Why Are Men Surprised by Breakups?

Over the years I’ve dated men who’ve ogled other women. Actually, only four men behaved that way, most weren’t so rude. When I told them their behavior bothered me, it had no effect. One responded, “Someday you’ll have a breakthrough and get over it.”

Instead of breakthroughs, I broke up with each of them. They were all shocked.

Sometimes the surprise happens differently, as when men “hear” me say that I like what I don’t.

When I was in college at BYU some of the students believed that although Mormons no longer practice polygamy (only “Mormon Fundamentalists” do) polygamy was the way of Heaven. (A religious instructor said this wasn’t the case. I haven’t been to church in years and don’t know what the common view is now.)

Still, I heard men say they couldn’t wait to have many wives up in Heaven. Put off, I asked men how they felt about polygamy. I told one man that it pissed me off. But projecting his own interest onto me, he was certain that I was as intrigued by the idea of heavenly threesomes as he was. Perhaps he got his sex ed from porn? I was mystified. He was surprised when I broke off our relationship.

Breakups can be harder on men than on women. Partly because men are more likely to be surprised.

Why are they so often surprised?

The male role seems to be in play. Men are less likely to monitor their relationships and they often learn that they’re not supposed to listen to women. Plus, taught to constrain their emotions, men are less able to read the emotions of others.

Women are commonly objectified, too. When men see women as objects, sex toys that exist for their pleasure, men lack empathy and can’t feel women’s pain.

Additionally, men often have more power in society and in relationships. How could this hurt them?

The Wall Street Journal reported studies showing that power decreases empathy.

People moving up the ladder of success are typically considerate, outgoing, agreeable and extroverted. Nice “guys” do finish first.

But once in power, things change.

One researcher compared the effect to brain damage, saying that people who hold a lot of authority can behave like neurological patients with damaged orbitofrontal lobes, an area of the brain that’s crucial for empathy.

I’m not saying all men behave this way, but it’s an interesting observation and something to consider since men typically have more power in relationships, and in society, generally.

So it’s interesting that even limited experiments, like asking people to describe a time when they felt powerful, could make them more egocentric.

Power keeps people from hearing points of view that differ from their own. So when a woman says she’s unhappy, and her partner feels she shouldn’t be, he may not sense her suffering even as she tells him about it.

Power diminishes empathy. Lacking empathy, some misread their partner’s feelings.

Then its surprise! Bye, bye baby.

Women, if you’re having issues, perhaps this will help you to understand what’s going on. Maybe you can have a conversation (if he’ll make an effort to listen to you.)

Men, if you want to keep your relationships strong, recognize women as full partners. Be attuned and listen to them. And be empathetic and alert to your partner’s emotions.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on November 25, 2011, in feminism, gender, men, objectification, psychology, relationships, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.

  1. Lawrence Brown III

    I totally understand this blog. I’m going through this same situation with the post-breakup of my girlfriend of 3 years. In some ways I’m shocked that it went this way but in other ways I’m not. I’m shocked because I thought that everything was going well and we didn’t have any arguments just understanding. In other ways I’m not shocked because I’ve been noticing she been acting differently for the past 2 months. I had feelings that she was seeing someone else and all of a sudden we broke up and she wanted me out and gone in 2 days. I bet she has someone in my former place and now I’m just moving on with my life in my new place.

  2. Relationships can get really messy and tricky sometimes. Especially when it comes to breaking up. Some people are totally blind sighted and some had seen it coming for a while. In this case, for men, they are usually blind sighted which is what ques the shock or surprise. Many dont understand why, or what they did to make her break up with them. When in the entirety of it all, they usually didnt do one specific thing wrong if not an accumulation of many things or attitudes. Many men do not realize that they are not sensitive enough to a womens needs only because they were taught to have a tough guise like we say in that movie. As young boys they were taught to restrain and suppress their emotions because they are supposed to be tough and nothing get through to them. There are some men that are sensitive and emotional but mainly because they were taught different. But for the most part, the way media portrays a man is tough and macho. Men usually can never see a break up coming because they arent in tune with the person they are dating, which in turn you cant call that person your partner. Men have to learn to be more open and sensitive, but women also need to learn that men arent mind readers. They cant always just guess what they want to change in the relationship of his attitudes. Its not really that fair if you dont even give the guy a chance to change and just breaking up with him because she expected him to just do it and be able to depict what it was she wanted to be different.

