“If You Leave Me, I’ll Die”: Emotional Dependence on Women10 March 2009
I find it strange that our society perpetuates the myth that men aren’t emotionally attached. It seems to go hand in hand with the way we find it permissible for a girl to be “boy-crazy,” but for boys, only “sex-crazed.”
In reality, boys and men have intense feelings of emotional dependence on women. Consider that a recent study (Peggy C. Giordano et al., “Gender and the Meanings of Adolescent Romantic Relationships: A Focus on Boys,” American Sociological Review 71 [Apr 2006]: 260-87) found that male adolescents reported similar levels of commitment to their girlfriends and substantially less confidence in navigating and controlling aspects of the relationship. I do not know of a study of boy suicides related to this, but I find it frightening that husbands commit suicide ten times more often when their wives die than when the converse occurs (see Warren Farrell, The Myth of Male Power, 169). Should we be surprised that widowers and male divorcees remarry at a much faster rate than women? For all their ascribed independence, men are literally dying to be in a relationship.
The primary reason for this, I believe, is that men have not been given the resources to establish, maintain and express intimacy. They are taught from a young age that emotional intimacy is inappropriate for a man unless it is directed towards a woman (mothers and wives especially). Even a man’s “best friend” may only provide a few minutes of deeply emotional conversation – and maybe a hug if they’re both drunk. Women, in contrast, have practiced their emotions much more openly, and often have an established circle of friends with whom to process their feelings. But men too often have only one emotional confidant: their wives. Their wives are the only outlet for emotional release and coitus is the centerpiece of this catharsis.
A final comment, about wives’/girlfriends’ mixed responses to men’s support groups. Sometimes women feel threatened by these group affiliations, whether they be AA-style recovery meetings, ManKind Project I-Groups, or church sponsored studies. The fear is that these groups are being used to foster antipathy toward women, or detracting from personal or family time. In a few cases this may be the case. But I would challenge a woman to ask herself if she feels threatened in large part because her man is acquiring emotional resources from a venue outside herself. More than that, I can say from personal experience that I come home much happier and more in love with my wife after a men’s group meeting. Breaking the cycle of desperate compulsion for catharsis, a support group can provide skills and generative energy for a man to bring home with him.