What Do Women Want? #9 - Men Who Relate

It's all about the bonding.

This series started around the time of Gov. Spitzer's (D-NY) well-publicized divergences from his vows of marital fidelity.  In the reams of comment on the affair, nobody said much about what women need from men.

Dr. Laura Schlessinger seemed to partially place the blame on Mr. Spitzer's wife.  When interviewed on the Today show, she said:

Men need validation.  When they come into the world they are born of women and getting their validation from mommy is the beginning of needing it from a woman.  And when the wife does not focus in on the needs and the feelings, sexually, personally, to make him feel like a man, to make him feel like a success, to make him feel like a hero, he's very susceptible to the charms of some other woman making him feel what he needs.  And these days women don't spend a lot of time thinking about how they can give a man what they need.

What Dr. Laura said is true, but she didn't explain what women must have from men in order for a woman to be emotionally able to sustain a long-term relationship with a man.

Relationships between men and women are becoming so fraught that not only are a lot of women walking away from their marriages, other Single Young Females (SYFs) want nothing to do with men at all.  Others pay men to shower them with attention and compliments so that they can enjoy a man's company without the "pressures that come from dating."

Having significant numbers of men and women be unable to get along with each other is bad for society in the long term.

Why Relate to Men At All?

Few people have thought about why women want to hang out with men in the first place.  Ask any man, "Would you like to be married to you?"  It takes a while for most men to realize you're serious, but the answer is generally, "Absolutely not" or something stronger.

When they think about it, most men recognize that having a man in her life costs a woman a lot.  Why do women want to be with men at all?

It's pretty clear why men want to hang out with women, but why do women want anything to do with men?  Women are certainly aware of the grief their friends get from their relationships with men.  Why do they bother with men at all?

Given that women do want to be with men for reason or reasons unknown and men want to be with women for obvious reasons, a man and a woman ought to be able to get it together.  Why do things so often go so disastrously wrong?

We Start with Different Genes

The basic problem with keeping relationships going is that both men and women have been molded very differently by the forces of natural selection.

Any article this short must of necessity paint with very broad brush strokes and deal with generalizations.  Everybody knows women who're bigger and stronger than some men, for example, but most women are smaller and weaker than men.  As we've said before, natural selection is not destiny, but it works on the population as a whole by tuning our emotions and instincts so that whatever comes most naturally to us improves our chances of having children.

There are two major problems underlying most of the social pathologies of modern Western society:

  1. Men and women try to ignore their own emotions as well as the emotions which natural selection has built into the opposite sex.  Women try to ignore men's possessiveness and their drive for sex; men try to ignore women's drive for relationships.
  2. Although human beings are able to rise above their emotions and act according to what their minds think they want, emotion and instinct are never far below the surface.  Emotions can be denied for years at a time, but it's hard for anyone to tolerate a situation which denies instinct forever.

If a man's sexual drive is frustrated, he's tempted to seek out stimulating magazines, Internet pornography, or other women as we know very well.  If a woman's drive for a relationship is frustrated, she's tempted to seek appreciation and fulfillment from work or from other men.  This isn't always as immediately destructive as a man being caught in adultery, but over time, emotional adultery greatly weakens a marriage and makes it more likely that the man will stray.

It's unrealistic for a man or woman to expect to have a successful long-term relationship with a member of the opposite sex without meeting that person's emotional and instinctive needs.  This can be difficult because the instincts and emotions which have been selected into men and women are very, very different.

For years, media personages lied to us by saying that men and women are alike in their emotions; this has changed only recently.  It was not so long ago that Time Magazine had a cover story with the shocking new discovery that "Men and Women are Different - and they may even be born that way!"

The book "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" was a runaway best-seller; this should have persuaded most people that men and women have different wants and needs.  Long after it was supposedly known that men and women are different, however, Dr. Larry Somers, President of Harvard University, got into a great deal of trouble for suggesting that men and women might have different levels of interest in science and math.  It's extremely unfortunate that the semi-religious ideology that men and women are the same trumps such obvious truth because whenever men and women assume that their partners are just like them, relationships come under strain.

Fortunately, a few clear-headed, unbiased researchers are documenting the differences between men and women.

