Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Well, It’s Men: Does He Flip for Her?

[I’m sorry that took awhile to get back to this theme. I’ve been over-busy working on a grant.]

In my last post, I left you with a question about whether attitudes about sacrificing for one’s partner are more related to commitment to the future of the relationship for men or women. Well, it’s men. This doesn’t mean that we found that men were more willing to sacrifice. We found no difference between men and women on overall level of willingness to sacrifice. What I’m focusing on here is that sacrifice was more related to being committed to the future for men than women. And I decided not to bring this back to oxytocin until the next post, but that’s coming.

So, what does this mean that sacrificing may be more tied to long term commitment in men than women? Sarah Whitton and I suggested that one of the reasons this could be the case is that women are simply more socialized to “give” of themselves to others, and that this would make women more likely to sacrifice (or have positive attitudes about sacrificing) no matter how clear the future is in a relationship. Men, on the other hand, may be more likely to need to decide that a particular woman is “the one” for the future in order to really give their all to that woman. Ironically, it’s men not women that most strongly fit what we predicted beforehand in this work. After all, it only makes sense that one would be most willing to sacrifice for someone with whom they see a future. It’s just in those two studies from our lab listed in my last posting, it seems that this is most true for men and only weakly true for women (on average).

My next point go somewhat further from the data than the interpretation above. I think the point is valid and practically important, but it really is more theoretical. I’d like to test everything in this line of reason more fully in future studies. Here goes.

I think commitment for the average man is a bit more like a light switch that gets flipped on (or not) at some point with a particular women when it comes to commitment. It’s flipped or switched on once he becomes clear that she’s who he wants to be with in the future. Until it’s flipped, he may be in love and he may be great to be around, but he’s not crossed over to where he’ll give regularly for that partner without resenting it. I think the average women crosses over to giving more fully sooner in how the average relationship develops. So, if we have the average women and the average man in a relationship together, early on, I’m betting she’s going to move more quickly to fully to sacrificing than him.

Think about that. There’s no great problem if this is true except where the guy never catches up. And that’s why books like “He’s Just Not That Into You” are bestsellers, because it too often never does catch up. If commitment is more like a switch being flipped for the average male, women are at greater risk for over-giving in romantic relationships until he flips—for her. Based on this theory, I’ve often suggested to women that they be careful not to give too much until they can find the switch and see if it is working. This advice is just as good for men, by the way, in relationships where they are the ones to give too much until the commitment is becoming clear.

Next time I’ll get back to biology and oxytocin and talk about an expansion of this theory that takes oxytocin into account. I bet you can see where that’s going. And go we will, next time.