Author: Sarah Meyer
Countless books have been written about the differences between men and women, especially in relationships.
Since the days of Helen Andelin’s Fascinating Womanhood, and obviously long before that, women everywhere have spent their time analyzing, comparing, admiring, and often judging men for the things they do that make no sense.
That is, unless you actually take the time to understand men.
When we talk about understanding men in relationships, women usually have similar and common questions.
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We wonder how it is that some men can seem so smart, yet so insensitive and unaware at the same time.
We wonder how men can have sex with a whole bunch of different women and never feel attached to any of one of them.
We wonder how men can be great with directions but terrible at finding small things in the back of the closet, not to mention noticing the socks on the floor.
We wonder how men can seem really interested in us, and then disappear, only to pop back up again later.
We wonder how men that showed no interest in commitment can suddenly become smitten with someone new and get married within a year.
Understanding men in relationships is not an obvious thing to try to do, especially right now.
Despite evidence for robust psychological differences between the sexes on a number of personality and relationship measures, this topic has become something of a taboo in modern political discourse.
It doesn’t need to be, because no-one is saying sex differences are universal, or that how they think things should be is the only way they can be.
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There is, however, a lot of fear, resentment and judgment around understanding men in relationships.
Partly because we intuitively expect men to think the same way we do, and partly because we feel a feminist urge to insist that men should be the ones trying to understand us.
I’m not someone that believes that men, either on their own or as some collective “patriarchy”, are out there trying to oppress women.
Of course, there are always a few truly power-hungry, sociopathic types in this world, and that is true of both genders.
But on the whole, as hard as it can be to believe in love when you’ve been hurt over and over again, most people are really just trying their best to get their own needs met in the ways they know how.
Before we get into 5 universal truths for understanding men in relationships, I think it’s important to at least consider the possibility that we could accept and understand men as they are.
They’re not evil, not oppressive, not wrong, just humans trying to make their way in this world.
Men don’t always want the same things that we intuitively want as women, and that can make us feel disempowered, scared, and resentful of their differing psychology and reproductive agendas.
When we actually look at evolutionary psychology, though, it becomes clear that there are ways that both men and women can get their needs met in relationships.
In fact, they may each find greater fulfillment by acknowledging, celebrating, and living out the differences between them.
Here are 5 universal truths for understanding men.
When a man disappoints or abandons you, it’s incredibly easy to feel like he is doing it on purpose, almost as if he’s trying to hurt you for the sake of revenge or control.
This seems obvious to us as women, because we are so aware of the pain we are in, and cannot relate to the man’s (subconscious) needs and goals in the situation.
Most of the time, however, men are not trying to hurt you, and they do actually care. To a point.
Even if a man is not committed to you, has no real emotional attachment to you, and never really did, he probably still cares that his actions have caused you suffering, and he probably would never want you to feel badly about yourself because of him.
This doesn’t mean that you won’t feel bad, of course, and it doesn’t make him a “good person”, but it could mean that the answer to your confusion about why he treated you that way is a lot simpler than you think it is.
For example, take the man who acted really interested in you, and seemed to really like you, until you had sex for the first time and then he disappeared.
He used you.
But that’s all most of us are doing anyway. We’re going around doing things that get us what we want, that feel the most natural to us, while pretending to offer something to the other person.
He didn’t do this because he’s:
Most likely, he simply felt attracted to you, enjoyed spending time with you (because of the buzz of the prospect of sex), and then, once the sex was over, his momentum and energy shifted away from you.
He also probably assumed (maybe wrongly), that you enjoyed the sex just as much as he did, and that you’re happy now too.
This is not how it always has to be, not at all, but it’s certainly a common way for men to be.
We could also think about this in terms of a marriage or a long-term partnership.
Maybe your man keeps doing things that you’ve asked him to stop doing, and you’re really frustrated.
When it comes to understanding men in relationships, it’s important to ask yourself the following questions:
Is he leaving his sh*t around the house to hurt you and annoy you?
Or is he simply not feeling why it’s such a big deal to you, because it isn’t to him, and he only pays attention to it when you’re really angry about it?
Simply allowing for the possibility that your man isn’t trying to make you suffer, that he just doesn’t see the situation the same way you do, can save you a world of confusion and pain.
Not only that, but it goes a long way when you’re trying to understand men.
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Despite their usually calm exterior, men may actually tend to fall in love faster and harder than women.
This may not be universal, but some studies show that on average, men are quicker to say “I love you” than the women they are dating, and report more intense feelings earlier on in the relationship.
There is also some evidence that, of people who say they were “in love”, men describe suffering more during and after a break up than women do.
I’m not saying this to marginalize women’s pain in relationships.
But I do find it interesting that this runs counter to the way things appear on the surface, because it sometimes looks and feels like women are the ones who care about romance and love, while men are only in it for sex.
As someone who has experienced a loving, committed long distance relationship where there was plenty of romance, but no sex for over a year, I feel that nothing is further from the truth.
