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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Men Can't Love Like Women - Unless They're Heroes in a Romance Novel

I read a great piece from The Huffington Post by research psychologist Dr. Peggy Drexler. I'm a research lawyer, so I felt a certain sense of professional attachment before I read the piece. Her article was titled "Why Can't Men Love Like Women?" I tweeted the link and Dr. Drexler replied to thank me for the tweet - which was a very nice gesture. Not only does Dr. Drexler seem nice, but from reading her article, she seems right. Very, very right.

Dr. Drexler says that one of her friends was complaining about love trouble. Now that's a familiar topic, right? This friend was worried that her relationship might be in the weeds because her man didn't understood what she needed and refused to tell her what he needed. The doctor wondered if her friend was imagining trouble because she was "confusing love with the expression of love."

The article makes the case that men and women love differently. Dr. Drexler doesn't claim that one style is better and the other worse - she says it's just bloomin' different. There are biological and anatomical reasons for the differences. The article cites studies by Dr. Robin Gur who claims to have brain imaging showing that the male and female brains aren't wired the same way. Dr. Drexler points to other studies on the variations in how men and women communicate. "Men are wired to act during times of high emotion, since emotion can lead to violence; there is a shut-off mechanism. He stops talking -- just when women, wired entirely differently, want to talk."

Citing studies from the Stanford's Hoover Institution web site Uncommon Knowledge, Drexler says boys are more fragile than women medically and emotionally. More boys are miscarried in the womb. As children they stress faster and cry more easily and more often than girls. It also takes longer to calm little boys down. A man's blood pressure lowers much slower after stress than a woman's. And elderly men are far more likely to die after losing their mate than are elderly women.

These studies lead Drexler to a dramatic point: "Such findings point to some serious irony. All these insensitive men are actually more reactive to emotion than women, so they are genetically programmed to avoid it."

(Drexler goes on to make some other fascinating points She used the research in her recent book: Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family).

But you know me - the insane, romance-writing duck lady. I'm going to quack right back to that nice ole' dramatic point. MEN FEEL THINGS SO MUCH MORE DEEPLY THAN WOMEN THAT THEY ARE BIOLOGICALLY PROGRAMMED TO AVOID IT.

Let's say you come home awash in tears because your boss just spent an hour yelling at you.

In romance novels the hero might act like a living dream when you come home sobbing, a victim of your bosses' vile temper and poor management style. I can write a man who'd hug you tenderly, take your hand and lead you to sit down on the sofa. He'd pour you a nice glass of your favorite mood enhancer, rub your back and say, "Let's talk about it. Tell me what happened exactly what that jackass said." After you described the conversation he'd say something like, "And I bet that made you feel diminished, didn't it? That's how it would make me feel. How'd you handle it?" Because this is a romance novel, somewhere late in the game, after your words slowed, he'd slip a hand under your shirt. Then he'd lean over and lick your lips until they fell open so he could drink your pain and feed you his strength.

If this is one of my romance novels it'd be at least a little bit (okay, a lot, but I'm trying to act sane here) over the top. So when the hero licks your lips a tear would fall from his cheek and trickle down your chin. You'd cup your hands around his face and find him spilling the tears he'd try to hold back. You'd ask, "Sweetheart?" And a growling, gritty sob would escape as he said, "I can't bear that you were hurt so badly. And I can't bear that I wasn't there for you. But I'm here now." Later, in one of my tales, the hero would pay a little secret visit to your boss as the ghost of ass-whippings to come and the next day the boss would come to your desk, apologize abjectly, and insist on giving you a big raise. You'd wonder why he insisted you tell your boyfriend all about it.

Yeah, in romance novels one of my favorite things is being able to write men who don't just love - they love over the top. But unfortunately, life isn't a romance novel. So, how can we tweak reality to make those conversations with our real life heroes go a little better?

If this is real life after you've read this blog, clicked over and read Dr. Drexler's blog, then you have some knowledge you didn't have before. So when you come home awash in tears after that verbal assault and your man responds by offering to call your boss and straighten him out - you know something new. Now you know that your man is not being insensitive to your emotional needs. He's not trying to belittle you or imply that you can't handle this yourself. He feels your pain so deep down in his heart that he's trying to solve the problem and make the hurt stop.

Remember that and react to what he's feeling. Understand that his offer to call the boss is a sign that he hurts because you hurt. See the support instead of sighting a target on his head and turning your anger at him because he didn't react the way you wanted him to react. Think of what a different ending you could have - instead of a fight and more tears and more pain, it would end in a hug. And you'd say something like - "My boss is an ass and I know how to deal with creatures like him. But you're a sweetheart for caring and I love you very much."

Then you could lead him upstairs and stage that romance novel ending. Sometimes we have to give reality a little nudge.

Mary Anne Graham
Quacking Alone Romances
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  1. Wow, Mary Anne! Your post really struck a chord. "MEN FEEL THINGS SO MUCH MORE DEEPLY THAN WOMEN THAT THEY ARE BIOLOGICALLY PROGRAMMED TO AVOID IT." That one sentence explains SO much!! Thanks so much for this eye-opener. :))

  2. @Susanne:

    It rocked my world too. Requires you to rearrange your thinking, doesn't it?

  3. It's the "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" attitude. Men and women feel emotions so differently. That's why opposites attract and compliment each other, I guess.

  4. @Marianne Stephens:

    It was such a revelation to me that men feel MORE not less. Seriously, it - almost - makes my over-the-top writing style seem less insane.

  5. What a great post! I write M/M romances and it's nice to know that my men aren't overly sensative. They just express it better. :)


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