There’s plenty of advice out there on how not to be too clingy, too demanding, too controlling, too overall dependent on emotional support. Too smothering. Too needy. This advice is directed at women, mainly, since such traits tend to be embodied by females, or so they say, and a direct ticket to ending up single and alone. To wit: Cosmo defines “neediness” as inclusive of such efforts as “reading into his actions” and “gluing yourself to him,” since, as the magazine’s male writer points out, “a needy woman is a bigger buzz kill than seeing our boss—our male boss—naked in the gym locker room.”
But how is it that men, who certainly have desires and demands, manage to escape the label, or the spinster doom it implies? Especially when evidence points to the fact that men aren’t just as needy as women are but, in fact, even needier?
Much has been written in recent years about women’s independence from men, from Hanna Rosin’s endlessly discussed book The End of Men: And the Rise of Woman to Atlantic writer Kate Bolick’s 2011 piece about waiting—and gladly waiting some more—to marry. Women, both writers argue, no longer rely on men as they once might have and whether you buy their particular arguments it’s hard to argue the facts. Such as: More high school valedictorians are women (more than 70 percent in 2012). More female students than male students graduate from college. Afterwards, more females than males—some 53 versus 47 percent—get jobs, according to a report by McKinsey Research, which also reports that companies led by women perform better than those without. Plain and simple, women are more educated, successful, financially self-sufficient, and thriving—on their own—than ever before.
Men, on the other hand, are going in the opposite direction. There is evidence of this, in addition to the statistics that show women’s rise in the workplace. Recent studies reveal that men are becoming more interested in commitment and attachment while women are becoming more interested in autonomy and independence. Wives, now, are more likely initiate divorce. Divorced men, meanwhile, are more likely to remarry. Then, too, there is the documented fact that elderly men are much more likely to die after losing a partner than are elderly women. Men can’t even shop for themselves, and it’s not hyperbole: A recent survey by retail strategy firm WSL found that men are less decisive shoppers than women and more likely to require a second opinion from a sales person when making a purchase.
The male desire for this sort of support isn’t just social, but biological, too. Men, it turns out, are both physically and emotionally more fragile than women. In a 2000 U.K. study, boys experienced a higher release of stress hormones than girls in response to a recording of a baby crying. The same study also concluded that boys are more susceptible to miscarriage, birth defects, and developmental disabilities; cry more when they are upset; have a harder time calming down; and are more emotionally vulnerable to the ill effects of lack of affection. (According to a 2009 study published in the Journal of College Student Development, they just tend to mask it better.)
But the cracks are starting to show. Men, though historically inclined to equate needing help with being weak, are increasingly more likely to ask for support. That’s a good thing. The more open individuals are to expressing their needs—whether rational or less so—the less likely they are to either become problematically “needy,” or to be labeled as such. Whereas neediness was once the purview of the woman, there is, at last, an awareness that emotional support and reassurance knows no gender.
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