Men and Breakups

Last month I mentioned an interesting article I’d read recently.  At the time I didn’t feel like going into it so it was just the preface to a Friday Night Music post.

An excerpt:

The post I was going to originally do was based on this article, “Why Break Ups Hurt More For Women.”

For those too lazy to read the article, it describes how men and women react differently to break ups.  According to the study, women are hurt far more when a relationship ends, then they eventually recover and are generally stronger for the experience.  Compared to men, men are hurt less after the break up but never recover, just move on.

Just reading that summary, you should have some idea where I’m going with this.  I kind of feel like the article and the study missed something.  The title says break ups hurt more for women… but they recover… and are stronger afterwards, men are just kind of a footnote but it says they never get over it.  To me, that begs the question how break ups (some study said we average three by our thirties) affect men long term.  According to the study women would get stronger and stronger, it seems to follow then that men would get weaker and weaker… which is fascinating in many ways.  But they never follow up on that.

Several readers commented they wanted me to expound on the subject when I got the chance.  While I can only give my own opinions and experience, I’m going to try and do that now.

I agree with the premise that men don’t really get over break ups, they just find a way to move forward, though I think it’s a little more complicated than that.  It’s like a wound that never really heals, we might be able to get around anyway but we’re never quite the same.  Again, I can only really speak for myself but I think this is fairly common.

What the article doesn’t address, one of the many things it doesn’t address, is the severity.  This is where it gets more complicated.  Not every breakup hurts the same.

One of the things that I think makes the “never healing from heart break” concept difficult to believe is because it seems on the surface to be counter intuitive.  Guys are always trying to get laid, having casual sex, always on the prowl, act like dogs, etc.  If breakups hurt them and they never healed, why would they be so promiscuous?

Well, you could flip that around and say that maybe some guys are promiscuous because break ups are so painful.  When that first High School love doesn’t work out, it’s like touching a burner, he’s learned that lesson the hard way and doesn’t want to go through it again.

This goes back to the ‘severity’ that I mentioned.  I think that the damage done after a break up is directly proportional to the investment the guy makes in the relationship.  That would mean the more serious he is, the harder he takes it.  So, to protect themselves, a lot of guys refuse to get serious.  There’s too much risk.

Now, me, I’m a fucking romantic.  When I fall, I fall hard.  I’m the make-breakfast-in-bed, write soppy posts, eat pussy for hours, buy roses for anniversaries, plan long term kind of romantic.  That bites me in the ass when it comes to break ups.  Every time I get that invested and it doesn’t work out, I come away with serious damage.  Unlike NSA, that kind of pain adds up.

In reviewing my own relationships, I’d say that there’s only four or five that really, really hurt afterwards.  And you know what, those were the four or five that I was really, really invested in.  Most of the other women, the other breaks, those weren’t as serious and they had a lot less affect afterwards.

This actually leads to an interesting side topic, the casual vs. serious relationship ratio.  This is just me, but I find it fascinating.  In reviewing all these past relationships I’m at about a 4:1 ratio, which ends up being about 1-2 years.  It’s a cycle.  I get so hurt by a break up that I won’t do anything serious for about two years, I’m too scared/hurt to invest, and it’s only casual sex.

For example:  My senior year in High School I started dating Anne (Anne pt 1Anne pt 2), we had it great until she moved away for college.  We did the whole long-distance thing for our Freshman years, back together for the summer, then things fell apart when she left again for her Sophomore year.  I was totally dedicated to her, I mean I was faithful during my freshman year of college while she was 3,000 miles away.  When it fell apart I dropped out of college, got into a lot of bad (drugs) habits, and had casual sexual relationships with four women over the next year.  Gradually I worked up the courage to get more invested and the next summer I ran into Cat.

Now, I barely remember the four women I slept with during that period, they had almost no affect on me, but both Cat and Anne, those were biggies.

