DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: A woman asked online “what does intimacy mean for you beyond sex?” and I replied “cuddles and kisses” and 50 women replied “trust/vulnerability/openness” So men are interested in doing stuff (not just sex), that is what matters.
Women focus on feelings, especially about the other person.
That is a hell of a difference. How can we bridge it over?
Deeds Not Words?
DEAR DEEDS NOT WORDS: You’re falling victim to one of the classic blunders, DNW, the most famous of which is “never take advice from someone who clearly doesn’t like the people they’re hoping to sleep with”, but only slightly less well known is this: “intimacy” isn’t just physical, nor is it just a euphemism for sex.
Now part of what’s going on here is that you – and the men you’re purporting to speak for – are misunderstanding what the question was, what you’re asking for and what women in that poll are asking for.
I’m sure you saw the whole “Rise of Single Lonely Men” thing about how women have raised their standards and men aren’t rising to meet them. Well, if you were to read about what standards women were now holding to you would have… better communication, higher emotional intelligence and more willingness to be vulnerable. They’ve gotten tired of dealing with emotionally closed off men who can’t communicate their wants or needs, who don’t deal with their emotional wounds or address their mental health and basically act like brick walls to the women in their lives.
Have you ever dealt with someone where getting information out of them is like pulling teeth? Or someone who plays things so close to the vest that you are never entirely sure how they actually feel or what they actually want from you? Or perhaps you’ve had a boss or coworker who would make demands, but they were so vague that you had no way of knowing not just what the hell they wanted, but how you could possibly meet those demands?
Well, imagine if those experiences defined your romantic relationships. Imagine how frustrating that would be, how much that would make you feel separated from your partner and how that would make you feel about being in a relationship with them. Would you really feel like being physically intimate with someone who kept you at arms length at all times? Would you feel validated, appreciated or loved by someone who kept a wall up and never let you know what they were thinking or how they felt?
You and I both know that you wouldn’t. It would feel like you were being used at best. At worst… well, you’d feel disposable. Unwanted. Kept around for as long as it was convenient and then to be discarded later on.
Now with that in mind, let’s circle back around to your answer to the question: intimacy, to you means physical – but not necessarily sexual – contact and affection. And to be sure, that’s a valid answer; this really is a question without wrong answers. But here’s an important follow-up question for you: why? I’m not being snarky here, I’m asking a serious question and I want you to think about the answer. Why do these represent intimacy for you? What, precisely, are you getting from cuddling and kissing?
If we’re being honest, it’s going to be how it makes you feel. You feel more loved and connected to your partner. That’s a powerful feeling.
That feeling comes, in no small part, from the oxytocin and dopamine that physical contact brings. When your body produces more oxytocin, you feel validated, you feel closer and more connected to your partner and more in love. It’s why oxytocin is called the “love hormone”; it encourages closer emotional bonding between you and your partner.
Well hey, guess what? That’s precisely what women are also asking for. But here’s the thing: oxytocin is also generated by deep and meaningful conversations from your partner, from feeling heard and understood and validated. But when you’re getting physical contact from someone but they don’t let you in emotionally or express themselves, then it’s hard to feel heard. When your partner won’t communicate or share about themselves, it’s hard to feel like you’re appreciated or understood. It feels, at best, like you’re giving and giving, but getting nothing back. All the love you’re giving is being poured out on to dry ground, evaporating instead of being absorbed, nourishing nothing.
This isn’t a “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” situation. It’s not a case of “men are interested in the physical, women are interested in emotions”. It’s that men are taught that emotions are things that happen to other people and that men are just about Doing S--t. They’re taught that they only want to do stuff and they’re taught that talking or sharing are sus and also gay and feelings are for chicks.
Except they’re not. You can tell yourself that you don’t need to talk about feelings or share or be vulnerable, sure… but that doesn’t mean you’re telling yourself the truth. Strangely enough, men have emotional needs too. We want to share, we want to express ourselves, be heard, be understood and be vulnerable. But we’re taught that we don’t “do” that and as a result, we grow up being afraid of our own feelings and having no idea how to connect with them or to ask for what we need.
Hell, half the time, we don’t even recognize our own emotions. Part of why so many men are lonely is because we’ve been taught that emotional intimacy is the same as sexual intimacy, and so our only outlets for emotional intimacy are our romantic partners. We’re cut off from the friendships and relationships we need because we were taught that being emotionally open with our guy friends was a precursor to f--king them.
So the things you’re saying men want from women and what women want from men? They’re the same thing. The difference is that men don’t realize it, while women are frustrated and sad and hurt by the fact that they’re asking and asking and asking for something seemingly basic and easily given and still not getting it from their partners.
Believe me: if men were better at communicating, at building trust and less afraid of being vulnerable – especially without barfing their feelings all over the place when the dam finally breaks – then there’d be a hell of a lot more sex, kissing and cuddling overall.
So how do we bridge this gap? We do so by realizing that the reason it exists in the first place is that one side has been taught for generations that it’s supposed to be there. We bridge it by learning how to talk, to share and to connect with more than just the people we have sex with. We stop being afraid of being real and vulnerable with the people we care about and to express ourselves more openly and freely. And, importantly, we quit treating those behaviors like they’re anathema or that they signal weakness.
You’re asking for the same thing women are, DNW; you just don’t realize it because you’ve been taught not to see it that way. Start using your words instead of hoping that body language (and contact) will mean you don’t have to, and you’ll be astounded at how much better and more satisfying your relationships will be.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com