Breaking News: Dudes Have Feelings

Who knew?

Kate Conway wonders: At what point we’re going to decide that men desiring emotional intimacy is no longer newsworthy?

Stop the presses, y’all, another social scientist has emerged from his Survey Lab to report that 75% of guys want to have “zero to one” sexual partners within a month.

According to SUNY Oswego Professor Andrew Smiler, this apparently makes these guys “caring and romantic” as opposed to, say, “lazy and cold-hearted.” It’s hard for dudes like these, Smiler says in his new book, Challenging Casanova, because they’re taught from a young age that these yearnings to make just one person their own automatically makes them weak and vulnerable—and therefore undesirable.

Older generations and authority figures shame these men, Smiler argues, because they’re not used to them—which then leads these guys to try to bury their feelings under an even deeper layer of baseball glove leather and pillow-tears. It’s a cycle of alienation, and one gets the sense, from Smiler, that all it would take is one brave man to mumble “I’m sensitive,” from behind his hands for the whole façade to come crumbling down.

Leaving aside for a second the fact that sex and romance are not mutually exclusive, I want to know at what point we’re going to decide that men desiring emotional intimacy is no longer that newsworthy.

Of course I’m familiar with the trope of women only wanting to cuddle while men pace the edges of the bedroom and paw frantically at their own junk. It’s a commonly cited plot device in rom-coms, particularly those of the 80s and 90s: boy meets girl, boy sleeps with girl, girl love-imprints on boy after one round, misunderstandings and hilariously gendered shenanigans ensue. You all know the drill.

And, admittedly, I totally believed this stereotype for a while in high school. In my defense, I went to an all-girls’ school where the teachers often “jokingly” told us that men were pigs, so the possibility of interacting with dudes other than my sweet, goobery boyfriend was fairly unlikely.

But it only took about five minutes of actually speaking to guys in college for me to realize that they’re just as prone to angsting over text messages and staring moodily out windows as anyone else is.

My first week in college, I opened my door on a Friday night to find the beautiful, unattainable boy from down the hall slumped in a pile on the floor slurring a beer-flavored, pronoun-swapped rendition of “Before He Cheats.”

“Why do people do this to other people?” he asked me from somewhere beneath his floppy, lovely mess of bangs.

“Uh,” I said, crouching down to try to hoist him. “I’m Kate?”

Thus commenced a full eight months of opening my dorm room door to find Colin the Beautiful sprawled out on my extra-long twin, staring up at me balefully and positively brimming with girlfriend-related despair. And I wasn’t even his first choice—he really preferred to start the night by moping at my best friend TOK until she threw him out, at which point he would shuffle that lean frame down to my place. Lord only knows where he went after I got tired of him.

And Colin wasn’t the only one. My sophomore year, it seemed like I couldn’t go to a frat party without ending up upstairs on some dude’s bed, drinking his vodka and patting his hand sympathetically while he mumbled into his desk about the sorority girl dancing up on another guy downstairs.

Not to mention all the guys I’ve lived with over the years: nothing gets a relationship rant going like a Netflix subscription, a 30-pack of PBR and a 40-year-old possibly carcinogenic couch.

This is not to say that I didn’t give as good as I got, as far as rambling about date problems was concerned. But it wasn’t as if I, as a lady, spent all my time crying into a bowl of cookie dough over some guy while my dude friends manfully tried to pretend the living room was empty. There was grade-A moping on all sides.

So you can see why I’m not exactly surprised that men desire emotional intimacy, because the men in my life pretty much never stop talking about it. Don’t get me wrong: I love that they feel comfortable sharing things like that with me. This idea, though, that it’s some big secret that a lot of guys want to paint Mountain Goats lyrics in frosting on their lady’s sidewalk in addition to boning them is downright laughable.

I suspect that a large part of it is because guys don’t seem to talk about this with each other. My best guy friend once told me that he never talked about our sex life with his dude-bros because the way they all spoke about women was so vulgar—like they were overcompensating for their desires for emotional intimacy by objectifying and belittling their partners.

While I know for a fact that my two dude housemates frequently indulged in some heart-to-hearts, those guys had known each other for years. Speaking from a purely observational perspective, it doesn’t appear that big groups of guys get together over beers to commiserate about how their girlfriends just don’t Get It. Instead, they revert to talking about how their lady’s tits aren’t as big as they seem when they’re out of their shirt or something similar.

By contrast, many women I know seem perfectly comfortable chatting about their dating problems with other women they’ve only just met. It’s a familiar narrative, and it can be an easy way to bond with strangers over adversity, exaggerated or otherwise.

And as a platonic, mostly non-judgmental woman, I can offer that same sort of emotional availability for my guy friends in need.