And I think that’s why I’m so emotionally detached right now, I’ve had too many breaks in the last cycle and I’m keeping my heart close to my chest like it’s a wounded animal.  I can’t handle anything more so I’m shutting it all down.  Maybe in another year or so I’ll be brave enough to get back into the dating pool, ready for something more than a night, but it really feels like each time it gets harder and harder.  More cynical, harder to invest, keep my distance longer.

On the other side of the coin, I also agree that women seem to get stronger after each break up (from what I can tell).  Sure, they hurt more right afterwards (according to the study) but then they heal and are better than before.  As I’ve gotten older the women I meet are progressively stronger, more confident, more happy, more at home inside their own body, and in many cases more intimidating.  I’m sure part of that is age, getting wiser, but it also seems like they are all building higher and higher.  They are accumulating experience and confidence in all the right ways.

I don’t see that with guys, I really don’t.  They drink more, put on more weight, and try harder to seem younger, but that’s about it.  Compensating much with that red corvette?

Which means that the older we get the bigger the difference between men and women.  Men accumulate a life time of baggage and pain, while women get stronger and stronger with the same experience.  Men get weaker, more and more outclassed over time.  Which is also interesting because older guys supposedly go after younger women.  That would almost make some sense if the article is on the right track.  Older guys, more damaged and less confident, would match up better with women who haven’t had as much experience.  It’d be a more ‘level’ emotional playing field.

(Funny side note that I didn’t think of until I was falling asleep last night; that also means that more experienced women would match up better with younger, less experienced guys.  So maybe there is something to the whole “cougar” phenomenon.)

So, the article makes a lot of sense to me, hopefully they’ll do a more in depth study sometime soon to really dig into it.

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24 thoughts on “Men and Breakups

  1. I don’t know Johnny and Hy…I’m only able to move on because I WORK HARD at moving on. It’s not easy. It’s taken therapy in the past. It’s taken lots of crying. It’s taken realizing that he is not obviously meant for me and writing pages and pages and pages about it in my journal. EVERYTHING you wrote about I ALSO had to deal with also in the past as a woman. I have baggage too but it has taken a lot of soul searching to close that baggage and put in on the shelf so I don’t deal with it…I think if guys don’t deal with it, it’s just a lousy excuse of being lazy and not taking the time to deal with it.
    And yeah, some men do drink more, put on more weight, and try harder to be younger but that’s A CHOICE they are making. It’s a choice that I also do make sometimes…I see myself drinking more and so I’m trying to get out of that habit. I see myself eating not as a healthy as I used to so I need to work hard to get back to the eating habits I used to have.
    I feel like if a man really wanted to make some changes to get stronger, it can happen…If a man wants to be cynical and emotionally detached, than he is going to be those things. Yet, if a man wants to try and get stronger by doing what it takes for him to get stronger, it’s going to happen.
    Your thought “I can’t handle anything more right now so I’m shutting it all down” makes sense though and what I think any healthy person should do after a break up. There’s nothing wrong with that. It is healthy to take time for yourself so your heart heals. I’ve definitely done that the last couple of years. And I’m at a good place now and so will you soon.

    • There were a lot of generalizations in this post that I usually try to avoid, but that was difficult when the requested topic was itself about generalizations. Obviously ever person and situation is unique and many won’t fit neatly into their gender boxes (if such things even exist). I never said that it was easier on women, indeed the article said it was more painful, and I’m not a woman so I can only talk about the trends that I see from the outside, but I think there are merits to the points made in the article.

      “I think if guys don’t deal with it, it’s just a lousy excuse of being lazy and not taking the time to deal with it.”

      Yeah, I’m going to have to disagree with that statement. What the study doesn’t point out (and I didn’t either) is the social stigma attached to mental health issues among men. It’s a social, and possibly biological, issue that definitely makes it far harder for a man to get help. Even admitting they’re having a problem is very hard, let alone getting the necessary support and help they need. It’s no different than an athlete having an injury in a game, rub some dirt on it and keep playing. Or PTSD after they come back from the battlefield. It’s not that they don’t know there’s a problem, it’s that the stigma of admitting it keeps them from getting help. Additionally, men don’t communicate in the same ways as women, we don’t tend to have the same kind of supportive relationships where talking about these things is acceptable. It’s not a simple problem.

