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Psychology, Evolution & Gender

4.2 August 2002 pp. 149–172

Women in love and men at work
The evolving heterosexual couple?

Angie Burns
Staffordshire University

Heterosexual love is often assumed to be intimacy between two very
differently gendered beings. This paper focuses on how gender difference
is constructed in relation to love and emotionality in intimate
relationships by juxtaposing evolutionary psychological approaches with a
narrative, social constructionist and feminist approach. Evolutionary
theory, in its most common form, supports notions of ‘natural’
differences, with love for children and partner seen as part of maximizing
the reproduction of genes. In contrast, social constructionists call into
question the ‘naturalness’ of any such notions by highlighting how they
are continually reproduced through currently available linguistic resources
and narratives. From this perspective, the experience of, and emotional
approach to, heterosexual love is constrained by the stories able to speak
or write of them. After outlining these different perspectives, this paper
contributes to the debate on gender and emotion by analysing twenty-two
in-depth, one-to-one interviews with women and men about their most
important intimate relationships and love. It argues that, in talking of
intimate heterosexual relationships, pervasive assumptions of gender
differences endure in the stereotypic form of emotional female care-giver
and rational male worker. This paper raises questions the implications of
such a gender status quo for heterosexual coupledom and thus offers a
critique of research and theory which reify such differences.

Keywords: emotion, gender, discourse, love, intimate heterosexual
Psychology, Evolution & Gender
ISSN 1461-6661 print/ISSN 1470-1073 online © 2002 Taylor & Francis Ltd
DOI: 10.1080/1461666031000063629

150 Angie Burns


We hear about love from many sources, within and without the discipline
of Psychology. It is often assumed to be intimacy and attachment between
two very differently gendered beings. Fictional and factual accounts of
intimate heterosexual relationships ubiquitously depict women who want
love and men who want sex and have problems ‘committing’ and giving
love (e.g., Duncombe and Marsden 1995; Jackson 1993; Wetherell 1995).
This paper discusses love, emotion and gender by juxtaposing evolutionary
psychological approaches with a narrative, social constructionist and feminist approach. Both an evolutionary and social constructionist perspective
offer theories at a social/societal level to explain constraints on individual
behaviour. But evolutionary psychology is often characterized as seeking
‘truth’ rather than engaging in ‘politics’ (Campbell 2002) while most social
constructionists aim to be political in the sense of challenging ‘truth claims’
which support inequality by encouraging our complicity (e.g., Smith 1990).
The paper then contributes to theory and research in this area, by drawing
on the author’s own investigation of the social construction of love and
emotion in heterosexual relationships. In doing so, it raises questions about,
and sheds some light on, the form of heterosexual coupledom which is built
on the notions of the ‘emotional woman’ and the ‘unemotional man’.
Evolutionary approaches to love and intimate relationships

Common ‘knowledge’ of falling in love tends to assume there are essential
gender differences underlying (hetero)sexual attraction and sexual reproduction (e.g., Buss and Schmitt 1993). When love is grounded in sexual
and reproductive imperatives, it becomes explainable in biological and
sociobiological or evolutionary terms as part of ‘mate selection’ and ‘parental
investment’. Evolutionary theorists empirically test models of universal
human behaviour which are based on the understanding that current social
arrangements, such as ‘mating’ and parenting, are the result of successful
evolutionary strategies (e.g., Archer 2001; Buss and Schmitt 1993). If our
behaviour mimics the hypothesized behaviour of our hominid ancestors on
the Stone Age plain, then it is seen to be adaptive. For instance, on the basis
of survey statistics, when men claim to be more unfaithful than women, this
has been taken to be a consequence of both natural selection and ‘natural’
male and female behaviours based on differential reproductive strategies
available to women and men (e.g., Buss, Larsen, Westen and Semmelroth
1992; Fisher 1992).
From an evolutionary perspective, love cements pair bonding and
promotes the survival of offspring. The underlying mechanisms of human
mating are seen to be women seeking resource providers, and men seeking

For an evolutionary psychologist (e. The ‘tend and befriend’ instinct gels with the notion of a maternal drive to stay with children. Far from it. .g. the long time scale involved in evolutionary adaptation. means that evolutionary strategies seem so focused on the hunter (man)/gatherer (woman) model. and that women are very likely to be unfaithful to maximize the quality of the sperm to fertilize their eggs (Wright 1995). Nevertheless. where a woman is more limited in the number of children she can bear because of the length of the gestation period. Evolutionary psychology can and has explained that it is women who choose their partners. This gender difference is taken as adaptive. In practice. When cultural variability is considered. more associated with males (Taylor 2002). It seems to tell us more about our current social arrangements that such hypotheses and empirical findings do not appear to have been taken up as widely as those which support a gender status quo on ‘men want sex and women want love’ lines. in turn. involved parents or committed partners. that cultural variability is underplayed (Angier 1999).. and it is the concern of social constructionists that these reiterations and reifications underpin constraints on behaviour. Though Evolutionary Psychology attempts to explicate how these sorts of unconscious instincts underpin gendered human desire and behaviour. evolutionary theory has thus often functioned to explain what is taken to be ‘normal’ gendered behaviour. Recently. However.Women in love and men at work 151 attractive. Buss and Schmitt 1993). often no more than ensuring his partner’s sexual fidelity and thus her child’s paternity. Some evolutionary psychologists. while male parental investment is seen as much less certain. Highlighting a ‘tend and befriend’ instinct is intended to help us recognize that focusing on ‘fight or flight’ has been somewhat androcentric. which.. Fathering and mothering are thus often taken to follow from different emotional responses – to provide and to care respectively (Campbell 2002). leading to claims of a ‘tend and befriend’ instinct more common in females (both rats and people) to complement the better known ‘fight or flight’ instinct. has tended to justify men’s choices (rather than women’s) to be. have been attempting to avoid these phallocentric leanings. this does not seem to stem the continual reiteration of gender difference. for a man can impregnate many women to spread his genes and not stick around. Wright 1995). because it is adaptation to changing environments which is the crucial mechanism of evolution. caring and healthy females to bear and raise babies carrying his genes (e.g. however. it cannot claim that genetic inheritance explains all behaviour. such as that of high male parental investment (Campbell 2002. or not to be. gendered motivational responses to stress have been theorized and investigated. but this may still feed into the reification of emotional gender differences built on ‘factual’ biological mechanisms. rather different stories of adaptation can be told.

