The Secret To Understanding Men: They Don’t Go Both Ways


Hi Evan,

I finally met an emotionally available, nice guy after going through my fair share of emotionally unavailable men. We’ve been dating for about two months now and have hit a rough patch. I am starting to feel like the man in the relationship. He reacts emotionally instead of rationally all the time. He wants to talk about feelings all the time. I find he is emotionally needy.

I am an independent woman, and I like my time to myself. I do not need to talk about feelings.

Sometimes I feel like he says things in a passive-aggressive way just to see how I will react. I feel like I have to always reassure him. This is really stressing me out and turning me off. I told him that it would be best for him to keep his emotions to himself right now and once things get more serious, then we could talk more about feelings. At first he said that I was right and that this behavior has ruined his past relationships, but then he says that it turns him off that I don’t want to talk about feelings.

He feels like he has to hold back with me. I feel like all this talk about feelings is just too much too soon.

My dilemma is that he’s a nice guy that I can trust, he treats me like no man has ever treated me, we have common interest and goals, but I’m turned off by his neediness. I just don’t want to feel like the man in the relationship. He has already cried four times when we have discussions where I tell him that all of it is just too much for me. I’m wondering if I should just call it a loss and move on? I want a nice guy, but not an emotionally needy one. Is this a deal breaker, or is this something I should just give more time to see if he can overcome it?


Dear Katie,

My second book, Why You’re Still Single, contains a chapter called “Men Don’t Go Both Ways” which addresses your question directly. The short version is this:

But your constant frustration that Marlboro Man “doesn’t open up” or that Sensitive Artist is “too needy” is pretty futile.

There are two poles that women find attractive: The Marlboro Man and the Sensitive Artist. The Marlboro Man is traditional, doesn’t like to talk about his problems, doesn’t like to listen to yours, but he is a MAN. He’s a stoic, and if he has any emotional needs, you’ll never know it. Problem is that it’s hard to feel CONNECTED to a guy like this. Sharing information is what makes us close, and if you have a guy who really doesn’t roll like that, you’re going to constantly wonder where you stand and what he’s thinking.

Then there’s the Sensitive Artist, who is as much of an open book as your best girlfriend.

You share everything with him and he shares everything with you. You truly understand each other. Problem is, when a person shares everything with you, there will be times where he will seem weak and vulnerable. This doesn’t always inspire confidence like the Marlboro Man.

Men Don’t Go Both Ways means that whether you’re expecting the Marlboro Man to start sharing or expecting the Sensitive Artist to stop sharing, you’re wasting your time. They’re DIFFERENT guys with different strengths and weaknesses. Thus, as a woman, you have a choice: put up with the stoicism of a traditional man’s man, or put up with the emotional rollercoaster of a sensitive guy.

But your constant frustration that Marlboro Man “doesn’t open up” or that Sensitive Artist is “too needy” is pretty futile.

As a sensitive artist guy myself, I don’t blindly defend the type. I know how exhausting it can be to date a man who wants to hash every little issue out like, well, a woman. I know that you can burn out on that kind of thing pretty quickly the way, well, we get burned out on overemotional women. But the reason that I’m writing this is that, at some point, you’re going to have to make a CHOICE.

And as a dating coach whose job is to help men and women understand each other, that’s the thing that I see more than anything: nobody wants to make a choice between different people. No, we want our dates to be all things at all times.

But don’t expect guys to be all things at all times. That’s just wishful thinking.

The ideal man should be:

Strong and stoic, but sensitive and open to sharing.
Successful and ambitious, but not a workaholic.
Charismatic and charming, but not a player.

Realize that these are all contradictions. Sensitive artists want to talk. Entrepreneurs will work past six. Charmers will exploit their skills with women. Expecting otherwise is useless.

So Katie, this isn’t about your boyfriend “overcoming” his emotional neediness for your sake. Nope. He’s a nice guy who treats you like gold and wants to know where he stands. The only person who has to overcome anything is YOU.