My boyfriend needs my love, maybe even more than I need his.
It’s often the case that the woman in a man’s life is his primary source of:
She can offer a safe place for him to be a little more vulnerable and a little more open than he might otherwise be with friends and family.
And even when it looks like a man is too busy, too intense, too focused to need love, he still needs it.
He needs to have someone believing in him and the work he is trying to do, he needs his woman’s loyalty and trust, and he needs her understanding.
The joy of being loved and being in love, and being responsible for a woman that he loves, can really light up a man’s life, too.
So much so that the equilibrium of work and hobbies and having fun with friends can feel quite colorless by comparison.
So acknowledge that your man needs your love, just like every other man.
Even when he looks all tough and indifferent.
Even when he is withdrawn and unresponsive- or maybe even especially then.
There is so much that you can offer him as a woman that no-one else ever could. Even when you’re scared.
There are a bunch of memes that show men in deep thought, turning away from their girlfriend or wife.
And the wife is thinking:
“I bet he’s fantasizing about Chelsey at work”
But the thought bubble above her man’s head reveals that he’s actually thinking about what might be wrong with his motorbike, or other random stuff.
Here’s one example:
This is a mistake that probably every woman who has been in a relationship has made before- that if he seems preoccupied with something or pulls away from you even for a little bit, that he’s focusing his attention on another girl.
The truth is, even studies show that on average, men don’t actually think about love and relationships (or people in general) nearly as much as women do.
Instead, men may be more interested in working with objects or systems, and spend more time thinking about the way things work and how to fix tangible problems.
This difference, while again not universal, is evident from birth, as girl babies spend more time fixating on faces and social stimuli than boy babies, while boy babies pay more attention to objects hanging above the crib.
It is likely due to the different roles that men and women played in tribes during the hunter-gatherer era, which represents the longest period of human evolutionary history.
So if your man seems distracted or distant, it may not serve your relationship to assume that he’s thinking about other women, or that he no longer loves you.
Instead, as hard as it is, it pays for women to understand that men are hard-wired to focus deeply on other things, such as:
When we understand that, we can trust that he isn’t trying to hurt us, he’s just doing what comes naturally to him.
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This focus on competence is not misplaced- studies show that male candidates for jobs are hired based on their competence alone, where women are evaluated on a range of characteristics including competence, morality, and sociability.
And in general, men need to feel like they are good at something in order to feel successful and worthy as individuals. If they do not experience this in their lives, if they do not reliably feel competent and proud in themselves, they may struggle to show up in society at all.
Experiences of failure are some of the biggest predictors of social isolation in men.
Not only that- but when men experience stress, they do not typically report the same levels of relief from emotional support and comfort that women do.
Instead, it is through restoring their own competence by solving or working on the problem that men experience relief.
This can be hard for women to hear, because our inclination may be to try to help our partner in ways that we ourselves would like to be helped.
For men, feeling competent and successful is a huge source of meaning in life.
This makes sense from a hunter-gatherer perspective, where men who were not competent generally had little to offer the tribe (as opposed to women, who could bear and raise children).
They may have been at greater risk of exclusion, deprivation and death- which is still the case today when we look at unemployed populations.
Feeling competent and solving problems also seems to regulate emotion in men.
If we can accept and understand the importance of these things to men, we go a long way in avoiding some of the classic misunderstandings that occur between men and women.
We also save ourselves a lot of the pain in thinking that something is wrong in our relationship, when in fact our partner is just focused on trying to be enough in this world.
Understanding men in relationships can be a huge gift, both to ourselves and to the men around us.
Even with all the truths in the world, we won’t necessarily know what a man is thinking, and we will never have total control, but we fare much better when our goal is genuine understanding and empathy, rather than just avoidance of pain.
Our fears can feel so real, but just on the other side of those fears, as we learn to push through them, is infinite love.
So as we think about these truths for understanding men in relationships, it’s worth remembering that the only real “universal truth” is understanding itself.
Now let’s answer some common questions on men and how guys think in relationships.
It certainly seems like men can sleep with women without developing feelings, and Renée explains very clearly how and why they can in this article.
Often enough, men won’t contact a one night stand again, and sometimes they can also sustain a long-term relationship or friends with benefits situation without ever really attaching to the woman they’re sleeping with.
It’s impossible to know what’s happening in each individual scenario, but it makes sense to assume that if men don’t look like they’re developing an attachment, they probably aren’t.
This stuff is pretty obvious.
So unless a man is actively seeking to connect emotionally with a woman he’s having sex with, and if he can just let her go from his life without putting in any effort to keep her around, he probably hasn’t developed feelings.
And he probably won’t unless you know how to inspire his emotional attachment and commitment.
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If we look at evolutionary psychology, we can see why it makes sense that men can sleep with a woman without developing feelings.
Sex is a relatively low-risk act for men- and comes with big benefits for his genes.
