The myth supposedly goes that men and women think differently. Volumes have been written alleging men are more Martian than human. But is it true? When it comes to breakups, do men handle heartbreak differently than women?

In the grand scheme of all the breakups in your rear view mirror, you may have noticed a trend. The memories left behind lingered around like crumbs trapped in carpet fibers. No matter how many times you run your trusty Dyson over the rug, you still find pointy, crushed Doritos stuck into the soles of your feet from time to time.

How Men Handle Heartbreak

No, it’s not just you. In fact, in August 2015, researchers at Binghamton University and University College London published the findings of their months-long study in a journal called Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences.

Their piece called, Quantitive Sex Differences in Response to the Dissolution of a Romantic Relationship, reveals that men not only deal differently with the post-heartbreak sting, but it also lingers around in their lives, sometimes taking years to fully heal. Women took them harder but were more likely to initiate the dissolution of the relationship.

Like a slow burn, the pain lasts longer in men, sometimes never going away completely. Previously thought of as the colder, less caring member of the species, this study purports the opposite is true. Binghamton research associate and lead author of the study, Craig Morris, said, “Put simply, women are evolved to invest far more time in a relationship than a man.” But while women hurt more (with a higher intensity), men take longer to feel the effects and they linger. “The man will likely feel the loss deeply and for a very long period of time as it ‘sinks’ in,” Morris went on to say, “that he must ‘start competing’ all over again to replace what he has lost – or worse still, come to the realization that the loss is irreplaceable.”

The Details of the Study

They posed questionnaires in English before 5,705 participants in 96 countries (average age of 27) in an attempt to replicate and expand on the existing biological model of human, post-breakup behavior.

Questions included:

  • Have you experienced a breakup?
    • If they experienced multiple breakups, respondents were asked to choose the one that affected them most or the most recent.
  • How severe was the breakup for you emotionally?
  • Who do you feel initiated the breakup?
  • What sort of physical responses did you experience as a result of the breakup?

Participants were then asked to rate their emotional and physical responses to their breakups from zero (didn’t bother them at all) to 10 (unbearable).

The Findings

75% of the total participants (4,279) experienced breakups at some point in their lives. Of those people, 75% of them (3,209) had gone through them more than once. Although a lack of communication was the most common reason for initiating the breakup, infidelity was the most common direct cause, primarily male infidelity.

Understanding the science behind how men handle heartbreak is important. By the time we reach 30, most people have experienced and survived at least three major breakups with one of them enacting a major negative impact on a person’s quality of life.

Post-Breakup Grief (PRG)

That’s the name of the thing that keeps you up at night dwelling on the one that got away. A previous study determined people with a predisposition to depression and anxiety were more likely to suffer from severe emotional issues post-breakup. Rejection altogether is one of the worst parts of the human condition. It’s another thing entirely to be rejected by the one we love.

Blame PRG for your obsessions. It’s also responsible for the rage and anger you felt at the thought of being abandoned by your ex.

Other symptoms of PRG include (but are certainly not limited to):

  • Depression
  • Sadness
  • Rage
  • Insomnia
  • Eating disorders
  • Sudden weight loss or gain
  • Panic attacks

The study also concluded that rejected people suffered higher levels of PRG than those who initiated the breakup. At the end of a relationship, one person seems to be doing fine and coping well while the other is left bereft. This could be because the initiating party has had time to think about the impending end. They’ve had time to process all the possible angles. In a way, they get a head start ahead of the rejected party.

Morris suggests further studies be done looking into the long-term effects of PRG by adding, “With a better understanding of this emotional and physical response to a breakup – Post Relationship Grief – we can perhaps develop a way to mitigate its effect in already high-risk individuals.”

In Closing

Evolution has made women more choosy of the person they pick to procreate with. Whoever it ends up being will need to be worth the frustrations associated with a potential pregnancy. Morris says that this is a reason why women are more likely to initiate a breakup than men.

On the other hand, men might feel they’ll need to compete with other guys for a new mate if they should end their current relationship. The process might seem like it’s too much effort to put forth when they already have a suitable companion.

How men handle heartbreak has a lot to do with their available replacement options. Good women aren’t plentiful. Finding someone who can adequately fill your ex’s shoes won’t be easy. She may even seem irreplaceable. The hurt lasts and fades away slowly, taking its time to exit stage right.

If you’re thinking about her right now, know that it’s totally normal. You’re not wrong for remembering the good times. The relationship satiated a part of you that needed it. Like food or water, it kept you going and fulfilled for a time. Your need to feel validated and acceptance was met. Longing for it is a part of the human condition.

I’ve found that taking yourself there occasionally can be therapeutic. It helps you remember that it wasn’t all always good. In the end, if it ended, it was never a permanent part of your life. It may have felt like it at the time, but sooner or later, everything that has a beginning also has an end.

The results of this study reveal men handle heartbreak in ways we’d consider non-traditional. For guys, the lost relationship leaves an imprint behind that women may not understand. Be honest with your potential new mate. If you feel the nagging weight of your last breakup sitting heavily on your shoulders, talk about it with your current pursuit. Be as open as you can be about it. For all you know, she may be carrying around a little extra emotional baggage, too. It could be something you end up helping each other through.

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