You need to make a choice: to put up with his emotional neediness (as so many men do with so many women), OR to break up with him and find a new guy, knowing full well that the new guy may not be as emotionally available as the current guy. It’s not a clear-cut decision, nor should it be. But don’t expect guys to be all things at all times. That’s just wishful thinking.

Join our conversation (98 Comments).
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  1. 61

    Insecure neediness and sensitivity are not the same thing. If something makes me very sad, or very happy, I cry. If my girlfriend looks at me “with the wrong tone of voice” – I would be insecure, not sensitive, if I tried to manipulate her into looking at me “in the right tone of voice.” A man can do what a mans got to do – John Wayne style – and still have tears streaming down his face at the same time.

  2. 62

    Although I agree with Evan 99% of the of time, and do here in regard to the two types of men, I do NOT agree with emotional or physical neediness.  Men don’t like it in women and women especially don’t like it in men.  Women look to men to take care of things and make us feel safe, if he’s so emotionally needy, how is he going to take are of what he needs to take care of?

    This situation doesn’t sound like a Marlboro vs. Sensitive man, this sounds like a man who has other issues.  There is a definite difference…all the best to hin in working on this, I give him a lot of credit for understanding there’s a problem and taking action to solve it!

  3. 63

    I wonder if the guy in Katie’s letter dealt with abandonment in some way during his childhood. Reading her comments made me feel very sympathetic to him and I hope he finds the right avenue that will help him heal from his pain and fear.

  4. 64

    I just broke up with a sensitive artist guy. He wanted to talk about every single issue in our relationship, and it was kind of frustrating because i used to let things go by. I was his angel, his treasure, everything, we used to share every little moment so we could get to  know ourselves better. So i recomend you to understand him, cos at least youll have someone everytime you need it. He worth it. Believe! Dont make a mistake!

  5. 65

    Your mistaking emotionally damaged for emotionally available, and you’ve most likely been doing this for a long time.

  6. 66


    My first reaction to the  advice she  was given sounded like, “Suck it up and appreciate him.”  I disagree.

    From reading the first email and responses it seems like being needy (which is not a virtue) is being mixed up with being sensitive (which can be).  It’s great if a guy is sensitive with the clause that he isn’t just sensitive to himself but to you and others as well.  Otherwise he becomes SELFISH. SELF – FOCUSED and all about him.  I have dated needy men and they are exhausting and do not replenish the relationship with wonderful emotions and sharing but deplete it by being a drama kings, self focused, needing constant reassurance, hand holding and I often felt like a therapist or his mother and not a partner.  Again, another woman may love this and love the roller coaster ride of it all.

    If a guy is needy he needs help – I think.  People who are needy tend to suck the life out of others to fill themselves up.  If the woman in the email feels like she’s been sucked dry – that is a huge red flag.  If on the other hand she is upset because he’s not acting in certain prescribed manly ways that is another. And perhaps she can embrace his version of manhood.

    All relationships need healthy boundaries not enmeshment.  So let’s say her bf is really chatty and emotional after a days work.  She can anticipate his need to talk and express then.  Perhaps giving him half hour or whatever she feels is reasonable for her to listen to him.  And then after that time she can do what she needs to take a break, rest, read, take a walk etc.  However, if he needs to keep the relationship in a constant state of him being emotional and throwing up his sentiments all over her constantly that is not healthy.  

    If she tries to set some boundaries like “Hey, the first hour home is all about you, then I need to go work out.” And he’s all insecure and is threatened by her taking time for herself or setting of boundaries – that’s his problem and he is making it hers and driving her away.  He’s already said it has ruined some other relationships.  Perhaps he needs a therapist.  He may need to learn some self-control.   If he is using her as a therapist or mother, then my vote is, he isn’t treating her like gold.

    Both things could also be going on.  He treats her like gold but is also insatiable.  Again boundaries for both parties can be helpful.  Both the needs to be chatty, emotional, can be balanced with quietness or activity that nourishes both people.  


