It is classic dating advice – to play it cool and avoid being too needy.
But while clingy women might send their partner running for the hills, men can get away with it, research suggests.
Men with insecure girlfriends and wives are less satisfied with their relationship and suffer stress from constantly having to reassure their other half, a survey found.
But rather than being put-off by clinginess in men, women said they remain just as satisfied. The researchers suggest women compensate for their partner’s emotional outbursts and want to care for him even more.
Lead author Ashley Cooper, a PhD student in human sciences at Florida State University, also suggested that women who feel needy are more likely to tell their loved one about their worries, meaning men are more affected by how their partner is feeling.
In contrast men tend to bottle up how they feel, limiting the impact any anxiety on their part can have on their girlfriend’s own happiness.
Neediness has been described by psychologists as "attachment anxiety" – a fear that care and affection might be taken away by the other person in the relationship. This can make the anxious person more aware of how their partner behaves and more likely to jump to emotional conclusions.
The study, which asked 157 couples to fill out questionnaires on their relationship satisfaction, found that men tended to show stress from this behaviour while women were more likely to accept it and alter their behaviour accordingly.
Men were also more likely to show "attachment avoidance", the study found after asking the couples to keep diaries for a week.
This means they avoid relying too much on the other person or being too committed or intimate.
Of the couples in the study, nearly 50 percent had been dating for two years or less.Writing in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, the researchers said that women "may be more skilled" in buffering the harmful effects of a boyfriend’s attachment anxiety on the quality of the relationship by "developing behaviours that compensate for the behaviours of their anxious partner".
They say that this could be because seeing their partner anxious ‘may activate women’s desires to care for their partners, especially because women may be expected to take on the role of maintaining the relationship’.
Discussing why women might show signs of attachment anxiety more than men, Cooper said: "Women are conditioned to be more open and expressive about their feelings. Thus when they are anxious they may be more likely to communicate those feelings to their partner, so their male partner feels the effects of that anxiety much more when thinking about the quality of their relationship."
She said society tends to influence men to be "less emotionally reactive, as internal strength and stoicism are values attributed to masculinity".
She said such messages tend to lead men to show more attachment avoidance, but added: "When men do have attachment anxiety, cultural expectations that they talk less openly about their feelings could buffer the effects of attachment anxiety on their partner’s feelings about the relationship."