Love-shy people may find it difficult, if not impossible, to be assertive in informal situations involving potential romantic or sexual partners. For example, a heterosexual love-shy man may in some cases have trouble initiating conversations with women because of strong feelings of social anxiety.
The topic of 'love-shyness', with that phrase used verbatim, has been cited over 200 times in academic literature. For example the term appeared in a peer reviewed, personality psychology journal and a peer reviewed family research journal.
There exists close to 7-8 near identical terms to, "love-shy", that are used in sexology and psychological research, including, but not limited to, "love avoidance".
Different views on love-shyness
Some psychologists believe that love-shyness can exist without the presence of phobias or anxiety disorders, like social phobia or social anxiety disorder—that it can be focused only on issues related to intimacy and not be related to other problems. Others believe that, regardless of whether love-shyness is tied to other social anxiety problems, it nevertheless develops its own unique issues that must be attended to in order to effect the fullest recovery for the afflicted individual; that, regardless of the causes, the long-term course of a love-shy person's life is profoundly affected in unique ways, because of the unique and paramount importance of personal intimacy in one's life, thereby setting love-shyness apart from other phobias and requiring special therapeutic attention and support.
Love-shyness may be a stand-alone phobia (independent of other phobias), or may also be a subset of social anxiety disorder, also sometimes called social phobia. Some psychologists also hold that avoidant personality disorder can in some cases be an underlying cause of intimacy avoidance or love-shyness in certain individuals. Some also refer to love-shyness as erotophobia or genophobia although both are also seen by some as being a much more narrowly-defined problem than love-shyness (tied only to sex and not having the broader spectrum of love-shyness, which is seen as being more multi-dimensional). Others would define erotophobia as one type of love-shyness. In some cases, another specific phobia, body dysmorphic disorder (a phobia of being seen as physically unattractive) may also be an underlying cause of love-shyness. "Love avoidant", is a common colloquial synonym of love-shy.
The origin of love-shyness
The term "love-shyness" was originally coined by psychologist Brian Gilmartin, who estimated that love-shyness afflicts approximately 1.5% of American males and will prevent about 1.7 million U.S. males from ever marrying or experiencing intimate sexual contact with women. Gilmartin also conducted research studies and formulated treatment and prevention protocols for love-shyness.
The sociologist Brian G. Gilmartin coined the term Love-shyness and created its theoretical framework. Gilmartin performed several scientific studies of chronically dateless men in the early 1980s, and discovered several patterns among them. He collated and explained the theory in the seminal book Shyness and Love, the first academic book about love-shyness to use the term, 'love-shy', has been reviewed by contemporary psychology multiple times
Gilmartin had six criteria for each "love-shy man" he included in his study:
- He is a virgin.
- He rarely goes out socially with women more than just friends.
- He has no history of any emotionally close, meaningful relationships of a romantic and/or sexual nature with any member of the opposite sex.
- He has suffered and is continuing to suffer emotionally because of a lack of meaningful female companionship.
- He becomes extremely anxiety-ridden over so much as the mere thought of asserting himself vis-a-vis a woman in a casual, friendly way.
- He is strictly heterosexual in his romantic and erotic orientations.
Gilmartin's research and observations
Gilmartin's data collection included only heterosexual men. According to Gilmartin, people of all ages, all races, all sexual orientations, and all genders can be love-shy. However, in Gilmartin's opinion, the negative effects of love-shyness manifest themselves primarily in heterosexual men. He studied 200 love-shy college students (aged 19–24), 100 older love-shy men (aged 35–50), and a comparison group of 200 "non-shy", "highly social" college students.
When psychological conditions are analyzed, usually the mental state is most focused on. However, physical symptoms are just as important. In Shyness and Love, Gilmartin states:
“Indeed, if one were to predict among a large group of elementary school boys just exactly who is likely to go on to a life of chronic and painful love-shyness, there does not appear to be any better or more readily observable medical predictor than that of difficulties involving the nose.” (p. 366)
He then states that the ability to breathe through the nose is associated with the feeling of freedom. This is also important in school athletics. As a result, many love-shy children don’t breathe properly, and are left out from many team sports. Usually, this form of sinus congestion is genetic, and surgically treated.