This means that psychological research which assumes biological or genetic causes of gender difference reproduces a gender status quo with women usually assumed as deficient in relation to men (Hare-Mustin and Marecek 1994. when asked to decide which would be most upsetting. their research remained framed by a search for gender . than women. For instance. though men reported having had more sexual partners than women. Though evolutionary psychologists are more concerned with the propagation of genes than the individual satisfaction of lovers. In relation to love and intimacy. Traditionally.152 Angie Burns Campbell 2002) gender stereotypes proceed from gender difference. Participants are commonly asked to choose one of two options pre-selected by researchers. this has allowed men more privileged access to paid work and leisure while women were kept busy at home. in the West. they were attributed to the instructions given to participants. However. an evolutionary framework has led to experiments to quantify emotional gender differences. women were more likely to find emotional infidelity more upsetting and men sexual infidelity. in an additional exploration. that women would link ‘love’ with aspects of relationships such as ‘investment’ and ‘satisfaction’. they also said they had been in love more times. Since again this did not fit with the Hendricks’s hypotheses. a scenario representing sexual infidelity or one representing emotional infidelity (Wiederman and Kendall 1999). stereotypes drive gender difference. This is not to assert that there are no differences. their assumptions impact on the latter. only that we cannot straightforwardly assess them. Hyde 1994). They found that sex was rated as most appropriate as part of the development of a relationship by both men and women. For social constructionists and many feminist researchers. from an evolutionary perspective. with more romantic partners. In comparison with their male participants. the women reported that love was more important to them. In an example concerned with love and gender differences. that they were more deeply in love and that they were more likely to be in love. while men would link ‘love’ to ‘sex’. Though the researchers conceded that men and women were more similar than different. This particular work exemplifies a reluctance to question theoretical models when researchers fail to find the emotional gender differences they expected. These were not the clearcut gender differences in orientations to love and sex which Hendrick and Hendrick had predicted. In operationalizing the variables in this way. especially in relation to infidelity. they asked psychology students to write accounts of a romantic relationship. so. or their physiological responses to different scenarios are measured and compared. Hendrick and Hendrick (1995) predicted. these sorts of studies reproduce the gender stereotypes of women as emotional and men as sexual. because they are socially mediated through language and social interaction.

couched in a language of scientific rationality. and though the meta-narrative outlined here may seem like a simplification of some of the work being done within evolutionary psychology. More challenging and sophisticated work may be being undertaken in its name. more familiar in fictional and media representations of love. Western romantic narratives. In the next section I will outline the narrative of romantic love. emotion and gender is to conceptualize them as gaining their meanings from the narratives within which they are invoked. A very different way of approaching love. so romance reading. Wetherell 1995). Mainstream psychologists seem rarely interested in those who do not match up to their hypothesized model. driven by unconscious instincts to reproduce. may be a powerful force in shaping heterosexual relationships. Averill (1985) demonstrated very effectively how a story describing a traditional whirlwind romance acted as a cultural exemplar. and question the potential consequences of accepting these differences as factual. Though love may be his quest. sex. it is her emotions which tend to drive the story. the underlying assumptions of gender difference.. An evolutionary approach reproduces its own meta-narrative of love and emotional gender differences.g. love and gendered desire. Even in more modern fictional romances. have tended to reproduce the notion of an all-consuming and idealistic love built around the stereotypic passive woman and active man. Many of his participants claimed it was very like their own love story. or more general knowledge of romantic stories. remain. we can deconstruct those meanings in order to understand how differences are created. But parading their own assumptions of normative gendered human behaviour. but evolutionary psychology still tends to reify gender differences. from their beginnings in twelfth-century French literary work (Belsey 1994). The power of the traditional love story has generated criticism from feminists who explain that the desire for romantic union has masked the .Women in love and men at work 153 difference. identities and personal experience are understood and reproduced in relation to the cultural narratives we have available. When gender is taken not as an attribute but as a system of meanings. Narratives of love Some psychologists take storytelling to be the most important way in which human beings make sense of their own lives and the lives of other people (McAdams 1995). where his life is not so constrained (e. and its inscriptions of gender difference. is bad science. From a postmodern perspective. her life story is still dominated by the possibility of their union and her future happy-ever-after. even when their stories seemed to share little detail in common with Averill’s example.

