Ask Dr. NerdLove: So What’s Wrong With Calling Women ‘Emotional’?

Ask Dr. NerdLove: So What's Wrong With Calling Women 'Emotional'?


Doctor’s Note: The second letter in today’s column deals with talk of suicide. Please proceed with caution, and if you’re having suicidal thoughts, please call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.


I recently read your article in the Washington Post about calling women crazy (or stopping). Your points are valid but it left me thinking, what’s the solution? When you don’t call and your lady is pissed, what then? My reaction is to cite the reasons why, then get pissed because it seems like it shouldn’t be a big deal and all of a sudden it is. She says “all I want you to do is hear me and acknowledge or take accountability.” Then I’ve been accused of gaslighting, which I don’t feel I am doing but am willing to consider.

Is it simply not acceptable to point out irrationality or over reaction any more ? See the thing is we as men and including myself believe women are crazy because behavior seemingly comes out of nowhere with unexplainable intensity. I myself acknowledge I believe this on a deep level. I don’t call my partner crazy out loud, but I do in my head.

So when your woman is having an emotional reaction you don’t want to deal with or are unprepared for, what is the solution? Obviously we shouldn’t dismiss them and call them crazy, irrational, or ask if they’re on their period, but what next? Seek to understand?

Also one more question, why is it not a legitimate question to ask where a woman is in their cycle when it so clearly affects emotion? Supposedly it’s dismissive but it seems like a totally valid question like, “how tired or hangry are you?”

Thanks for your input.

Feel Like I’m Taking Crazy Pills

I want to preface this by saying that, while I get a lot of trolling attempts (badly) disguised as  legitimate questions, I believe you’re asking this in good faith and you’re trying to wrap your head around something you’ve never thought about before. So, I’m going to take this seriously and — hopefully — explain things so you understand, rather than just straight dunking on what’s, honestly, a Paleolithic take.

That being said: hooo boy, super chief, you decided to stick your dick straight into the beehive, huh?

So, as part of the answer to your question,  I want to pose a question to you — something for you to think about while I explain: why are you asking a straight, cis-gendered guy about why your ladyfriend is pissed at this question? Why are you more willing to listen to what a dude has to say about this than… well, pretty much all women who’ve dealt with this before?

(I mean, besides the fact that I’m the one who wrote the column in question.)

Here’s the thing: often men will listen to what another man says, even if he’s saying the same thing that a woman just said. There’s an implicit bias there, a belief that a man saying something is inherently more logical, reasonable or believable. This is, honestly, a big part of why calling women crazy or overly emotional or — fucking hell — asking if they’re on their period — pisses women off; it’s inherently dismissive and insulting. It’s the underlying implication that they’re “too emotional” to be reasonable or that there can’t be an understandable, even logical reason why this would make folks feel insulted or dismissed.

Now, there’s a lot going on in your question that I don’t think you realize is there, so we’re gonna take a few minutes to pick things apart. Let’s start with the easiest first: why is it a bad idea to ask if a woman is having her period? Because it implies that her menstrual cycle makes her dumb, irrational or otherwise unable to think clearly. Leaving aside the sexism in this, let’s put it this way: how much does your temper change when you’re hungry and you’re not going to be able to get something to eat for another couple of hours? How often do you get short-tempered when you’ve got a splitting headache or you’ve tweaked a muscle in your back and you can’t stand up without pain? For that matter, calm and collected are you at the end of a long day when you’re exhausted, you want to get home and just put your feet up, but before you do you need to hit an ATM and the person in front of you clearly doesn’t know how to use it?

I ask because these examples should help you understand just how insulting it would be for folks to ask you if your hormones are out of whack. Case in point: when you’re hangry, your blood-sugar has plummeted; this tends to release cortisol (the stress hormone) into your system. That tends to create a lot of irritability and aggression in people and the lower blood-sugar impedes brain function. Similarly, if you’re in pain or you’re exhausted, you’ve got far less patience for people and you’re much more likely to be short-tempered and snappish with others. Minor irritations grow to anger, your tolerance for others’ shortcomings drops and literally everything just starts jumping on your last nerve.

So, if you were to be dealing with cramps, bloating, incredibly inconvenient bleeding (and potentially staining your clothes) and idiots every month, you’d have times when you were more likely to get pissed at people. Especially folks who, and I’m just spitballing here, tell you that you don’t really feel the way that you feel.

