The paradox is that love-shy men become romantically interested
in the opposite sex significantly earlier in life than do non-shy men. And
the more severely love-shy a man is, the earlier in life he is likely to
have become deeply interested in the other gender from a romantic/
esthetic standpoint. For example, 87 percent of the older love-shy men
who were studied for this research indicated that prior to the age of 13,
they had experienced feelings of loneliness for the close, emotionally meaningful
companionship of an opposite-sexed age-mate. Similarly, 73 percent of the younger
love-shys had experienced such feelings prior to their 13th birthday, wheras
NONE of the 200 self-confident non-shy men had ever experienced such
feelings prior to their 13th birthday.
One of the questionnaire statements to which each man reacted
read as follows: "When I was a child of about 10 or 11, there was nothing
I used to spend more time daydreaming about than little girls of my age
or younger." Here again, zero percent of the non-shy men responded in
the affirmative. In stark contrast, fully 63 percent of the older love-shys
together with 48 percent of the younger ones agreed that the statement
had indeed been true for them.
In an effort to get down to specifics, I then asked each man: "What
was your grade in school when you first felt a strong, romantic interest
in an age-mate of the opposite sex?" The average for the 100 older love-
shy men was grade 2.13. The average for the 200 younger love-shy men
was grade 3.52. And the average for the 200 self-confident non-shy men
was grade 6.43.
I also checked out the modes (the most frequent response) for each
of the three groups of men studied. And they were as follows: 34 percent
of the older love-shys had first become romantically interested in a girl
while in the first grade. The mode for the younger love-shys was grade
three: 29 percent of them checked that. And the mode for the self-confident
non-shys was grade nine; 38 percent of the non-shy men had not become
romantically interested in an opposite-sexed age-mate until they were
in the ninth grade.
Some readers may think that even a mean of grade 6.43 (the mean
for the non-shys) is quite young. However, research over the years has
clearly demonstrated that most middle-class children of both sexes first
become romantically interested in the fourth, fifth, or sixth grades. Dr.
Carlfred Broderick of University of Southern California, has collected
the most extensive amount of data on this subject. However, even in
the 1890s most middle-class American boys seemed to have become
romantically interested in opposite-sexed classmates by the time they
were in the fifth or sixth grades. Writing in the 1902 volume of the
AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PSYCHOLOGY, Sanford Bell cited data
(which he had obtained during the 1890s) which jibe very nicely with
the far more recent data of Professor Broderick. Parenthetically, nine-
teenth century novelist Samuel Clemens similarly seemed to have had
a keen awareness of prepubescent love. As "Mark Twain" he created the
celebrated Tom Sawyer/Becky Thatcher romance.
Many people find this phenomenon difficult to understand because
(1) they confuse sex with love, and (2) because they have forgotten their
own early romantic interests. And for some reason adult women are a good
deal more likely than adult men to forget and to make light of the
strong romantic infatuations that they had experienced during their ele-
mentary school years. It seems quite probable that erotic sexuality does
remain largely latent (at least in the industrialized world) throughout
the elementary school age period. But romantic/esthetic needs are not
the same as sexual needs. Romantic and esthetic needs seem to manifest
themselves very early and very strongly in the lives of some children.
In sum, love-shy men quite typically experience many, many long
years of intensely felt deprivation regarding the opposite sex. And this
explains why so many of them tend to be so vastly more preoccupied
and obsessed with thoughts about women, love, romance and sexuality,
than the vast majority of men. Felt deprivation tends to give rise to
preoccupations and obsession. And this psychological truism is no where
better reflected than in the lives of love-shy men.
The usual scenario in a male's development of heterosexual inter-
ests goes something like this: Between the sixth and the ninth grades
he begins to show strong romantic interests in one or more girls in his
classes. He occasionally talks with these girls and attends some parent-
supervised parties with them. By the ninth or tenth grade he begins
dating. This may be done on a group basis at the outset, but by the
middle of his tenth grade year he begins dating on a one-on-one basis.
And by the eleventh grade he begins "going steady", although his early
"steady" relationships may not remain entirely exclusive over very much
To be sure, most American males suffer some inhibitions and
twinges of shyness when they first commence becoming romantically
interested in a girl. The younger a boy is and the more beautiful the
object of his infatuation is, the greater the likelihood that these twinges
of shyness may create several weeks of emotionally painful distraction.
During these weeks he is likely to be extremely affected by the girl's
looks. And he is likely to remain too shy to start a conversation with
her or to in any way endeavor to get to know her. It is during this period
when the beautiful object of his affections will be the central figure of
his daydreams and "wish-fulfillment" fantasies.
Research has shown, however, that most American boys suffer
these periods of emotionally painful distraction and preoccupation for
just three or four weeks. For many of them these painful periods may
last for a mere fortnight or less. A teenaged boy of normal emotional
health and interpersonal skills may suffer through two or three of these
periods between the time of his initial romantic infatuation (in the sixth
grade) and the time when he actually marries--say at age 24 or there-
about. So that by the time he gets to be 25 years old he will have had
to deal with perhaps eight or nine weeks (total) of what a chronically
love-shy male experiences at all times from the time he is seven years
old until he is a very old man. The self-confident non-shy boy with
plenty of male friends and a respected place in his peer group may never
experience any such periods in his life. The somewhat less fortunate but
adequately confident young man may experience a maximum of eight
or nine weeks of such "lovelorn" periods.
Simply put, the typical love-shy man commences an intense roman-
tic preoccupation with the opposite sex when he is anywhere from kin-
dergarten age to the second or third grade. This mental set remains
intractably welded to him and intensely affects his waking state from
the earliest years of his elementary school career until old age. In con-
trast, more normally advantaged males experience these periods of intense
preoccupation for only comparatively short periods which seldom last
for more than three weeks at a time.
In most cases, once a child has actually initiated a friendship with
the object of his dreams, his preoccupations rapidly diminish. And the
more accessible the girl remains within his social environment, the less
preoccupied he will feel. In essence, to the extent that he feels the sense
of personal freedom necessary for talking with her whenever he desires,
to that extent there will be no debilitating or distracting romantic preoc-
cupation or infatuation.