To Men

To Men: Baby Don’t Hurt Me

There are never enough “I Love You’s.”

Lenny Bruce

“Love” is a four-letter word. Love as a subjective experience, also, makes life meaningful. Love makes most – well, hopeless romantics, including myself, where hope springs eternal, in any season, in the strangest of places, between the unlikeliest of people. Even so, love is not a magical-mystical providential happening; the process of falling in love – and so love itself through time – is a natural happenstance of human nature. 

It’s who we are, organically: Dogs bark; cats meow; cows moo; bees buzz; birds, generally, fly; rivers flow; people – human beings – love. In a manner of speaking, it’s the ultimate bargain with life. Your parents produced you. 

You didn’t have a choice in them. In turn, by the nature of your nature, your existence, you’re stuck with the structure for love. We’re – for the most part – built to love. You didn’t have a choice in the capacity to love. The only question becomes the form in which love will individually manifest in life for you. That’s a personal choice, and depends on temperament, sensibility, and timing (serendipity, luck). 

In this sense, love, as a natural occurrence of the world – of our nature, becomes a natural phenomenon bestowed upon us, generously, by the natural world through the process of evolution. The fundamental basis for all life sciences, e.g., medical sciences and biological sciences: evolution via natural selection or evolutionary theory. 

Some may posit the explanation of love as a natural phenomenon detracts or takes away from the subjective quality or experience of love. I disagree. We don’t hear bakers complain about chocolate cake after knowing the contents and recipe of it. 

Love becomes intellectually enriched with a scientific framework to understand it. You can affirm the feeling of love more fully with proper knowledge. A comprehension of love as a natural process makes love something more easily understandable, accessible, and subject to individual intervention. 

We can choose or vet potential/actual partners more accurately, authentically, conscientiously, and responsibly, and so respectfully to them and ourselves. Why waste their time and ours in a poor choice? Most people, in surveys on attitudes and opinions, want marriage and children, which means everyone wants someone who can do life with them. 

People tell demographers and attitudinal researchers these things. That’s the baseline. People want a lifelong partner and children, generally. If someone doesn’t want it, then this article isn’t intended for you, not disrespectfully, but, intentionally, as a matter of focus – simple as that. Unless, of course, it simply seems like an academic interest. 

Similar to the demographic research and the acknowledgement of love as a profound facet of human nature, love has been studied in the context of marriage and relationships. Drs. Julie and John Gottman founded The Gottman Institute to study love decades ago. 

The Gottmans studied love for more than four decades. Both remain world-renowned researchers and clinical pychologists, who, not-so incoincidentally, are married to one another. They wrote a book with Douglas Abrams and Rachel Abrams, M.D., entitled The Man’s Guide to Women: Scientifically Proven Secrets from the Love Lab About What Women. It covers extensively the material covered in this article. 

To a scientific approach of the ineffable quality of love in individual life, the book covers some key components, boiled to key points from decades of research, of love for men about women. Two points come to the fore in the empirical study of love. 

The quality most or all women want most in a man: trustworthiness. Can I trust you? Can I rely on you? Are you accountable? Do you show up as authentic? Are you safe? Are you dependable? Are you trustworthy? Fundamentally, are you who you say you are, mister? Do you do what you say you are going to do, sir?

The Gottmans put this down to the evolutionary history of the species with women, in mating and reproduction, as acutely far more vulnerable in human pre-history (and current history, in fact) compared to men. Indeed, the qualities of the father remain incredibly important to the health and wellbeing of the family and the offspring of the parents. 

Our colloquial negative modern notions about chivalry and knowledge about behaviours labelled as such seem skewed based on the science. These micro-cultural manifestations of ‘chivalrous’ behaviours mark concern and protectiveness, not necessary chivalry. The Middle Ages faded away a long time ago. Same with chain mail as a form of personal protective equipment. 

The root of these behaviours reflects the subjective feeling of hotness of firefighters to lots of women. They symbolize, in our cultures, actions of concern and protectiveness, according to the Gottmans. 

Similarly, chivalrous acts reflect socio-culturally ingrained behaviours rooted in this deeper orientation to represent trustworthiness. A trust grounded in a vulnerability in historical and current contexts for women (and girls). 

“Can I trust you?”, acts of concern and protectiveness, done while respecting boundaries, represent efforts at winning the trust of the woman for whom the ‘chivalrous’ behaviours are intended each time. In a sense, these amount to bids for a positive feedback from the woman in response to the man, “I trust you, a little bit more… a little bit more, a little bit… Okay, fine, a lot.”

Which would, in an intuitive sense (for me), mimic the healthy trajectory of a romance: slow, steady, earning trust, respecting boundaries, built in the smallest of steps, and with the intentions clearly meant for earning the trust of the woman. Yet, what undergirds – sits behind – this idea of trustworthiness? 

As it turns out, based on the same scientific account and grounded in evolutionary history, the sense of fear. John Gottman speaks to trustworthiness as a trait women want most in men, which means a character or virtue men must embody for the woman of desire to them.

Men should understand the desire for trustworthiness in them comes from the special relationship most or all women have – all their lives – with the emotion of fear, to the second point of the Gottmans. Men do not share this that much with women, in general. Women remain more acutely dialled into the emotion of fear. The idea of trust of the man may, at base, come from the desire to feel safe – physically, emotionally, relationally.

“Are you trustworthy?” may mean “Am I safe in your physical presence?”, “Can I trust you with my emotions?”, and “Can I trust being in social spaces with you?” Her body, her emotions, her extended life, a sense of comprehensive safety in life from the men – and, in particular, the actual or prospective husband – in it. 

Trustworthiness means safe. If she trusts you, then she feels safe with you. You are tuned into her, and meet her where she’s at, which the Gottmans call “attunement.” You tune into one another, feel safe with one another, so trust one another and develop a dyadic space for a journey of intimacy – for a lifetime.

Photo by Tyler Harris on Unsplash

Author: Scott Douglas Jacobsen