The Evolution of Dudes and Bros: Are Straight Men Softening?

Have men evolved? Or are they still brutish, beer-drinking, football-loving, hunters and gatherers at heart who see relationships as means to that age-old end (sex)?

My daughters will not date until they turn 65.  By the looks of things, this rule, like all the others—e.g., no piercings, no boy bands, no visible tattoos—will be thoroughly disregarded.

Last week, at a friend’s birthday party, after cake and ice cream, the conversation turned to our teenage daughters.  And boys.  And dating.  One of the moms said, “I think guys are different these days.  They want a girl friend—not just sex.”  The 40-something men around the table considered this.  One smirked.  Another raised an eyebrow.  My husband, in his infinite wisdom, remained motionless.

Now, to be fair, my husband and the other guys, who are usually pretty opinionated, were rough.  The night before, they’d taken a round-trip ride on the drunk bus and, even at 6:00 p.m. the next day, weren’t too chatty.  Within minutes after finishing the cake, they disappeared to the couch where they watched football through closed eyelids.

But I considered her remark.  Had men fundamentally changed in the twenty-some years since I’d dated?  Was it true?  Are modern men more interested in relationships?  Has there been an evolutionary shift?

Is Don Juan dead?


We’re all familiar with the seminal studies by John Gray and Deborah Tannen (done in the 1990s) which found that love is central to a woman but peripheral to a man, that there are gender-specific sets of mating instincts—to maximize reproduction—that have evolved over thousands of years.

Okay.  All right.  Got it.

Pop culture—chick flicks and the like—supports the notion that guys seek something more than sex.  My hairdresser, who retires more boyfriends than Gene Simmons says “I’ll call you tomorrow”, listened to my premise while whipping scissors uncomfortably close to my left eye.

She stopped suddenly, “Of course younger guys want to be friends with the woman they’re dating!  They can get sex any timeAnywhere. It used to be that a few months of dating led up to sex.  Now, a fifteen-minute conversation over coffee gets them laid. Anyone will put out.  It’s harder to have a real relationship.”

She might be on to something.  A 2010 study at the University of Florida found that gender stereotypes aren’t so black and white.  They found that women and men “exhibited similar desires for sex as well as other verbal and non-verbal displays of love.”

But you can find a study to support just about anything, right?  So I turned to ten of my twenty-something, male, heterosexual friends to conduct my own highly unscientific survey.  Four of the guys are married, five are dating and one is divorced.  None have children.

1) “In a relationship, men don’t need women, but women need men.”

The subjects unanimously disagreed with that statement.  One said, “My wife is waaaaaaaay worse off having married me.”  Another commented, “I think people need people.  Gender roles are increasingly moot.”

2) Is the “strong but silent” stereotype still true?  Do men lack the motivation to really talk and listen to their female partner? 

Four of the test subjects thought that women dig the strong but silent type and that men lack the motivation to really talk and listen.  The remaining six disagreed.  A married guy said, “These are two questions, @#%head.”  [WRITER’S NOTE:  Yeah…he used that expletive.] ” To the first, do you mean, does it still exist?  Yes.  I think women are into it—which is why they are not into me.  No to the second question.  I could probably make a joke about sex being the main motivation but that would be obvious and abhorrent and I won’t be part of it.  I want to listen to my wife because she’s fun to listen to.”

A single guy disagreed, “I don’t think so.  The strong but silent stereotype is outdated.  Women are more interested in sharing with an open and intelligent guy.  I think men have become more sensitive and open emotionally but women still prefer alpha-type males.  Based on my experience anyway, women still appreciate a guy who is confident and capable.  They want to be with the guy that other guys look up to and emulate.  The leader of the pack gets laid most.  As far as listening, we still don’t listen.  We hear what is said, hope to fix the problem if there is one, and, if there isn’t anything that can be ‘fixed,’ we wait it out until it’s time for sex.”

3) Past research suggests that men are unable to show loving nonverbal behavior (think surprising your girlfriend or wife with a special gift, doing the laundry, rubbing her back).  Are you deficient at this?

The test subjects were divided equally on this one.  Their comments included: “I think I’m quite good at that.  In fact, I think I excel at that.  Maybe the strong silent types can’t understand it.”;  and, “I have no deficiencies (except a concave chest and lazy eye.)  I always buy my bitch flowers.  PEACE.” [WRITER’S NOTE:  This is the same smart-ass who called me a @#%head.]  Another added, “Yep, deficient.  Special gifts and back rubs are foreplay.  And laundry is laundry.”


So, to boil it down:  guys need women as much as women need men, the strong-but-silent type is still desirable (at least until he rolls out of the sack), and a no decision on loving behavior.

Next week, I talk to dads and ask them what their heterosexual daughters should look for in a partner.  Will I get a totally different perspective?  Learn something.

Stay tuned.


Read more: “Are Husbands Really Assholes? Or Do Their Wives Just Think They Are?

Image Credit: sweetron1982 / Flickr

About Christine Rice

Christine Rice’s feature stories have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Detroit’s Metro Times and Metro Parent and Columbia College Chicago’s Gravity magazine. Her radio essays can be heard (and read) on WBEZ’s Eight Forty-Eight program. Her fiction has appeared in, F Magazine and She teaches in the Columbia College Chicago Fiction Writing Department and is the Faculty Editor of that Department’s award-winning publication Hair Trigger. She’s also the managing editor of another flippin’ lit mag by the name of


  1. Peter von Maidenberg says:

    Lots of women want a caring listener. They just don’t want him sexually.

