Helen Fisher, PhD

“Wha’ choo’ thinkin’?

I am not entirely sure why men hate it when women ask “what are you thinking.”   I used to do that quite a bit, actually, and I never really got anyone to answer.   But my twin sister and I have asked one another this question since we were small children.   We used to have a game called “now.”  And when I said “now,” she would have to answer; and vice versa.  We liked the game because we often found that when we were asked, we discovered that we were really thinking of about 5 things at once!   It was fun.  

But I think men feel invaded.   Men are, by and large, more “emotionally contained” than women are.  As testosterone floods the brain in teenage, they begin to use “joke-speak,” masking their real emotions with humor.   I have long thought that men’s emotional containment (which is found in many cultures) evolved millions of years ago on the grasslands of Africa, where men were obliged to do a lot of aggressive tasks.  It’s not really adaptive to feel empathy while slitting the throat of a baby gazelle, for example, or while raiding an enemy camp for food or territory.   So men evolved the ability to contain their feelings, sometimes even from themselves!  

So they are not as comfortable sharing their intimate world because they feel their words might backfire on them.   Men also suffer more from “emotional flooding.”  When they get angry or sad they are more likely to lose control and go beyond what they regard as appropriate.  So I don’t think men (on average) are as comfortable delving into their emotions, or women’s emotions; and when asked what they are thinking, they feel they are on unsteady turf, where they may lose our respect or love.   I suspect they have no idea how much we love them!