  7. 67

    That’s the spirit – fall off the carousel, get right back on, lol.

  8. 68

    When did needy become a bad trait? Why would I want to be in a relationship if I don’t need the other person to enhance my life?

    Maybe millions of relationships are at least in part the colossal mess they are because both parties couldn’t care less whether the other is out for the evening or not coming back for five years. Because heaven forbid anybody needs anybody.  

  9. 69
    Karl R

    M asked: (#68)
    “When did needy become a bad trait?”

    About the time psychologists recognized how destructive co-dependent relationships were.

    M asked: (#68)
    “Why would I want to be in a relationship if I don’t need the other person to enhance my life?”

    I can’t answer that question for you.

    However, I don’t need my fiancée in my life. She doesn’t need me in her life. Both of us have decades of practice living happy, healthy and productive lives as single adults.

    We want each other. It’s nice to be wanted. It’s exhausting to be needed.

    M said: (#68)
    “both parties couldn’t care less whether the other is out for the evening or not coming back for five years.”

    If my fiancée is out for the night, I’ll enjoy having an evening to myself. If she’s gone for a week, I’ll miss her, but it’s no big deal. If she died, I would acutely feel the loss, but I would survive, recover, eventually move on and live a happy, healthy, productive life.

    And it’s reassuring to know that my fiancée will be fine without me too.

  10. 70

    Co-dependent relationships are destructive? Huh? You mean a married couple isn’t co-dependent? Sorry my feeble mind can’t process that.

    So people want to be wanted but not needed? Pray tell what on earth is the difference. Talk about splitting hairs.

    Nobody really NEEDS anybody I guess. I’m 51, out of my mind with loneliness but still alive and reasonably healthy, at least physically. My parents are gone, I miss them like mad and you know what? I am not “fine” without them and I never will be. My life is immeasurably worse without them and their no longer being around will always cause me significant sadness throughout my remaining time on this miserable planet. If nobody else feels likewise, so what. I didn’t ask to get put on this earth, that’s the way I feel and my opinion is as valid as anyone else’s even if they have 20 doctoral degrees. 

  11. 71
    Karl R

    M said: (#70)
    “I’m 51, out of my mind with loneliness”
    “My parents are gone, I miss them like mad and you know what? I am not ‘fine’ without them and I never will be.”

    Are you expecting a girlfriend to fill the void left by your parents?

    It sounds like you need to see a grief support group to cope with the loss of your parents. Girlfriends don’t fill that role. 

    M said: (#70)
    “I’m 51, out of my mind with loneliness”
    “My life is immeasurably worse without them and their no longer being around will always cause me significant sadness throughout my remaining time on this miserable planet.”

    If you knew that spending time with someone would make you feel (more) depressed, would you go out of your way to spend time with that person?

    People like feeling good. People don’t like feeling bad. If this is the way you normally sound, being around you is probably very depressing. If that’s the case, people are going to avoid you.

    If I want someone to spend more time with me, I either try to ensure that they enjoy themselves in my presence, or I try to make them feel good about themselves (which is even more effective).

  12. 72

    Karl I appreciate your words, you seem like a thoughtful guy.

    I have reasonably good looks, maybe 6-7 out of 10. I am pained by the thought that if I were female – and I wish I was – and I had my EXACT SAME PERSONALITY that I would get plenty of attention. I am sure that plenty of highly depressed females get lots of attention.

    Thanks Evan for your website and your efforts to help people.  

  13. 73
    Karl R

    M said: (#72)
    “I am sure that plenty of highly depressed females get lots of attention.”

    I casually dated a woman who suffered from moterate to severe depression. (We weren’t exclusive and we weren’t physcially intimate, but we dated long enough to get to know each other reasonably well.)

    I ended up breaking things off because she wasn’t much fun to be around.