Langford 1999). The ‘pure’ relationship is pragmatic more than emotional.g. offers his undying love hoping for the heroine’s love in return. Crawford 1998. Duncombe and Marsden 1993. take up romantic subject positions (Walkerdine 1990). but romance makes it seem nicer. failing to live up to the romantic ideal (e.. before they settle down to some assumed happy domesticity. Ramazanoglu. ‘real’ women’s investment in love and romance have been seen to lead to domestic servitude rather than happy-ever-afterness (e. Firestone 1971). the male romantic hero is expected to be finally transformed by love. This approach may seem to be replacing biological determinism with cultural determinism. they just question the forms they are able to take when constrained by the narratives available to engage them. maybe on bread-winner and home-maker lines. nor passively. Radway’s (1987) participants used romance reading for emotional gratification unavailable from their husbands. rational.g. the sociologist Anthony Giddens (1992) has put forward a very different conceptualization of intimate relationships. He claims. ‘Real’ women’s complaints have often been that their men fail to be romantic and do not profess their love satisfactorily (e. Hite 1991. denying the existence of an a priori disposition to romantic desire prior to contact with romance narratives. love and gender Women’s dissatisfactions with men’s behaviour in intimate relationships offer a form of challenge to the stereotypic gender differences in . that a contemporary ‘transformation of intimacy’ has taken place in Western societies and that modern couples. Heterosexual relationships have been constructed by women participants as fraught. In a romance. However. that is intimate relationships which are democratic. viewing current relationships as falling well short of women’s expectations is not universal. Dryden 1999. Where Cinderella was released from domestic slavery by her prince. Social constructionists do not deny human desires. in the sense that he. Greer 1970. but the commitment to relationships while they remain ‘good’ suggests a shift for both men and women. Holland. Sharpe and Thomson 1998. Men and women are constructed as essentially different in romantic fiction. yet romance can bring them together. They learn that men want sex.. with little evidence. less unpleasant (McRobbie 1991). Duncombe and Marsden 1995. are engaging in ‘pure’ relationships.g. Emotion work. disappointing. and contingent upon both partners’ satisfaction. Burns 1999. Though girls do not simply. the difficulty for them is to resist romance when it ‘feels’ both ‘natural’ and personal. full of give and take. 1995.154 Angie Burns likelihood of a far from rosy future for married women. Jackson 1993). Drawing on a more therapeutic discourse. both gay and straight.. at least temporarily.

The asymmetry stems from the expectation that women will do ‘emotion work’ for men (using Hochschild’s (1983) expression) while men remain emotionally inexpressive (Duncombe and Marsden 1993) or may even work at hiding their emotions (Duncombe and Marsden 1998). along with the expectation that women will do emotion work for men. This discourse is separated only by a fine line from a utilitarian ethos that makes of others only a means to reach one’s own satisfaction or ‘selfrealization’..g. rather like Giddens. Masculinity is constructed as a concern with personal growth and achievement. the rationalized vocabulary of rights and obligations and needs [when applied to intimate relationships] may actually undermine the emotional bond it is meant to strengthen. and by being careful with their feelings to avoid their feeling bad. as a symbol of women’s disempowerment within a heteropatriarchal society (e. Illouz (1997) analysed love relations and suggested. is misplaced (Radway 1987). especially in relation to men’s perceived emotional illiteracy and avoidance of reciprocal emotion work. (Illouz 1997: 207) . woman as homemaker’ to a more recent historical site than the Stone Age plain but reproduces similar stereotypes. where others take it. Romantic narratives often seem to obscure this asymmetry. Engaging in emotion work means helping others to feel special by letting them know you care for them and admire them in order to help them feel good. Commonly accepted is a ‘feminization’ of love brought about by the separate spheres available to men and women in postEnlightenment and capitalistic cultures (Cancian 1987. Jackson 1993). Despite a focus on class rather than gender. Some feminists view women’s supposed emotional expertise as women’s strength and superiority (e. She wrote also of the dangers of undermining emotional bonds by more ‘rational’ concerns: Furthermore. romances predominantly construct desire in gendered ways which may encourage women to understand that any dissatisfactions they have with men.. she speculated this could be to women’s disadvantage if they are the partners expected to put in the major share of the work. who tend to view relationships in terms of “play” and “relaxation”’ (Illouz 1997: 206). Jackson 1993). Hite 1991). Seidler 1989). This analysis shifts the hypothetical ‘man as worker. She found partial confirmation in interviews in that ‘women are more likely to use metaphors of “work” when describing their relationships than men.Women in love and men at work 155 emotionality which so often reproduce power asymmetry in intimate heterosexual relationships (Crawford 1995. and femininity as a concern with relationships and intimacy. that self and relationships are currently likely to be viewed as projects to be worked at.g.

