Is there any evidence as to which gender a breakup is actually harder on? I studied exactly this and came out of it with a few reasons as to why breakups may hurt women more initially but are actually harder on men in the long run.
Young men are socialized out of social support.
According to this study, male babies are more emotive than female babies. They are not only more likely to cry and show negative emotions but also more likely to express joy. This means that, naturally, males are actually more social than females, which is true up until they reach school age, about 5 years old. Niobe Way, a researcher on friendships between boys as they mature, found that up until their early teenage years, young boys develop very deep connections with their friends (just like girls!). These friendships are based on secrets and respected vulnerability, up until they begin to believe secrets and vulnerability are “girly” in their mid-teens when their focus shifts to romantic relationships. With romance to worry about, they don’t want to come off as if they are interested romantically in their male friends, and they don’t want to be teased for expressing closeness or vulnerability. These are fears they carry with them, maybe even subconsciously, into adulthood. So, they just sort of stop these deep friendships and drift into loneliness and sometimes, ensuing depression.
Social support carries with it an immense number of benefits!
It enriches your life in so many ways, such as a boost in mental health, confidence, validation, affirmations, reminders that you’re hilarious and fun and amazing. Often times, a man’s partner is his only source of social support, so after a breakup, he doesn’t know who or how to reach out. Women are far more likely to vocalize their feelings to their social network and have their whole squad come to vent, cry, wallow, and gossip with them. When men don’t seek out social support, they bottle in their emotions without truly working through the breakup, sometimes carrying unresolved baggage with them for years. This can happen to women too, of course, when they don’t have friends that support them, but women are much more comfortable being vulnerable because there is less social stigma against it.
So, men, maturity does not mean independence, and strength does not mean emotional apathy. Think of strength as the ability to find resilience in not just yourself, but by letting those around you help you to build it. Think of maturity as the ability to disregard unsupportive, judgmental opinions about your feelings, because everything you feel is valid and important. Needing friends is not a sign of weakness, rather, admitting you need them is a sign of immense strength
Men use different coping strategies.
Another research study found that women are able to recover more fully from a breakup than men. The study found that men feel a more intense desire to jump right back into dating so they can “replace” what they lost in order to prove that they can. This doesn’t mean they are over the breakup, but it may be the only way they know how to recover from it. This might be because their partner was their primary, and possibly only, source of social support, so they feel the need to find social support romantically or sexually to replace that loss of intimacy and closeness. While dating or hooking up may help them to feel better in the short term, eventually residual feelings resurface and they are still left to deal with unresolved reactions to the breakup.
Dating can be great for the mending process, but to make sure it’s not just to use someone as a replacement, rebound, or a distraction, try to make connections with potential friends rather than love interests, first. If you’ve reflected on the breakup and have been allowing yourself to feel all the emotions it brings rather than pushing them aside, and if you feel ready to date in order to find love again, go for it!
Overall, we all feel very similarly.
According to a psychologist, the sense of loss and identity conflict that men and women feel is the same. However, we assume it’s different simply because we handle breakups so differently. Men prefer action, like working out and rebounding, while women prefer connecting-verbally explaining or showing what they feel. I believe a large part of this is because men almost feel like they’re not allowed to show emotions, and don’t have the social support necessary. So, they take to physiological release rather than emotional release. But the feelings are still there, and will only persist the longer they are shoved away, which is why it may seem like men have a delayed reaction to breakups. When the distractions fade away, the realness of it will come pouring in. The coping strategies they use simply delay having to face the pain, while the coping strategies women use have them on the mend from square one.
To the men reading, hopefully this research shines a light on the need for social support and allowing emotions to be felt rather than pushed aside. It all boils down to the fact that women are more familiar with their feelings and able to work through them more quickly and in a healthier way than men who experience heartbreak. A good place to start is by seeing a best bud and actually talking about how you are dealing with the breakup. Tell your friend what you need (advice, a listening ear, affirmations), because he may not know how to respond. Setting aside time for daily journaling, like we do on Mend after you listen to a training, will help to make sense of your feelings.