In David Geary’s new book, Male, Female: The Evolution of Human Sex Differences, he makes some important distinctions between how men and women are needy in different ways. It seems that men tend to get obsessed before they land a partner, while women tend to get obsessed after they find one. While many men and women become desperate for a guarantee of love, the desperation tends to kick in at different points in the relationship.
In my practice, I have seen both men and women discuss their neediness in relationships with persons whom they are not particularly enamored. I recall a woman I saw many years ago who presented with the symptom of feeling like she could no longer love. She had written off men for the past 10 years because of the anguish associated with her need for love, and had now paradoxically decided to avoid love altogether. It was just too painful for her. Her profound neediness became the focus of my work with her. In contrast, a man who saw me years ago suffered with the break-up of a woman with whom he thought he was going to spend the rest of his life. His heartache was palpable and he suffered deeply. But within 6 weeks, he was off to races to find the next woman with whom he hoped to fall in love.
In general, women take longer to get emotionally involved, but once they pass the threshold, they often can be more emotionally invested in the relationship. A woman may be more likely to test her partner’s intentions, but once reasonably convinced that he’s there, she may get obsessive. Men, by contrast, often begin relationships at a level of fairly intense emotional investment, because they have a lot to gain from immediate coupling. For men, the agony is on how to get a woman, more than how to keep her.
In some cases, the less a man knows about a woman, the more alluring she is at first—and the more driven he is to interact with her. This is because men often tend to dream up the perfect woman, a bias that spurs them to give chase. Geary states that “Male idealization of female’s smoothes the courting process.”
When it comes to seeking long-term relationships, men get obsessed with women who they believe are within their reach. A man will not be needy around the supermodel type, because he does not ultimately believe she can fall in love with him. Rather, a man will pursue a woman doggedly, sparing no time, energy, or expense on a woman’s every non-sexual concern to show that they’re not “just in it for the sex.” This behavior may be particularly evident when a guy suspects the relationship is not going anywhere, but he can’t seem to put the brakes on. Men’s neediness is most likely to kick in when they are not sure they can obtain someone, but believe that they have a shot. The needy approach may entice a woman at first, but such behavior undermines a man’s goal because women generally lose interest in guys who get clingy and act more like a butler than a boyfriend.
Desire and neediness are separate entities. Wanting someone or something with all your heart does not by definition mean that you’re needy. You can want something passionately without turning it into an absolute necessity. A desire says, “I’d like to make this work because I really like and love this person—and I really want this to work. The needy and obsessed individual says, “This relationship must work out, or else I’m a loser and I’ll be single forever.”
Deep love does not need to fraught with neediness. When you get rid of neediness, you don’t become indifferent but rather more passionate; you experience desire and connection that is not spoiled by desperation. The act of loving can give both men and women more fulfillment than receiving love. Avoid living on the thin ice of belief that you can’t be happy without that certain someone.