Stenner 1993. functions to construct men as fundamentally unable to do emotion work for others and allows any man to misunderstand pressures on him to do so. Gottman 1997). A social constructionist and discursive approach means focusing on how language constructs versions of the world. Butler 1990) have opened up academic study in this area. Women are from Venus (Gray 1992). in contrast to men. When women.. emotionally inexpressive masculinity associated with the power to silence and resist alternative forms such as the supposedly emotionally articulate ‘new men’ or gay men. The data were collected in research to . Edley and Wetherell 1995). rather than challenging. claiming these as ‘real’ and physiological differences (e. Illouz fashions emotion and rationality in the dichotomous form in which they have been so long associated. Sophisticated conceptualizations of emotion and gender as social constructions (e.. an emotionality/rationality binary is mapped onto a female/male binary. A narrative or discourse which. in particular.156 Angie Burns In this quote. biological difference even becomes a species difference! Reproductions of the complementary heterosexual couple are so pervasive they may seem to reflect ‘real’ experiences based on universal (and genetic) predispositions. Lutz 1997) or performance (e. where men are positioned as doing the sex (e. making any ‘real’ differences unknowable.. are expected to be able to ‘naturally’ do emotion work for others. Similar circumstances may be constructed differently in order to produce different versions of ‘truth’. heterosexual. though her overall analysis is much more postmodern. constructs ‘male emotional illiteracy’ as ‘normal’ and ‘natural’ for (all) men. Discourse analysis has highlighted how dominant discourses offer gendered subject positions which mean that women are much more likely to be positioned as doing the emotion/ romance in an intimate heterosexual relationship.. In contrast. has identified how women draw on a rhetoric of emotional control which has the effect of suggesting that women have more emotion than men to control. reinforcing both divides.g. many self-help books and pop psychological texts seem increasingly engaged in reproducing. for instance. Gray 1992. In Men are from Mars. a form of macho. Lupton 1998. I have set the scene in terms of disagreements about how the relationship between gender and emotion should be understood and agreements about the ways in which gender and emotion are usually played out.g. 1989.g. rather than accepting that our experience can be straightforwardly represented. Wetherell 1995). The predominance of this version of masculinity has implicated it in ‘hegemonic masculinity’ (Connell 1995. notions of ‘natural’ emotion and gendered emotional differences. The study is thus social constructionist and discursive. In doing so I will focus on how some women and men constructed their own and their partners’ emotion and emotionality in talk. Lutz. I want to contribute to this debate by drawing on my own research data.g. Hollway 1984.

Wetherell 1998). of necessity. but is partial and incomplete as are all readings. nor. In other words. one driven by the interview texts. Common ‘truths’ are constituted and evidenced by their repetition in local talk. However. I question how they may function to reproduce and reinforce common and recognizable constraints on heterosexual coupledom. over and over. My reading engages with the debate outlined in this introduction because it is driven by the ways in which participants have made emotional differences between men and women both tangible and salient. I was not seeking to tell any particular story about gender and/or emotion. everyday talk is not taken to exist in isolation from the wider contexts or worlds we inhabit. a feminist and a psychologist). the bottomup approach locates these in the specific contexts participants offered. The study Design The research findings which follow are based on discourse analysis of qualitative interviews with women and men who responded to questions about their intimate heterosexual relationships and experiences of love. Given the wider social climate in which gender and gender differences are pervasively constructed. time after time. emotionality and rationality.Women in love and men at work 157 investigate heterosexual coupledom and love. The particular analysis here focuses on how feelings and emotionality were constructed in the interviews. ‘[A]ny story bears the ineluctable traces of the social organizations and relations that are integral to the sequence of action it entails’ (Smith 1990: 217). The main focus was on what stories could be told. In accordance with discourse analytic principles. This approach reconciles top-down and bottom-up approaches to discourse analysis. The top-down approach identifies and interrogates the available and historically given set of discourses which participants drew on. I offer a reading of my interview material. The discursive approach taken is broadly that of Margaret Wetherell (1998). in different local contexts. It is thus not the only possible reading. in the interviews. These sorts of taken-for-granted or ‘common sense’ ‘truths’ were sought in analysing the interviews (Smith 1988. but also informed by my own understanding of the world (as a woman. participants also talked about gender. . I was interested to attend to ways in which gender was brought into play. Talk is both constrained by the wider context and is constraining to that wider context. At the same time. a story of gender difference at all. and in what ways (mainly top-down). In the course of individual interviews. and it is this talk that is analysed and discussed here. along with the subject positions within discourses taken up by participants. In discussing these ways.

whether they had arguments. which can be laid bare. Because of the personal nature of the research topic. in the one-to-one interviews. From a discourse-analytic perspective. All were white and British and many were educated to degree level. they should be well placed to offer accounts which could challenge stereotypic assumptions of love and gender. What can be questioned are the specific ways in which some constructions are presented as true and unchallengeable (bottom-up approach) and to question the possible consequences of their being experienced as overarching and general truths (top-down approach). and the same analytic procedure followed. in using discourse analysis to analyse interviews. recurrent topic themes were identified. I expected my participants to be questioning and reflexive. when it became ‘serious’. there is no assumption that there are knowable foundational truths about emotion and emotionality. The same semi-structured interview format was used with both women and men. whether it was important to be in love. positioning them as experts on their lives. was to ask participants about their experiences of love and heterosexual relationships. participants are taken to be ‘competent members of cultural communities’ (Edley and Wetherell 1997: 204) who will use social knowledge to create and recreate their identities and their relationships. whether they were in love. At the same time the discourse analysis was employed to do feminist research. The interviews . The explicit intention. in discoursing love. paying close attention to content and form of words.158 Angie Burns Therefore. Here the specific concern was to analyse how. They were also encouraged to talk about other people’s relationships and to add whatever they wanted about other intimate relationships they had experienced and their more general ideas about love. As a well-educated and politically aware group. Participants and qualitative interviews Eleven women and eleven men aged between 17 and late 50s took part. gender inequalities or privileges were constructed or resisted in relation to gender and emotion. whether they told each other ‘I love you’. They were asked for details of ‘their most important intimate relationship’ – how and when they met. Analytic procedure By reading and rereading the interviews. participants either knew the researcher or were introduced to her by someone she knew. The women’s interviews were conducted and analysed before the interviews with men took place. but they would still need to draw on common narratives in order to be intelligible (Wetherell 1998).