    I’m not just parroting the friendzone theory here. I suspect one reason the sex goes out of so many marriages is because couples do come to care about and listen to each other – and that it’s no longer arousing for the man, who starts to crave youthful, easy women, or the woman, who wants a strong embodied man.

  2. There are three rational reasons to have long term relationships:

    1) frequent sex.
    2. companionship.
    3) child-rearing.

    (although not all couples go for 3, so it can be sometimes discounted, and a tiny minority of asexuals don’t go for 1).

    But essentially, all 3 are in some way interdependent and assuming that you do want kids and aren’t asexual, are all likely to be equally valid and important to any given person getting into a relationship.

    I don’t see how anything has really changed here over time. I’m with my girlfriend because frequent sex is awesome (5x per week, thank you, will be more when we live together soon), she’s a good companion to me, and I think one day she will make a fine mother to my children. Doubtless my father thought the same about my mother, and doubtless my grandfathers about my grandmothers.

  3. I don’t mean to constantly be commenting on here…but unfortunately we can’t edit our own comments to add stuff. This’ll be the last one (I’m pretty sure).

    “She stopped suddenly, “Of course younger guys want to be friends with the woman they’re dating! They can get sex any time. Anywhere. It used to be that a few months of dating led up to sex. Now, a fifteen-minute conversation over coffee gets them laid. Anyone will put out. It’s harder to have a real relationship.””

    This bit also really bothered me. It is assuming that men’s behaviour in a relationship can all be laid at the feet of the women in a relationship. It’s saying – Are men looking for more than sex? Sure, because women put out so easily. Were men viewing relationships as a means to sex in the past? Yes, because women didn’t used to have sex so easily. – It’s just another way of saying the men’s decisions within a relationship are all the fault of the woman…are all about how women react. It’s part of the ridiculous cultural norm of assuming that in a relationship a man can relinquish responsibility for his actions in a lot of ways.

  4. Okay also…Why is the question in the title specifically about straight men? Are you assuming that straight men have always been “harder” than gay men? Well that’s a HUGE problem because sexual orientation has nothing to do with whether a person is sensitive or soft or whatever.

  5. Yes.

  6. “Or are they still brutish, beer-drinking, football-loving, hunters and gatherers at heart who see relationships as means to that age-old end (sex)?”
    Seeing as traditionally our society is founded on families and the most fundamental relationships between non-bloodrelatives are marriages, a lifelong commitment, I wonder how we got there. How did the “brutish, beer-drinking, football-loving, hunters and gatherers at heart who see relationships as means to that age-old end (sex)” let this happen? They are roughly half of the population, didn’t they have any say in how society is formed?

    • Alberich, I’d say your comment highlights the most basic flaw in the supposition made at the beginning of this article. The idea that men are brutes and women are civilizing is really old and really quite ridiculous. Mind, it’s just as ridiculous to suppose the opposite…that men built civilization and women are emotional nutjobs incapable of rational thought. Neither is true.

      So are they still beer drinking? Yup, as are a bunch of women. Are they still football-loving? Yup (assuming they’re in a country which participates in football)…and also there are plenty of women who love football too. Are they still hunters and gatherers? Well yeah, a few, I suppose…but funnily enough women were hunters and gatherers as well.

      Also, I can’t stress this enough…the idea that somehow ancient cultures were somehow more primitive than we are today is absolute rubbish. In terms of technology, certainly they were. In terms of social organization, yeah they were simpler because they were dealing with fewer people. But for goodness sake, they weren’t more primitive. Ancient cultures were still made up of human beings that have the same range of emotions and intellectual ability as they do today.

      Not to mention, calling sex an “age-old end” is really historically inaccurate. I mean like, really. Sex is discussed and viewed as a thing to be obtained in modern western culture, sure…but that is hardly universal. Like, really hardly.

      • Both Heather and Alberich have raised the point, but I point out that the starting statement contains a horrendously toxic assumption:

        Have men evolved? Or are they still brutish, beer-drinking, football-loving, hunters and gatherers at heart who see relationships as means to that age-old end (sex)?

        Namely, it portrays masculine interests and priorities as not only un-evolved, but a PROBLEM that requires solving. This is incorrect. Liking beer, football, and sex are not just normal, they’re positive traits. Treating them as a negative that will hopefully be overcome soon is flat-out bigoted and misandric.

    • Christine Rice says:

      As you probably know, the writer doesn’t choose or write the title or tagline of the piece — the editorial staff does. This was the case with this title and tagline. The rest of the piece argues (based on the published research) that men are the opposite of that tagline. The rest of the piece, and personal research, which was meant to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek, argues that men aren’t the thugs portrayed by a good deal of popular culture (which, I might add, is mainly controlled by men…just sayin’).

      I’m sorry that you found the article (the article, right?…not just the tagline) bigoted and misandric. I certainly did not intend for it to portray men in a negative light.

      • I know, but that’s not the point I was making.

        The author isn’t the one saying “traditional male interests are bad,” but the statement “Don’t worry–men aren’t really traditional, so they’re not that bad” doesn’t really address the issue. It sidesteps it.

        The point is that liking beer, sex, and football are positive traits, not negative ones. Men aren’t good because they’re the opposite of beer-swilling thugs: beer-swilling thugs are inherently good all by themselves.

  7. Enjoyed the piece. Already have your dads picked?

  8. Yes!

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