Dr. Helen Fisher suspects the reason men don’t like the question “What are you thinking?” goes back millions of years.
By Helen Fisher
Written on Sep 06, 2023
Photo: SIphotography from Getty Images
I am not entirely sure why men hate it when women ask “What are you thinking?” But I have a hunch.
I used to ask people that question quite a bit, actually, and I never really got anyone to answer.
Anyone other than my sister, that is. My twin sister and I have asked one another this question since we were small children.
We used to have a game called “Now.”
When I said “now,” she would have to answer what was on her mind at that moment, 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! We thought this was really fun!
But, most men don’t seem to think answering this question is fun, and I think that’s because men feel invaded by questions about what they are thinking or feeling.
Men are, by and large, more “emotionally contained” than women are. As testosterone floods the brain in teenagers, 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.
Men evolved the ability to contain their feelings, sometimes even from themselves!
Generally, men 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 men get angry or sad, they are more likely to lose control and go beyond what they regard as appropriate.
I don’t think men (on average) are as comfortable delving into their own emotions, let alone women’s emotions.
When asked what they are thinking, they may feel they are on unsteady turf, at risk of losing our respect or love.
I suspect they have no idea how much we love them!
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Helen Fisher Ph.D., is a biological anthropologist and Senior Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute and Chief Scientific Advisor to the dating site Match. She is the author of the book The Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray, among other titles.
This article was originally published at Dr. Helen Fisher’s blog . Reprinted with permission from the author.