Four and a half months ago, when sophomore Joe Killeen asked sophomore Rebecca Wilson to be his girlfriend, the first thing she did was call her close friends and family to let them know about her new relationship. Killeen, on the other hand, had a different reaction.
“Four hours later, I hadn’t made a phone call yet,” he said. “It boils down to that. I just didn’t.”
It isn’t unusual for men like Killeen to keep their emotions to themselves, but what is surprising is that a recent study found more men are sharing intimate feelings in their romantic relationships. While women often outwardly share details about their relationships with friends and family, men tend to act more reserved.
Killeen said he tells his girlfriend more personal issues, however.
“If there was something I did need to share with someone, [my girlfriend] would be the person I’d do it with,” Killeen said.
The study — “Nonmarital Romantic Relationships and Mental Health in Early Adulthood: Does the Association Differ for Women and Men?” — released in June found relationship quality, like how supportive a man views his girlfriend, matters more to men than women for their mental well-being.
Anne Barrett, associate professor of sociology at Florida State University and co-author of the study, said her research disputes old stereotypes.
“There is an image out there of women being really invested in and affected by their intimate relationships, and men being kind of indifferent to them,” she said. “Our research does find that both men and women are affected, just in different ways.”
The study asked 1,611 men and women ages 18 to 23 in the Miami area questions about how often they shared intimate feelings with their partner or their friends, and how an unsupportive relationship affected their mental heath. Barrett said her findings indicate that young men are more invested in their relationships compared to
“[Men] may be feeling that it’s OK for them to invest emotionally in these relationships now,” she said. “Few relationships are the traditional homemaker and breadwinner model. Men are realizing they’re likely to be sharing in lots of roles with their spouse or partner and maintaining emotional health in the relationship.”
Killeen said within his group of friends, there are plenty of men who fall in line with the study results.
“People totally go against the stereotypes,” he said. “I know guys who need a relationship to be an emotionally invested experience. Both parties are affected by an unsupportive relationship, not just the woman. You have to rely on each other.”
Sophomore Chris MacNamara said in his relationship of almost two years, going to his girlfriend for personal matters is a given.
“Anytime I’m in a situation where I need emotional support she’s the first one I contact,” he said. “I’ll text her and tell her what’s going on. She’ll offer me
feedback and give me insight. Just talking to her is a calming experience.”
MacNamara even goes to his girlfriend for the little stuff. He said he always contacts her first.
“Even if it’s just a small thing, like I got a bad grade, or I’m feeling bad, or anything like that, I always tell her,” he said.
For senior Chris Roach, having someone close to talk to about an issue is a really valuable part of a relationship. After a year and a half with his current girlfriend, he said he has finally come around to communicating more about serious parts of his life with her.
“It’s hard to talk to friends sometimes because you’re not sure how invested they really are,” he said. “You hope that your significant other is invested in your problems and will want to help you out.”
He said even though men might appear to fall into the stereotype of being unemotional or unattached, most of the time they will only share their true feelings with their partner.
“It’s on a superficial level,” he said. “Guys show that they have a concern, but we don’t show other guys or other people who aren’t our significant other just how deep that concern is.”
Roach said this is particularly true as he makes plans for the future.
“I’ve come to an impasse with what I want to do,” he said. “I can’t decide if I want to continue with school and become a teacher. No one knows that I’m having an issue with it except her. Everyone thinks I’m just going to teach for sure.”
Barrett said for men, their relationship with their significant other is their main outlet for emotional intimacy and support.
“[Their partner] is the person with whom they can share their innermost feelings,” she said.
But for women, Barrett said, the options for the people they share with are not so limited.
“Women are able to share all of their feelings and thoughts, not only with their partners but all their close friends and family,” she said. “[It] involves trust and vulnerability, [which are] just more acceptable for women.”
The study also found relationship status — whether or not a person is in a relationship — matters less to men in terms of their mental health and well-being.
“Marriage has historically mattered quite a bit more for women, which is reflected in how they value just simply being in a relationship, even a dating relationship,” she said.
Wilson said, in general, women tend to care about their relationship status more than men do.
“For girls, much of the culture is focused on whether or not we have a boyfriend or not,” she said. “So I guess we care about our status if we’re in a relationship or not, but I don’t think that means we don’t value the relationship itself.”
For MacNamara, relying on his girlfriend for support comes from having a dedicated relationship.
“It depends on what the guy’s mindset is going into the relationship,” he said. “If he’s looking for a meaningful relationship with a person he can share with, he’s going to be more open with her.”