Love-shyness is a specific type of severe chronic shyness that impairs or prevents intimate relationships. It implies a degree of inhibition and reticence with potential partners that is sufficiently severe to preclude participation in courtship, marriage and family roles.

According to this definition, 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 man will have trouble initiating conversations with women because of strong feelings of social anxiety.

Some psychologists believe that love-shyness can exist without the presence of other 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 affect 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 be an underlying cause of intimacy avoidance or love-shyness. Some also refer to erotophobia, which is 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.

The term ‘love-shyness’ was originally coined by psychologist Brian G. Gilmartin, who estimated that love-shyness afflicts approximately 1.5% of American males and will prevent about 1.7 million US 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. His 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 his opinion, the negative effects of love-shyness manifest themselves primarily in heterosexual men.

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. 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.

From the data Gilmartin uncovered about the love-shy’s family life, they grew up in dysfunctional families. Most of the love-shy men disliked their parents, but 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.

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.

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.

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. As a result, all of the love-shy men were in the lower middle class or lower. 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.

Gilmartin argued that love-shyness would have the most severe effect on heterosexual males, because of gender roles. 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 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 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. Love-shyness can also be associated with involuntary celibacy.

In 2009, Talmer Shockley, a self-confessed love-shy person, wrote ‘The Love-Shy Survival Guide.’ Shockley’s book differs from Gilmartin’s 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.

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.’

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.

A second edition reprint of Dr. Brian G. Gilmartin’s ‘Shyness and Love’ is due in 2012. The reprint is being funded by a love-shy forum member by the username of ‘dissention.’ It will be 400 pages long as opposed to 700 and will omit chapters such as ‘Astrology and Reincarnation’ which came under scrutiny when the book was reviewed. This user ‘dissention’ encourages fellow love-shys and others to be supportive and buy a copy of the reprint when released so as to spread awareness.

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.


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