In order to break the cycle that Smiler talks about in his book, though, I think the key will be for dudes to just try to acknowledge their emotional desires to other guys without couching it in masculine posturing or false bravado. By developing that same group dynamic of support rather than derision in the face of peers’ emotional vulnerability, guys can actually (maybe) own their supposed romanticism instead of saving it all up to spew at their platonic girlfriends. Which would, hopefully, then lead to more effective communication for everyone involved, partners or otherwise.

Then maybe I won’t have to read headlines like “BREAKING: MEN ARE CRY?!?!” every other week. I’ll still probably have to field random bros choking out “Before He Cheats” at me, though. I’ve just got one of those faces.

by Kate Conway

You can talk to Kate about your picket-fence fantasies at @katchatters, so long as they are not about her.


Originally appeared at

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About xoJane, Jane Pratt's lifestyle site for women, is not about changing yourself to fit any mold of what others think you should be. It is about celebrating who you are. Like Sassy and Jane before it, is written by a group of women (and some token males) with strong voices, identities and opinions, many in direct opposition to each other, who are living what they are writing about.


  1. Good article, although I found that it wrongly states that a certain male macho stereotype is propagated by men predominantly. In my experience, the fault for the current ignorance of the complexity of men emotionally and sexually etc. is to be found at the women’s hands just the same, if not more. Men know themselves just fine, they may just not try to missionarize the female world of their emotional integrity all the time. Like Sarah mentioned: “My mother conveyed a lot of negative attitudes about men – e.g. they are simpletons who need to have their egos stroked constantly, who mainly value food and sex”. Not surprised.

  2. hmm, the way ‘dude’ was used in this piece, is similar to how a number of feminists use it – like it was laced with poison

  3. hmm, the way ‘dude’ was used in the article, is similar to how a number of feminists use it – like it was laced with poison

  4. I once had a job in HR at a police dept. so I worked with a lot of cops for several years. It was really an eye-opening experience. These were guys (not all guys, of course, but I’m talking at the men in this comment) who were in a classically alpha male, macho profession where traditional “male” values are paramount. And I have never seen a group of guys who were so able to show their feelings for each other, talk and cry without shame. I saw huge, physically intimidating police officers break down and sob during meetings to discuss workplace performance or other personal issues. I have worked in HR in other types of workplaces and it was definitely a different experience. Maybe its because police officers know their lives are always on the line and their relationships with their buddies are paramount, but they would open up and talk about things that I think most guys are terrified of – their fears, their emotional struggles, their relationships, their hopes and disappointments. Of course this is behind closed doors at really stressful moments – outside, they are completely different. I was also impressed with how they would rally around any officer who was in trouble – of course, sometimes that can be a bad thing (covering up a fellow officer who is committing misconduct for example) but often their dedication to each other was really admirable.

    After this experience, I have never thought of men as being less emotional than women,

    • i am not sure when Sarah had her experience, but the fact that it took that experience to open her eyes is odd to me. It certainly suggests that prior to the experience she felt differently–not understanding that men have feelings too. The very idea that men don’t have feelings is just strange. For all of the hype surrounding the fabled powers of female empathy and sensitivity that some women still haven’t figured this out….damn.

      • I confess, I grew up thinking that men are simple and women are complex — that men don’t think or feel much about a lot of things. I didn’t have any brothers and didn’t interact much with boys generally, and my dad was very emotionally closed off and distant. My mother conveyed a lot of negative attitudes about men – e.g. they are simpletons who need to have their egos stroked constantly, who mainly value food and sex. I had to do a lot of growing up to understand that while men are very different from women in some ways, that does not mean they lack empathy and emotional depth.

        • @Sarah: Thank you for mentionng this Sarah.I have always been an ” emotinal’ man. At the same time, until life- experience punched me in the face,I had been confused why, even though women say they want a man who is emotinally inteligent, tthey still don’t quite know how to handle that kind of man. I think this is why men feel that women don’t listen to them and why society as a whole doesn’t see the problems men face.

  5. Richard Aubrey says:


    My father said much the same thing about his Division reunion. That was when most of the survivors were still alive, of course. Wives there, the whole nine yards. It was an Infantry Division. Must be that non-traditional male role thingy.

  6. I had to share this with a community that would appreciate it:
    I just came back from the last meeting of my college marching band. The seniors all get to make speeches about band and what it’s meant to them over the years. I saw multiple men speak their emotions truthfully, telling both women and other men that they loved them, that they were grateful to have such good friends in their life. Multiple men, both the speakers and in the audience, cried openly and were not shamed. One man told the story of how one of his classmates had saved his life from suicide by recognizing that something was wrong and getting him the help he needed. He broke down in tears during his speech.