I will start with an analysis of the women’s interviews. to show how women participants positioned themselves as understanding themselves ‘in love’.Women in love and men at work 159 were then coded and subdivided into these themes. or if different positionings were attempted. but this was not what was found. emerged. their own and others’. . In describing and detailing these broad organizing patterns. The analysis therefore illuminates how women and men tended to construct love and emotion in ways which made gender salient and palpable. they were filed under all relevant themes. on the common ways in which participants constructed emotion and emotionality in their intimate relationships. Dominant pervasive discourses and subject positions were identified in a search for discursive themes which were coherent and were used by participants to make sense of their different experiences. If extracts referred to more than one theme. through discourses of emotion. and the extracts exemplify particular ways in which these patterns were deployed discursively. The interview texts were attended to in detail. variability and contradictions within and across the interviews. and the particular analysis here focuses on how the interviewees positioned themselves in relation to love and emotionality in intimate relationships. while positioning men as more uncomfortable with emotions. Analysis The interview data were very rich. While discussing a wide range of different relationships. I consider how their being offered as ‘truths’ might impact on expectations of intimate relationships themselves. broad patterns of understanding emotion. in particular. with excerpts chosen to illustrate and detail how some broad organizing principles seemed to be at play in the interviews. These were contextualized within broad historical and cultural concerns as well as in contexts offered by the participants. I was not seeking gender differences and had hoped to find stereotypic gender categories challenged in the interviews. The interview material relating to each theme was read and reread. continually questioning how emerging concepts could be understood differently were they not taken for granted as permanent or fixed. Reading for gist was thus avoided so that articulated assumptions were opened up to analysis. In this way it was possible to focus on the similarities. The analysis here focuses.

songs and poems. I don’t know what to do [GINA]. It’s quite horrible really. but in ways which heightened the drama. I’m so like when I’m at work. The proffered extraordinariness of this experience ensured that it was recognized as the romantic love articulated in love stories. they were offered intelligibility by comparison with a common shared peculiar experience of falling in love (see Averill 1985). for instance. . the songs and the poems and all that. I mean it was just like that and um [BARBARA]. The women participants talked about love in ways which emphasized they understood the experience of being in love as something deeply felt. As Barbara says about the relationship she refers to as ‘my ill-fated love affair’: . The consequences of not adding milk to a coffee seem not too dire. just little things I wouldn’t normally do. And I just don’t know what to do. I mean I didn’t believe it until it happened to me. . I mean I dream about it a lot and at work the other day I nearly threw (something in the wrong place) and took someone a black coffee instead of a white coffee. Gina. Yet. Ss. I think about it a lot. I want it to go away but. The women’s stories of romance were also heightened by talking of their attempting to. overwhelming and hard to resist. each women participant talked of themselves as ‘in love’ or ‘falling in love’. control . Their being subject to such powerful emotions. you know. explaining this was about experiencing powerful and strange feelings. in talking about her possibly unrequited passion. though the women’s experiences of love were often described as ‘weird’ and ‘odd’. but failing to. however. it seems to me such an extraordinary (laughs) experience that it sort of intrigues me even now ’cos it – it sort of fitted the criteria of falling in love. You know what I mean. said: It’s sort of taking up my life a bit really. you can’t help how you feel. The actual details do not have to be particularly serious to tell a dramatic and recognizable love story (see Averill 1985). I’m so sort of in control and I just don’t feel that at the moment.160 Angie Burns The women’s interviews ‘Women in love and men at sea’: love as peculiar and powerful feelings Women as emotional In talking about their most important intimate relationships. was also constructed as problematic.

. she can show how much she cares. Not. or less emotional than women I’ve been off all morning ’cos he’s going to stay at his friend’s for two weeks and I really wanted him to be devastated about it. nothing specific but I’ve just got this great fear of him dying. indicating her goals and desires. or much less so. And he says he has a bit with me but it doesn’t seem to bother him that much like as me. Like Zoe. his being reasonable. For example. in talking about her long-term relationship with her boyfriend: I just keep thinking I don’t know what I’m gonna do if we split up ’cos I couldn’t imagine being without him. . By being irrational and emotional. I mean emotionally he was very closed off and I think he began to get very alarmed about what he was getting into and he felt incredibly guilty I think about having an affair with a married woman with children so he would – every time we seemed to get very close it would be followed by immediate withdrawal where he would go very distant and was unreachable. Men as unemotional. having to wait for the hero to act so she can respond. mapping it onto a male/ female polarity (see Lupton 1998. Zoe said. he had a horror of sort of scenes or people displaying excesses of feeling so that made him even more inclined to pull out [BARBARA].Women in love and men at work 161 their emotions (see Lutz 1997). Zoe draws on a rational/emotional dichotomy. Zoe was also reflexive and talked of feeling ‘stupid’ saying this. I know I am. He had a. But. But I really wanted him to be upset [ZOE]. the heroine tends to be unable to direct the relationship. is not romantic. . . Lutz 1997). In romantic narratives. Her boyfriend is constructed as failing to reciprocate these feelings. . when Zoe isn’t. . other women participants tended to suggest their male partners were understandably (though problematically) emotionally inexpressive or ‘closed off ’. When being upset and being emotional is constructed as a gauge of love. to herself and anyone she tells. Positioning herself as ‘irrational’ and her partner as not. I’m just unreasonable. And he’s just like ‘Oh I’ll come back every day’ and that but I don’t know what is wrong with me. the emotions of the heroine drive the story. I feel stupid saying it ’cos it’s a bit irrational heh (laughs) [ZOE]. . Barbara said this of a man with whom she had been in a five-year relationship. you know.

