Why Your Boyfriend Won't Look at You

Helen Fisher: I’m beginning to think that we don’t understand men anymore than we understand women.  As a matter of fact, men fall in love faster than women do because they are so visual.  Men are more dependent on their girlfriends and wives because they’ve got fewer intimate connections with other men.  Men are two and a half times more likely to kill themselves when a relationship is over, and men are more likely to remarry after a spouse has died or deserted them.  So, I think as we come to understand women, I think we are also going to come to understand men. 

There’s one difference in intimacy between men and women that I think comes out of our evolutionary past.  Women tend to get intimacy out of face-to-face talking.  We swivel until we are right in front of each other, we lock eyes with what is called “the anchoring gaze,” and we talk.  And we regard that as intimate. 

And men tend to sit side-by-side and look straight forward and not look at each other at all and regard that as intimate.  And I think they both come from our evolutionary past.  I think women’s intimacy comes from millions of years of holding their baby in front of their face, cajoling it, reprimanding it, educating it with words.  And so words and face-to-face contact is intimate to women. 

Whereas, I think for millions of years, men had to sit behind a bush on the grasslands of Africa and keep their eye on the grasslands hoping a zebra is going to come by so that they can hit it in the head with a rock and they can’t be sitting there talking with somebody like this.  They’ve got to talk while they’re looking forward.  And I think this can complicate relationships.  You’ll see a man and a woman on a park bench and the man is talking looking straight ahead, and the women has moved every single part of her body around in order to have eye contact. 

As a matter of fact, I’ve had various men in my life who talk to me with their eyes completely shut and I think it’s because it’s too intimate for them.  I mean, for millions of years men faced their enemies, they really sat side-by-side with friends.  So, one of the things that I do with a man to make him comfortable is sit side-by-side with him and look straight ahead; particularly if I’m going to have a difficult conversation with him. 

There may be an evolutionary reason that men prefer to have intimate discussions without making eye contact with their partner.

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