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Thursday
Dec012011

Ask Dr. Loving: Dealing with "Stupid-Boy-Syndrome"

"A Little Frustrated" asked: "Stupid-Boy-Syndrome" is a term my friend uses to describe a tendency of some guys to be oblivious to feelings and situations that the woman feels to be obvious. Now, my boyfriend seems to be especially prone to this syndrome, appearing absent minded and downright clumsy when it comes to discussing my feelings. If I tell him his approach isn't working, he says he's just not good at remembering details. What's the trick to being in a relationship with a man if he cares about you, but he isn't attentive unless you prod him to be and he has a memory like a sieve?

Dear L. F.;

There’s nothing wrong with prodding. You note that these are things that you feel “to be obvious”, but it’s important to remember that he is not you and does not share your perspective on the world (which is likely part of why you’re with him in the first place). About a decade ago researchers at Northwestern University provided evidence that women tend to be much more “relationally interdependent” compared to men (who are more “collectively interdependent” relative to women).1  What this means in the real world is that when women think and talk about emotional events that come to mind, they’re more likely to talk about an event that involves a person close to them (men, however, describe events that involve groups to which they belong). In other words, women attend to and think more about their one-on-one relationships with others. There are several reasons for this difference, including the fact that young girls are socialized to pay more attention to the feelings of others, and new biological data suggests that females may be better equipped neurocognitively (translation: brains and hormones) to pay attention to and interpret the feelings of others.2

Now, this does not mean boyfriends deserve a perpetual get out of jail free card. There’s a reason everyone says “relationships take work to succeed” and it looks like you’ve found him a new full-time job. Next time the situation presents itself, calmly sit him down, look him in the eye, and sincerely say something to the effect of: “This (whatever this is) is REALLY important to me and it would mean a lot to me if you remember this conversation because it may come in handy at some point down the road.” The key here is that this really is important and not trivial and that you don’t attack him or otherwise point out his poor memory – that will only make him defensive. If, after that direct talk, he still forgets, then you may as well assume his syndrome is untreatable and it’s time to find a healthier partner.

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1Gabriel, S., & Gardner, W. L. (1999). Are there 'his' and 'hers' types of interdependence? The implications of gender differences in collective versus relational interdependence for affect, behavior, and cognition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77(3), 642-655.

2Domes, G., Lischke, A., Berger, C., Grossman, A., Hauenstein, K., Heinrichs, M., & Herpertz, S. C. (2010). Effects of intranasal oxytocin on emotional face processing in women. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 35, 83-93. 

Dr. Tim Loving - Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Loving's research addresses the mental and physical health impact of relationship transitions (e.g., falling in love, breaking up) and the role of friends and family during these transitions. He is an Associate Editor of Personal Relationships and has been funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

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