Falling in love can be complicated. Dating jitters, social expectations, and gender dynamics can all impact the way you interact with a potential partner. And while all humans experience attachment in their own ways, there may be some differences in how men and women fall in love that can help you navigate the confusing dynamics of an early relationship.
Love has always been extremely tricky to define and measure because of the subjective nature of the experience, says licensed psychologist Danielle Forshee, PsyD. There is, however, some biology involved when it comes to falling for someone, adds sexologist Jess O’Reilly, Ph.D. When you start a relationship with someone, your brain floods with happy chemicals like dopamine, which makes you feel excited and giddy about your new partner. As the relationship progresses, your brain experiences a surge in different feel-good substances like oxytocin, which help you grow attached to your boo in the longer term, she explains.
But although similar things are happening in the brain, Forshee says cultural and evolutionary dynamics can impact how men and women express and describe those emotions, very generally speaking. At the end of the day, gender is just a construct. Not everyone will share experiences based on gendered expectations because when it comes to love, there ultimately are no rules.
Nonetheless, science has found some interesting trends to consider. Here’s what the research has to say regarding men, women, and love.
Women May Be More Skeptical Of Men’s Commitment
Evolution may also have programmed women to question men’s devotion more, according to 2010 research in the journal Evolutionary Psychology. After all, ancient women had to make sure their mate was suitable and reliable when it comes to reproduction — not just any man would do. This may also explain why men generally evolved to fall in love and express their devotion first: They needed to prove their commitment before moving forward in a relationship.
Men Are More Likely To Feel Like Their Love Isn't Reciprocated
The same research shows that men may be more willing to fall in love during the courtship phase than women because of that evolutionary drive to prove devotion and, consequently, reproduce. Men in the study reported a greater number of loves at first sight, as well as a higher percentage of loves that were not reciprocated. The researchers also found that for men, an over-perception of a woman’s sexual interest in them was linked to more frequently falling in love, which may explain why they eventually went on to report unrequited feelings.
Women Are More Likely To Focus Their Love
Think back to your high school or middle school crushes. Did you tend to focus your love and affection on one individual? Or were you pretty much in love with everyone? While everybody is different, your gender may have played a role, say Bennett and Bennett.
One study found that teenage boys who are attracted to girls fall in love more quickly and do so more often. In contrast, girls who are attracted to boys tend to fixate on fewer guys overall, Bennett and Bennett explain. Of course, this doesn't mean that all heterosexual women zero in on one man while their male counterparts are off falling in love with every woman they see. Ultimately, it all comes down to the individual.
Women May Be Less Visual When Falling In Love
How men fall in love can have more to do with physical appearance, according to Bennett and Bennett. Generally speaking, a man can fall in love “from afar” more easily than a woman, they say. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to assess feelings of love based on factors besides just physical attraction, like a potential partner’s personality, they add. The end result? It may take longer for a woman to warm up to a new flame compared to men.
Unsurprisingly, this might also have to do with biology. According to 2009 research published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, men tend to be more visual than women. That said, falling in love at first sight is not men’s default, and is by no means off-limit to people who are not men.
Men May Fall In Lust More
Men’s tendency to focus on the physical may also mean they “fall in lust” more often than women, according to dating expert James Preece. Research shows that men tend to focus on the person in front of them based on their appearance without always questioning whether they’re actually compatible, he previously told Bustle. And sometimes appearance alone is enough to create the illusion of commitment. “They think they are in love, but they simply just enjoy the idea of being in love,” he said in a previous interview.
Women And Men Look For Similar Qualities In Long-Term Partners
As mentioned above, there aren’t too many differences when it comes to what’s happening in men's and women’s brains when falling in love. And the research reflects that. Studies have shown that men and women seek to find love and have a successful marriage in equal numbers. Both are looking for pretty much the same thing, too, adds Forshee. “Men and women report similar preferences for a long-term partner, [including] traits such as kindness, intelligence, understanding, and someone who loves them in return,” she tells Bustle.
Women Tend To Cope With Rejection Better Than Men
Love doesn’t always lead to a happy ending. And women are better able to cope with ill-fated relationships than men, according to a study published in the journal Sex Roles. The research found that women are more likely to end a relationship they see as doomed and better able to cope with rejection than their male counterparts. Why? Women tend to be more attune to problem areas in the relationship and take action accordingly, explain the researchers. While this doesn’t always mean a breakup, that lack of blind spots can impact how women decide to proceed in their partnerships differently than men.
Both Men And Women Can Love Love
There’s an assumption that women tend to be mushier when it comes to romance. But you know what they say about assumptions: Research published in the Journal of Social Psychology found that both sexes have similar responses and attitudes to love and romance stimuli, suggesting that women aren’t greater “fools for love” than men.
Despite the research, love is tough to define. Everyone expresses themselves differently, and at the end of the day, gender doesn’t always play a role.
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David Bennett, dating expert and founder of Double Trust Dating
Jonathan Bennett, dating expert and founder of Double Trust Dating
Danielle Forshee, Psy.D., licensed psychologist
James Preece, dating expert
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