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Love shyness is a phrase created 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 (1987), love-shy people find it difficult to be assertive in informal situations involving potential romantic or sexual partners. For example, a heterosexual love-shy male will have trouble initiating conversations with women because of strong feelings of anxiety.

Dr. Gilmartin researched this phenomenon exclusively in heterosexual men, concluding that (1987, p.1) love-shyness "afflicts approximately 1.5 percent of all American males...[and] will effectively prevent about 1.7 million [U.S.] males...from ever marrying and from ever experiencing any form of intimate sexual contact with women."


Gilmartin's definition

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

  • He is a virgin. He has not yet experienced sexual intercourse.
  • He is a man 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 male who desperately wishes to have a relationship with a woman, but does not have one because of his shyness. In other words, he is not a man who consciously chooses not to have romantic or intimate relationships; rather, he wants such relationships but cannot establish them.
  • 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.
  • He is a male. There were no women interviewed in the study.

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, largely due to the societal roles that force heterosexual men into an "active" role in initiating relationships that do not subject women or homosexual men to the same pressures. Gilmartin explains, "[T]he very shy young woman is no less likely to date and to marry than is the self-confident woman, non-shy woman . . . . In essence, even very shy women marry. Love-shy men cannot and do not marry irrespective of how strong their desires might be . . . . "

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 primarily in heterosexual men. Gilmartin's data collection included only 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" 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 Extroversion, 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. A number of the men also had a difficult time being birthed 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 to the world and women 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. Competitive sports were not liked by either side for the most part. Both sides 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

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. This lack of acceptance by others caused the love-shy men to feel excessively lonely and depressed. However, this also caused the men not to want anything to do with same-sex individuals.

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 only 14% of the self-confident university-age non-shy men had no sister around while growing up, as opposed to 59% of the university-aged love-shy men, with 71% of the 35-50 year-old love-shy men never having had a sister. In the same groups, over half of the self-confident non-love-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 older love-shy men and very few of the younger love-shy men had any adults to rely on for emotional support growing up. 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 and possibly mental illnesses. 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. 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 low clerical jobs such as taxi driving, and door-to-door canvassers. 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.

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 neighborhoods. It is notable that none of the older love-shy men Gilmartin studied owned a home, and their places of abode were rental apartments. While many of these men had been excellent students, the effects of their shyness had a negative impact on their social lives and also the impression they made upon employers. This diminished many opportunities in their careers in the same manner that it inhibited their love lives.


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 taste level, not on moral grounds. Gilmartin noted that surprisingly few of the love-shy men mentioned female singers.

Professor Gilmartin concludes 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 unmelodic 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.


The movies (1945 to 1980) most often seen by the American love-shy in Gilmartin's study were:

  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.

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 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."

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

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 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.

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 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 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, because many view them as "unworthy" to obtain a girlfriend or because their parents were embarrassed to be seen with their sons. He also noted that none of the love-shy men sought sex workers for moral reasons and fearing they would fall in love with them. Some of the love-shy's were partaking in mail-order bride agencies but it isn't known if they were successful or not.

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 but the love-shy men would reject them. Additionally, Gilmartin noted that many 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 depression.

In the sexual lives of the love-shy men chapter, a minority of the love-shy men had stated they developed certain sexual paraphilias. One had border line zoophilic tendencies with his dog but he imagined being with a woman during the sessions. Another had statuephilia and rubbed himself with barbie dolls while he was naked. One had coprophilia.

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.

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. But it will never be known if the men were autistic/aspergian or not because none were known to be diagnosed with either condition.

Love-shyness can also be interchangeable with involuntary celibacy.

Treatment and hope for the love-shy and proposed societal changes

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. Gilmartin argues that the norm of the male always courting the female 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."

Gilmarin suggests coeducational living is 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."

He further recommended a new children's recreational organization, the "Coed Scouts", which would permit children to socialize with both genders. This has yet to formulate. Gilmartin also noted early in the book that the love-shy's should unite as a socio-political force to have their needs known and to force societal changes but this too has yet to formulate.

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 the older love-shy men were. However, his research has yet to be updated so it is unknown if any of the men were able to curtail their problems.

Criticism of Gilmartin's writings

Gilmartin makes references to pseudoscience such as 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.


  • Brian G. Gilmartin (1985). "Some Family Antecedents of Severe Shyness in Males". Family Relations 34: 429-438.
  • Brian G. Gilmartin (1987). Shyness & Love: Causes, Consequences, and Treatment (excerpts in HTML, full document as .PDF file) (ISBN 0-8191-6102-0).
  • Brian G. Gilmartin (1987). "Peer group antecedents of severe love-shyness in males". Journal of Personality 55: 467-89.
  • Brian G. Gilmartin (1989). The Shy Man Syndrome: Why Men Become Love-Shy and How They Can Overcome It. (ISBN 0-8191-7009-7).
  • Elizabeth Rice Allgeier (1988). Book Review: Shyness & Love: Causes, Consequences, and Treatment. Journal of Sex Research 25 (2): 309-315.
  • Sue Johanson (2004). Sex, Sex, and More Sex (ISBN 0-06-056666-3).
  • Judy Kuriansky (2004). Complete Idiot's Guide to Dating Third Edition (ISBN 1-59257-153-0).

See also

  • Masculinity -- the traits of men, including virility
  • Men's studies (a counterpart to women's studies)
  • Obsessive love
  • Psychological trauma
  • Relationship breakup
  • Sexual frustration
  • Schizophrenia
  • Single (relationship)
  • Social anxiety
  • Unrequited love

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Love-shyness". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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