she ran off with his best friend which sort of like cut him up a lot.162 Angie Burns Barbara analysed this ex-relationship and suggested that had he been more emotionally open. So he sort of um after about um. to cut a long story short. by her. women seem to give their male partners permission to behave in this way as this is taken to be men behaving ‘normally’. Several occasions we could have split up but I suppose I proved to him I’m not going to do that. We can read here how Gina has positioned herself as the one who has done the emotion work to get them through problems associated with his unarticulated emotions. And er that was his first sort of serious relationship and so he was pretty screwed up and he thought I was going to do the same thing. . you know. He’d only been out with her about three months but he was very keen on her and. argumentative and whatever. heterosexual masculinity. emotionally inarticulate. This seems to be one of the ways in which the romantic narrative employed here allocates men power by excusing them from openly engaging with emotion or taking their partners’ emotions into account. When I was first going out with him. you know. In the following extract Gina showed she understood her current boyfriend’s feelings and why he had behaved as he did. you know [GINA]. and this is commensurate with the notion of hegemonic masculinity. then her emotion might have dissipated. you see. Men’s emotional inarticulateness was constructed by women participants as something they understood. Using humour and irony. he started to be a bit unreliable and a bit. . of macho. like Men from Mars! (Gray 1992). after about a month of going out with him. expected and could cope with. Barbara’s construction of her ex-partner as emotionally closed off allows his feelings to be partly assumed. The way in which men’s feelings were made palpable in the women’s stories seems to obviate any need to express them. you know. I really didn’t know and I think that fuelled his attractiveness to me and kept that sort of feeling going. I really didn’t know what was going on in his head. His lack of expressiveness. By telling stories of how they understood (rather than challenged) men’s lack of emotional reciprocity. he he’d er had this ex-girlfriend. Whereas I think that if he had kind of revealed himself and been very open that wouldn’t have been there [BARBARA]. . has the effect of making women’s love stories more dramatic and more emotional. like women’s articulated (over)emotionality. the women participants tended to be very .

he’d wanted an ‘in love’ relationship. A less emotional. The men’s interviews ‘Men at work’: love as work The male participants presented themselves as rational and sensible beings. One of the other things about her and our relationship was a sense that something like that is. using men’s difficulties with emotions and unsatisfactory lack of emotional reciprocation as a way of enhancing the romance. other men problematized emotional intensity. . When pressed about ‘these funny feelings’. okay. The men’s interviews tended to do something subtly different. Michael described his most important relationship as passionate. At the same time. stuff [MICHAEL]. The discourse of romantic love. Paul. by definition. but couldn’t seem to manage to have a good relationship without problems if there were feelings of being ‘in love’. something transient. wedded an emotional woman to an emotionally inexpressive man. Paul conceded he was pulling my leg! However. they could tell highly romantic stories. And that once – you see you have this intensity of feeling for someone and the feeling that maybe the day-to-day level of existence is just not going. and thus they might be seen to be partly engaging in disempowering themselves. Jon found it difficult to decide which was his most important relationship because. constructing it as transient. And so it might be better sometimes to have a relationship where that isn’t there. rather than emotional or emotionally repressed creatures. closed off from their own emotions or needing to escape from their partner’s.Women in love and men at work 163 critical of their own powerful emotions while they also protected and excused men from having to engage mutually. though. workaday approach was promoted as an alternative to romantic passion. Men as rational and as workers One participant. of doing the romance for him as well as for themselves (see also Burns 1999). is going to mean losing it. asserted that ‘Men don’t have these funny feelings’. you know. with someone you’re not in love with because then you’re not so disappointed that it’s so (laughing) it’s so um daily. but articulated problems with this. as he explained. which underlay the women’s interviews. unsustainable and ultimately destructive to a relationship.

I met Jan at a particular time in my life when I was actually trying to construct a new identity that fitted who you need to be as an adult. their decisions. especially personal growth work. if I had reached the same circumstances that I’m now in. When you’re ready. For instance: . culturally. . . this was not achieved without some contradictions emerging in participants’ accounts. That fitted um trying to produce an identity that would carry me forward. I am reasonably sure that certain relationships would have worked in my life. their choices. their lives. politically. a pervasive construction was that the head could. changing opinions. . I think it is important to be in love. and should. tended to construct their own experiences of love and intimacy in line with rational decision-making. Simon said of meeting his now long-term partner: . The male participants. in these different ways. the mind can overrule the heart [ROBIN].164 Angie Burns I mean I’ve had a relationship since and it only lasted about two months. and suggested a male transformation. yea yea. You need to find someone at that moment in time that is moving in the same direction so that when you lock in you both move in a similar direction. In the men’s interviews. because you’re constantly evolving. Because at the end of the day. not into a romantic hero but into a man who could at least talk of recognizing that relationships were important. a nice relationship and be in love [JON]. It’s a hit and miss affair. a discourse which constructed relationships as contexts within which one could do work. Erm erm so. Um I I don’t see love as a there’s only one. er but there was all kinds of other problems (laughing tone) associated with this. You know that fitted needing to have paid employment. Um and I I do believe that there is choice. rather than on feelings. Choice of partner was also associated with constructing a male identity. And I felt that I was in love and I felt that I had this connection. I identified this as drawing on ‘the work discourse of relationships’. I don’t seem to be able erm have the two together. Here Robin is talking about a long-term ongoing relationship: . like in the years after leaving university [SIMON]. It’s it’s almost. What was very important was to find a partner who fitted your life. . overrule the heart. In this way they could talk about intimate relationships built on work and doing. you happen to meet someone else who has a similar outlook and I think that’s vital. So. However. you know.

