The language of love | Daily News

The language of love

When I first started to write, before Gmail had a slot in front of our names to insert a photo, before Facebook existed, most of my readers who did not know me, jumped to the conclusion I am a man from what I wrote. Often, they would write to me addressing me as 'Mr. Dissanayake'. Given the fact that I mostly wrote love stories to the Sunday papers a question that frequently haunted me was that if my style - my choice of words in the stories I wrote had anything to do with this assumption. In short, by some quirk of fate, did I write like a man? If so, does this mean men and women use different languages when they write – especially about love?

The answer could be yes, going by a survey conducted on the Modern Love essays submitted to the New York Times in the last four years. Even as gender roles have merged, it seems men and women still speak different languages when they talk about love. Women, for instance, write more about feelings, men about actions. To quote the editors of the New York Times; “Men’s words tended to be more active: “bomb,” “hit,” “strike,” “punch,” “battle.” Women were more likely to describe feelings: “resentment,” “furious,” “agony,” “hurt;” they were also significantly more likely to use the word “feel.” Men, meanwhile, didn’t write about different emotions than women – they just mentioned fewer of them.”

The Editors also observed that women and men may feel love similarly, but they write about it differently. A lot of men’s stories seem tinged by regret and nostalgia. They wish previous relationships hadn’t ended or romantic opportunities hadn’t slipped away. They lament not having been more emotionally open with girlfriends, wives, parents, and children.

Keeping mental lists

Women, on the other hand, are more inclined to write with restlessness. They want to figure love out. Many keep mental lists of their expectations, detailing the characteristics of their hoped-for partner with alarming specificity and then evaluating how a new romantic interest does or doesn’t match that type. Often they would write something like, “I always pictured myself with someone taller, a guy with cropped brown hair and wire-rim glasses who wears khakis or jeans, the kind of person who would bring me tea in bed and read the Sunday paper with me on the couch.”

Men, however, almost never describe the characteristics of their ideal partner in this way. Even if they have a specific picture in mind, few will put that vision to paper. (I wonder if they’re embarrassed to do so).

Another list women frequently pull together is “The List of Flawed Men,” in which they dismiss each man they have known with a single phrase. There was the slob with the sideburns, the med student who smoked, the gentle guy who made toy train sets but couldn’t commit, and the physically affectionate finance guy who always dropped her hand when he saw his friends.

It appears men rarely compose that kind of list. Perhaps because they’re afraid to, not wanting to be seen as belittling women. In general, men write more cautiously about women than the other way around.

Idealizing love

According to Daniel Jones in “How we Write About Love”, “Love stories are full of romantic delusion, idealizing love to an unhealthy degree. But in the accounts I see, men and women delude themselves in opposite directions. A woman is more likely to believe her romantic ideal awaits somewhere in the future, where her long-held fantasy becomes a flesh-and-blood reality. A man’s romantic ideal typically exists somewhere in the past in the form of an actual person he loved but let go of, or who got away. And he keeps going back to her in his mind, and probably also on Facebook and Instagram, thinking, “What if?”

Meanwhile, Louann Brizendine, a member of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, says this is true because the male and female brains have some profound differences.”Our brains are mostly alike,” says Brizendine. “We are the same species, after all. But the differences can sometimes make it seem like we are worlds apart.”

She adds, the "defend your turf" area -- dorsal premammillary nucleus -- is larger in the male brain and contains special circuits to detect territorial challenges by other males. And his amygdala, the alarm system for threats, fear and danger is also larger in men. These brain differences make men more alert than women to potential turf threats.

And, the "I feel what you feel" part of the brain -- mirror-neuron system -- is larger and more active in the female brain. So women can naturally get in sync with others' emotions by reading facial expressions, interpreting tone of voice and other nonverbal emotional cues.

“Despite stereotypes to the contrary, the male brain can fall in love just as hard and fast as the female brain, and maybe more so”, says Brizendine. When he meets and sets his sights on capturing "the one," getting to know her becomes his prime directive. And when he succeeds, his brain makes an indelible imprint of her. And there is no turning back.

Stronger emotional reactions

It is surprising to note that although men have earned the reputation for being more stoic than women, they actually have stronger emotional reactions than women. They just don't show it very often. Brizendine observes that the male brain can fall in love just as hard and fast as the female brain, and maybe more so. Studies of men's faces have shown that the male brain's initial emotional reaction can be stronger than the female brain's. But within 2.5 seconds, he changes his face to hide the emotion, or even reverse it. The repeated practice of hiding his emotions gives men the classic poker face.

Obviously, it's his poker face and his analytical response to personal problems that can put him in the doghouse. She's crying as she talks about what's wrong with the relationship, and instead of hugging her, his mind is racing to find a way to resolve the problem as soon as possible. With practice and because of the way their brains are wired, men use their analytical brain structures, not their emotional ones, to find a solution.

Men enjoy this advantage, but women often take affront to it. When you are telling your husband your problem and he tries to solve it instead of hearing you out, you may think he is being insensitive. But that's not what is going on in his brain. He is working to solve the problem so he can relieve your pain as quickly as possible. Not because he doesn't care or doesn't want to listen, but because he loves you.

The bottom line is that the human brain is the best learning machine on the planet and human beings are capable of making major changes in their lives. But there are some things that the male brain and female brain are not likely to change anytime soon. And it makes more sense to deal with these brain realities, than to argue with them or ignore them.

So, as Brizendine wisely says, the best advice for women would be to make peace with the male brain. Let men be men.

[email protected]


Add new comment