For months after Julie and I broke up, we remained friends. It was a mutual decision. No, really. We still cared about each other, and we still enjoyed each other’s company. We just realized that, romantically, we weren’t all that compatible. We were like peanut butter and bacon: You love ‘em both. Just not together. We continued to hang out fairly regularly, though. In fact, we joked that we were kind of/sort of still going on dates. Except that they didn’t end in anything physical…Wait, they were exactly like many dates I’ve been on.
I was fine with that. We both knew that muddling the boundaries we’d established wouldn’t be a good idea. So, we continued our platonic dates, going out to dinner, chatting about what was going on at home and at work, slipping into deeper conversations about our lives… our hopes…our fears…
That’s when I had an epiphany: I was totally getting screwed in this arrangement.
In recent years, scientists have discovered that the hormone oxytocin is responsible for feelings of attachment in women. Most notably, oxytocin is released when a woman orgasms, which reinforces their emotional attachment to the man they’re with. In contrast, not as much is known about male attachment. Recent studies have implicated the hormone vasopressin as the burlier, ball-bearing counterpart to oxytocin’s feminine mystique. Studies on both animals and humans have demonstrated that vasopressin does indeed stimulate feelings of attachment in males. Furthermore, this attachment can be initiated in the absence of sexual activity. Still, scientists don’t know when exactly vasopressin is released.
Based on my own personal experiences, I’m venturing a guess: it’s not during sexual intimacy, but during emotional intimacy.
Men are generally not as communicative as women. And while some argue that this is a socially conditioned behavior (that men close themselves off emotionally because, as boys, they are taught to not show vulnerability), the end result is still the same: men have emotions; they just aren’t as expressive with them. Add to this the likelihood that men have fewer same-sex friends they can intimately converse with, and I’d argue that confiding in one’s partner requires a much greater emotional investment for a man than for a woman, and that this added investment translates to attachment.
Basically, it’s harder for men to be verbally intimate. They also have fewer people to be verbally intimate with. Thus, when they do learn to be verbally intimate with their significant others, they are much more likely to develop an emotional attachment to them.
Months after our breakup, Julie and I were still meeting up regularly. And I often found myself talking to her about personal matters: how my family was doing, my secret goals and dreams, what was stressing me out about life, and so on. Julie, of course, always listened. As it turns out, that was the problem.
All this time we were spending together — platonic as it may have been — was only increasing my attachment to her. Even worse, I could tell that her attachment to me was fading. From the way she looked at me and the way she spoke to me, I could sense her mushy feelings just withering away. That made sense. After all, the intimate conversations simply weren’t as big an emotional investment for her as they were for me. Plus, we weren’t having sex, so there wasn’t any orgasm oxytocin to mess her up.
But, man, was there a raging cocktail party of hormones swirling up inside my head. I could practically feel the vasopressin (or, admittedly, whatever other factors might be responsible for these feelings of attachment) permeating my brain cells. So, I got the ole’ emotional screwing. By biology.
And what it took for me to finally break that attachment was to stop engaging her in these conversations. We continued to see each other. We still chatted. We still laughed. But, I forced myself not to reveal too much about my personal feelings. It wasn’t easy. I constantly found myself wanting to tell her… stuff. Stuff that I was used to telling her. But, I held back. I found other friends to talk to, whether online or in real life. I found blogging. I met others who were getting over similar breakups.
And, I finally got over her.
So, maybe that’s how it really works: women get over their exes by not having sex with them. Because sex involves those creepy love hormones for women. And men get over their exes by not talking intimately with them. Because talking involves those creepy love hormones for men.
Remember that old joke about how many men it takes to screw in a light bulb? Good.
Remember that old saying about skinning cats? Good.
Well, I’m creating my own personal mash-up of the two:
There’s more than one way to screw a man.
*Dennis Hong blogs about the life lessons he’s learned. Check out his and his friends’ musings here.