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 if not impossible 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.
In his book, Gilmartin estimates 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 had six criteria for each "love-shy man" he included in his 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. He suspected that the condition would manifest very differently; largely due to the societal roles that force heterosexual men, and not women or homosexual men, to initiate relationships. Gilmartin explains, "The 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..."
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.
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 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.
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. Also it is noted that very few of the love-shy men had a large network of cousins, 90% of them have only 1 or no cousins, while the 10% only had 2 or 3, while none of them 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.
Gilmartin's love-shy men were poorly-adjusted, as they were unhappy with their lives and high in rates of anxiety disorders. 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.
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 percent 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 (cultural, familial, religious, etc.) (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."
Crucial factors exacerbating negative development during the love-shy male's childhood are:
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 argued 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. 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 sex workers. 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 notes 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 is not recognized as a mental disorder by the World Health Organization or American Psychiatric Association. 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. Love-shyness can also be associated with involuntary celibacy.
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." Sex 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."
He 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.
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.
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.
In 2009, Talmer Shockley, a self-confessed love-shy, 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 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.