“I am not strange but I feel queer. I am like that sometimes. I feel like crying all the time. It is very silly but it will pass.”
– Anna Karenina
In recognition of my sudden emotionality around the recent full moon, I confessed my behaviour to a gaggle of girlfriends (they assured me it happens). I consider myself a quite grounded person, and I am somewhat intolerant of my frailties. I think that probably, in my mind, I aspire to behave in what I view ‘a male fashion’ – that is, not falling into a puddle when I might want to. This world is, in many ways, not in the least in the world of business, a man’s world, and I am in charge of my business and my household. I mostly internalize the pressures, and don’t often give a voice to my feminine sensibilities. Except when I do.
This is professionally topical, because just that morning I had seen a client who came to explore some issues around avoiding intimacy and relationships. We discussed how women and men approach relationships differently (most of the time), and there emerged the theme of female emotionality when it comes to the evolution of a relationship. I immediately thought of Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy’s classic heroine, the most emotional heroine my mind could conjure. Throwing oneself under a train over love is about as emotive as one can get. Tolstoy embedded his novels with gems of wisdom, which prompted me to revisit Anna Karenina, and tie it into women’s emotionality, particularly as it concerns matters of the heart, along with male versus female behaviours (my disclaimer: my academic training is all about Russia, and I’ve lived there as well). Hence this unlikely confluence of topics!
Whilst it is certainly not always helpful to over-emphasize differences, gender generalities do have their place. This is so not in the least because sometimes they make sense of behaviours we would otherwise scratch our heads over and consequently take too personally. Men and women are very much the same, of course, but there are some significant differences, whether by virtue of genetics or social conditioning. We all have primal brains (the part at the base of our skull), programmed by years and years of evolution. It is this part of the brain which can send us into automatic reactions – instinctive in nature as opposed to well-reasoned.
“If you love me as you say you do,” she whispered, “make it so that I am at peace.”
– Anna Karenina to Count Vronsky
There is a lot of truth in the statement that women are wired to want security above all. She is looking for the metaphorical man at the entrance to the cave protecting her from the sabre-toothed tiger. We might draw a connection to the hormone oxytocin here, the nurturing hormone, which she produces more than men. She cannot simultaneously nurture and be on guard for danger.
On the other hand, men tend to value their freedom highly, and assess women very carefully, wanting to ensure that the woman in question is worth giving up his freedom for. This is very relevant to the hormone dopamine, of which he produces more, as dopamine urges him to chase after variety, as well as being a key to instrinsic motivation. A man often feels he needs independence to pursue his goals in life. As Count Vronsky’s friend Serpuhovskey advises him,
“Women are the chief stumbling block in a man’s career. It’s hard to love a woman and do anything.”
For all such above reasons, it is not uncommon for women to jump quickly into relationships, wanting commitment sooner rather than later: the evolutionary explanation is that she can only relax when there is a man stationed reliably at the cave door. Only once assured of her protection can she assess him and their relationship more closely—which unfortunately means that many women need to be in a relationship in order to assess the relationship. Hence the modern statistic of women being the prime instigators of relationship endings.
“He looked at her as a man looks at a faded flower he has gathered, with difficulty recognizing in it the beauty for which he picked and ruined it. And in spite of this he felt that then, when his love was stronger, he could, if he had greatly wished it, have torn that love out of his heart; but now when as at that moment it seemed to him he felt no love for her, he knew that what bound him to her could not be broken.”
– Anna Karenina
Because men tend to do their assessing at the outset, with the fearful, looming threat of their freedom being withdrawn, they often take longer to commit, but will stay in a relationship way past its used by date. They will become quite attached, willing to really settle in, precisely because the price they’ve paid is so high. My client corroborated by example: he once committed to a woman despite his more cautious instincts, and then a few months into it she dumped him and he was gutted—puzzling, he said, as he hadn’t been really wholehearted about jumping in to begin with!
Sometimes there is gender reversal in these trends, naturally, but very often the generalization is the norm. And of course, the more emotionally mature she is, the less she falls prey to the insecure primal brain, and the more she meets her own needs for security. Similarly, if he is amply possessed of wisdom, he is able to view his freedom as an intrinsic quality, and not one curtailed by relationship – or even better, to choose a mate who is herself so independent that there is no threat to his freedom in the first place.