Conversational Styles

Dr. Deborah Tannen has investigated how men and women differ in their conversational styles.  Her book You Just Don't Understand, (Ballentine Books, NY, 1990) explains that her research shows that women engage in what she calls "rapport talk" and men use "report talk."  That is, men talk to exchange information whereas women talk in order to strengthen their relationships.  She wrote:

Men should accept that many women regard exchanging details about personal lives as a basic ingredient of intimacy, and women should accept that many men do not share this view.  p. 122 [emphasis added]

One of her examples involves a man telling his wife about visiting a shopping mall.  "I ran into Joe, we talked about the meeting last night.  Here's your stuff."

That's a report.  It tells what he did, but it doesn't help his wife understand the feelings and relationships behind what went on.  His wife wants to know what Joe said, what happened at the meeting, what did everybody at the meeting say, what were they all wearing, and, most important of all, how did everybody feel about everything that was said at the meeting?

It frustrates a woman no end when her man won't fulfill her need to hear the details behind the relationships.  Why are there so many "strong, silent" men who offer "report talk" at best while refusing to build rapport?

Strong, Silent Hunters

As we've said before, generations of being hunters selected men to report to share information about where game could be found, but there was no point in discussing how they felt about anything.  Hunting animals is dangerous.  Men learn who can be trusted in the hunt and who might clutch at a critical point and get someone killed.  Men learn that feelings are irrelevant, what counts is what other men do.

Relational Women

We've also explained why are women so driven to form relationships based on shared details.  During millennia of gathering, a woman might be find enough plants to stay alive but she needed protein to survive a pregnancy and deliver a baby who was healthy enough to survive.  Having a durable relationship with a man was necessary to a woman's reproductive success and often to life itself.

A mother had to keep her baby alive by nursing each baby for a year or two.  The child and the mother were together 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.  Women couldn't hunt - crying babies scared away the game.

When a child choked, the mother had to pay attention right away and develop enough rapport to know what was wrong so the child would quit crying.  The faster and better a mother achieved rapport, the more sleep she got.<\p>

A baby can go from a state of health to dying of a disease in less than a day.  There was reproductive benefit to a mother paying close attention to her child and noting the slightest deviations from normal soon enough to do something about it.  The better her rapport with other women, the more she could draw on their advice and experience in keeping her child alive.  The better other women know her child, the more likely they were to catch something before it got out of control.

A woman's reproductive success depended on the quality of the relationships she developed with a man who feeds her, with her children, and with anyone else who could help her raise her children.

Rapport In Action

A woman's nervous system is wired to notice a crying baby and do something about it.  Men think women think about babies all the time.  This isn't true; being aware of babies in distress is done instinctively and doesn't require thought.  Women are selected to be interruptible and their response to interrupts is to relate.

It's hard for a woman to ignore a crying baby.  I spent an afternoon at my mother's place a while back.  The baby in the next apartment was sick.  This was a young mother's first baby.  Trying to ignore the crying nearly drove mom crazy.  Finally, she went next door, showed the young mother a trick or two, and the baby went to sleep.

Mom developed instant rapport with the young mother in her moment of crisis, then she developed rapport with the baby, probably because she was calm while the mother was about to go around the bend.  Once the baby calmed down a little, mom knew what was wrong because she'd calmed so many babies under so many different circumstances that she'd seen it before.

She couldn't tell me how she knew, but she knew, the baby knew she knew, and went to sleep.  We've pointed out that there's no substitute for experience when it comes to rapport.

Reflexive responses to interruptions drive women to relate.

Men gain reproductive success from taking care of women which is why men tend to respond to a woman's voice when she's in danger, but saving a woman from an attacking animal doesn't require rapport, it requires instant, decisive, and usually violent action.  Reflexive responses to interruptions drive men to action, not to rapport.

You Just Don't Understand

When Dr. Tannen wrote her book, she didn't mean to say that women don't understand men.  Women understand that natural selection has resulted in men being interested in sex.  What men don't understand is that having a "meaningful relationship" is as important to a woman as having sex is important to a man, and that relating gives a woman as much pleasure as sex gives a man.

