I've been with my boyfriend for six months, and I thought we were getting serious. He's very affectionate, and we have a great time together. But last night, he took me to an office party, and I realized that he rarely, if ever, talks about me to people at work. I find this hard to understand because I talk about him constantly when we're apart. Is this a sign he isn't really interested?--Silent Partnership
Cats don't water-ski. Rosebushes don't drive station wagons. Straight men don't chat.
Your relationship probably isn't the only thing your boyfriend is a bit tight-lipped about. When's the last time he mowed through cell phone minutes to compare notes with a buddy on electric nose-hair trimmers, or debate whether Vibram soles are, like, sooo 20 minutes ago? Perhaps that's why there's no Sex and the City for straight guys (or Shoes and the City, as my guy's-guy boyfriend renamed it), where the male lead marches into the sports bar and breathlessly announces, "Boys, I just spent two months' salary on the yummiest pair of black loafers you have ever seen!"
If a man has a problem he can't solve, sure, he might open his mouth and stutter a request for assistance. And sure, some men are more voluble than others. But, generally speaking, "I think, therefore I yammer" is just not the male way. That's why couples' therapists constantly hear women complain about their male partner, "He refuses to communicate," not "I just can't get him to shut up!"
In other words, a man isn't a woman with a big Adam's apple and a pressing need for emergency electrolysis. Cognitive neuroscientist Julian Paul Keenan, Ph.D., says, when comparing male and female brain scans, it's usually obvious whose is whose. "If we're scanning [a couple's] brains while they're talking to each other, we'll generally see the female using both halves of the brain while the male only uses one half." He speculates that this is an evolutionary adaptation -- stemming from women being responsible for rearing and educating children while the men were off hunting and grunting. Millions of years later, men have yet to embrace women's notion "If your life happens, and nobody's around to hear about it, how do you know you actually exist?" In fact, Keenan says, men protect themselves by keeping their personal lives private. "The more a man opens up, the more likely he is to reveal a weakness to another male, which might reduce his status in society."
Of course, men are not just the private half of the species. They're also the focused half. Maybe, conversationally, your boyfriend sticks to the job when he's on the job. And maybe he's actually saying a lot by not saying much. What, exactly, is he supposed to contribute when his coworkers start in on "The Skank I Dragged Home From the Bar Last Night" Olympics -- "Gee whiz, my girlfriend and I had some really hot respect last night"?
Yes, it's possible that he's keeping quiet about you because he's after some chippie at the office. But, does he seem preoccupied and not very present? According to your description, he's happy and into you. A man shows you how he feels, he doesn't go on and on about it like some hairy, hulking Sally Field. Hmmm ... perhaps that's why male-targeted films are called "action" movies, with dialogue along the lines of "I'll be back!" -- not, "I'll be back when those stiletto mules are 50-75 percent off."
Page Before Wisdom
Thanks very much for writing back with insight and advice about my very low self-esteem. I just hope I can muster the strength to do what you told me ("Get the books The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem by Nathaniel Branden, and A Guide to Rational Living by Albert Ellis"). I think my lack of confidence comes from people kidding me about my nose. How can I get a girlfriend if I'm afraid of women making fun of me because my nose is a little big?--Frozen in Loneliness
A few weeks ago, quadriplegic cartoonist and legendary girl-magnet John Callahan (callahanonline.com) told me, "People accuse me of getting paralyzed to get chicks. I never got any women until I was in a wheelchair." And you're complaining about a slightly oversized schnoz? If your nose embarrasses you and makes you feel unattractive, get it a date with somebody's scalpel. In the meantime, stop sniveling and get those books. Clearly, the solutions you're most interested in are those that require zero effort ... you hope you can "muster the strength"? Oh, please. Chances are, you have food on your table, clothes on your back, and two working legs to trot you to the bookstore. Get up off your whiny butt and read.