If you’re human, you’ve felt lonely — at least once or twice. If you’re a straight woman, you may have craved the tender embrace of a man when this loneliness hits. But women should know that a vast and growing body of research suggests that men, comforting as they may be, are the less-skilled gender when it comes to creating meaningful connections — the type of connections that alleviate loneliness.
The research suggests, in fact, that women are better at providing the types of interactions that reduce loneliness — for both men and women.
According to a study in which 96 college seniors recorded and rated every social interaction they had over a two-week period, both male and female participants felt less lonely after talking to a woman. As psychologist Carolyn Cutrona succinctly put it, “…the amount of time spent interacting with females was a strong negative predictor of loneliness for both males and females; the more time students spent with women, the less lonely they were.”
Should people prioritize time with women over time with men when they’re feeling lonely? Following are good reasons to give this some consideration.
Women Excel at “Getting” People
As I discuss in my book Stop Being Lonely, the foundation of an interaction that reduces loneliness is the feeling that you’ve been understood by the other person. When you believe the other person “gets” you — or at least an aspect of you — you instantly feel more seen and known, which is a precursor to feeling more connected.
While men are certainly capable of getting to know women and eventually sparking this “feeling seen” sensation in them, there’s good reason to believe that women spark it faster. Women are generally more comfortable sharing personal information than men are; men tend to be socialized to hold their private lives closer to the vest. This matters, because in an interaction, once one person reveals something private, the other person is much more likely to reciprocate with their own private revelation.
This reciprocal willingness of women to share private information — or “self-disclose” — builds upon itself when two women interact. Double the women may mean double the understanding.
In addition, female-to-female relationships tend to grow more consistently than female-to-male relationships, in part because women’s brains are better at remembering this personal information that’s been revealed and retrieving it at their next interaction.
According to analysis of over 1,000 brain scans, women’s brains are more wired for social skills and memory — a combination that’s excellent for retaining details about another person’s private life. In the words of Ragini Verma, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, “Women are better at remembering things. When you talk, women are more emotionally involved — they will listen more."
Women Notice and Validate Feelings
To be less lonely, you need to feel at least somewhat understood by the person with whom you’re interacting — but that’s not all. You must also feel like that person cares about what you’re revealing. They must seem (at the very least) interested in what you’re sharing, or the potential connection will fall flat.
In other words, if the person you’re confiding in doesn’t appear to care about what you’re saying, confiding will feel like a mistake. You’ll feel like you took a risk, made yourself vulnerable, and it backfired. The key to making someone feel cared about is emotional validation, and — surprise — women are better at it than men. While our society has long assumed that women are more fluent in emotions than men, it’s only recently than science has started to prove that is the case.
In a 2009 study by researchers at the Université de Montréal, live actors simulated facial expressions in front of a group of male and female participants, and the participants were asked to assess the emotions they had seen on the actors’ faces. The female participants were better at distinguishing between emotions — particularly the negative emotions of fear and disgust. Perhaps even more intriguingly, all participants “responded quicker when emotions were portrayed by a female rather than a male actor.” This implies that women are better at both identifying and expressing emotions.
But caring isn’t just the ability to name what someone is feeling; it’s also the ability to respond to those feelings in a supportive way. And a 2015 study published in the journal Psychological Science found that, under moderate stress, women were better at being supportive of others than men were.
While men “made more negative comments and had more negative reactions” to their partners when stressed, “stressed women continued to offer positive support to their partners.”
Are Female Relationships Undervalued?
The point here is not that women are better than men — not even socially. One could gather an equal amount of research extolling the social prowess of men.
However, this research should make any reader consider two questions: First, are women looking too intently at men to alleviate their loneliness? And second, are women undervaluing their relationships with other women?
Let us know what you think in the comments.
Kira Asatryan is a certified relationship coach and the author of Stop Being Lonely: Three Simple Steps to Developing Close Friendships and Deep Relationships.
Carolyn E. Cutrona, Social Support in Couples, Pg. 24-25