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  • Natasha J. Thomas, MD

Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud”: Insights into a Man’s Need for Emotional Intimacy

Almost four years ago, Englishman Ed Sheeran released his hit song “Thinking Out Loud,” a beautifully soulful plea for the security of unconditional, deep and timeless love. With over 2 billion views on YouTube, and countless covers, this song has universal appeal with everyone from Canadian country singers to Caribbean reggae artists. Surprisingly, I first heard it on KidzBop, my daughter’s favorite Sirius XM station. So, what’s the appeal? No, it’s not just the smooth beat, or even the way Ed belts out those lyrics, though that certainly helps. Hear it here.

As a psychiatrist who still lives and loves the art of psychotherapy, I feel so blessed and privileged to hear people’s innermost thoughts. It’s why the song title initially caught my attention. A lot of times, I see people in a stream of consciousness that feels a lot like thinking out loud – almost as if they forget there’s an audience there. I love that, because it gives me the chance to really see what their internal experience is like.

My adventure as a psychiatrist of some exceptionally brave men has taught me lots of things – including how women can be completely clueless about the hearts of the men they love. I say these men are brave, but the term I truly want is courageous. To bare your heart, in front of a woman, in a culture where men are socialized to be emotionless automatons takes guts. To those men, I have to say thank you. You know who you are.

And what I’ve learned from these men is that they strongly value emotional tenderness, and long for it in the security of a committed relationship. Now, if you’ve had the painful experience of being “cheated on” or otherwise mistreated by a man, you may find this hard to believe. But emotionally mature men will tell you that the life of a “player” is hollow, and that nothing on God’s green earth compares to the love and dedication of that one right woman.

When I listen to “Thinking Out Loud,” I hear the exact same themes I hear in therapy. This song captures the spirit of what men want in relationship. Men are asking us to love them, in whatever stage of life they may be in - in their strong muscle days, in their money struggle days, in their aging years. They want to please us. They want us to see them as awesome lovers, they want us to be happy and think of them with fondness. They need us to trust them. Oftentimes, when a man finds a woman he treasures, he immediately commits his heart to her (whether he says so, or not) – especially if he has the privilege of finding a young lady early in life, or after a heartbreak. They want us to know they are there for the long-haul. They are entranced by our loyalty, by our femininity, and our acceptance. They want to hold us, but need to be held, too. They are devastated if we give up on them, don’t believe in them or if we leave.

We short-change our little boys. Studies have shown that because male babies maintain eye contact for a shorter time than their female counterparts, parents spend less time with face-to-face play. From early on, this may build subconscious hunger for emotional intimacy in a boy’s world. It’s allusive. He struggles to know how to achieve it or nurture it once he captures it. And when the love of his life tells him he’s not doing something correctly, it actually crushes him. Due to other unfortunate ways we socialize our boys, men struggle to hear constructive criticism from their women. Instead, he just becomes awash in shame and feelings of inadequacy whenever we ladies need to “have a talk about how the relationship is going.” That’s because it indicates to him that he’s failing at intimacy. He may just be inclined to give up on everything, though he wouldn’t want to. Did you know that men actually lose years off their lives after divorce? We’re major to them, girls.

Obviously, Ed isn’t the first man to pour out his soul in praise of a woman’s love. But I appreciate when he says, “I’m thinking out loud”, because what he may actually be saying is, “I’m letting you hear my innermost thoughts.” Vulnerability is not easy.

So ladies, if there is a worthy man in your life, it would be wise to read more and study the nature of a man in love. Show up for him. Give him a soft place to land – God knows life is hard enough without feeling misunderstood. Go ahead, take him into your loving arms!


Let us hear from you. Have you grown in your love and understanding of the man in your life? Share your wisdom, inspire someone!

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