Natural selection leads to men and women enjoying whatever they need for reproductive success.  Men enjoy sex enough to gladly endure huge amounts of trouble, planning, expense, hassle, frustration, cost, and other obstacles in their pursuit of women.  The pleasure of consummating sex is enough to keep a man going the rest of the time.

Anyone who observes women knows that women get pleasure from achieving rapport.  A woman enjoys achieving understanding with a cranky child or another woman, but what gives a woman the emotional equivalent of a man's pleasure in orgasm is achieving emotional connection with a man.

When a man opens himself to a woman and welcomes the emotions of her inner being into his heart, she gets as much joy as he receives when she opens herself to him and welcomes him into her body.  Nagging a man to talk is better than no talk at all just as a woman letting a man have sex grudgingly is better than no sex at all, but she can't achieve the full rapture of rapport unless the man likes her conveying her feelings to him and respects her innermost thoughts.

Realistically speaking, most men will never enjoy rapport as much as a woman does; most woman won't enjoy making love as much as a man does, but both parties are sensitive to whether the other party is open enough and accepting enough to appreciate the other's fundamental drive, at least sometimes.

Why Women Want Men

It's pretty clear that a woman's desire to hang around with a man was formed during the generations when a woman couldn't survive without a strong, durable relationship with a man who'd feed her and protect her.  Women can now achieve reproductive success without being dependent on men, but this is a recent change.  Natural selection hasn't had time to catch up.

The earliest point in history when a significant number of American women could survive without masculine support was when Amoskeag Mills opened in Manchester, NH.  Although the first mill was built in 1810, the company went bankrupt several times and didn't really get going until around 1835.  At its peak in 1915, the mill had 17,000 workers, eight million square feet of floor space, and wove a mile of cloth every minute.

Management learned quickly that women had smaller fingers, better eye-hand coordination, better small motor skills, and better tolerance for detail-oriented monotony than men did.  The first major industrial enterprise in America practiced institutional sexism in favor of women in its hiring practices even though their concentration on mechanical dexterity had disparate impact and led to men being greatly underrepresented in the mills.

Women who worked at the mill lived in company dormitories and were paid enough to live on.  These women could survive without input from men.

In addition to more employment opportunities for women, we now have welfare and free medical care for people on welfare.  A woman can not only survive without a man, she can also raise children if she cares to.  A woman who doesn't want to relate to a man at all can become pregnant by visiting a sperm bank.  Although reproductive success requires at least indirect interaction with a man to get a baby started, today's woman can take it from there all by herself.

Reproductive success no longer demands that a woman involve herself with a man beyond the initial insemination, but a significant number of women seem to enjoy relating to men enough to try to form long-term relationships just like in the old days.  Since women now have alternatives, however, if a man wants the relationship to last long enough to meet his needs, he'd better understand and meet the woman's need for an open-hearted relationship with him.

Having brought a couple together, natural selection wants to keep them together.  Researchers have discovered that making love releases testosterone in men and that it releases oxytocin in women.

Testosterone makes a man feel possessive which helps him bond to the woman enough to be willing to support her.  Oxytocin makes people want to bond and create relationships.  It also has the effect of making a person more sensitive to other people.  In other words, making love floods a woman with a hormone which facilitates rapport and increases her need to feel loved, valued, and accepted.

Making love makes a woman more aware of how the man feels about her.  If he's happy with her, being more sensitive to his happiness makes her feel good.  If, on the other hand, he's unhappy with her, being more sensitive to his unhappiness makes her not want to make love again.

Being dosed with a shot of "rapport hormone" when she's given herself to a man who refuses rapport frustrates her strongest, deepest drives.

This shows what men need to do to maintain their relationships with women.  A woman's need for rapport is strongest just after they make love when she's had an extra dose of oxytocin.  If a man chooses that moment to build rapport with her by telling her how strongly he feels about her, how glad he is to have her in his life, and how much he appreciates all the work she does to keep their household working, she'll value the rapport he offers at such times more than rapport offered at other times.  If a husband works at developing rapport during intimate moments, his wife will enjoy their coming together as much as he does.  If she enjoys it that much, of course, it'll happen more often.