Temperament and personality
The love-shy men in Gilmartin's sample had significant differences in temperament from the non-shy men. They scored significantly lower on extroversion, and higher on neuroticism than the non-shy men on the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire. In Hans Eysenck's terms, they had a "melancholic" temperament. Most of the love-shy men (and only few of the non-shy men) reported that their mothers had often said that they had been quiet babies, which Gilmartin suggests is evidence that love-shys are more likely to fit Jerome Kagan's description of behavioral social inhibition. A number of the men also had a difficult time being born and sometimes needed a c-section to be performed.
A minority of the younger love-shys had some feelings of optimism in getting their problems fixed while all of the older love-shys felt very pessimistic about their problems and also felt cynical about women and the world in general. The older men expressed more anger in their interviews while the younger men were calmer. Very few on either side delved into drugs or alcohol. However, both had similar interests such as art and swimming. For the most part, competitive sports were not liked by either age grouping. Both age groupings were also very spiritual in terms of their ideological leanings.
The men had various degrees of sensitivity to things such as touch, taste, light, and other forms of stimuli. They tended to be more hypersensitive than the non-shy men.
Interactions with peers and family life
Social isolation and experiences of being bullied
Most of the love-shy men, but none of the non-shy men, reported never having any friends; not even acquaintances. The vast majority of love-shy men reported being bullied by children their own age due to their inhibitions and interests, while none of the non-shy men did, and love-shy men were less likely to fight back against bullies. Around half of the love-shy men reported being bullied or harassed as late as high school, while none of the non-shy men did. Even as adults, the love-shy men reported remaining friendless and abused by other people. Love-shy men reported this lack of acceptance by others as causing them to feel excessively lonely and depressed. However, this also caused the men not to want anything to do with same-sex individuals.
Family of origin issues
From the data Gilmartin uncovered about the love-shy's family life, they grew up in dysfunctional families.
Most of the men reported that their parents and societal attitudes pressured them into being "real boys" because of the men's personalities as children. A huge portion of the men also suffered from physical abuse by their parents and often could not rely on them for emotional support. This also extended to their relatives and even as adults still could not rely on them for emotional support. It is possible that their parents' abuse and uncaring attitude to their son's emotions, desires and interests were responsible for part of their social inhibitions. Even as grown men, the love-shy men's parents expressed that they were disappointed to have them as sons and still belittled them for their current situations. Most were upset that their sons never married and had no grandchildren to leave their heirlooms to. It was also stated that they seldom or even never visited their sons. Ironically, though most of the love-shy men disliked or even hated their parents, they visited them constantly, because they were the only people they could interact with and also to receive financial support despite also receiving heavy hazing. This hazing would cause the men to feel very depressed and heart-broken. This is stated in the chapters of his book "Parents as a Cause for Love-shyness" and "The Family as a Hot Bed for Rage and Belittlement".
In his recruited samples, Gilmartin had found 86% of the non-shy younger men had a sister around while growing up, as opposed to 41% of the love-shy younger men, with 29% of the love-shy older men never having had a sister. In the same groups, over 50% of the non-shy young group had grown up with at least two sisters, compared to only 6% of the younger and 3% of the older love-shy men. Gilmartin also noted that none of the love-shy older men and very few of the love-shy younger men had any adults to rely on for emotional support growing up. Also it is noted that many of the love-shy men had a small network of cousins, 90% of them with 1 or less, 10% had 2-3; none had more than 3. Some of the men expressed that their siblings achieved intimacy with relationships and were preferred by their parents much more than themselves.
Adjustment and anxiety disorders
Gilmartin's love-shy men were poorly-adjusted, as they were unhappy with their lives and high in rates of anxiety disorders, like social phobia, avoidant personality disorder, body dysmorphic disorder, social anxiety disorder or other anxiety-related problems. He found that the love-shy men had considerably more violent fantasies, were very pessimistic and cynical about the world, were much more likely to believe that nobody cared about them, and were much more likely to have difficulties concentrating. He also found a tendency in some of the love-shy men to stare compulsively at women with whom they were infatuated or even stalk them, but without being able to talk to them, which sometimes got them in trouble with school authorities because of the perceived threat. Most of the love-shy men reported experiencing frequent feelings of depression, loneliness and alienation. A small number of the men would often try to disassociate from reality through various means, including addictions of various types or other kinds of escapist habits like excessive daydreaming or otherwise spending a lot of time in fantasy. Gilmartin noted that about 40% of the older love-shy men had seriously considered committing suicide.