Case in point: you give the example of forgetting to call and your partner getting upset at you. Your response — “here’s why it happened, here’s why it’s not a big deal” — is an example of telling someone that she’s doesn’t have the right to feel the way she does. Here’s what you’re missing: the reason why she’s upset isn’t just that you hadn’t called — everyone knows that sometimes shit happens. It’s that you’re ignoring her end of things. You don’t know how worried she was that she hadn’t heard from you yet.  You don’t know how much your not calling may have affected the rest of her day — did she have to put plans on pause because she needed to talk to you first? And, just as importantly, you’re missing the fact that there’s a certain lack of consideration to not call or text when you said you would. While, again, shit happens and people understand that, there’s also the feeling that you didn’t care enough to actually remember to do the thing you promised.

The reason why your response makes her mad is because your response isn’t “I’m sorry I didn’t call, here’s what happened,” it’s “look, you’re not allowed to feel upset about this; your feelings aren’t valid because X, Y or Z.” Is that what you’re intending to say? I would hope not. But it’s still how you’re coming across. You’re telling her that the way that she feels — her very understandable irritation at this lack of thought — isn’t correct and you know how she should feel better than she does. That is pretty damn insulting.

Look at it this way: have you ever had someone lecture you — incorrectly — about something, when you know far more about the subject than they do? You know how irritating it is to be told that you’re wrong about something that you’re an expert in by somebody who clearly isn’t?

Imagine that was your life. Every time you turned around, someone was telling you how you’re wrong about a thing you are clearly not wrong about. And in this case, the thing that you’re supposedly wrong about is how you feel.

And to make matters worse, you aren’t taking responsibility for the lack of consideration for — in this case — not calling when you said you would. Perhaps you could’ve called or texted and said “hey, X is happening, I’ll have to call you later”. Or you could’ve lead with an apology for not calling. Leaping straight to “hey, it’s not a big deal” isn’t helpful because while it may not be a big deal to you, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t for her. When she says she wants you to hear her and take accountability, this is what she’s saying. She’s asking you to listen to her, understand why what isn’t a big deal to you can still be a big deal to others and acknowledge that you’ve caused an inconvenience (at best) to someone else. Not doing so is callous and rude.

If someone you were doing business with just ghosted you when you had a call scheduled, you’d be pretty pissed, right? You’d want an apology and explanation, yeah? You’d be pretty pissed if they just said “hey, calm down, it’s not a big deal,” considering how much they disrespected your time, yeah?

Well, the same goes for when your partner is annoyed that you didn’t call when you said. All you’re doing in this example is telling her that your time is important; hers isn’t, and she’s not allowed to be upset about it.

Small wonder she gets pissed about it.

Here’s the other part that you’re missing: this irritation isn’t coming out of nowhere. It seems that way because you didn’t see what has lead up to this point. Sometimes you weren’t there for it, but often you didn’t notice. So it’s not that her being upset at you came screaming out of the clear blue sky with no warning; it’s that you missed the causes and only noticed when the metaphorical last straw broke the camel’s back.

Remember that example I mentioned about being exhausted,  in pain and dealing with idiots who’re wasting your time at the ATM? If you came home and someone did something that hit your last nerve — turned off the TV when they didn’t know you were still watching it, made a loud noise when you were about to nap, something — and blew up at them over that, it would make sense to you. You’ve been dealing with bullshit all damn day and this just pushed you over the line. You’d say that your blowing up was justified because look at all this crap you’ve been putting up with.

Well hey, guess what? Goes both ways, my dude. If you expect that level of consideration and understanding from others, you better be ready, willing and able to give it in return. Thinking “ugh, chicks be crazy,” is just giving yourself permission to not consider someone else’s perspective.

You ask what the solution is when “your woman is having an emotional reaction you don’t want to deal with or are unprepared for“? Well, it’s like you said: seek understanding. Start getting more comfortable with emotions — theirs and your own — so that you don’t get so thrown by the fact that people have them. Stop trying to avoid dealing with them and start actually communicating with people and figure out what’s actually going on instead of dismissing them out of hand. Don’t demand that people are only allowed to have reactions that you approve of or think are “reasonable”, especially when you have no idea what they’re actually feeling. And for the love of God and your own body, start actually listening to what the women in your life are telling you instead of assuming that you know better.


Dear Dr. NerdLove:

10 years ago I (a woman) was introduced to a male co-worker at a company that I no longer work for. We had slightly flirty banter between us and at one point he invited some other coworkers and me to a concert. One of my female coworkers said that she thought he was flirting with her and she expressed interest in him. I immediately backed down and didn’t go to the concert. She did and while they had fun they didn’t pursue another date that I am aware of. A couple of months later he began dating the woman who would become his wife.

