Why are girls more serious about relationships?

When it comes to relationships girls seem to be 'on a mission'. It's not the same with guys. So what is it with girls?

Moving things along

Young guys generally feel that the future is fairly open-ended. There's plenty of time to get serious later, but now you feel the freedom to just wander along at your own pace, hanging out with your friends, playing games, looking for adventure, not over-thinking stuff. When it comes to girls you probably feel much the same. You want their company, you want to be around them some of the time, but you don't feel a pressure to get serious about it.

As time goes by you start to get the sense that girls are not quite the same. They have an underlying seriousness of some kind about relationships. You get the feeling they're on a different timetable, and while you're still in the middle of hanging out and drifting along they seem to have a bit more focus. They want to move things along a bit. They don't want to just keep hanging out. They want to know where things are going - and when.

A pull towards a centre

Why does anyone do the things they do? To some extent there are clear, up front reasons. For example, some things you do with a practical eye to the future. You need to work. So you embark on a course of study towards that end. Or you try to find work in a field in which you are interested. But to some extent we do the things we do for less clear reasons. There is some kind of 'centre' inside us that orients us towards some things but not others. We feel some kind of steady pull towards a centre within us that feels like it makes sense.

Think of yourself. Think of your friends. You each have something within you that keeps drawing you towards particular interests, and particular people. There is a consistency to the shape of your feelings. You are not just a bundle of different impulses jumping all over the place. You don't wake up expecting to feel like a different person. You expect to feel pretty much the same as you did yesterday.

What is at the centre of a man?

Within that centre that gives shape to our feelings, that draws us into patterns of consistency, there are those that are mainly individual. The type of work someone is drawn to, the kind of games they like, whether they are more sociable or more solitary - there can be great differences between people. Yet there are also consistencies that tend to make men similar to each other, while being somewhat different to women.

The first is that men tend to have a more individual sense of self. Men's interests tend to centre around themselves. This is not the same thing as being 'selfish' but rather, it involves being preoccupied with those things that depend on one's own initiative and decision. The pull that draws them towards a centre is pulling them towards the kinds of things they expect to have to do themselves. They might need to work with others to achieve them, but their focus is on their own role.

A man has the feeling that he will have to 'stand alone' in some fundamental way, not as though isolated necessarily, but as needing to take full personal responsibility for his 'life project'. This can be daunting, and young men are often keen to defer this if they can. Sometimes people will criticise men for 'lacking commitment'. In some cases this can be true. But underlying it is the deep recognition of a seriousness that is inescapably personal.

What is at the centre of a woman?

Whereas men's sense of self is more individual, women's is more relational. A woman also feels a seriousness of purpose about her 'life project', but it has a different feeling quality. A woman expects to find that her core life project will not have a fundamentally solitary character but will be shared with someone else. That is, the inner shape of her feelings is towards a joint project, one which cannot even begin until there is someone else to share it with.

I am using the term 'life project' here to distinguish it from 'career'. A woman can certainly get on with a career as an individual, but that is not what I'm talking about here. It is also not a question of either a career or motherhood. Women commonly combine both. Rather, what I am talking about here is the contrast between young men and women in what is felt to be at their emotional core in relation to how they see their future. It is this that shapes how they feel and act when young and single.

A man feels that he can get started on his core life project on his own. This gives him more freedom of action, but also the sense of a burden that has to be carried alone. A woman feels she cannot get started on her core life project until she finds a man to share it with. Her project has to be co- founded. So she is more keenly aware of time passing without being able to get started. Women often feel they have to do some prodding to get men moving towards this more relational project. They also assume the burden will be shared, so they don't feel as strong a tendency to defer taking up this challenge.

The seriousness of girls

It is important to understand that all this stuff about your 'life project' is not just about practical matters. More importantly for our topic it is about the shape of feelings. So this difference between men and women reveals itself much earlier than practical necessity would require. We already feel this way prior to being anywhere near to ready to embark on the actual life project we feel drawn towards.

The feeling tends to be quite strong even when the literal circumstances would not demand it. Our feelings are 'getting us ready' for adulthood. This causes much angst and confusion, because, in a manner of speaking, we have these feelings sooner than we need them. Youth is a time complicated by this mismatch of timing.

One of its manifestations is that girls can feel strongly driven to find someone so as to get started on their shared life project, even though there is no practical possibility of doing so for perhaps quite a few years. It is as though they need to start 'practicing the feelings' in advance that would be appropriate to that life project.

What are guys practicing?

In the meantime the guys they know don't feel the same kind of seriousness about the relational project, yet go along with some of it so as to spend time with a girl. They know they will have to get serious about this stuff eventually, but feel it is a long way off. While this is going on their own more serious feelings are centred in trying to clarify their own individual life project.

Guys are spending this time 'practicing the feelings' relevant to their individual life project, as well as balancing this with its opposite - learning how to lighten their emotional load by not taking things seriously. Hence their preoccupation with games, adventures and diversions. Although this can become disproportionate, in itself it is a valid way of dealing with this stage of life. It is by finding a balance between serious and non-serious that they 'hold open a space' in which to clarify and commit to their life project.

It might seem at times that guys are over-emphasising the 'fun' stuff, but it is important to note that their seriousness is mainly solitary and their playfulness is mainly social. So when you see them out and about it will mostly be about the fun stuff. (It's true that young men have more options for 'solitary fun' these days because of the internet, and many seriously overindulge in this. But there is a sense in which the problem is precisely that it is not really fun as such, but is taken too seriously. That is, there is a kind of 'emotional seriousness' but not enough 'real seriousness'.)

Finding a balance

As a guy it's worth pondering on these things. Perhaps it will help you clarify what you've been doing more or less instinctively, and to work at finding the right balance. If you're a girl who's checking out what the 'Guy Stuff' might be about, I hope this gives you some insight into why guys tend to be on a different wavelength from you about relational matters. Also, you might ponder on whether your feelings are pushing you a bit too quickly towards a relationship. You know, it's OK to have 'practice feelings' - just try to keep them in proportion.