This works because although a woman wants to know all her man's feelings, the feelings she's most concerned about are his feelings toward her.  During all the generations when women were dependent on men, a man's feelings towards a woman were literally a matter of life and death for her.

Thus, if a man expresses happiness with her and praises her for her accomplishments, she'll be happier with him and try harder to make him happier.  This makes him happier with her and gives him more ways to praise her which makes her happier with him and so on.  If a couple works together at appreciating each other, they can get a positive spiral going which brings them both great joy.

If they neglect each other's feelings or criticize each other, on the other hand, they usually start a negative spiral where they become more and more unhappy with each other until someone walks out.

It's All In The Relationship

Women are concave, men are convex.  Any woman has far more sexual capacity than any man in that she's physically able to make love far more often than a man can.  There is no physical reason why a woman can't drain away every bit of her man's sexual capability so that he's not interested in any other women.

The problem is that if he won't relate to her, making love to him frustrates her and reminds her of her unmet needs.  Having her need to relate frustrated is a great emotional strain.  Women would put up with this when they had no alternatives, but now that they have choices, they aren't willing to take it any more.

Women have a thousand thousand ways to deflect a man's sexual drive if they're opposed to making love; they have a thousand thousand ways of welcoming his desires if they want to open themselves.

Whether a woman refuses a man's advances, accepts him grudgingly, saying, "Well if you gotta, let's get it over with," or welcomes him, saying, "I like being yours, let's do that again as soon as you can" depends pretty much on how he relates to her.

It's hard for a man to relate to a woman, but a woman can tell if a man's trying to relate and generally cuts him a lot of slack if he makes a sincere effort at rapport.  Most women value rapport enough to be glad to belong to a man who makes sincere efforts to offer rapport; a man who won't relate isn't worth the emotional cost of giving herself to him.

Rapport Drive is Emotional

There's no logical basis for rapport.  There's no logical explanation how my mother was able to calm the baby, but she did it immediately.  There's no logical reason for a woman to hang around with a man, women want to be with men because men can best satisfy a woman's emotional needs for a relationship.

Here's where a lot of men make a fatal mistake.  Men tend to fear a woman's emotions instead of appreciating her emotions as the basis of her desire to be with him.  When a man criticizes a woman's emotions and urges her to think more logically, she may give logic a try just to please him.

When a woman starts to think logically, she'll often realize that the man isn't worth it and that she wants a better deal than he can give her.  Logical thinking is fatal to the idea of a woman wanting to be with a man.

The proper response to a woman's emotions is to realize that her emotions are the foundation of their relationship.  A man should try to help a woman channel her emotions into constructive areas such as building rapport with her family; he criticizes her emotions at his peril.

Sex Drive is Emotional

There's no logical reason for men to want sex as badly as they do. Making love to a woman who's on the pill, who's already pregnant, or who's nursing a baby has no possible reproductive benefit.  A man's sex drive is as emotional, as instinctive, and as illogical as a woman's drive for rapport.  If a man expects a woman to cater to his emotional needs, shouldn't he cater to her needs to the best of his ability?

There's no need for a man to understand a woman's emotions any more than he has to understand gravity.  It's illogical and harmful for a man to ignore gravity, it's illogical and harmful to ignore a woman's emotions.

It takes a lot of time and a lot of effort to learn enough about gravity to be able to walk; it takes quite a while and quite a bit of effort for a man to learn enough about a woman to be able to relate.  Having learned to walk, some people learn enough about dealing with gravity to become gymnasts - but most don't.

The very very few men who've taken the trouble and made the effort to relate to their wives well enough that their women are glad to belong to them can testify that nothing brings more joy to a man than belonging to a woman who delights in belonging to him; their wives like meeting their husband's needs because they like watching their men be so happy.  The better a man takes care of his treasure, the happier she is to be his and the more she likes watching him delight in her as she meets his needs.  She may even tell him she likes belonging to him and encourage him to do it again as soon as he can.  If she's truly his, watching her delight in spending money on their home and on their children makes him happier than spending money on himself.

Relationships prosper when each party understands the other's needs and makes the effort needed to meet them.

Lee Tydings is a guest writer for Scragged.com.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Lee Tydings or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments

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November 5, 2010 4:42 AM
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