Masculinity and emotional intimacy: How social networks can affect emotional intimacy in romantic relationships
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As of now, a disparity exists between rates of emotional intimacy expressed by men as compared to women in the United States (Levant & Richmond, 2016). Emotional intimacy, defined as an individual’s willingness to be open, honest, genuine, and willingness to be one’s true self, can assist in building trust in a romantic relationship (Laborde, vanDommelen-Gonzolez, & Minnis, 2014). Men in the United States engage in less emotional intimacy expression than women, despite the fact that both men and women benefit from the connection and trust emotional intimacy can bring (Levant & Richmond, 2016). The gender disparity in emotional intimacy expression may be due to U.S standards of masculinity. Masculinity in the United States places an emphasis on emotional stoicism, as well as promiscuity in relationships (Kimmel, 2015), potentially impacting the learning of appropriate emotionally intimate behaviors. For example, emotionally intimate behaviors such as affectionate touch are often viewed as feminine, and are frequently frowned upon in highly masculine social circles, especially by other men (Pascoe, 2007).
A growing body of research has suggested that individuals’ social networks (i.e., friends, families) often have a significant impact on their romantic relationships experiences. Sprecher (2011) found that individuals within a social network directly influence friends’ choice of romantic partner, and commitment to the relationship. Moreover, social networks’ opinions of prospective partners are predictive of whom individuals will choose to date, and how serious those relationships become (Macdonald & Ross, 1999; Yahya & Boag, 2014). It is possible then that a more emotionally intimate and expressive social network might influence individuals within that social network to behave more intimately with their friends, as well as with their partners. The present study uses experimental methods and hypothetical vignettes to examine how the perception of engagement of emotional intimacy in men’s friend groups may affect perceptions of engagement of emotional intimacy in men’s romantic relationships in both public and private situations. Current predictions suggest that the more emotional intimacy one perceives in a social network, the more one would expect an individual within that social network to engage in emotional intimacy with their romantic partner in both public and private settings.
Participants in this study, recruited via MTurk for nominal compensation, will be self-identified heterosexual men between the ages of 18-50 whom currently reside in the United States. Participants will be randomly assigned to read one of four brief vignettes which present a hypothetical social network that exhibits low or high rates of affectionate touch, as well as low or high rates of masculine attributed behaviors (e.g., low emotional expression, professional motivation, and athleticism). Following the vignettes, participants will complete the Affectionate Communication Index, a 19 item standardized survey designed to measure levels of affectionate communication within a romantic relationship.
Significant findings might help clinicians better understand the disparity in emotional intimacy for men in the United States, and can assist in developing a dialogue with men about healthy emotional expression. Understanding of the effects of masculinity within a social network could also assist in removing the stigma around male emotional expressiveness, and help men feel more comfortable expressing emotions other than those generally accepted by masculine gender norms.
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