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The term love-shyness was first used by psychologist Brian G. Gilmartin to describe a specific type of severe chronic shyness. According to his definition, published in Shyness & Love: Causes, Consequences, and Treatments, love-shy people find it difficult to be assertive in informal situations involving potential romantic or sexual partners. For example, a love-shy heterosexual male will have trouble initiating conversations with women because of strong feelings of anxiety. Dr. Gilmartin researched this phenomenon exclusively in heterosexual males.

Gilmartin's definition

Gilmartin had seven criteria for each "love-shy" man he included in his study:

  • He is male.
  • He is a person who very rarely goes out socially with women.
  • He is a person without a past history of any emotionally close, meaningful relationships of a romantic and/or sexual nature with any member of the opposite sex.
  • He is a person who has suffered and is continuing to suffer emotionally because of a lack of meaningful female companionship. In short, he is a person who desperately wishes to have a relationship with a woman, but does not have one because of shyness.
  • He is a man who becomes extremely anxiety-ridden over so much as the mere thought of asserting himself vis-à-vis a woman in a casual, friendly way. This is the essence of "love-shyness".
  • He is a man who is strictly heterosexual in his romantic and erotic orientations. In other words, he is a person who is in no way a homosexual.

Gilmartin did not rule out the existence of female or homosexual love-shy people, but he doubted they would feel the same negative effects as heterosexual men, and suspected that the condition would manifest very differently in them.

Results of Gilmartin's research

According to Gilmartin, people of all ages, all sexual orientations, and all genders can be love-shy. However, in Gilmartin's opinion, the negative effects of love-shyness manifest themselves almost exclusively in heterosexual men. Gilmartin's study included only heterosexual men. He studied 200 love-shy college students (aged 19-24), 100 love-shy men (aged 35-50), and a comparison group of 200 "non-shy" college students. Gilmartin's non-shy men were not intended to represent the average male, and were recruited only if they were highly social.

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 Extraversion, and higher on Neuroticism than the non-shy men on the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire. In 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 inhibition.

Interactions with peers

Most of the love-shy men, and none of the non-shy men, reported never having any friends. The vast majority of love-shy men reported being bullied by children their own age, 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.

Adjustment and Mental Illness

Gilmartin's love-shy men were poorly-adjusted and high in rates of mental illness. He found that the love-shy men had considerably more violent fantasies, 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. Also, many love-shy men have parents who forbade them from dating, and had trouble circumventing it; or they can convince themselves of such restrictions regardless of actually having permission to date. Also, many love-shy men have had their privacy over-invaded.

Career, money and education

Gilmartin noted that the 100 love-shy in the 35-50 age range 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 jobs such as taxi driving, or in lower level clerical or telemarketing jobs. At the time of Gilmartin's research (1979-1982), 3.6% of college graduates in the USA were unemployed. The unemployment rate for the older love-shy men was 16%. Some were even close to the poverty line.

Being single, 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, and many were forced to live in less attractive neighbourhoods. It is notable that none of the older love-shy men Gilmartin studied owned a home. While many of these men were excellent students, the effects of their shyness had a negative impact on their social lives and diminished many opportunities in their careers in the same manner as it inhibited their love lives.


According to Gilmartin, the love-shy tended to prefer vocal love ballads, Broadway show music, brassy jazz music, easy listening, film soundtracks, and light classical music. A few of them mentioned having a strong liking for country and western. On the other hand, rock music of any kind tended to be strongly disliked by the love-shys. Love-shys tend to like music with emotional or escapist themes. Gilmartin's observations conclude that the majority of love-shy men mainly prefer music with rich and beautiful melody; and consequently dislike most music which is noisy, loud, dissonant, or unmelodic. For most of the love-shys, melody appears to be the most important element in music.

Top Ten Love-Shy Movies (1945-80)

The movies most often seen by the American love-shy in Gilmartin's study:

  1. Jeremy (1973)
  2. David and Lisa (1962)
  3. Forbidden Games (1952)
  4. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)
  5. The Graduate (1967)
  6. Butterflies Are Free (1972)
  7. Marty (1955)
  8. Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
  9. Romeo and Juliet (1968)
  10. Nobody Waved Goodbye (1965)

According to Gilmartin, the full list of 63 repeatedly seen movies can be classified into two categories:

  1. "heavy", emotionally engrossing love stories, and
  2. escapist musicals with a strong romantic flavor.