    I suppose a highly depressed female could get lots of attention in the form of casual sex, but I strongly suspect that would make the depression worse.

    M said: (#72)
    “I am pained by the thought that if I were female – and I wish I was – and I had my EXACT SAME PERSONALITY that I would get plenty of attention.” 

    Unless you are planning to get a sex change, then that statement is completely irrelevant.

    If I was filthy rich, I would get more attention from women. If I was drop-dead gorgeous, I would get more attention from women.

    So what?

    Those observations didn’t help me get a date, regardless of how true they were.

    The only things that will help you get dates are the things you can change. For example, you can find ways to manage your depression. (It might require professional help or medication, but those won’t happen unless you take some initiative.)

    Complaining about the unfairness of it all … that’s just a waste of time and energy.

  14. 74

    It is true.Men are different and we can´t have it all from them.But you have to remember, that if you are a very intellectual,ambitious and hardworking woman who likes to be alone, you are probably going to attract the artist.Because he wants to be the feminine part of the relationship.
    I had this problem though I grew up with a mother who was a doer and a thinker and not emotionally avaliable.But I am a real artist myself.So my sort of ideal from the childhood was a feminine part who always did and thought everything in pieces.It was terrible to me.She was like a man in womans clothes and I could never get a clear picture,because how she looked and the feeling I got about her was opposites.My father,on the other hand,looked like a Marlboro man in everything and he did not talk much even,but he was this sensitive jerk who never got his heck out to act,and he did not think enough either, to take good decisions about things.
    I have been struggling with this sensitive artists my whole life.And it never worked!When i was at my twenties, they always fell in love with me.I tried and I tried, and in the end they always dissappeared of course.I was a mess.And I never ever understood what was going on.But the universe kept sending me these guys over and over.I remember me thinking that I would be better with for example an ingenieur who also like to build houses,who are stable,wealthy and very intelligent.A man who thinks before he talks,sees me over a longer perspective and sort of let me be an emotional artist and admire it,but that is all.Who buy me oil colours and read my stories with respect and give me music concert for birthday present.That guy never showed up.The one crazier man after the other showed upp.And I still did not get it.I am near 40 now and my relationship history is tragical.BUT, the last artistic guy who showed up was the last one.I just know it.There will be no more guys like that in my life.Not that they are wrong,I just dont need them.They make me feel like my mother.They make me a bitter,thinking and wierdacting man-woman who ends up in a mess.They are great, I even had a gayfriend one once.But I need a man.I surely do.I need to be the woman,the listener,the emotional half,the artistic sence and the soft one.
    I think everybody should stop searching for certain qualities or caracteristics or so, and ask themselfes;How do I BECOME in this relationship.And is that what I truly want to be?Because sometimes we grew up with a mother or somebody else showing us a was that was completely wrong for us, and therefore we continue to choose partners who bring those qualities up,but If we dare saying no to it and burn out the weeds in our head that make us a person we did not want to be, I am sure he will show up.The man who makes us the woman or man we truly are inside

  15. 75

    I think you nailed it right on the head here.  I have a question for you.  You wrote: “Charmers will exploit their skills with women.”  Well, I am a charmer.  Whenever I’ve been in a durable relationship, the first few months/years have been great, but then I start feeling like I am giving up. I love flirting and I love getting attractive women’s attention.  But of course that is incompatible with what nearly every woman wants from a partner in a long-term relationship or marriage.  Does this mean I am doomed? Does it mean that I will always get bored in a long-term relationship or marriage?  Is this a biological imperative that is impossible to tame?  I know you mostly give advice to women, but I would appreciate if you help me here. Thanks.

  16. 76

    @Karl R Thank You for your sensible common … In our very individualistic  society of overabundance people are so used to get what they want quickly and instantly that they get frustated at the 1 sight of a little nick on what sounded so perfect …Maybe if both men and women would give each other a little more credit and put a little more effort relationship will be easier .
    Reach out and communicate and do not rule out people  and put them in caterogy just because they act a  certain way you did not like a few times  most people will not deliberately try to annoy you, hurt you , or  whatever  in general most people want to please other because most people want to be loved !