If we think about this purely in terms of what’s best for his genes, we can see that in most cases, more sex is better than less sex, and more women are better than less women (because he doesn’t know which ones are fertile at any given moment).
For many men in a primal environment, becoming attached to a woman and raising the children he has with her could confer a genetic disadvantage, compared to the reproductive success he could have by seeking variety and “spreading the seed” far and wide.
There is also a case to be made for invested parenthood, where children whose fathers remained close and attached to their mother fared better than children whose fathers were never part of their lives.
This is also a good reproductive strategy for a man to follow.
But my point here is that from a genetic perspective, it isn’t clear that committing to one woman and developing feelings for her is always the best outcome.
Often it is- and according to one meta-analysis, only a minority of hunter-gatherer societies seemed to practice polyamory and polygyny.
But it is clear that it is at least somewhat natural and adaptive for men to pursue casual sex without developing feelings for the woman.
Hearing that men can indeed sleep with a woman without developing feelings may not make intuitive sense for women, and we may be inclined to assume a man has stronger feelings for us than he really does.
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When men are in love, their usual detached, focused state can give way to something that is more passionate, colorful, and emotion-driven.
Think about all the works of art, music, poetry, and literature that have been produced by men in love- they can be as sentimental and romantic as a woman, if not more so.
It is clear that men hyperfocus on women whom they are in love with, that they think more collaboratively and generously when in love, and that they spend a lot of time soaking in all the details about being in the woman’s presence.
Like women, men in love experience a chemical high.
This can mean that they are more optimistic, more likely to make errors in judgement, and less sensitive to pain.
All of this will often mean that the man is less good at solving problems and focusing on tasks for a while.
He might not eat, sleep, exercise, or socialize the way he usually does.
Because of this, the extreme psychological state of being “in love” is not something that is designed to last forever, 24/7.
It’s not necessarily accurate to say that these feelings will wane over time and eventually give way to something more platonic or familial, as a lot of people like to believe.
However, it probably is good to be aware that being “in love” is something that comes and goes after the initial honeymoon period.
Like women, men can find dating stressful and draining, as well as fun and exciting at times.
Some men will be more confident in a dating scenario, and will feel like they have a formula for taking a woman out, making her feel attraction for him, and getting her to go back to his place.
They may feel quite comfortable with the process and limitations of dating, and be okay with spending quite a lot of money and time on it without feeling the need to look for a relationship.
Plenty of men, however, do want to experience a genuine connection with a woman, and are open to a relationship even if they don’t say so.
This is similar to how some women are open to having casual sex or having sex early on, but wouldn’t be likely to lead a dating interaction with this information.
There is a significant degree of cynicism and disillusionment with dating among men and women alike.
For men, this shows up as:
When we understand these fears that men experience, we can help them relax in a dating situation, and find out who they truly are much faster.
Although we like to be cynical about this, characters in movies, especially in the movies of my childhood and earlier (pre-2010 or so) can give us good examples of what men in love look like.
Think Noah in The Notebook, Channing Tatum’s character in The Vow, Nicolas Cage in Family Man, Cary Elwes in The Princess Bride.
Of course, real men in love will not act like movie characters all the time.
But there will be elements of their behavior that follow the same fundamental pattern.
For example, men in love will:
This doesn’t necessarily mean having sex- it can mean just talking for hours, walking together in silence, or cuddling on the couch.
Here’s a video from Renée on the 5 Unusual Signs He Is Madly In Love With You:
It’s obvious when a man is in love. He will actually try to form an emotional connection with you - one that goes beyond companionship and sex.
He will want you to be the person that knows him best in the world, and he will want to be the person that knows you best, too.
He will not be confusing or hard to read (sometimes, sure, but not as a rule)- he will be open and honest with you at least most of the time.
Generally speaking, men will (subconsciously) look for signs of health, fitness, and fertility in a woman.
There are a number of different things that signal this reproductive health, and some of them can be quite random.
Some of the more obvious things include:
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As addressed in the movie, He’s Just Not That Into You, this common belief has come into question.
Personally, I haven’t met or encountered too many guys who pushed me or other women that they were genuinely interested in away.
Men who expect rejection can be fearful of getting close to others, particularly women they really like, because they may be exposed to all of their own inadequacies and insecurities.
Generally though, it’s best to take disinterest or distancing behavior from men at face value.
This article should have given you some sound insights on men and how guys behave in relationships.
Truthfully, if you want to avoid getting used and hurt by men, and you want to date successfully, you should prioritize understanding men, because usually, women make assumptions or think with their own feminine mindset, which can cause them to get into all kinds of bad situations with men.
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Sarah is a Shen Wade Media Certified Coach.
She has a Masters in psychology and works as a special education advisor in early childhood. She lives in Auckland, New Zealand, with her partner and two children.
She has a passion for evolutionary psychology, attachment theory, and personality psychology.
Author & Editor For National Council for Research on Women. Founder of the popular women's dating & relationship advice website, The Feminine Woman and co-founder of NCRW.
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