False Facts About Men People Always Assume Are True

When I was getting my master's degree in counseling psychology, I took a course called Counseling Men. It was one of my top three favorite classes in all of grad school (and probably my entire education). Not only did it really make me think about the ways men might approach counseling differently, it opened my eyes to the way men's experiences and later behaviors are shaped not only by their own lives, but by societal pressures that we virtually never hear about or don't consider.

I learned that so many of the things we assume about boys and men are patently untrue, something our professor further illustrated by having each of us interview a man in our life. It made me wonder, what else do people assume about men that just isn't true when it comes to relationships, health, and just general, everyday living? I reached out to some experts to find out.

They don't have body image issues

We all know that the expectations for female beauty are ubiquitous, but we often incorrectly assume that these expectations and the resulting body image issues that can occur are limited to women. Men feel the weight of them too.

"Health and wellness obsession is a large part of our culture, especially in the age of social media," said New York City-based therapist Kimberly Hershenson. "It is a false belief that men do not have similar pressures to women regarding body image. Men deal with the same social pressures and messages as women that being healthy leads to a higher quality life."

Hershenson told me that unlike women, men typically are more concerned with building muscle as opposed to looking thin. "Fixating on nutrition's role in enhancing performance and reaching ideal muscle mass may even lead to disordered eating in men if the fixation becomes an obsession," she said.

Most men go through a midlife crisis

You know the stereotype: the man in his 40s or 50s (maybe even 60s) suddenly decides he needs to dye his hair, buy a convertible, and find a woman half his age to date. It's become so prevalent in popular culture that we all just sort of assume this is something that every man in his midlife is right on the verge of doing.

Professional counselor Bill Prasad told me this isn't true for many reasons. "First, we all (men and women) reach places in our lives where we take great pause for examination," he said. "Sometimes, it is in our 30s, 40s, 50s, or 60s. We may look back with fondness and look forward with focus. We may realize that we have been putting things off and saying we will do it 'someday,' then realize that we have fewer days ahead than behind us and that now is the time to get that master's degree or get married or travel or buy that expensive car."

Prasad emphasized that this isn't a crisis and can, in fact, be a necessary part of life.

They are less emotional than women

This is one of the myths that was dispelled during my graduate coursework and in the clients I've seen both in counseling and personal training. Unfortunately, it's still being perpetuated. Natalie Moore, a psychotherapist, told me that men are capable of experiencing the same range and depth of emotion as women, if they open themselves up to it.

"The reason why we perceive men as 'less emotional' than women is because in our society, from birth, males are socialized to hide their emotions, through implicit (and even explicit) messages such as 'boys don't cry,' 'be a man,' 'buck up,' etc.," Moore said. "Unfortunately, emotions do build up and need to be expressed somehow, which often leads to men venting feelings in the form of frustration, anger, and rage — the only types of emotions that are socially acceptable for males to display."

They handle rejection better

Because we assume that men are less emotional than women, we expect them to remain stoic even in the face of rejection. Dr. Felicia Clark, the founder of Body Peace University, told me that not only do women hold this false belief about men, they punish them for it.

"Women expect men to approach and pursue women, but reject men flat and cold when they are not interested," she said. "Men aren't born with a rejection gene. This leaves men approaching women who look like they will say 'yes' as opposed to approaching every woman they find attractive."

They're more likely to cheat

Along the lines of assuming men want sex all the time is the myth that they're more likely to cheat than women. After all, if they're constantly on the prowl for sex, they'll get it wherever they can, right? Setting aside the fact that many people who cheat don't do it for the sex, many of us assume that men have a harder time with fidelity than women.

Bennett told me that while this may have been true at one point in time, it isn't any longer. "A recent Kinsey Institute study found that for the first time in history, female and male infidelity rates are equal," he said. "While at one time, males cheated more than females (at least based on what people admitted), the newest research shows that both sexes are just as likely to cheat. The male rate has held steady over the last few decades, while the female rate has increased dramatically."

They talk less than women

We don't often think of men as being particularly chatty. In fact, the "strong silent type" is something of a male archetype. But where did this notion begin? After all, it turns out to not be true.

In a 2007 study, researchers used voice recorders to monitor how much college students talked over several days during the hours they were awake. The recorders turned on every 12.5 minutes and recorded for 30 seconds. The researchers then listened to, transcribed, and counted the words (which I'm sure wasn't menial at all). They found that both males and females averaged around 16,000 words per day. Another fun fact? The most talkative person in the entire study was a man!

It turns out men just have to feel like what they have to say is worthwhile to say it. If you're showing interest in what they have to say, you may just end up with a Chatty Chad.

They're afraid of commitment

When we think about couples moving toward commitment, we generally imagine a woman doing the pushing. The stereotype that men are afraid of commitment may be the result of the different ways men display their commitment from how women display theirs.

Terri DiMatteo, a relationship and couples counselor, explained the difference. "Men demonstrate their love and commitment by being present. By being there," she told me. "Simply 'showing up' is their way of demonstrating their commitment."

So if you think your man isn't ready to commit just because he hasn't bought you that flashy diamond ring yet, look around at the other things he does for you. Is he supporting your goals and ambitions? Is he helping you with housework? Is he making an effort to see you and show you that he appreciates you? The commitment just might already be there, ring or no ring.

All men are macho — and that's the ideal

You know the drill: men love sports, fixing cars, telling dirty jokes, and scratching where the sun doesn't shine. We live in a society that lauds macho male behavior and insists "boys will be boys" to explain roughhousing while praising a man for his ability to perform any kind of household repair. The only problem is that males aren't always dominant or well-suited for those types of things. Many of them have no interest in it, either.

People are shocked when I tell them my boyfriend doesn't enjoy sports (I'm the sports lover between the two of us). It's as if masculinity hinges on whatever society considers macho in the moment. While this stereotype could just be considered annoying, it can actually be harmful, especially when it leads to men not asking for help.

Research has shown that the more a man buys into these ideas of masculinity, the less likely he is to see a doctor for preventive care. What's the big deal? Researchers think this helps explain why men die younger than women, despite having more resources. They simply don't go to the doctor because it isn't the "manly" thing to do. Luckily we're becoming more accepting, and maybe even encouraging, of men who don't take a macho or dominant role. Hopefully as this shift occurs, more men will feel comfortable with their masculinity in whatever form it takes.

Differences do exist

It would be unfair to say that there are no differences between men and women, but it's equally unfair to say that all men are the same (and inherently different from women). Like any stereotype, we find that men are a bit more complicated and unique than what society has led us to believe.

While the societal pressures put on men from the time they're born threaten to perpetuate all of these stereotypes, the more we acknowledge the truth about men's unique emotional, physical, and social experiences, the closer we'll get to understanding which differences are important and which we may see fade into the background in the coming decades.