    Sometimes reading all this terrible news online (and reading comments from people) is depressing. We wonder if the world can ever really be fixed. But in my life, among all the good men I know, sometimes there are moments of great hope. I know not everyone in my generation is as accepting of a non-traditional role for men as this community. But these men spoke their love for to and cried in front of 150 people and no one felt they were less than men for it. It was a transcendent moment that I hope will be repeated often.

    • Richard Aubrey says:

      Same sort of thing happened during my father’s division reunion. It was some time back when most of the survivors were still alive.
      Wives there, the whole nine yards.
      It was an Infantry division fighting in Europe.
      I guess this is the non-traditional male role type of thing.

  7. Tom Matlack says:

    The whole point of GMP is to let men communicate about whatever, however they want. To emote. To discuss. To get out in the open what perhaps we have been keeping quiet about for too long.

  8. wellokaythen says:

    Again with the either/or garbage about sex. As if men can only want sex OR something else but not both at the same time. Another piece of either/or baloney: he either wants 1) sex and multiple partners or 2) platonic intimacy and monogamy, but those are the only two combinations possible.

    In reality, all combinations are possible: sexually unfulfilling monogamy and sexually unfulfilling polyamory; intimate relationships with one person or with multiple partners; emotionally distant sex with one partner or multiple partners.

    Perhaps emotional fulfillment and hot sex can go hand-in-hand instead of being antagonistic to each other. Maybe monogamy and sexual desires can be compatible sometimes. Perhaps for some men having one partner at a time means better sex in some ways.

    It says a lot about our assumptions (and a little bit about reality) that we so often equate emotional commitment with an end to fun.

  9. Richard Aubrey says:

    “”The people (yes men and women) that hold guys to that false bravado”

    Anybody know where this guy hangs out? Never met one, man or woman.

    • So you’re saying that when it comes to guys that engage in false bravado they are doing it on their own in a vaccum and there are no other people that reinforce it?

      Let’s take a guy that is heart broken over the end of a relationship. When I say “The people that hold guys to that false bravado….” I’m talking about the men and women that, instead of listening to him talk about his actual feelings, will simply impose what they think he as a man needs to do to get over it.

      Guys that pull the, “Come on man we need to get you laid.” routine.
      Women that think a guy that talks about his feelins is a pussy.

      Those are the people I’m talking about. And I wager that most people reading these comments have met folks like that before.

      Or did you mean something else?

      • Richard Aubrey says:

        Danny. Never met one. Been in a fraternity, and played smashmouth sports, and been an Infantryman.
        Never met one.
        However, a comment after my fictional piece on GMP “Long, Soft Hair” did say something like that.

        • Then I can only tell you what I tell feminists that assure me they have never come across any feminists with anti-male sentiments.

          Lucky you.

  10. I suspect that a large part of it is because guys don’t seem to talk about this with each other.

    A part I’m sure but I’m not sure just how large of a part that may be.

    As CmE says there are quite a few men that actually have no problem talking to each other about relationships.

    In order to break the cycle that Smiler talks about in his book, though, I think the key will be for dudes to just try to acknowledge their emotional desires to other guys without couching it in masculine posturing or false bravado.

    Again very much a part of it but something else needs to be done to. The people (yes men and women) that hold guys to that false bravado are going to have to get it through their heads that the bravado is not only not necessary but is actually making things worse.

  11. Richard Aubrey says:

    Yeah. Try not being a rock and see what happens. Actually, I wasn’t suggesting that, but making a rhetorical point.

  12. Of course men talk to each other about dating, relationships, past trauma, etc. I’ve had heart-to-hearts with my friends that have gone on well into the night. We just don’t do it around women, because that’s just a terrible idea for all sorts of reasons. We know full well that showing too much vulnerability and pain actually makes us less sexually attractive (and I do show some vulnerability to my girlfriend – it’s important she knows I’m human – but, if needed, am more likely to lean on my male friends, or even my family. It’s important that I remain her rock: strong, tough, confident, powerful, reliable.

    The idea that your SO should be the one to fulfill all, or even the majority, of your emotional needs, is completely ridiculous. That’s becoming enmeshed in them to an unhealthy, codependent degree.

  13. Richard Aubrey says:

    I believe literature going back thousands of years speaks of men having deep love and/or broken hearts. There was a war, I believe, in fact, because of it. It’s not a new phenomenon, neither the fact nor the recognition of the fact.
    “men are taught” is usually code for “this sets up a conflict in my dissertation but I don’t have any empirical data” and you can’t very well get anybody’s attention by saying “everything we’ve known for millenia is still true and where’s my grant?”
    Used to have or hear conversations among my friends in college about guys who were shattered by losing the affection of a woman. His friends know it because he talks about it.


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