      A choice they’re making to be less healthy. That’s true in some ways but it’s also complicated. Saying that if a guy really wanted to make changes and get stronger it would happen is kind of like saying if we all wanted to be millionaires it would happen. Or astronauts. Just wanting something isn’t enough, there needs to be a support network and motivation and opportunity and a lot of time and hard work. That’s not to say it’s impossible, just that it isn’t simple. And one of the biggest factors is not having a supportive, positive support system, something that a lot of men lack because of the dynamics of male to male relationships. http://www.doctornerdlove.com/2014/05/surprising-need-male-intimacy/

      That’s one of the reasons that I keep saying I need to take time for myself, because I have to do it all on my own. And I’m a lot more self aware than most guys, so it’s really not hard for me to see how so many would struggle.

      Hopefully that all makes sense.

      • It makes sense, but see, SINCE I’m in the mental health field (as a therapist) my point is that it doesn’t have to be that way any more….That stigma is a thing of the past and I think men are slowly realizing this. I’m seeing more and more clients who are males getting help. I would agree that back in the 70s and 80s, the idea of a man going to a therapist was probably never heard of, but I really don’t think that is what is happening now…
        I don’t know about your comparison about getting stronger is like wanting to be a millionaire…I kind of think that is comparing apples to oranges..
        And we talked about the male support system before…I mentioned why that’s a good reason to have female friends…
        And Smitten, I know men think and do things differently but WE ALL have different way on how we cope with things…so it’s my goal as a therapist to figure out what WILL WORK for a man (and woman) to get over the depression they are dealing with…it really is different for each and every person.
        What I see over and over again is so many people are who they are because how they were raised. And if it was a traumatic upbringing (or just a weird one), than they have to work extra hard to learn healthy ways on how to deal with situations. But this takes lots and lots of time…
        I think we all need to get together and have a few drinks to discuss this further…lol =)

      • To say that it doesn’t have to be that way assumes that there isn’t a physiological difference in how some men and women process things. And to me, that’s a big assumption. We can all agree that everyone deals with things differently, thinks differently, why not take that a step further and say that to a degree we’re all wired differently. And if that’s the case, wouldn’t it make sense that some of that wiring is influenced by biology as well as society’s influence and gender roles?

        And while, hopefully, it’s getting more acceptable for men to get into therapy the other factors still play a role, especially with relationships and support and communication outside the therapist’s office. It’s not just one facet of male life that needs work, it’s the whole system.

        Okay, I’ll reword the comparison so it’s less apples and oranges. Making a choice to be healthier is like making a choice to not be depressed, it’s just a first step in a long process. Simply making the choice doesn’t determine the outcome or no one would be depressed, damaged, need therapy, or be an addict. The support network, dedication, and understanding are vital parts of success. My point was that men are often hampered in those respects by gender roles and expectations.

        Yes, everyone handles things differently, generalizations will never be 100% correct, but I still think the article has a lot of merit even though it’s the tip of the proverbial iceberg. All the things they touch on definitely need to be backed up with further study so we can find out the ‘why’s behind the statistics.

        Hopefully that makes sense. 🙂

      • I can agree to everything you just said in that response =) But I will add (and pretty much say again) we are ALL wired differently. My sister handles things differently than me…why is that? She is only 20 months younger than me. We grew up in the same house with the same parents. Why? Because are brains are different and so we respond to situations in a different way…it’s what makes the brain fascinating

  2. Thank you for writing this, Johnny. I am confounded by men right now and your post explains a lot as I re-enter the world of “finding a companion/mate”. Most Guys seem to not be able to let old loves go – they just squash the feelings down, making them more bitter and, perhaps, more complicated as they get older. I know that if those feelings aren’t addressed they’re like rotting food, getting nastier, grosser and more septic with each passing moment.

