He just doesn’t know how to say it.
If I had a dollar for every woman I’ve heard say “he can’t connect emotionally,” well, you know how this story ends. It’s a universal complaint among women, it seems, along with wage inequality and oppressively skinny denim: the emotionally impassive men in their lives. But what I’ve found is that most of these women are confusing love with the expression of love. And that while for women the two may be one in the same, for men they often aren’t. Men, it turns out, just love differently.
Although evidence—including a study of 5,000 American adults by biological anthropologist Helen Fisher—tells us that men are becoming more interested in commitment and attachment while women are becoming more interested in autonomy and independence, the disparity between how each gender expresses love has not narrowed accordingly. One might assume that men’s growing desire to partner up might lead to a tendency to be more open and emotionally demonstrative. That’s not the case, despite what Hollywood sells us.
Instead, just as men and women have different bodies, they have different brains, as a recent study out of the University of Pennsylvania was the latest to confirm. Where men were generally better at performing a single task, the study found, women had better social cognition and group problem solving skills. Men and women are simply, but definitively, wired differently. At least one study has also concluded that men are both medically and emotionally more vulnerable and fragile than women, despite the enduring stereotypes. In a 2000 U.K. study, boys were faster to turn off a recording of a baby crying than girls, reacting to the crying with a higher release of stress hormones. The same study also looked at the fact 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. Then, too, there is the documented fact that elderly men are much more likely to die after losing a partner than are elderly women.
Such findings, of course, point to some serious irony. And yet it makes sense if you consider that the fact that men are more reactive than women to emotion is precisely why they may be genetically programmed to avoid it. This response applies to relationships beyond the romantic. When researching my last book about fathers and daughters, I interviewed a number of women who told me that although they had worked hard to create a connection with their dads, they’d failed in doing so. But in hearing these women describe their relationships and level of interaction with their fathers, it was clear to me that their fathers cared about them very much.
Many women, then, in seeking actions and responses from their male partners that live up to ingrained expectations, subject these men to a test they’re bound to fail. They’re simply programmed to. To rework the famous line from Sex and the City, it’s not that he’s not into you. He is. And, in fact, he probably thinks he’s doing a pretty decent job expressing it. Or a good enough job, at least. After all, though women are often fine with sharing their every last emotion—it’s a way of stress relief—men are more likely to “put on a mask” to conform to long-established societal expectations, as a 2009 study published in the Journal of College Student Development found. Men often don’t want their deepest feelings valued, much less experienced, by anybody. Even their better half. But it’s not personal. It’s just biology.
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