Career, money and education
Gilmartin noted that the 100 older love-shy men studied were experiencing well above-average career instability. Even though almost all of these older love-shys had successfully completed higher education, their salaries were well below the US average. They were typically, if anything, underemployed and were working in minimum wage jobs such as taxi-driving and door-to-door canvassing. At the time of Gilmartin's research (1979–1982), 3.6% of college graduates in the USA were unemployed. Yet the older love-shy men had a disproportionate unemployment rate of 16% because of their perceived bad past work experiences. As a result, all of the love-shy men were in the lower middle class or lower.
The income of the older love-shys was greatly influenced by their choice of college major. Their overall average annual income was $14,782 ($38,100 in 2008 dollars). Among those who had obtained degrees in business, computer science, or engineering, the average was $21,163 ($54,600 in 2008 dollars).
The older love-shy men all lived in apartments. As a consequence of their social-sexual inhibitions, and subsequently limited social network, their financial situations were generally less fortunate, often having little discretionary spending for luxuries, and many were forced to live in less attractive neighborhoods.
According to Gilmartin, the love-shy tended to prefer vocal love ballads such as Broadway theatre music, brassy jazz music, easy listening, film soundtracks and light classical music, but not traditional classical music. A few also mentioned having a strong liking for country and western. Rock music of almost every kind was disliked by the love-shy, but only on an aesthetic level, not on moral grounds. Gilmartin noted that surprisingly few of the love-shy men mentioned female singers.
Gilmartin concluded that the majority of love-shy men prefer music with emotional/escapist themes and rich, beautiful melody. As a result, love-shy males dislike music that is noisy, loud, dissonant or amelodic in their point of view. The non-shy men Gilmartin interviewed typically enjoyed rock music and would only buy rock albums. The music love-shys enjoyed was considered boring by most of the non-shy men.
Gilmartin compiled a list of movies between 1945 and 1980 that were most often seen by the American love-shy in his study. According to Gilmartin, the full list of 63 repeatedly seen movies can be classified into two categories, "heavy", emotionally engrossing love stories, and escapist musicals with a strong romantic flavor.
In contrast, the movies most often seen by non love-shy men were classified as, action-adventure, science fiction or fantasy/superhero, light comedy, and crime drama.
Gilmartin estimates that love-shyness afflicts approximately 1.5% of American males. According to Gilmartin, love-shyness is, like most human psychological characteristics, the result of some combination of biological factors (genetic/developmental) and environmental factors (experiences of child abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), cultural, familial, religious, etc.). Gilmartin believes that shyness is a condition which needs to be cured. He says in his book “Shyness is never ‘good’. Shyness obviates free choice and self-determination, and it stands squarely in the way of responsible self-control and self-management.” Again, he states “Simply put, shyness is never healthy.”
Crucial factors exacerbating negative development during the love-shy male's childhood are:
- School bullying. Love-shy boys are vulnerable to bullying from their peer group, due to their shyness and inhibition. Non-conformism to peer group norms also makes the boy a target through no fault of his own.
- Parental upbringing. Where a child receives primarily negative stimuli from his parents (e.g. corporal punishment, child abuse, verbal abuse, criticism, 'put-downs', negative comparisons, indifference) this will most likely cause the boy to retreat further and further into his 'shell'.
With so many negative stimuli from crucial relationships in one's childhood, the love-shy boy becomes a social isolate. He learns to associate these crucial interactions (i.e. with parents, peer group) with hurt feelings and is likely to avoid social interaction. Social isolation and social anxiety becomes a 'vicious circle' for the love-shy individual as the years go by, and inhibits his chances in interaction with the opposite sex, as well as in other crucial areas of life such as his career.
