By Amy Alkon
Q: I’m a woman in my 20s, and female friends and I find that, generally speaking, once a guy gets into a relationship, his texting dwindles into brief news bites, like “fell asleep!” or “phone died.” Why do men seem to lose interest in chatting by text like I do with my girlfriends? Are men just less feeling than women?—Annoyed
A: Who says men aren’t emotional? “I don’t wanna talk about it!” is an emotion.
But actually, the male brain is not the emotional dead zone many women suspect it to be, with a few tumbleweeds and a Doritos bag blowing through in place of feelings. In fact, neuroscientist Tor Wager reviewed 65 brain imaging studies and found that men’s brains aren’t any less responsive to emotional stimuli than women’s.
However, women do tend to be more emotionally expressive. This difference makes sense, as women evolved to be the caregivers of the species—tending to the needs of babies (who typically require a more nurturing response than, “Bring it, bro!”). Men, on the other hand, evolved to be the warriors of the species—competing for the alpha dog spot by clubbing a rhino or the most hombres from another tribe. This has had an effect on how men express themselves. As sex differences researcher Joyce Benenson explains, when you’re a warrior, revealing your feelings—like having a good cry on the battlefield—puts you at a disadvantage. (Kind of like going out in a T-shirt with a big arrow and, “Your spear here!”)
Conversationally, where men and women differ is in why they talk and what they talk about. Linguist Deborah Tannen describes male versus female styles of communication as “report” versus “rapport.” In short, while women use conversation (including texting) as a form of bonding, for men, it’s a tool. And just like other tools, men use it as needed. As my boyfriend put it, “You bring out the wrench when you have a loose nut; you don’t go around looking for nuts to fasten. Also, afterward, you put the wrench away; there’s no, ‘Let’s us boys get together and explore how we feel about wrenches.’”
This explains why many guys text more in the chase phase, when they need to “talk chick,” to a degree, to reel you in. Once they have you, they fall back to what’s more natural for them—texting merely to say stuff like, “late!” or, “w/get wine” (the SMS form of grunting). But this should simply be seen as a different style of communicating, not a deficient one. You judge whether a man cares about you by the sum of his actions, not by his pointer finger action. And besides, if you demand that he text you like a woman, he’s within his rights to expect you to act like a man—by carrying his luggage like a pack mule while he totters behind you in heels, or by chasing a mugger while he stands on the corner crying softly and hoping that you’ll come out of it alive.
Q: My boyfriend introduces me as his girlfriend to his parents, friends, co-workers, etc. However, he doesn’t like to Facebook the intimate details of his life, including our relationship. My friends think it’s a red flag that he doesn’t post about us on Facebook. Do you think they’re right?—Hidden
A: Your boyfriend doesn’t post what he had for lunch—and probably not because he’s embarrassed to be seen with his sandwich or he’s looking to cheat on it with a plate of spaghetti.
Even criminals have the right to remain silent. But that isn’t what your boyfriend’s trying to do. In fact, he’s public about your relationship; he just draws the line at publicizing it on social media—as in, having a bunch of people he doesn’t know, know a bunch of things about him. (In economics, this is called “information asymmetry.”)
In other words, your friends seem to be confusing privacy with secrecy. Secrecy is about having something to hide—often something shady you’ve done—while privacy is about choosing who gets the scoop on your life. There’s this notion that if you aren’t doing anything wrong, you’ve got nothing to hide. Well, you aren’t doing anything wrong on the toilet, but you probably don’t want to replace your bathroom walls with glass and set up bleachers in the backyard. Apparently, your boyfriend just expects people to put in effort to invade his privacy—rather than his being all, “Welcome to our relationship! The usher will lead you to your seats—13A and B, right by the headboard. We look forward to your comments. Even if you’re an internet troll. Even if you’re a bot!”