Blowtorches Vs. Ovens: On Intimacy & Gender


Like many of you, I occasionally like to peruse the forums here on CatholicMatch. And, like many of you, I get easily overwhelmed once I start doing that. There’s just so much good stuff – so many interesting conversations going on.  How does one choose which way to go?

As a CatholicMatch columnist, I have a slight advantage in that department. I can use the “search” tool, search on my name, and see which conversations are talking about me. Or, more likely, something I wrote, because I personally am not nearly as interesting to people as how something I wrote might have resonated with themselves.

Which, of course, is the whole goal. 

So I like to see how I’m doing.

And so it was that I came upon a conversation about kissing on the first date, in which my name was mentioned. Actually, what was mentioned was a quote from my book Real Love which, while not about kissing on the first date, was about kissing in general. 

I said, among other things, that it speaks the language of affection. I didn’t specify the exact point in a relationship where that can or should come into play, which apparently left me endorsing the First Date Kiss by default.

What fascinated me was what followed, which was the statement (paraphrased) that if there’s no kiss after the first date, there’s no romantic attraction and hence there should be no second date.

I have no intention of proclaiming publicly on the morality or lack thereof of kissing on the first date. That’s a complex subject and would be another –probably much longer – column. But I would like to offer some insight into the difference between women and men, a difference that could shed a lot of light on this no-kiss-means-no-future mentality.


Men are from Mars

John Gray, who is morally and theologically a bit of a dunce but very astute at male/female differences, says that “men are like blowtorches and women are like ovens.” In other words, men are inclined to heat up quickly (and often cool down just as quickly), whereas women tend to take longer to develop attraction, which then tends to be more grounded and last longer. 

To be more specific, he says that attraction develops in women in a different order than it does in men. Men, according to Gray, feel physical attraction first. As he gets to know the various women to whom he is physically attracted, he finds that he likes some better than others, and to those “some he beings to feel emotional attraction – attraction to her personality. If things keep going well, he may reach the stage of mental attraction (attraction to her character, virtues, strength, kindness, etc) and then “soul attraction” and fall in love with her.

Women are inclined to go about it in more or less the opposite way.  Gray says the women’s first level of attraction tends to be mental. In other words, she finds him interesting for some reason. In getting to know him, she’ll then move to emotional attraction. And it’s then – when she feels attraction on both of those levels – that she will be likely to become physically attracted to him.


Inside attraction

As I woman, I have to say that Dr. Gray’s theories make sense to me. It isn’t that women don’t notice attractive men or don’t realize they’re attractive.  But there’s a difference between noticing that someone is attractive and being attracted to him. For me, a man I know nothing about but who happens to be attractive is like a beautiful painting – certainly a great work of art, but not necessarily something that I want to take home. Physical attractiveness says nothing about the person, and – to me, at least – it doesn’t in itself lend itself to desiring any level of intimacy with him.

Kissing is a very intimate thing to do. Many women, to feel truly attracted to a man, to actually want to be close and to do something as intimate as kissing him, generally want to feel a certain intimacy with him on the other levels as well.

That’s not to say that our emotional and mental “detectors” are infallible.  Some women are attracted to “personalities” that are essentially dysfunctional – often in a way that mirrors their own dysfunction or woundedness. Gray says that if a woman meets a man and immediately feels attraction on all four levels, that’s a certain sign that she’s attracted to a fantasy of the man and not the man himself. In fact, he goes so far as to say that if a woman who has a history of making bad choices is suddenly very physically attracted to a man she doesn’t know, she should run the other way.

Ata any rate, women are not men. (And we’re very thankful for that, all the way around.) We generally need to go through some other stages of attraction before landing at the “wanting to kiss you” stage. Can all of that happen on a first date? 

Sure, I suppose it could. 

But is it guaranteed to happen? 

Not at all. 

A woman can sometimes take weeks or months getting to know a man before she realizes her attraction to him. This is the beauty of a “friends first” relationship (of which a few men on the forums also didn’t appreciate the subtle benefits).

There is no right and wrong in the difference between men and women in the way we become attracted. We’re just different. And we need to understand that. 

Men tend to assume that a woman who isn’t instantly physically attracted to them isn’t interested. And women tend to assume that a man who is physically attracted to them must be attracted to their intellects and their souls, when in fact he’s just at that first, less discriminating level.

And that can lead to a lot of misunderstandings, a lot of hurt and a lot of missed opportunities.



  1. Benjamin-148488 October 29, 2011 Reply

    Good article, Mary Beth. May CM days are finally at a close, but I wanted to chime in with a few thoughts. Are men and women being as worthy as they can be, in the sense of being someone worth being pursued and someone worthy of pursuing? When the two worlds collide, will they actually be of the right substance to actually synergize and synthesize something new and lasting? I think only God knows best, then the couple know second best. I find in society an obsession with the postering, posing, strategizing, and negotiating before a friendship even starts. Why cannot people be just be themselves? Why, because they are afraid of being rejected for who they really are in the end. This is a sign of something fundamentally more wrong than simply a sense of timing with the opposite sex. If we really have our acts together with self and God, then, naturally we will meet and synchronize with the right person…the rest is work, sacrifice, suffering, loyalty, patience…and true love….All the best, Mary Beth, and God bless all those truly ready and hoping for true love…

  2. Vhie-763540 October 28, 2011 Reply

    Yap that is Dr John Gray! And I agree to his theory on men and women’s differences on the level of attraction. Thank you, great analysis and interpretation. Hope to read you more.

  3. Mike-193697 October 27, 2011 Reply

    read about gender differences from dr mango and the st michaels institute of neurological and psychological sciences

  4. John-751128 October 25, 2011 Reply

    Great post. Everyone should read this one.

  5. Dawn-58330 October 24, 2011 Reply

    Excellent post, Mary Beth! Thank you for illustrating these differences in men and women so well.

  6. Michael-422117 October 24, 2011 Reply

    I dated an amazing young woman for a time who taught me this lesson. Kissing her was so much for satisfying and meaningful for having waited until we had been dating for over two months to share a first kiss. It didn’t just express physical attraction, but emotional intimacy and a deep level of trust. Going forward, I don’t plan on introducing kissing until the relationship is well under way.

  7. Mayra-552882 October 23, 2011 Reply

    Amazing! It make me understand way I usually fell that I need more time. Thanks!

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