In 1995 Peggy Giordano did a study of high school yearbooks. She was leafing through one when something caught her eye about the notes people had written there, something about their rawness and their honesty. "I was amazed at some of the messages that the boys were writing to girls," Giordano says. "They seemed to be so emotional and so heartfelt. It didn't seem to jibe with the picture of boys' only wanting one thing and objectifying young women."
Giordano is not the typical target audience for a mash note written in a yearbook. She's a professor of sociology at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, and the object of her most recent investigations is not the kind of thing you would think social scientists spend their time on. Her quarry, sociologically speaking, is the elusive, zealously guarded heart of the modern-day teenage boy. Giordano--an author of such articles as "A Conceptual Portrait of Adolescent Romantic Relationships" and "Hooking Up: The Relationship Contexts of 'Nonrelationship' Sex"--believes something most people don't: not only do adolescent boys have hearts, but they're also the biggest romantics around.
It's a theory that runs counter to the story our culture usually tells us about teenage boys--that they have abandoned dating and monogamy for hooking up and "friends with benefits." But Giordano believed the prevailing wisdom was wrong, and in 2001, with the help of two colleagues, professors Wendy Manning and Monica Longmore, she set out to test it.
But how? The existing sociological literature wasn't much help. "There really hasn't been much on romantic relationships" among adolescents, Giordano says with a sigh. "And what there has been is really much more focused on sex itself." Moreover, the earlier work all seemed to be missing a crucial element: past sociologists had compiled reams of data about behavior--what teens do--but not much about what that behavior meant to them--what teens actually feel. Giordano didn't just want to know if a boy told his girlfriend he loved her. She also wanted to know if he really meant it.
But she was aware that not all stereotypes about teenage boys are wrong: they scare easily; they're reluctant to talk about their emotions, and when they do, they're not particularly good at it. So when Giordano and her colleagues decided to undertake a large-scale study of the secret love life of teenagers, they approached their subjects the way you would treat warriors of the Yanomamo: with scientific objectivity and extreme caution.