    What you’re saying makes so much sense, but it’s also very discouraging to read (grossly understated)…

    I see what Lisa is saying and I disagree partially, but only partially. I *agree* that some men actually make the choices to be continually self-destructive and not grow (just as some women make the choice get stronger and move on). But I also understand that men are not wired the same as women: they think and reason MUCH differently. And, of course, societal conditioning factors in here with the whole “be a man, don’t be a sissy” thing. But, no matter, I really believe that men think and do things differently. Women are silly to expect men to act like them, and vice versa. imho

    • Yes, the whole Mars – Venus quote comes to mind. The big question, the one that underlies all of this, is whether we’re really wired differently or whether it’s more learned behavior, nature vs nurture. To a degree, I think it’s a combination of both, and that’s what made the study so interesting -if painfully shallow. When they take it a step further we might be able to get real answers. For example, studying these statistics in different countries could prove whether or not social practices play a larger role.

      Even just looking at male role models, they’re the quiet, stoic, nothing-bothers-them, get shot and don’t slow down types. Where are the guys that talk about their feelings and have adult conversations with their significant others? They’re not there unless we delve into Romance novels or chick-lit, and those are widely avoided by men as ‘unmanly’. Is it any wonder that guys communicate poorly and have lingering mental health issues? The article I linked to in my response to lisafab is another almost depressing example at the stunted emotional lives of men.

      And if it’s any consolation, I’m not feeling encouraged by all this either. If anything, the article seems to suggest that you might have better luck seeing younger guys that are less damaged. Of course, that comes with its own issues.

  3. I remember being curious when you first mentioned this article. Glad you expounded. I’m also kinda bummed. You’re a great guy and too young to be cynical. I vote we start a “you wanna date Johnnyid?” screening committee. I’ll be the chair and we can all screen and vote on prospects before they even meet you!! 😜

    The article was really good but I like your analysis better. And because I’m the consummate behavior health nerd, I did some reading. Lol. And actually the research lines up what you wrote. The Journal of Abnormal Psychology (http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2011/08/mental-illness.aspx) came out with a study that talked about how women are more likely to be diagnosed with depression and anxiety while men are diagnosed with substance abuse and antisocial disorders. So women tend to internalize emotions resulting in withdrawal, loneliness, and depression. And men tend to externalize leading to impulsive, risky, or aggressive behaviors. All that seems pretty consistent with what you’re saying in that men “appear” to have healed when really….they haven’t. And something as straight forward as depression (the women) can be treated sometimes within months to where you do gain insight and begin to feel the growth that comes with trials. For me, this is a crucial distinction because it impacts treatment significantly when we recognize that there are differences between men and women and how they process grief and loss and other stressors.

    And we can go into the whys but I guess I’m more concerned about the difference in seeking treatment. The Center for Disease Control just came out with a study that while 9% of men have depression an/or anxiety, less than half actually seek treatment. And that number gets lower with Hispanic and African American men. (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db206.htm) Those numbers are hugely concerning. And mostly heartbreaking. There is a stigma in seeking mental health treatment but for men there are added social and cultural pressures which include ideas of masculinity, roles in relationships, at work, etc.

    Also, want to talk more about you wanting to isolate but I guess I’ll save that for another time. 🙂
    Thanks for another thought provoking post, Id!

  4. Lots of interesting thoughts, in the post and the comments. My small contributions –

    1) Yes, the stigma around getting help with mental health issues is going away, but not nearly fast enough, especially for men. I have a (bad?) habit of being friends with middle-aged men (get your mind out of the gutter), and even the more progressive ones will voice some “handle it like a MAN” with regard to emotional issues.

    1a) My personal speculation is that “handle it like a MAN” is very much a cycle-of-abuse dynamic, coming from their own resentment of having had to handle way too much shit and having their very real pain dismissed with “handle it like a MAN.”

