Men need romance to be happy and satisfied in their relationships, just like women. But that doesn’t mean they get any. “Gender norms tend to dictate that romance is something that men are disproportionately responsible for,” Lisa Marie Bobby, a marriage counselor and couples therapist told Fatherly. “I can’t tell you how many poignant conversations I’ve had with men who want nothing more than to feel connected to and loved by the women in their life.”
One problem, Bobby says, is that men and women crave different types of romance. In 1995, relationship counselor Gary Chapman first described the (admittedly corny and unscientific-sounding) “languages of love”, reporting that couples tend to express and receive love in one of five ways: words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, quality time, and physical touch. While both sexes appreciate kind words, he found, women tend to experience love and romance more through acts of service and gifts (taking out the trash, buying flowers), while men feel romanced when their partners spend quality time with them and display physical affection.
While this may sound like a bunch of touchy-feely self-help nonsense, subsequent studies have tested these “languages” in real life and found they do account for how men and women emotionally interact in romantic relationships—with some noteworthy caveats. First of all, men’s desire for physical affection is not due to their preoccupation with sex. Despite the popular (and very false) claim that men think about sex every seven seconds, actual medical professionals report that most men under 60 think about sex about once per day. There’s evidence that men think about sleep and food just as much as sex (all great choices, for the record).
“Men often feel most loved by the women in their lives when their partners hug them, kiss them, smile at them, and explicitly offer gratitude, praise, and words of affection,” Bobby says. It’s not necessarily about sex—but romancing a man usually means touching him.
Beyond physical touch, and the subtle differences between what men and women want most, Bobby says the biggest mistake she sees in relationships is forgetting that romance needs to occur within the context of mutual respect and caring. If a man doesn’t respect his wife but buys her flowers, or a woman hates her husband but hugs him regularly, the relationship can’t work.
“All romance starts and ends with paying attention to the other person’s feelings,” she says. “And showing them that you love them in ways that are tailor-made to be meaningful to them.”