During their marriage, he and I continued our mildly flirtatious behavior, including an inside joke that stems from a moment when he “accidentally” brushed against me. He would do silly things to make me laugh like hiding behind plants or throwing things at me.

I left that job 3 years ago and we have stayed in touch with random text or holiday greetings. 2 weeks ago, I found out that his wife (who had an extensive history of psychiatric problems) committed suicide. I feel terrible for him (his parents also passed away during this past year due to the pandemic). A few years back I had a difficult year where I suffered several deaths and losses within my family and I can completely empathize with him. Having said all that, it dawned on me that we are both unmarried. I don’t know if I should do anything about it. Part of me wants to pursue him, part of me wants to leave him alone. I am also respectful that it is too early for him to get involved in a healthy relationship with anyone and I wouldn’t want to be a rebound for him as I genuinely care for him.

What do you think I should do?

Second Chance For Love

I think you should proceed with caution,  SCFL. First and foremost is the fact that he’s suffered some pretty significant losses in the span of a year. Losing both of one’s parents in the same year is going to be really rough, even if their passing had been peaceful or expected. That and their spouse committing suicide? That is a lot. Like, “entire life has just been turned upside down and inside out and normalcy has been shattered,” levels of “a lot”.

Here’s a truth: the death of someone close to you has a way of changing your perspective on things. The death of a parent isn’t just changing your perspective, it changes your self-perception; suddenly your life is different in a way that you may never have been able to fully appreciate until it happens. Losing both, especially suddenly amplifies that change. The same goes for losing your spouse, particularly if the loss was self-inflicted. Even if you understand, intellectually, what happened and why, there’s still that feeling that you should’ve been able to do something about it. Yeah, you may know the reasons, you may have seen the struggle or the decline… but that doesn’t change the irrational part of your mind that says “but I should’ve been able to stop it!”

Speaking personally: when my cat died last year, I was a mess, in part because I felt like I had failed him. Yes, he was ancient in cat years, the health changes were sudden and the result of old age… but that didn’t stop me from feeling like I should’ve been able to fix things. That fucked me up, even when I knew it wasn’t my fault.

Odds are very, very good he’s feeling similarly right now. And that’s on top of having three major pillars of his life topple in short order. He’s not only having to come to terms with his wife’s death, but the death of his parents. He has to relearn who he is, now that this significant portion of his life is gone forever. His life has been based around sharing it with another person and now he has to learn how to live without her again. In a very real way, it’s like someone having to relearn how to live their life after losing a limb. So the odds are very, very good that it’s going to be a long, long while until he’s ready to date.

I would also point out that… well, it doesn’t sound like you and he really had a romantic connection before he got married. Yeah, you were flirty with one another, but flirtation,  in and of itself, isn’t an indication of much. People flirt with and without intent. People have flirty platonic friendships, and joke and tease with each other simply because it’s fun. Presuming more, especially when it doesn’t seem like things progressed further than the two of you being silly together, seems like it’d be pretty premature to me.

You genuinely care for him; I believe that. If you care for him, then I think the best thing you can do right now is put any romantic thoughts aside. That isn’t what he needs right now.

What he needs are friends.

He’s had some devastating losses in short order and he’s going to be a mess. What he needs right now, more than anything else, are people who love and care for him and who are ready to just be there for him. Sometimes that will mean doing the things that he likely doesn’t have the emotional bandwidth for — making sure he’s eating, that he hasn’t let his apartment fall to pieces, etc. Other times, it’ll mean literally just being there  — a comforting physical presence, even if he doesn’t want to talk. Having someone around can make a huge difference in helping him remember that he’s not alone. His world’s changed, but it hasn’t been destroyed; there are still people who love him and support him and who will help give him a softer place to rest and recover.

The kindest and most loving thing you can do is support him right now, in the ways he needs and the ways he can accept. That’s going to be a much more important to him — especially now — than any future relationship.

If there was a romantic connection between the two of you… well, if it’s still there, then it’ll still be there when he’s had time for his heart to heal. But, I have to be clear: even if you ride to the rescue and become the person who is most present in his life and who helps nurse and guide him through his loss and recovery, that still may not translate into romance down the line. If that’s what you’re hoping for, then I would say that you should stay away and support him from a distance. But if you can put any romantic feelings on pause and put any hope for a relationship aside — possibly permanently — then be the friend he needs right now.

That’s the most caring thing you could do for him. And it’s likely what he would appreciate the most.

Good luck.