Sexual orientation and gender
Gilmartin argued that love-shyness would have the most severe effect on heterosexual males, because of gender roles. This is because heterosexual men are almost always expected to take the more assertive role in dating situations and to be the ones to initiate intimacy with potential romantic partners, whereas heterosexual women generally take the more passive role, as assertiveness on their part is far less crucial in successfully developing a romantic relationship. He claims that it may be possible for both shy women and homosexual men to become involved in intimate relationships without needing to take any initiative, simply by waiting for a more assertive man to initiate the relationship, or in the case of lesbians, a more assertive woman. According to Gilmartin, shy women are as likely or even more likely due to their love-shyness as non-shy women to date, to marry, and to have children, while this is definitely not the case for heterosexual men. Love-shy heterosexual men normally have no informal social contact with women. They cannot date, marry or have children, and many of these men never experience any form of intimate sexual contact. He also noted that for moral reasons, none of the love-shy men sought prostitutes. Some of the love-shys were partaking in mail-order bride agencies, but the results of these efforts were not pursued in the study.
Gilmartin noted that because of their perceived lack of interest in women, love-shy men are frequently assumed to be homosexual. Homosexual men would make advances to the love-shy men, but these advances would be rejected. Gilmartin also noted that many love-shy men are not interested in friendships with other men.
Love-shyness has not, to date, been recognized as a distinct mental disorder by the World Health Organization or American Psychiatric Association. But the argument is being made in the community of mainstream clinical psychology that intimacy issues are so unique and so core to one's humanity that love-shyness does constitute a legitimate area of clinical attention, as well as meriting further research. Some of the psychological and social problems of the love-shy men could be considered autistic because of the men's trouble in regards to peers, social interactions, and adjustment to change. Years later when asked in an email, Gilmartin felt that 40% of severely love-shy men would have Asperger syndrome or ADHD. Many psychologists believe that social phobia or a more general pattern of avoidant personality disorder or social anxiety disorder could also be indicated, although many also concede that these issues may coalesce specifically into a phobia of intimate relationships, thereby forming a unique or semi-unique phobia with its own parameters and idiosyncrasies. Some described Love-shyness sufferers may also be blocked from intimate relationships due to body dysmorphic disorder (a phobia that causes one to fear that one is physically unattractive).
In 2009, Talmer Shockley, a self-confessed love-shy person, wrote The Love-Shy Survival Guide (2009). Shockley's book differs from Gilmartin's books and research in a few ways. Shockley classifies love-shyness as a phobia, though not one caused by an overt traumatic childhood incident. He acknowledges love-shy women and their need for help. He explores possible solutions for overcoming love-shyness, as well as the possible relationship between Asperger syndrome and love-shyness. Shockley offers no additional scientific proof of love-shyness except to reference the thousands of members of online discussion forums devoted to love-shyness.
Treatment and hope for the love-shy and proposed societal changes
Gilmartin's treatment concepts
Gilmartin proposes that "practice dating" therapy would allow the love-shy men to develop crucial social skills in a non-anxiety provoking situation and to then overcome their anxieties. This approach, he claims, would successfully cure by far most of the participants from their love-shyness. He also predicts that practice dating will help eliminate male love-shys' obsession with women of high natural beauty.
The major therapeutic regime Gilmartin recommends after practice dating is sex surrogate therapy. He claims, "Any truly comprehensive program calculated to guarantee a complete cure for intractable, chronic and severe love-shyness must incorporate a program facet that entails use of sexual surrogates." Sexual surrogates are therapists who will have physical intimacy up to and including sexual intercourse with their clients, and are not the same as prostitutes. A quality surrogate therapy will include an additional therapist to oversee the therapy.
Gilmartin argues that the norm of the male always courting the female needs to be "thrown forever into the trash can and replaced with a normative system that is compassionate and congruent with the needs and natures of human beings."
Gilmartin suggests coeducational living as one of the best options for the cure of love-shyness. He argues that "insofar as our world is a coeducational one, the idea of opposite sexed roommates may actually be far more 'natural' than the idea of same-sexed roommates—except, of course, for true homosexuals". He argues that living like this would remove the aura of mystery around the opposite sex, which causes "fear, social distance, misunderstandings, and deficits of communication."
Prevention / early intervention
Gilmartin further recommended a new children's recreational organization, the "Coed Scouts", which would permit children to socialize with both genders. Gilmartin also noted early in the book that the love-shys should unite as a socio-political force to have their needs known and to force societal changes.
Gilmartin also felt that the younger love-shys would have a better chance at overcoming their shyness since they were treated less harshly by their peers than were the older love-shy men.