    1b) It’s the guys who are warm, fuzzy, and sensitive on the inside that occasionally leak emotion all over the people around them, in the form of anger or just needing to vent. The ones that really were able to “handle it like a MAN” and not look back are the more emotionally calloused, insensitive types. They are not as enjoyable as people and don’t make very good friends.

    2) Let’s say all the stigma around getting help with mental health issues is gone tomorrow. You still wouldn’t have people running to their nearest therapist, because a lot of people aren’t self-aware enough to know that: a) they have a problem; and b) they need help. Currently there’s an expectation (especially among men) that a certain amount of broken is a normal way to be; if you see it as normal, you’re not going to fix it.

    3) Yes, it is a LOT of work to heal from things. “Time heals all wounds” is a bullshit phrase. To the extent that people find it is true, there is a lot of automatic healing that happens in the background that people aren’t really aware of. This is fine for emotional pin-pricks, but it won’t work for an emotional broken leg. It takes work, rest, and space. The only reason time is involved at all is because the process of work, rest, and space takes time. Time by itself didn’t do shit.

    4) Even if a person knows they are hurting, knows they need to heal, and knows that healing takes work, they still need to know HOW to heal. Not everyone will. Not every therapist will.

    TL/DR: There are a lot of reasons people stay broken; mainly because they need the stars to align and necessary steps to happen correctly in the right order in order to heal. The advantage women have in this department is that women benefit from the soft bigotry of low expectations – in giving women permission to be emotional (even as it’s derided as weak and feminine), women also have a better chance of facing their emotions and trauma so they can work on themselves.

      • Well, to continue trafficking in generalizations, everything male and masculine is seen as the norm / best practice, and everything outside of that is feminine / lesser / weaker / not-as-good.

        Male attributes include being strong, silent, stoic, and plenty of other things that don’t jive well with even being aware of one’s emotional and mental health, to say nothing of fixing issues when they arise.

        Women can be in touch with their emotions and do the work to improve their emotional / mental health without having their femininity questioned because such things are expected of women, even if the norm / best practice is to be more “male” in this regard. On the other hand, men who decide to be in touch with their emotions and do the work to improve their emotional / mental health are seen as less “manly.”

        It’s the whole attitude of stereotypically male attributes being the norm that made me think of the “soft bigotry of low expectations” phrase. I think it’s ironic that in this arena, behaving differently or “less than” the way men usually do turns out to be a long-term strength.

      • But that seems to say that we’re all judged with the same standards, which I don’t think is the case. Expectations for men and women are different, which is exactly why men avoid things that are ‘unmanly’. I’m sure it’s similar for women in some cases where they avoid certain behaviors because they are more masculine. Each gender is at least partially trying to stay within their expected behaviors and doing something that strays too far can be judged by their own sex harshly. A large percentage of women want to be seen as feminine, just as a large percentage of men want to be seen as masculine, two very different things. That’s why the “soft bigotry” comment didn’t make sense to me.

      • I think we are generally judged by the same standards in the emotional / mental health arena. The difference is, it is expected that women don’t measure up on account of being women, whereas men are expected to measure up as a condition of being manly men.

      • Are you talking about doctors and mental health providers? I don’t see there being a single standard for both men and women. There are different assumptions and expectations for each. Judging one by the other would be comparing apples and oranges.

      • I’m referring to general social perceptions and expectations of men and women with regard to mental / emotional health. With regard to doctors and mental health professionals, one would hope that if someone darkens the door of a mental health clinic they would get the individualized care they need.

    • I agree with everything you wrote, AthenaC. 🙂 I’m still pondering your conjecture on #2, although I can understand how you came to that rationale.
      And hey, no knocking middle aged men! I’m married to one. 😜

      • Haha! No, I wasn’t trying to knock middle-aged men. It’s just that I tend to get some side-eye as a 33-year-old woman when I mention middle-aged male friends.

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