  17. 77

    Mario #75
    I think you have to realize that long-term relationships are supposed to move past fun and flirtation. Gradually, a couple begins to bond on a deeper level. Have you thought about what you want beyond the surface fun? What are the fears that hold you back? If you’re feeling bored in your relationship, rather than blaming your partner, maybe it’s your own life that isn’t energizing or exciting you enough.

  18. 78

    I am an independent professional and really would prefer to meet a guy who falls in between. My last guy would tell me everything which I at first appreciated. When he started to tell me all his finacial woes, really complain about his bills, his family expectations and even send me text messages when I was traveling aborad about his financial challenges, and how he was trying to cope I was like. does he expect me to bail him out? It continued for a while and because I had the resources, I bailed him out and then broke the relationship shortly afterwards because I was worried it might continue. Maybe I should have spoken to him about it, but to be honest, we had just known each other for 4 months and there was not any mention of going on to become exclusive. While I want to be supportive, I dont want feel like anyone was trying to sponge off me as I wouldnt do that to men (or women) either.
    This is the second time this is happening as a few years ago, I had this guy asking me for loans. Must be something I am doing wrong to attract these guys huh? While I do make decent income, I do not live an extravagant lifestyle..

  19. 79

    I think when women say they want ‘a sensitive man’ they one that will be soft and sensitive to their needs but be strong and stoic about their own.  Women want the option to be masculine or feminine as their needs or situation dictates and have a man modify his behavior to those needs but never deviate from being the man. 

    1. 79.1

      I agree.  This is what I characterize as the double-standard that the emotionally aware and intelligent men have to face:

      Women want you to listen and be supportive when she needs emotional intimacy but you have to be stoic and man up if she is not in a supportive frame of mind when you want to disclose your own problems otherwise you risk her seeing your vulnerability as weakness.  

  20. 80

    I’m wondering if he will be less needy if he feels more secure in the relationship. Is it his personality all the time or is it a symptom to a problem? If you show him more of a commitment and give him that sense of security, will he need to ‘talk’ about it so much? I think its worth a try 🙂 good luck

  21. 81

    I agree with Cilla and Margaret, posts 8 and 9. I have dated men who fall between the two extremes and they are my preference, but harder to find. I couldn’t stomach someone who has cried 4 times during such a short period of time. Maybe I’m too picky, but that’s me. Women are different too, so maybe you can tolerate this.

  22. 82

    But just because someone is competent at social media doesn’t make them a competent matchmaker. This is one of the events that regardless of the size and scale are the obstacles, destiny, it is likely that two people find each other alone Asian men in Asia. Asia, in the last decade, has become a region of the world where consumerism is now becoming more important than traditional values.

  23. 83

    I understand completely what your going through. I’m currently dating this type of man and I’m at the end of my rope. He recently stopped talking to me and said he needed time to sort out his feelings for me. it’s been nearly four weeks.I tried talking to him, but he said he wasn’t ready and needed more time. We finally spoke last night over the phone, because I initiated the conversation. And he said that he was afraid to call me because he thought that I had changed my mind about us? Really? WTF? I don’t get it. Tell is so confusing. He told me that I’m too independent and that that makes me insencitive. We’ve only been dating for four months and he wants more of a commitment. He thinks that spending three days out of the week isn’t enough. Let me say, I enjoy him and I really enjoy our love making, it’s the best I’ve ever experienced, but if I’m not in the mood when he is, then “I don’t love him the way he loves me,” is what he says. I do have a lot of feelings for him, I really do! This is the guy I would love to spend the rest of my life with, but I feel he’s way too needy. He reads too much into everything I say or do. I’m constantly defending myself or explaing myself. I love him enough to do this, but this is really exhausting. And it’s started to turn me off. I’ve tried to patch things up with him, but at this point I feel I’m at a loss and I should probably let him go. Maybe I’m not for him and he’s not the one for me. It’s really sad because I think we could have been so good together had we understood one another. I don’t get it. We woman are either too needy or too independent? I’m so fed up with dating.