these hadn’t occurred to me before . that was the centre of the life. Work could be very important.Women in love and men at work 165 What. you know. And really I’d. constructed passionate feeling and caring as how you do intimacy and love. as drawn on by the women. which seemed surprising when the women did not. But a relationship could be something that was sustaining. You have to keep renovating it and doing it up. for instance. of a relationship and it’s something that you have to keep working at. Tim talked about his long-term relationship and his ideas about love: I think love is part and parcel of a. as an understandable response to ‘being in love’ and loving one’s partner. Was all those kind of things. Though women participants constructed themselves as doing emotion work for men through the powerful feelings they talked of having for them. with ongoing relationships and love as in need of constant work and vigilance. what had hit me between the eyes was the possibility of. And you can’t take. things go wrong. If you stand still. of a. of having a relationship with a woman. . . these hadn’t. So it wasn’t work that was the centre of your life. used the analogy of DIY: Things have to move forward otherwise there’s no point having them [relationships]. they did not label this as ‘working at’ relationships. and you can’t take people for granted. it was an opportunity [being in a relationship] for you to grow as a person. the work discourse of relationships allowed the men to explicitly construct intimacy as work. And you can’t just assume that it’s going to be there all the time. Like a house. otherwise (laughs) it just falls apart [DANIEL]. as a man. However. it was never very clear what this work was. but or or whatever. The discourse of romantic love. . In contrast. um that was was enriching. . . except for saying ‘I love you’ and making time to see each other. This seems different from what Illouz (1997) suggested. . Daniel. The contradiction here is that Simon’s personal revelation that relationships could be as important as paid work suggests a previous position from which relationships were not central to his life. Because if you do I think the love might actually go away from that relationship [TIM]. of someone. for me to grow as a person [SIMON]. you can’t take the relationship. The male participants also talked explicitly of ‘working at relationships’.

And that’s because they’re able to put their theory into practice very well [NICK]. very – quite confrontational person. Women engendering emotional intensity Women were sometimes implicated in producing the extremes of emotion in men’s relationships. they tended to talk quite abstractly. I mean she’s normally a very compassionate person. . . when talking about their general ideas of intimate relationships. within my own colleagues. so she did spark very strong responses in other people. those that do and those that don’t. mostly about themselves and much less about their partners.166 Angie Burns The male participants tended to construct themselves as knowledgeable about relationships and able to do love but in an unemotional way. they could resist emotional subject positions and. People would fall in love with her very easily and get very intensely involved with her [MICHAEL]. . which sidestepped their having to be ‘in love’. In the following extracts. And I suppose in my job I have a choice to either put into practice some of the theory that I know. Here Michael and Ian are talking about ex-partners. She was very attractive. Well my job is relationships. . romantic or emotionally ‘out-of-control’. And a lot of my adult life has been spent. . Drawing on the work discourse of relationships allowed men to position themselves and their personal growth and achievement as central to successful intimate heterosexual relationships. Within this discourse. And I see around me. I suppose you’d call it psychotherapeutic/spiritual work on relationships. working or being reflective about the way I approach women and intimate relationships [IAN]. I’ve already shown earlier how female partners were sometimes constructed as suitable if they fitted in with the men’s life and identity. as can be read in the extracts. Nick and Ian drew on their personal or professional expertise to do this. . women were constructed as more likely than men to create emotional intensity. . erm or not. . In some ways. Paul’s ‘joke’ only makes sense if we recognize that women may have ‘funny feelings’. . . but quite vivacious. too. but . she would get extremely upset and er her her pain which we both agreed linked in with her early childhood would be all be projected onto me . I mean there are some very very stable couples who obviously do well. I’ve done a lots of. .

and thus stigmatizing women (Lupton 1998). Conclusions: evolving heterosexual coupledom? Identifying two broad discourses or narratives. love and intimate relationships . This is commensurate with research into the social construction of emotionality which has suggested that women’s feelings are often construed as engulfing men. I mean I was quite willing to be understanding and help her work through it.But I did want her to take responsibility for it being her stuff . constructing emotionality as a lack of selfcontainment. Thus women and men seemed to construct two different sorts of emotion work. In contrast. constructing as preferable a version of themselves as able to work at relationships. this was not always done in ways which criticized women. Ian constructed his ex as ‘extremely’ emotional and needing to ‘work’ through it. Though the male participants tended to ascribe emotional intensity externally and to their partners. the men were able to resist being ‘in love’. Such engulfment is seen to threaten men’s independence upon which their masculinity is assumed to be built. The analysis is not claiming that women and men are different. though it has inevitably glossed over some complexity and variability. but that they tend to draw differently on two broad narratives to talk about their emotions and intimate relationships. reproducing themselves as rational in ways they suggested were most appropriate to ‘doing’ heterosexual intimacy and love. one around having feelings for partners and the other around working at intimacy. The women tended to tell a romantic love story built around a version of male emotional inexpressivity and difficulty with feelings in contrast with their own emotional intensity and expressivity. It wasn’t like I wanted her to pretend it wasn’t there. In this way. [IAN]. But this would fail to grapple with the very complex ways in which gender. And er I obviously wanted her to basically stop doing it basically. Some evolutionary psychologists might well take these articulations of gender and gender difference in the interviews as evidence of essential different natures of women and men. but it did tend to subtly construct women as more emotional than men. .Women in love and men at work 167 and I’d find this extremely uncomfortable. The ‘right’ emotions are ‘produced’ rather than being irrational or out of control (unproductive) feelings. the work discourse of relationships resists the discourse of romantic love and instead constructs heterosexual relationships in line with a Protestant work ethic. the romantic and the workaday has made sense of a wide range of disparate interview material. Where we can read Michael’s extract as quite positive about his ex-partner. . and that these broad narratives organize gender and emotion differently.

