The research is probably as reliable as the mostly tabloid publications that reported on it. The condition, however, is indeed real.
Wikipedia calls man flu “a pejorative phrase that refers to the idea that men, when they have a bad cold, exaggerate and claim they have the flu.”
The Urban Dictionary goes into more detail, listing numerous entertaining definitions that amount to a back and forth between male and female perspectives.
The first entry calls man flu a condition “shared by all males wherein a common illness (usually a mild cold) is presented by the patient as life-threatening. This is also known as ‘Fishing for Sympathy’ or ‘Chronic Exaggeration.’”
Obviously, the definition writer is an unsympathetic woman who has taken someone’s man flu symptoms personally. She should not do that.
Dr. Kyle Sue, the recent maker of man flu news, argues in the British Medical Journal that men suffer more from cold and flu symptoms because of “immunological deficiencies” resulting from their reproductive evolution. This is not a serious argument, of course, but one that pokes fun at misguided female writers of man flu definitions.
Sue further opines that males historically have put more energy toward fighting to attract mates than into fighting off infections. He asserts that for males to have someone else attend to their every need during sickness, while they conserve energy “could also be evolutionarily behaviors that protect against predators.”
That's a comical hypothesis, but one that attempts to paint this malady among males with a manly brush. There’s no shame in the fact that man flu exists for men due to the sincere maternal care and concern shown to them as little boys.
Sadly, it’s a level of concern their future spouses will never reach — in sickness or in health.
Some of a boy's fondest childhood memories involve fever, stuffy nose, scratchy throat and perhaps a touch of nausea. Whenever I exhibited such symptoms as a boy, my mother would instinctively sit by my bed and stroke my forehead or soothe it with a cold washcloth.
She would give me doses of a miracle elixir we called "purple medicine,” which tasted like a grape sucker in liquid form. If my stomach was upset, mother would serve me another magical liquid: Coke over ice. And if Coke was too much magic for my upset tummy, she would wrap ice cubes in a towel and use a hammer to pound them into smaller crystals for me to eat with a spoon.
My mother’s approach to helping her son feel better was not unique. Most all mothers do this for their little men, setting them up for a lifetime of disappointment during adult cold and flu seasons.
Wives may not fully appreciate the psychology behind man flu, but the pharmaceutical industry certainly does. They know that men will buy more of their cold- and flu-related remedies — especially after the women in their lives have come home with the wrong variety.
So when we moan and groan and complain and ask for something cold to place against our aching foreheads, men are not exaggerating or necessarily searching for sympathy.
All we’re saying is, “I love you, Mommy, and I wish you were here.”
Nothing wrong with that.
Contact Mark Rutledge at firstname.lastname@example.org or like him on Facebook at Mark Rutledge Columns.