  24. 84

    That was the best advice I have ever read in regards to relationships next to the love languages! Ever!  I will take this knowledge to the grave!

  25. 85

    upon reading this I guess my man is belong to Marlboro man, I know he has a problem but he doesn’t share to me too much. My problem is he is far from me that I want to know more how he is doing. Now, I don’t know where to stand and what to do, don’t even know what to say when sending him letter as I felt that he doesn’t really interested to know it. I feel I am not belong to his life anymore. Its hard to handle marlboro man if you two are far from each other.

  26. 86

    Wow Evan, how did you manage to miss the massive red flags this guy was waving around?  Instead, you told the writer that if she has a problem with such toxic behavior, then SHE’S the one with the problem.  Thankfully, she didn’t take your advice and dumped the guy instead.  You’ve never dated a man like this so you have no idea how manipulative and controlling they can be, made worse by the fact that other people will then judge us for ‘being too picky’ and ‘not giving the nice guy a chance.’ Most healthy men fall between Marlboro Man and The Sensitive Artist.  These two extremes both make for very unhealthy relationships but luckily, despite what you say, they are not our only two options, and presenting us with a false dilemma and saying we need to choose one or the other is nonsensical.

  27. 87

    As a few have mentioned, at least with online dating, people are quick to dismiss a potential relationship without communicating their ME time. I joke there’s a few things that would be funny to see on somebody’s profile – 401k balance, fico score, etc. But seriously, maybe there should be an option to state the size of your social circle? I’m a loner and introverted. I have a lot of time off. I like to ‘come on strong’ and be very attentive when I first meet someone. Instead of assuming I’m needy and dismissing me, how about communicating you need space? Worse, don’t accuse me of needing you to be happy. How insulting. I was happy before I met her and because I was too attentive? You write me off? I felt like I should put in that ‘game face’ of the emotionally unavailable jerk that is mysterious. Again, I think a lot of it is the compatibility between someone with too much of a ‘connected self adsorbed life’ vs ‘not enough life’ with the added pressure of it’s just online dating…I have options in my inbox negating the need to ‘deal with this’. Arrggghhhh

  28. 88

    PS: Ladies, remember the Marlboro man is still an emotional cripple wearing a mask of extreme masculinity.  It may seem very attractive that he pretends he has no emotions or problems UNTIL you need your man to understand you and you realize you are in a relationship with a pet rock.  I feel sorry for the women who try to express their deep secrets to a rock that cannot speak.  You will be better served banging your head against a revolving rubber door.

    An even worse scenario arises if the Marlboro man loses his mask and becomes violent as that will be the only expression of anger he can muster.  Also remember that the so called stoic man is not even listening to half your thoughts and expressions as part of the mask.

    I agree that no woman wants to see a sensitive man cry everyday but at least the man who cries once every year is not wearing an unhealthy mask. 

  29. 89

    He’s still in the honeymoon faze at 2 months. He’ll treat you like shit in no time just give it a minute for the pendulum to swing the other way… And it will.  He’s on a love high right now but in a years time when he starts to notice your imperfections he’ll slow down on the neediness an probably resort back to the Marlboro man you so desperately seek. By that point you will have invested enough time (at being yourself) to start admiring him for who he is that’s when the pendulum will swing the other way and he’ll see your needy side and probably start to question his longevity now with you. 

  30. 90

    This really helps, Evan! I’m also thinking which I’d rather choose: the stoic or the kinda needy man. So far, I’ve tried having relationships with stoics but ended up breaking up with them due to emotional un availability. Haven’t had a relationship with a needy man though. On the brighter side, having such boyfriend sounds better (IMO). 

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