Ever since experiencing my first adolescent heartbreak, I bought into the widely-held belief that women have a greater capacity to love and feel emotion more deeply than men. Movies and chick-lit since the beginning of time have typically portrayed women as more romantic by nature, more dedicated to relationships and more loyal to their mates than their male counterparts. As the mother of two boys, I started to question the legitimacy of this popular notion as I watched my children grow up and develop into emotionally mature and caring men. Recently, several new studies have emerged to legitimately challenge this cultural axiom and potentially change our way of thinking.
So, who falls harder? Men or women? Is it even possible to measure the depth of a person’s love? What are the basic components that define what love is?
While each person is different to be sure, there are certain behaviors and generalities that are thought to be common to all loving relationships. Dr. Robert J. Sternberg, Professor of Human Development at Cornell University, thinks that these core elements “are the same in any loving relationship whether with a lover or with one’s own child” and include intimacy, passion and commitment. Being able to share one’s self with another human being, having the ability to give and get emotional support when it is needed, knowing that you can count on someone to be there for you in times of strife and turmoil, being able to put another’s welfare ahead of your own, and having the capacity to be genuinely happy for someone other than yourself, are all critical behaviors that are present in true love. Mothers have known this forever. There is an old saying that “a woman is capable of more sacrifices than a man.” Henry Ward Beecher said that “there is no slave out of heaven like a loving woman: and, of all loving women, there is no such slave as a mother.”
While mothers know that men can be equally affectionate, there are gender differences, to be sure. Women are often perceived as being more fragile and vulnerable, but this is because men often hide their feelings and can appear cold and aloof. According to Psychology Today: this “can give us a false sense that women…fall more deeply in love than their partners” when in truth…. “men may be going through extreme emotional turbulence inside their minds and hearts. Heartbreak hurts a man just as much as it would a woman, but it is hard to tell from the outside because pain can be hidden under silence.”
According to Debate.org, (http://www.debate.org/opinions/do-woman-love-more-than-man), 48% of the men and women they polled think women fall harder than men do, but 52% disagree, citing the differences in the way men and women express their love that tends to be misinterpreted. Different does not always mean worse than, or inferior to. Women tend to be more verbose in general, while men do not openly express their emotions in quite the same way. But this does not mean that they are not feeling an equally strong or deep emotional attachment. This is backed up by Marissa Harrison, a psychologist from Pennsylvania State University who thinks that women are much more cautious when it comes to love, while men tend to fall in love harder and faster. Studies show that a man’s requirements to fall in love are significantly less stringent than those of a woman. While a woman tends to assess a partner based on his ability to provide for her and protect future offspring, a man usually bases his decision on much more superficial criteria, and this often results in him being smitten as early on as the first date. Statistics also show that more men believe in love at first sight than women do.
In another experiment, Ms. Harrison polled 172 college students and asked them how long it took them to say “I love you.” The results of her questionnaire may surprise you. Men often declare their love after just a few weeks, as compared to women who tend to be much more cautious and wait several months before expressing their feelings. Many of us women can remember our moms instructing us not to be the first one to use the "L" word in a relationship.
Despite what you might think, when men fall in love, they often fall very hard and are a bit more attached to the relationship than women are. Because of this, (with the exception of sociopaths and sex-addicts of both genders) it is thought that men take longer to recover from a break-up than women do. Women also have the additional benefit of getting emotional validation from their network of girlfriends to whom they turn when they are in need of support. Men, in general, do not have the same level of emotional intimacy with their guy-friends. In fact, an article on the website The Rules Revisited offers this “insider” tip for women (http://www.therulesrevisited.com/2013/03/men-dont-fall-in-love-same-way-womendo.html) : “If a man isn't falling for you from an early stage - say, the first month - it isn't going to happen. Don't wait around for his feelings to "grow" the way yours sometimes do. They will not.”
Lest you think that these findings are exclusive to heterosexual men and women who are in relationships, you should know that the way people express the intensity of their love within same sex couples is no different, proving that love is, well, just love.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Copyright February 2017 Sharon Gnatt Epel