Sarah sits in front of me, confused, hurt and anxious. “I don’t understand why men always change? At first, they are all over me, they can’t wait to see me, they call and text a lot, they bring me flowers and buy me cards, and they want to do all these other things for me like repair my leaking faucet. And then they change. They don’t call anymore and don’t bring flowers anymore, and I have to mention the leaky faucet three times. Once men have ‘caught me,’ they change. They become lazy and they stop caring about me.”
My client Sarah is, according to Alison Armstrong, not the only one stuck in this pattern and confused about it. She meets a man, they hit if off, have a fabulous first date and a second and a third, he pursues her, texts and calls a lot, listens and communicates, wants to spend lots of time with her. Then a few weeks or months in, he does something that is the beginning of a downward spiral.
He doesn’t text all day or doesn’t call; he doesn’t respond to the hints of what she needs, wants or likes; he comments on the looks of another woman; he retreats and appears distant; he forgets something that is important to her; he says no to an activity suggestion from her without offering an alternative; he says he is busy and doesn’t share what he is doing; he makes a joke that she is hurt by; he sides with another person in an argument she has; he doesn’t notice the new haircut or how good she looks in the new dress and so on. All these things usually happen because men are men; they are human. They simply are busy or tired or forgetful or insensitive at times.
But Sarah thinks, “I would never do this to him or anybody else I love. Why did he do this? It must be because he doesn’t respect me, or care about me or really love me, or he wouldn’t have done this. I am not important to him anymore. Maybe I never was and he just pretended at the beginning. Why does he not love me (anymore)? It must be me. I must be too much or too little of something. Haven’t I always been told I am too much / too needy / too fat / too emotional / too…” and the list goes on. And she either starts to feel depressed, or she ponders ways of improving and changing herself until she realizes that she has completely lost herself.
I am convinced that a lot of misunderstandings between the sexes are due to the fact that we do not understand the ways in which men’s brains work differently from women’s and how men’s motivations are usually also different from ours. We expect men to be like us and are disappointed if they are not. Or as Alison Armstrong says it, we look at men as “hairy misbehaving women” because they do things a woman would never do. And just as we would judge ourselves or another woman for doing those things, we judge them.
A man’s brain usually has a single focus while a woman’s brain has a more diffuse awareness. We do and think a million things at the same time while they usually only concentrate on one thing and are able to tune everything else out. That’s why they don’t notice that the floor needs to be vacuumed or that the garbage needs to be taken out or that another person in the room is needing some attention or that it’s time to buy the birthday gift for their mother today so she will get it on time. They are focused on a specific task they are completing right now and everything else gets filtered out.
Our motivation is often different as well. Women are more externally motivated. We are often highly susceptible to other people’s opinions. If our girlfriend makes a comment that the grey colour of our top does not bring the best out in us but a blue top would, or if our aunt mentions that she misses hearing from us, we will stop wearing grey and we will wear blue, and we will make sure we call our aunt more often. That’s why we criticize men and think that this should motivate them, but in reality it just demotivates them and makes them feel not good enough. “We are shocked that men don’t spring into action when we criticize them. We think it means they don’t love us or respect us.” (Alison Armstong, Making Sense of Men)
Men are more internally focused. They do something because they are internally compelled or inspired to do it. And, this might surprise you, but they are actually motivated by seeing the woman in their life happy. There is no greater motivation for a man than when he has provided something for her with his actions that makes her life easier or better. When we can express to the man in our life how he is providing us with something or helping us with something, in short actually making a difference by doing something for us, his willingness to help is usually high. Most men actually want to help if they are able to, and if they are being recognized for it by their partner.
What attracts a man to a woman and why do they change? Contrary to what we might believe, it is not the shininess of our hair, or the perkiness of our breasts or the shape of our figure. A male colleague of mine spells it out for his female clients who are worried about their body, “All he thinks about when he is getting physically close to you is ‘boobs’ and perhaps ‘I wonder if I may touch them’. He does not see that one breast is bigger than the other, or thinks they are too small or too big. That is female thinking!” His single focus screens every imperfection out.
So if it’s not the perfection of our body that attracts men and the imperfections of the body that drives them away, what is it? Alison Armstrong names four qualities that, according to research, attract a man to a woman.
Self-confidence is irresistible in any person, male or female. What keeps us from being self-confident? Our Inner Critic that judges everything we do and feels it needs to point out that we are “too this or too that” or “not enough this or that”.
Men are actually not even close to as critical with us as our Inner Critic wants us to believe. They adore us exactly the way we are. They are able to see our beauty and adore our shape and imperfections.
So on those days when the Inner Critic gets too loud, how do you boost your self-confidence? Does Yoga, working out, going for a walk, singing or dancing do it? Or cooking and eating healthy food? Or having a pep talk with your girlfriend? Getting a hair cut, manicure or eyebrows done? Or dressing in clothes that you love and in shoes that make you feel confident? The key is to do these things, not because our Inner Critic says we need to but because they make us feel good and boost our self-confidence.
Nothing is more charming than authenticity. And the more confidence we have, the more authentic we can be. One of the highest compliments a man can give a woman is that she is “real, sincere and warm”.
What are you passionate about? Your career? A hobby or your volunteer work? People or animals? Dancing or painting or writing or meditating? Or your crystal collection and your native drum circle? When a woman talks about her passions, scientists have measured (using magnetic resonance imaging) an increase of well-being hormones in a man’s brain. So instead of holding back and just listening to his interests, express your own passions.
Over the last thirty years, women have learned to value themselves for masculine traits like being independent and productive. The focus has become, especially at work but also in our personal lives, how much we can make happen, organize, control, manage and provide for others. What gets lost in that productivity is being receptive to help and support.
“The first kind of receptivity men need is women being open and responsive to all the ways they express caring for us. Allowing their unique expressions of that big feeling in how they take care of us, protect us, contribute to us and make us happy.” (Alison Armstrong, Making Sense of Men)
Are you aware of the ways in which the man in your life cares for you? What is his love language and how does he provide something for you, practically, emotionally, financially or otherwise?
The second kind of receptivity is, “men need us to be receptive to who they are. The way one man said it was, ‘there is nothing like looking in a woman’s yes and seeing that she accepts you.’” (Alison Armstrong, Making Sense of Men)
That means not to judge them for all the ways they are not like us but to accept that they think differently and are motivated differently but the more we accept them the way they are, the more they want to provide, help and make us happy.
So it is perhaps true that men change, but it is also true that we change. We tend to go into the spiral, like Sarah does, when he does something that we would never do, and we interpret it as “he does not care enough or love me enough”. We take what is simply thoughtlessness or forgetfulness very personally and we think that his behaviour must mean something about us. We conclude that what he did or didn’t do must be the result of something being wrong with us. And as we strive to figure out how to be enough, we lose our self-confidence, authenticity, passion and receptivity, which are the four qualities which attracted a man into our life to begin with.
When we lose sight of our passions and we forget to be receptive to what men want to do for us, we change. Instead of receiving their gifts of caring, we focus on what they are not doing and how what they are giving us is not really what we need and want. And men respond to that lack of receptivity. They stop giving.
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