Can men feel empathy?

by mssinglemama on March 3, 2008

herbritts.jpgMy best friend has a theory – that men can not be truly empathetic. And for the men reading this, here’s the definition:

Empathy: one’s ability to recognize, perceive and feel the emotions of another; often characterized as the ability to “put oneself into another’s shoes”.

Take this scenario as a case in point. No hard feelings toward the male subject in this story, after all, he is a man and this is apparently a trait they can’t help. Just read this study.

Tonight, while in his sweet bath, Benjamin knocked his tooth into the side of the tub. All I hear is – CRACK! – his front capped tooth had just split again. The first time, this winter, he had fallen outside and it was a bloody mess. My boyfriend Kris was on the phone two seconds later calling a dentist friend – who capped it the next day. He had saved the day! And even accompanied us to the dentist’s office. Quite a feat for anyone dating a single mom. This time – the tooth has shattered into three pieces that are somehow sticking together. Benjamin is calm during the bath and all is well. But as soon as we get out. He notices. He takes his little, itty bitty fingers and starts pushing his broken tooth around. He can’t even eat his yogurt snack.

My heart is breaking into a million pieces as I look at my sweet, sweet little guy and imagine the damn pain he’s going to have to feel tomorrow when they have to cap it again.

Tell this story to any woman and you’re bound to get a reaction filled with gasps and lots and lots of questions. All followed by words of comfort like, “don’t worry, everything will be fine,” “is there anything I can do?”, “I’m so sorry this happened.”

Tell it to a man… (in my case, Kris) – and you’re likely to get this.

“I don’t know what to tell you.” And that’s about it. I was interupting him…he was deep in study land. And this little emergency was definitely not in his plans (I’ve also heard men can’t multi-task very well).

Next I call my girlfriends to fill the comfort void and also want to test this that men have no empathy theory. Here are their reactions:

Girlfriend #1: “WHAT??!!! How did it happen? Is he okay?” She goes on to tell me it’s a lucky thing it happened now, and not next week when I’ll be out of town on a work trip (my first four days away from him since he’s been born). Plenty of empathy.

Gilfriend #2: “Do you need me?” She says it only seconds after I tell her what’s happened. Once again…empathy.

One of these friends, Mia, says if I find a man who can truly comfort me in these situations that she’ll be jealous as hell. She swears she’s had “this conversation up and down, a million times, with all of the women in her life and they all come up with one conclusion: that women should NOT expect empathy from a man – because it’s just not possible.” And, by the way, she’s in a very happy relationship.

But shouldn’t we expect empathy? Do we even have a choice? This report says we don’t. In fact it says that men definitely have a lower capacity for empathy than women.

Looking back on all of my failed relationships – a lack of empathy is on the top of my “why it ended” list. Should I re-adjust the way I think or what I expect? Maybe I should just run out and buy “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.” Jeez. I know Kris cares about Benjamin and I. So the question is – can I compromise my empathy standards?

What do you think? Please tell me this theory is not true!

[Photo Source: AllPosters.com – buy it here]

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