This is not to say that women and men do not want the same thing, because they do: love, vulnerability, intimacy, mutual support. They often behave differently, however, in the course of establishing it. Miraculously, the longer a man and a woman are together, the deeper the love, the more their behaviours and hormonal profile become on par. He will produce less dopamine upon ejaculation, and more oxytocin. Likewise, the more love and the better the sex, the more testosterone she will produce.
Nevertheless, in the meantime, there is a certain adjustment period, when women and men can seem to be from Venus and Mars. We’re not; we are simply acting out some primal genetic tendencies, hard-wired, with a healthy dose of socialization. There are, for example, definite social rewards when women cry and carry on, e.g. sympathy, which men don’t benefit from. Specifically, it’s not uncommon for a woman to go mental when it comes to love, emoting, ranting, pleading.
The drama being acted out here is her deep and primal need for security all wrapped up in the messy emotionality of romantic love, but hey, it’s all fair game: everything he’s said, done, worn, ingested, every text responded to and each one ignored will be garnered for her case that she needs more from him, and he’s not giving enough. While her own story (her past, her insecurities), might contribute a sticky layer of complexity, the story is nevertheless not the essential causation. I.e., it’s rarely personal.
“All the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow.”
– Anna Karenina
Ah, women! When an otherwise together woman goes mental in matters of the heart, it can be seen, despite appearances to the contrary, as rather beautiful in its essential revelation. The rawness of a woman in her self-righteous, self-proclaimed cry for love is mythological. Wild, intense and simultaneously articulate, self-aware, and determined…she is Persephone risen from the dead. She is Lilith. She is Inanna, after her sojourn with her untamed sister Erishkigal. She is in touch with her darkness, her wounds, her deepest primal self, and she knows the extent to which it is wedded to her light—to love. There is, like it or not, a certain life-or-death edge to her unleashing which reflects how close to mortality is her desire for love. This passion is what makes her sexuality so very beautiful, so very deep, because it carries this same life or death intensity.
A brooding man taking off on his motorbike to have ‘space’; the wild, angry man who removes himself to chop wood (topless and rippling with muscles of course), the ascetic who goes to sit in meditation in order to find balance: there is an appealing quality in the male version of freak-out as well, a deep and abiding need for silence, to retreat into an inner well of peace. The “strong and silent” quality, stereotypical yet revealing a common male reaction to pressure, is at odds with the female tendency to emote, so much so that it is almost mysterious; yet it, too, can be viewed as appealingly self-sufficient, and even sexy.
We are beautiful in our differences. The passion is where we meet in the middle.
Getting back to my client: This particular man expressed a desire to leap in, to take a chance and ‘see where it goes’ rather than hang back (as was habitual), assessing the relationship into obscurity. Nevertheless, in retrospect, I’ve come up with an assortment of advice for him in the face of an otherwise together woman succumbing to incredible emotionality (sex coaching is always an option):
- Protect all small breakable articles, such as wineglasses (and refill regularly);
- Assume a self-protective posture;
- Nod amiably;
- Make very non-committal statements to reassure her, because any promises you hold out to her at this moment she will engrave into memory’s cement walls and excavate later to use as weapons against you in the future should you not uphold them;
- Remind yourself that after all, you are in a relationship with a female, and this glorious display of articulate emotionality is like a superpower you simply do not possess. Seriously. It is freakish to have an emotional breakdown and still find the perspicacity to use vocabulary words, whilst self-analyzing and making rather insightful observations about your/her behavior, families of origin, relationship patterns, and even astrology. (okay, maybe that’s just me).
- Don’t take it too seriously; it will pass; she might not even remember what she was on about the following day. In the end there is no reassurance for such an internal drama. You owe her nothing but your presence, and adherence to your truth and integrity.
As for my client, he left with a grinning determination to leap in, to love, to go for it with the next suitable woman. Incidentally, he’s a pretty good catch (39 yo, 6’2, quite attractive). I have his number and list of preferred qualities if anyone’s interested.