THE BLOG
03/08/2015 19:10 BST | Updated 03/08/2016 06:59 BST

Not All Us Men Are Emotionally Constipated

Men, in general, just don't seem to be able to handle emotional crises. There's a reason we have the phrase Agony Aunt - the wonderful Graham Norton being the notable exception. It's because women want to engage, understand and help, men want to ignore, deflect and hasten on to the next thing. Move along now, nothing to see here...

'Cheer up, it might never happen.' Yes, my best friend really did proffer those priceless words of wisdom as we sat having a drink during one of my periodic lows. The fact that I had been made redundant recently - that it had actually happened! - didn't seem to have occurred to him.

Forget the shame, drop in income, bout of depression and all-round disillusionment, he was implying. What mattered was that a few drinks, reminiscences of teenage escapades and some immature banter would easily rectify things. And he was right - too much introspection does no one any good.

Yet I sympathise hugely with Robert Peston who recently revealed that men were utterly hopeless in helping him deal with the tragic loss of his wife Sian who, in 2012, died aged just 51 after being diagnosed with lung cancer. Of course, I can't equate my piddly little trauma with his but I do recognise his frustration at the way men tried to comfort him with the most insensitive advice.

'A lot of things men said to me after Sian died were just stupid,' Robert said. While female friends offered practical help and tender advice, his male companions blustered through those awkward moments in the weeks and months after Sian's death with unforgettably crass statements such as 'You'll get over it...'

Men, in general, just don't seem to be able to handle emotional crises. There's a reason we have the phrase Agony Aunt - the wonderful Graham Norton being the notable exception. It's because women want to engage, understand and help, men want to ignore, deflect and hasten on to the next thing. Move along now, nothing to see here...

We might think we have a higher tolerance of physical pain but, when it comes to emotional pain, we're genetically stunted. It's not that we can't handle it, just that we seem unable to share in others'. We're not indifferent to people's predicaments but our instinctive reaction is selfish: rather than 'poor you' we want to say 'thank God that didn't happen to me' and then proceed to mistake false cheeriness for empathy.

There's good reason that John Gray's seminal relationships study was called Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. War versus love, suppressing emotions instead of embracing them, a ruthless desire to lead instead of an innate desire to guide.

But it's not just self-help nonsense - there's real science behind this gender imbalance. Last year, neuroscientists discovered that in times of stress men offered more self-centred resolutions that instead of being tailored to people's emotional needs are more about their own, whilst women cope by being more open to others and empathetic of their requirements. Thus the men in Robert Peston's life told him not to worry because he'll get a new girlfriend, and the women brought him round a hot meal and a warm hug.

It's not just relationships advice. Over dinner the other night, I spoke about a foolish business decision I'd made. My mate, no stranger to bad deals, proceeded to castigate my naivety (fair enough) and told me precisely how he'd have done it differently and more successfully. His wife, immediately sensing that it was my feelings that had been more damaged than my bank account, leaned over and wanted to understand what had happened. Their advice was the same - don't say yes to something until you know what it entails - but she understood that the hurt I felt was emotional and not financial.

Anyway, when it comes to work, the most invaluable piece I ever received came from Homer Simpson, words of wisdom that I endorse with a personal guarantee. The three phrases, he says, that will ensure success in any office are: 'Cover for me', 'Good idea boss' and 'It was like that when I got here'. If only everything in life was that simple.