Other possible treatments for love-shyness include any treatments or self-help methods that have been shown to help other social anxiety problems (a few such examples are CBT, exposure therapy, meditation, etc.). Although an understanding of the specific issues associated with love-shyness may better focus these methods.
Criticism of Gilmartin's writings
Gilmartin makes references to astrology, reincarnation, past life regression, and Kirlian aura (page 15) to support his conclusions which reviewer Elizabeth Rice Allgeier felt "waters down the potential impact of his writings" in her book review for the Journal of Sex Research. In a separate review of the book, Jonathan M. Cheek suggested that comparable emphasis should have been given to the study of love-shyness in women. Gilmartin stands by his emphasis on males because of the effect of conventional gender roles.
Also, Gilmartin's research which was conducted in the 1970s and early 1980s does not make allowances for the dramatic shifts in American (and Western) cultural demographics, trends and values experienced in the years and decades since the study was published (e.g. the rise and impact of the second and third waves of modern feminism on gender relations, especially the impact of modern feminism in Western countries since the 1960s and 1970s) though men are still commonly expected to be the initiator when it comes to courtship.
Two national UK newspapers ran features on love-shyness in 2009; The Sunday Times ran one under the headline, "Love Shyness: the 'Condition' Crippling Men", and the Daily Express ran one entitled "The Hopeless Romantic".
Status as a Disorder
Several problems stand in the way of recognizing love-shyness as a disorder. Though outside sources point to the pseudoscientific speculations that Gilmartin indulges in Shyness and Love, among other problems as discrediting the topic, those who suffer from the problem have their own disagreements with the term. There is ongoing debate as to whether love-shyness is a condition of its own merit or is simply a meta-condition comprising Avoidant Personality Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Schizoid Personality Disorder, and other mental health disorders. Those who detract from the term claim the problems love-shys suffer from can easily be described as a collection of these disorders. Defenders of the term counter that the psychological community has so far failed to remedy the problems that love-shys suffer from, and cite disappointing experiences with counselors and a general lack of understanding of the problems love-shys suffer from in the psychological community.
Another position viewed by some who suffer the problems associated with love-shyness is that love-shyness is not a disorder, but simply a consequence of circumstance, and can be used as a handy label to describe the collection of problems that one suffers as a chronically shy dateless individual.
Love-shyness itself is not listed as a psychiatric disorder in any recent DSM.
- The Shy Man Syndrome: Why Men Become Love-Shy and How They Can Overcome It
- International Handbook of Social Anxiety: Concepts, Research, and Interventions Relating to the Self and Shyness
- name: Brian Gilmartin, year=1987, title: Peer Group Antecedents of Severe Love-shyness in Males, journal=Journal of Personality, volume=55, issue=3, pages=467–489, doi=10.1111/j.1467-6494.1987.tb00447.x }}
- Some Family Antecedents of Severe Shyness, Journal: Family Relations, https://www.jstor.org/stable/583584
- Gale Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders, chapter, Avoidant personality disorder
- Shyness & Love: Causes, Consequences, and Treatments
- title: Effects of anonymity, gender, and erotophilia on the quality of data obtained from self-reports of socially sensitive behaviors, journal: Journal of Behavioral Medicine, year=2002, volume=25, issue=5, pages=439–467, doi=10.1023/A:1020419023766
- Author: Phillips, K. A., year: 1996, title: The broken mirror: Understanding and treating body dysmorphic disorder, page: 141, location: New York, publisher: Oxford University Press, isbn=0-19-508317-2
- Author: Elizabeth Rice, Allgeier, year=1988, Book Review: Shyness & Love: Causes, Consequences, and Treatment, journal: Journal of Sex Research, volume:25, issue: 2, pages: 309–315, doi=10.1080/00224498809551463
- PsycCRITIQUES, author: Jonathan M Cheek, title: Love-Shy Men, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235420368_Love-Shy_Men
- The Love-Shy Survival Guide
- Author: Jonathan M. Cheek, year=1989, title: Contemporary Psychology: APA Review of Books, volume=34, issue=8, pages=791–792
- Author: Amy Turner, title: Love Shyness: the 'Condition' Crippling Men, newspaper: The Sunday Times
- Author: Gareth Rubin, year: 2009, title: The Hopeless Romantic, newspaper: The Daily Express