There is an intimate relationship between sexuality and emotionality. Men and women, however, tend to approach that relationship from vastly different points of reference and those differences clearly impact reactions to infidelity for each gender, whether that infidelity is emotional or sexual, in very different ways.
It is no secret that men and women operate differently, especially in terms of emotionality. The literature on gender differences suggests that one reason for this is the demonstrable differences in the way that men and women think.
Men tend to be very linear — they go from point A to point B. Women, on the other hand, tend to think more globally and consider the big picture. This, of course, creates all sorts of conflicts -- from communication, to the perception of emotional availability, to sexuality, to problem solving, to asking for directions.
Men are, as a general rule, physical creatures. We are hunters and typically associate availability with proximity. There is no real magic or mystery in this; it is something that is hardwired into our DNA. Men are physical first — which in this case includes the sexual, although I typically differentiate the two — and emotional second. The physical availability of our partner for us points to emotional and sexual availability and, because this is in some ways assumed, it is something that we (quite mistakenly and often to our disadvantage) do not necessarily feel the need to communicate.
Women, on the other hand, are contemplative creatures. They are the thread that holds the fabric of society together and, by nature, tend to think about the whole cloth, not just the part that they can see or touch. For women, physicality grows out of emotionality in that it is emotional availability that activates their physical, and by association sexual, natures.
The bottom line is that women are more apt to show up physically and sexually when their partner is emotionally present, while men tend more to just show up, with their emotional presence being something of an afterthought. You can see how this situation might breed all sorts of conflict and confusion, from the ubiquitous demand that men be mind readers to the eternal frustration of women with the perceived rampant thoughtlessness that they must endure.
In terms of infidelity, reaction based on gender bias is no less stark. Men are more apt to get past (notice I didn't say forgive) an emotional transgression than one that is physical or sexual. Why? - Simple; it's a territory thing.
"If you think about trespassing, I'm going to warn you off and take a good look at my fences. If you actually trespass, well that's an entirely different kettle of fish."
There it is — physical first; emotional second.
Women, on the other hand, are more apt to get past (again, not necessarily forgive) a sexual transgression, rather than an emotional one. Why? - Again, simple; someone is renting space in her partner's head; space that is reserved solely for her.
"If you draw his attention away from me, then I am being disregarded and disrespected by both of you. If you draw his attention only physically, but not emotionally, I can be fairly confident that he's not invested in you, but is still renting all that space to me."
And there's the opposite — emotional first; physical second.
Clearly, I am speaking in gross generalizations here. And clearly most of us operate in a space that is somewhere in between these polar opposites because, like it or not, most of us do balance a certain degree of emotional androgyny against our presenting gender.
What remains interesting is the apparent relationship between gender-based social style (some of which is hardwired), gender norms for cognition, social expectation and the reaction to the disruption of that expectation, which is certainly different for both genders.
© 2009 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved
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