I know. Even without the Red Tide, my emotions are something like lotto ping-pong balls -- random, spastic and in constant wild motion. I never know which ones might be picked at any given moment. I also know some women who, if hormones are charging around their systems like a troupe of startled chimpanzees, stay implacable, controlled and as cool as a porcelain toilet. Their hearts may explode later in life, but for now they are behaviorally beyond reproach. I admire that. But it's not me.

Internal instincts

It isn't easy to change from inconsolable tears to insouciant laughter quicker than a Casio can shift from "rumba" to "polka." But there is also something comforting in knowing what's going on in your insides without having to install an X-ray machine in the living room.

I should have known my period was going to hit like an asteroid the day news of the earthquake in Afghanistan came over the wires and I sat there thinking of those poor people. It's not a country that was ever going to win any design awards to begin with. They've had civil war, drought, a religious-kook government, international war and now this? I felt the water sneak up over my eyelids like a frightened person entering a conference room where layoffs are taking place. I never cry over the misfortunes of others, only my own, so I knew I was out of whack. And speaking only for myself, I'd venture that a woman on a red rampage not only would have found Osama bin Laden by now, but also would have made him feel really guilty.

As for men feeling things, a scientist has just come out with a theory that the tide, so to speak, may be turning, or at least balancing out a little. "Irritable Male Syndrome" results when "stress causes testosterone levels to drop," according to an article on the Cosmiverse website (www.cosmiverse.com/science02280204.html).

Gerald Lincoln, of the Medical Research Council's Human Reproductive Sciences Unit in Edinburgh, Scotland, came up with the theory while studying Soay sheep. During their rutting period, the sheep's testosterone soars, but once the mating season, along with their supply of the crucial hormone, is all washed up, the rams become "nervous and withdrawn, striking out irrationally." Other animals exhibit similar crankiness when their breeding season ends, the big dance is over and the hormone has fled the scene.

Right now there's no hard evidence that these hormone-related mood swings visit human males that severely, but studies of hormone-replacement therapy do show that decreased testosterone levels make men "irritable and depressed." It's somehow nice to know. Just as men have had to concede that there's a real, scientific reason for our moody silences and sharp behavior and it's PMS, not RBS (raving bitch syndrome), we might be able to take comfort in the fact that they have to confront this crap, too. It might just be IMS rather than IBS (insensitive butthole syndrome) that makes them as dumbfounding as they can be.

External affairs

I hope IMS does become a bonafide syndrome one of these days. As temporary-insanity defenses have shown us, it's much easier to be empathetic when there are reasons for someone's odd behavior, rather than having to accept that it's just how they are.

I'm by no means bitter toward men. If anything I show them more deference than I do to women, if only because they are the ones I like to flirt with. Still, I eagerly anticipate a time when I can wait out a male friend's mopiness without thinking there's anything wrong, it's just "that time," or can stoically absorb some outpouring of bitterness, secure that it's just their chemistry and then assure them that a little chocolate probably will make them feel better.

But mostly, I look forward to the day when some man will launch into a passionate and unsolicited display -- M-80s of anger, bottle rockets of insecurity and roman candles of frustration -- and I can look at them, poker-faced, and say, "Whatsa matter? Low tide?"

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