SHARE When it comes to the behavior of men and women in relationships, almost everyone has an opinion—and usually, it's about how the sexes are different. But what does the research tell us about how men and women really behave in romantic relationships? Often, that they're more alike than we think, and that our common assumptions are wrong. Women are more romantic than men. Since most romance novels and romantic comedies are pitched to female audiences, this may be hard to believe as I detailed in an earlier post , men actually have a more romantic outlook on love than women do.
This myth is based on a kernel of truth: Many studies have shown that when men and women are asked which characteristics they prefer in a mate, men rate physical appearance as more important than women do.
In one seminal study, men and women ranked a series of characteristics for potential mates. So both genders ranked it highly, but not at the top. But this data only speaks to what men and women claim they are looking for. What does research say about the people that men and women actually choose to date? In a classic study on interpersonal attraction , college students were randomly matched with blind dates, and for both men and women, physical attractiveness was the main characteristic that predicted whether or not someone was interested in a second date.
Prior to their speed-dates, the students rated how important different characteristics would be in making their selections, and the expected gender differences emerged, with women rating physical attractiveness as less important than men. But when the researchers examined who participants actually chose during the event, the gender difference disappeared: Both men and women preferred physically attractive partners, with no gender difference in how much looks influenced their choices.
Much early research on gender differences in mating actually supports this myth. This has occurred for two reasons: It is socially unacceptable for women to admit to an interest in casual sex.
But for those who thought their deception might be detected, women actually reported slightly more partners than men. She also asked people about their actual past experiences receiving offers for casual sex. She found that, consistent with past research, women were more likely than men to report having rejected those offers, but that the best predictor of whether or not women accepted such an offer was the perceived sexual prowess of the man.
Just as in the hypothetical scenarios, women demonstrated a willingness to engage in a casual encounter But research has shown that one-night stands are actually the least common type of casual sex. These encounters are most likely to take place in the context of casual dating relationships, friendships, or hook-ups with exes. Men and women have fundamentally different personalities and orientations toward relationships.
This myth is often perpetuated by the popular media. The truth is that sex differences in most areas are relatively small, and there is much more variation between individual people than there is between genders. And most gender differences in personality are a lot smaller than gender differences in height. There is, in fact, a great deal of similarity in what men and women want from relationships: Both men and women rate kindness, an exciting personality, and intelligence as the three most important characteristics in a partner, for example.
Men and women have fundamentally different ways of handling conflict. Most research suggests that men and women do not differ significantly in their responses to relationship conflict. The more a demander pushes an issue, the more a withdrawer retreats, only causing the demander to become more intent on discussing the issue, and creating a vicious cycle that leaves both partners frustrated.
In some studies, couples have been asked to discuss an issue in their relationship. Sometimes, they've been asked to discuss something the woman wants to change; other times they are asked to do the reverse. When the issue under discussion is a change the woman wants, the woman is likely to take the demander role; when the issue is one that the man wants to change, the roles reverse,20 or we see the pattern only when the issue is something the woman wants to change.
The person who wants change is typically the person who has less power in the relationship, while his or her partner is motivated to simply maintain the status quo. In our society, men have traditionally had more power in relationships than women, so women often found themselves as the ones pressing for change. This dynamic is changing, of course. But even when power is not uneven, women are choosing to press issues because they want changes, not because they handle conflict differently than men.
Physical abuse in relationships is almost always committed by men. When people think of a domestic violence victim, most immediately visualize a woman.
And it is true that the injuries suffered by female domestic violence victims tend to be more serious than those suffered by male victims, and that the abuses inflicted by men are likely to be more frequent and severe.
Nonetheless, males are also frequently the victims of domestic violence. Some are flat out wrong, but even if there is a kernel of truth to them, they tend to exaggerate that truth, and are not constructive in dealing with the unique individuals with whom we have relationships.
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Gender differences in receptivity to sexual offers. The social organization of sexuality: Sexual practices in the United States. University of Chicago Press. Overview of sexual practices and attitudes within relational contexts. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
Using the bogus pipeline to examine sex differences in self-reported sexuality. The Journal of Sex Research, 40, Perceived propose personality characteristics and gender differences in acceptance of casual sex offers. An event-level analysis of the sexual characteristics and composition among adults ages 18 to Results from a national probability sample in the United States.
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