What is he (really) thinking?!
Women have long gotten a bad rap as being difficult to decipher, but, if you ask us, men can be just as baffling! Luckily for you, we present a view from a true-blue guy into the male mind at 10 crucial relationship stages.
By Ron S. Doyle
By all indications of what I saw in the shower this morning, I am definitely a man. I should know how men think. Apparently, however, I’m a different sort of man, because I’ve recently been called a traitor for revealing male secrets to women (thanks for publishing that past article, Complete Woman). And because, to tell the truth, I just learned I don’t have a clue what other men were thinking.
Here’s what I assumed: there are two major types of men, those who think too much and those who think too little. The thinkers consist of those paralyzed by anxiety and those who always have a plan; in other words, they are the control freaks who run our world. The non-thinkers, in contrast, jump into life headfirst and depend on a testosterone-infused cocktail of courage and charisma to get through it; they are my buddies from college on a bender.
After spending several weeks interviewing men, however, I discovered it’s far more complicated when relationships enter the equation. You wind up with this freaky form of Cognitive Calculus where anything can happen—the non-thinkers start overanalyzing before doing something impulsive and the thinkers leaving rambling voicemails at 3 a.m.
The point? Men think more than I thought—and I was therefore totally stumped.
I was ready to throw in the towel when my friend Frank, a graphic illustrator, shared his own theory on the matter. Frank claims what men think about relationships (or don’t) depends entirely on what they want from the women involved. Frank even defined three categories of women for me: “Permanent Pursuits,” “Friends with Benefits,” and “Hot and Wild,” which sounded more to me like a barbecue sauce than a female archetype.
Believe it or not, Frank is onto something. Tufts University psychologist R.J. Sternberg says all love relationships are built from three basic components that line up perfectly with Frank‘s categories: commitment, intimacy, and passion. Different combinations of these three components create different kinds of relationships—and for men, each relationship results in a different way of thinking.
So, without further ado, here’s a look into the minds of men at ten different relationship stages. See if you can figure out which men are seeking commitment and which only want passion! Some of the names have been changed to protect the innocent, embarrassed, and deserving of pity.
- He reaches out for the first time. Here’s the first time when men really start thinking about those three categories—commitment, intimacy, passion—and how you might fit into them. A few men claimed to have no expectations; their first contact was purely platonic. But Lorne, 45, says men think about two things, sometimes both simultaneously, when they first reach out to a woman: “the prospects of a mutually supportive, interesting, exciting, supportive relationship” and, alternately, “getting laid.”
- You kiss for the first time. Maybe reruns of Sleeping Beauty on The Disney Channel are having an effect on men; many hold surprisingly romantic notions about the first kiss. And some men consider the first kiss as a final grade on the evening, while still others treat it like a final exam. In other words, there’s a lot of pressure to make the first kiss a good one. The Experience Project, an online community where folks share their life experiences anonymously, is filled with stories of men regretting the outcome of their first kisses. With so much pressure placed on such a small moment, it’s no surprise so many men said they think a little liquid courage (read: a margarita or three) helps them stop constantly wondering and worrying if they have spinach in their teeth.
- You have sex for the first time. Perhaps all those jokes about “diverted blood flow” are more accurate than we realize, since not one man could not give me a straight answer on what they’re thinking when they first hop in the sack. As best as I could gather, it’s a scrambled hodgepodge of excitement and terror, a desire to have orgasms and successfully give them, and the whole mess is smothered with their own personal kinks. Complicating matters more, some men intentionally try to think about anything but sex (work, cars, golf, you name it), using mental distraction as way to improve sexual stamina. The end result? A man’s inner monologue during your first sexual encounter with them might sound like someone with Tourette Syndrome winning the lottery—or a golf announcer being tickled by strippers.
- You cry in front of him. Female tears put male senses on red alert—their brains start screaming, “She’s sprung a leak, Captain! Quickly, do something before we all drown!” Sometimes, however, men think your tears are fake, and those warning signals become about you, not what made you cry. Gary, a 24 year old from Luton, England, says “Even if her tears are not genuine, comforting her is the right thing to do, because she may be trying to see how much I actually care.” Karl, a 27-year-old stock broker from New York had a less compassionate outlook: “I view this as major weakness and an attempt to manipulate me. I hate it and if it’s really early [in the relationship] I lose all true interest and will not take her seriously.”
- He doesn’t call. Lorne confessed that when a man says “I was too busy to call,” it’s probably code for “I’m not that interested.” Other men gave me so many excuses (some legitimate, some questionable) that I felt like a school teacher asking for last night’s homework. I was holding my breath, waiting to hear someone say “It’s not my fault! My dog ate her phone number!” A surprising number of men, however, revealed that they’re not calling on purpose, as a test. Karl says “I will not call to observe a girl’s behavior. Will she call me? Will she go nuts and call 50 times? I give it a few days or so before I respond. It shows me if she’s needy and unstable.”
- He meets your parents and friends. Often men are thrown off-guard from being paraded around, thinking they must defend themselves from judgment (“I am not a creature in a zoo!” says Gary). But more often they’re asking themselves questions like, “Could I be friends with these people?“ and sometimes, according to a few brutally honest men, “Could I sleep with any of her friends?” Most often of all? They’re judging too, sizing up your father in the event of a nasty breakup, and then checking out your mother, wondering if you (and your waistline) will someday look just like her.
- You discuss the future. While there was certainly a group of boys who didn’t seem prepared to talk engagement, marriage and children with a woman, most men I interviewed seemed comfortable with thinking about the future. “If we’re talking about the future, I’m in it with you,” said Lorne. Almost every man who wanted to talk about the future, however, naively pictured marriage and family as enhancements to their current life, instead of a replacement for it. As a married man with two daughters, I kept my mouth shut about the truth; you can thank me later.
- You have your first fight. When that first major disagreement arises, my friend Frank says a committed man’s mind takes a short journey, starting out at “What is wrong with her?” making a quick pit stop at “I have to fix this,“ and finally arriving at “I’ll just say I was wrong.” Derrick, 39, from Columbus, Georgia, says of his first fight, “She had her first fight. I just listened and kept the conversation moving.” And Lorne wondered, “How soon until we have make-up sex?”
- 9. He cheats on you. When men talk about their past affairs, there’s a tendency to deny any thought involved (“I wasn’t thinking”) or to diminish its importance (“It was just sex”). But remember what I said about men’s thoughts when they have sex for the first time? The cheating mind is no different. Their thought processes are on overdrive, first reveling in their naughty behavior, then planning alibis, and for many, finally psychologically flogging themselves with guilt. Frank says, “Regardless of how it happens, eventually you come to one big, understated word resonating through your head—Oops.”
10. You move in together. Brad Berkowitz, author of The 21st Century Guide to Bachelorhood (iUniverse, $12.95), offered me a comprehensive list of all the negative thoughts filling the minds of many men: “Moving in together will be a big adjustment. I will have less personal space. I will have less closet space. I will see my friends less often. I will have less free time. She will talk too much. She will continuously ask me questions when I want to watch football. She will take 80% of the bathroom space. She will not understand the ways guys think.”
In the end, despite all their fears, occasionally misguided ideas, and sex-scrambled attitudes, and despite the overwhelming evidence that men think differently that women, men remained optimistic, and the overwhelming majority reported that they truly wanted the same things as women—a secure relationship, an intimate connection, and long-lasting passion. Which makes me wonder—if we all want the same thing, does it really matter if we understand what the opposite sex thinks about it along the way? Probably not. But it’s still nice to try.