Amelie, could also be called a film about love shyness, as so could Lost in Translation, both films dealing with love-shy issues, both released after 1980. The most modern movie would be Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Other notable attributes

According to Gilmartin, many love-shy men show the following patterns:

  • births were physically difficult; required a c-section
  • grew up in isolation
  • are in below-average physical shape as a group
  • have low energy levels; show little interest in physical and sporting activities, as well as difficulty getting out of bed in the morning
  • are melancholic
  • were usually quiet as infants, while non-love-shy men are rarely so
  • tend to be less interested in sports
  • tend to be more interested in movies and music, and prefer watching different types of movies from non-love-shy men
  • often feel women are more privileged (have it easier) than men
  • place great, often disproportionate importance on physical beauty (especially facial beauty)
  • are not as likely to be interested in male friendships. Most of the ones interviewed had feelings of misandry.
  • are less patriotic
  • are less religious but largely spiritual
  • have experienced homelessness or poverty for the large part of their lives
  • develop interest in females at an earlier age than usual, particularly in the third to fifth grade range
  • often only want to have female children
  • often have a hard time expressing their emotions
  • are sometimes passive aggressive
  • often have tense, nervous, angry and/or two-faced mothers who disallowed dates with girls
  • often have no sisters, and rarely have more than one
  • often are very serious
  • often had no adults to turn to for emotional support as children, and continue to be that way as adults
  • often felt they had little influence on family decisions as children
  • are easily upset
  • have demanding parents who invade their privacy; thus have privacy problems to suffer
  • often go through an excessive amount of psychological trauma, of which love-shyness can be the aftermath; many of the above items can be precursors of it
  • parents were overprotective
  • believe that other people don't care about them
  • were an only child
  • the ones who had siblings were always looked down on but their siblings were well liked and they also had love partners
  • hold their parents responsible because of some of the aforementioned limitations
  • they disown their parents after moving out of their home
  • have low levels of serotonin in their brains and testosterone in their blood. Have high levels of dopamine in their brains.

However, these attributes are not limited to people who are love shy; these patterns have also been diagnosed in other sorts of medical conditions.

Gilmartin's theory

Causes of love-shyness

Gilmartin estimates that love-shyness afflicts approximately 1.5 percent of American males. According to Gilmartin, love-shyness is, like most human psychological characteristics, the result of some combination of biological (genetic/developmental) and environmental (cultural, familial, religious, etc.) factors (see also: nature versus nurture). Gilmartin believes that shyness is a condition which needs to be cured. He claims that "SHYNESS IS NEVER HEALTHY" (his capitalization).

He mentions several possible biological causes of love-shyness, most notably low maternal testosterone during fetal development, nasal polyps and hypoglycemia.

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.” He then states that the ability to breathe through the nose is associated with the feeling of freedom.

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, 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 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.

Gilmartin also makes references to subject areas regarded by scientific criteria as pseudoscience such as astrology, reincarnation, past life regression and Kirlian aura (page 15) to support his research, which reviewer Elizabeth Rice Allgeier, Ph.D. stated "waters down the potential impact of his writings."

Love-shyness, sexual orientation, and gender

Gilmartin believes that love-shyness would have the most severe effect on heterosexual males, because of gender roles. 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. 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 not the case for heterosexual men. Love-shy heterosexual men normally have no informal social contact with women (virtually by definition). They cannot date, marry, or have children, and many of these men never experience any form of intimate sexual contact. Gilmartin found that third parties such as parents and friends are often inconsiderate of the difficulties of love-shy men, and are reluctant to aid them in finding girlfriends.

Gilmartin notes that love-shy men are frequently assumed to be homosexual, because of their perceived lack of interest in women and this would also cause homosexual men to make advances to them though they would be rejected. Additionally, he notes that many heterosexual love-shy men are not interested in friendships with other men. This, combined with their lack of success in initiating contact with women, causes feelings of loneliness, alienation, and sometimes depression.

On the other hand, the combination of social isolation and lack of relationships with the opposite sex can make the love-shy man vulnerable to suspicions of being some sort of sex criminal such as a pedophile or, combined with his interest in women, a stalker. This would load the dice even further against them in life.

Love-shyness and mainstream psychology

Love-shyness is not recognized as a mental disorder by the World Health Organization or American Psychiatric Association. It does share some characteristics with commonly recognized mental disorders, however.

Like people who have a specific social anxiety, love-shy people can be very anxious in informal social situations.

Like people who are afflicted with an avoidant personality disorder, love-shy people feel uncomfortable in many informal social situations, and typically avoid opportunities for social contact.

Like people with attachment anxiety, love-shy people worry intensely that their relationship attachments aren't good enough.

Their impairment of functioning in social interactions bears some similarities to the symptoms of Asperger's syndrome or Semantic Pragmatic Disorder. For example, like people who have Asperger's syndrome, love-shy men often have a hard time developing peer relationships. In a March 6, 2004 letter by Gilmartin [1], he felt "as many as 40 percent of the cases of severely love-shy men would qualify for a diagnosis of 'Asperger's Syndrome'". We are also told that "1.5 percent of men are love-shy". If we assume that a quarter of these love-shy men qualify as "severely love-shy", we reach a possible incidence rate of severely love-shy Asperger's men of 0.15%, a figure which is consistent with estimates of Asperger's Syndrome of between 0.18% and 0.36% reported by Barlow and Durand (2002).


See also

External links

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