From a discursive perspective. the men’s interviews mirrored Giddens’s (1992) version of the ‘pure’ relationship and offered a democratic account. Though women and men have constructed rather different versions of the world.. this seems at odds with notions of gender difference. this highlights the social context in which gender difference is pervasively reproduced by being inscribed in dominant discourses. However. they have drawn on. the stories of love offered here have tended to reproduce the ‘emotional woman’ and ‘emotionally inexpressive’ or ‘unemotional man’. From the interviews I’ve identified the stories of the supposed ‘post-feminist’. From an evolutionary perspective. postmodern man taking relationships seriously in order to enhance his personal growth with a not too emotional woman or the repressed. the ways in which women and men are constructed as different. derives from the available discourses being differentially available to women and men. The model of the complementary emotional woman and unemotional man was given different meanings in the women’s and men’s interviews. From a discursive perspective. For the men. Sampson 1993). by themselves and by each other. undermine their position if they acknowledge their privileged position (e. 1998). they could be seen to be avoiding being positioned as male chauvinists or men ‘who can’t commit’. Whether we take a narrative or evolutionary approach. From a feminist perspective. they also positioned themselves as masters of their relational universe. whether gender is a performance or natural predisposition. Women participants constructed men as special by articulating their powerful emotions for their male partners. But the analysis here has gone beyond ‘truth values’ to question how these reproductions were used to characterize men’s and women’s relative importance. this may be seen as more problematic. emotionally inexpressive male and an (over)emotional woman. though they subtly drew on a discourse which allowed them to sound equitable. by talking of taking relationships seriously. the medieval knight tourneying for his lady’s favours. Rather than people being predisposed to behave along gender lines. for those who have power. Of particular interest here is how the men’s constructions of emotion in intimate relationships seemed to involve fewer explicit assumptions of gender dissimilarity and less asymmetry than the women’s stories. by virtue of their position in both the social and symbolic order.168 Angie Burns were produced in the interviews. function to point up the specialness of men and their centrality to heterosexual coupledom (see Holland et al. the postindustrial male worker receiving a family wage as head of the family and . such as the evolutionary discourse of evolved gender differences. the versions of intimacy.g. In such a hierarchy. differences between women and men become reified and carry on a line of stereotypic evocations of heterosexual coupledom – the cave man dragging the cave woman by her hair.

into the experience of intimate heterosexual relationships themselves. goes beyond academic concern. Thus.Women in love and men at work 169 ‘keeping’ his wife. From a social constructionist and discursive perspective. these discourses point to. which in turn. how gender difference is continually taken to be an organizing principle of intimate heterosexual relationships. However. have made sense of the complicated ways in which emotion and gender were done when talking about intimate heterosexual relationships. The discourses offered different types of relationship narrative yet both tended to reproduce a gender status quo with ‘woman as emotional carer’ and ‘man as rational worker’. Both the discourse of romantic love and the work discourse of relationships pose problems for attempts to articulate heterosexual relationships which are equitable and fulfilling for both women and men. they have a long way to go. I have attempted to detail. as any other. so the analysis is not an end in itself. Thus. My reading. Accepting this as evidence of ‘real’ and ‘factual’ gender difference reinforces the power of such organizing principles to inhabit our ways of talking about relationships. I have offered a particular reading of my data which engages with participants’ constructions of gender and emotion. the articulation of gender differences by participants is unsurprising in a wider social world in which differences are routinely researched and anticipated. but an encouragement to discussing such constraints on heterosexual coupledom. But a critical discursive perspective is concerned to understand and challenge discourses which allocate power unequally by failing to acknowledge the assumptions involved in its articulation. It is not the role of evolutionary psychology to be concerned with equity and personal fulfilment. this highlights their pervasiveness. because questioning who is labelled ‘emotional’. . which I’ve identified as the work discourse of relationships and the discourse of romantic love. as attempts to narrativize the heterosexual couple evolving equitably. This is crucial. how. when and by whom. as its role is to explain current circumstances. the identification of different (and competing) discourses also opens up more possibilities for resistance. The assumptions addressed here were gender difference and what is considered appropriate emotionality. reproduce and reinforce this version of gender relations. constraints on relationships themselves. and trying to effect change. and have suggested some implications. is partial and ‘always-already incomplete’ (Stenner 1993: 130). When emotional gender differences are mobilized in different ways in two broad discourses. and reproduce. The broad patterns. both in theory and empirical research. through repetition.

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