It seems that every week a new study makes headlines by presenting meticulously collected data on how men’s behavior deviates from the norm, is stuck in some neanderthal pattern out of keeping with progress and evolution, or is just plain odd. But how strange are men really? When the studies are read more closely, much of the mystery of male conduct disappears.
You may have read one of those depressing reports about how men whose wives or life-partners earned more were more inclined to cheat. This seems counter-intuitive and odd, since the men would be jeopardizing not only their relationship, but their ability to eat three meals a day and live in a house. (Plus, the ingrates!) But the study also found that the men most likely to cheat were completely unemployed and, moreover, that there weren’t actually that many cheaters in general. In one study it was only 3.8%. So some guys who don’t have anything to do and are depressed and have no money indulge their less noble impulses. That’s not really such a long bow to draw.
This week, new research suggests that, shockingly, men feel bad about themselves if somebody else opens the door for them. Women don’t. (Apparently this is worth researching.) This is not, by the way, the walk through the door and leave it open so the dude behind you doesn’t have it slam in his face type of opening. This is the jump in front of the guy and let him pass before you. Men are uncomfortable with this. To be honest, a lot of women don’t love it either, since it seems to suggest that we are too fragile to do as puny task as pushing a door. Even my colleague Matt Sterling, who has been in a wheelchair all his life, says he’s not nuts about someone opening the door for him; he prefers the push button self-opening version. (“As I’ve gotten older, it bothers me less when people help me,” he says, “as you understand it makes them feel better.”) It’s not too surprising then that men, for whom physical prowess is a defining characteristic, might be appalled that somebody thinks they cannot cross a threshhold without help.
And consider this month’s cover story in the New York Times magazine that declared that husbands who help out with more “feminine” chores such as folding laundry, cooking or vacuuming had sex with their wives 1.5 fewer times per month than those who did more masculine chores, ones that include lifting and grease and garbage. But in fact, as my colleague Eliana Dockterman pointed out, other experts argue that the lack of nooky may not be caused by the drudgery of non-gender appropriate housework. It may simply be the advent of children and the energy-sapping tasks that come with them that tend to put a damper on a couple’s sex life. (It’s a complex biological process whereby people who chase around after kids all day really need to sleep at night.) Not so bizarre.
Then there’s the research that men feel small when their wives or girlfriends are successful. This is not, according to a study published in August in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, just about the men losing at any given contest to the women. This is when their partners had success at work, or at some event in which the guys weren’t even competing.
All right, maybe that is a little retro of them. But now that more women are more educated than their husbands, that too will end eventually. As will, hopefully, this long line of headlines that suggest that while women may be from Venus, men are from some different cosmos altogether. The difference between the sexes, physically, is quite striking, but behavior and personality-wise, as this study shows, not quite so much.