  3. For myself, I don’t think men should be surprised by break ups. I know I wasn’t. If you honestly feel strongly about a girl and are able to tell the difference between the good times and bad times, then a male should not be surprised when a break up is coming. They would be able to tell when a relationship is going downhill, and that they should prepare for the worst. I think the problem is that even when men are aware that they are going downhill, they may still have strong feelings towards their significant other, while the girl doesn’t feel the same. Because of this, they will always try to give it their one hundred percent in a relationship while the girl slowly gives less and less. Until it reaches the point of breakup, in which the girl is ready to let go, but the guy (who has always been aware that it has been going downhill) is not. He may be surprised because he gave so much effort to try to make it work and continue, but it still failed. The pain and frustration of time wasted and time spent may be the part that surprises some men. Just my opinion. I have felt this way in the past myself with a person I truly cared for. It is not a good feeling.

  4. I agree that men are surprised when they get broken up with. I think this partly has to do with how men often perceive women as needy and wanting desperately to settle down and have a boyfriend, especially once women reach a certain age. This tendency to want to be in a relationship seems to be more common amongst females. Therefore, I feel men go into relationships with the assumption that the woman is going to want to make things serious and keep the relationship progressing to possibly marriage. In regards to men and power in relationships, I believe what gives men the power is the woman. It takes two to tango. It is our responsibility as women to set our boundaries from the beginning as to how we want to be treated. Unfortunately, most men are not taught to respect women and therefore, ladies, we must be patient and not give our power away so quickly and take things slowly and see whether the man we are interested in is worth our time and effort.

    • I agree that it takes 2 to tango. Problem is that we’re so used to men having more power in relationships that we barely notice it. You’re right, women need to be more aware (men too) and both women and men need to work toward equality in relationships. (As most young men say they want!)

  5. I agree that there are men out there that act in such ways but its important to not leave off that women do it to. I agree with Lehmer i to have been in a relationship for quiet some time and i believe i listen more then my other half. I guess it kind of just depends on the men to because to be honest I’m a feminine guy so i guess thats why i listen more then my girlfriend does. There is men out there that i personally know though that do act like pigs and see women as just an object. So i think the stereotype that guys don’t listen is really not reflective on the whole population because i can bet at least half the men out there do listen, its just that they feel like they shouldn’t because listening to someone else’s feelings is seen as a feminine quality and i think most men try to maintain a manly figure. I believe relationships last if both people in them learn to except themselves and are open to each other and let there status out of the picture in order to embrace each other feelings and be able to help and be compassionate with one another.

    • Sure. It’s not that all men are one way and all women are another, but men are often taught to not listen to women. Doesn’t happen so much other way around.

      Thank you for listening!

  6. Break-ups are hard no matter is your a man or women. An, I have to say that at times women can act just like men by not listening and responding to a men which in turn ends that relationship. The key here isn’t just to listen to what the other person in the relationship is saying but also to RESPOND and ACT on it. If an argument is occurring number of time over one topic that it means you need to change something or do something differently. Now, if it keeps persisting you either need some time off to really understand what your gaining/losing while being with someone or not and what better fro you in the long run. So break-ups do tend to end with partner being left in shock because they believed that it wan’t possible and usually its the man because they think they are perfect as they are. Women are usually more emotionally stronger and can handle break-ups better than men but every solid relationship shows that some little changes are needed to keep it going or else it will fall apart. Of course if your views on important issues are drastically different well than better find out sooner than later can save you time and greater heartbreak.

  7. Most men are surprised by a woman breaking their heart. Nobody really expects a break-up. That’s why break-ups are very difficult to swallow. I understand the stereotype of men not listening, but thats not true. I have been a very amazing relationship for the past 8 months. I give the attention that a woman deserves. I do agree men at times are pigs and self-centered, but there are men out there that aren’t like that and they would still be considered a “man”.

  8. Melissa Aboytes

    Men with power are considered the tough guys. The sole reason of that is because they don’t listen very often. I had no idea that the power they hold could effect their empathy. Isn’t that what serial killers lack?? Uh-oh where is this heading?
    Women want to feel like they are being heard and thought of when it comes to their emotions. Men with power who lack that might get dumped in the near future if they don’t get their shit together. Of course your girlfriend is going to be pissed if your eyes are glued to some random girl’s ass rather than her while she is talking to you. My only advice is to get help for those in high power because they are the one’s who are gonna end up being unhappy.

  9. Well its funny and interestingly true, We were just watching a documentary today in class and it was about families. The Doctor (forgot his name) used a test to predict whether relationship would stay or they’d breakup. When they took the survey, the guy’s questioner showed that he is in a perfect relationship with the girl whereas, the girls survey showed the totally opposite side. I agree with this article and know many of my friends do not change their annoying habits or even try to change, thinking their girlfriends will automatically somehow get immune to it. Well our mind and immune systems are not the same (sadly). In a little time, the mind reaches its highest resistance level and gives up on the person which it cares about. I guess, relationship is mixture of two liquids, even if one of them will try to have same properties as before, it will never mix meaning the relationship wont stay for long. I do not think its that men get shocked more then women, its the women who has to break up more times because the man keeps his annoying habits.

  10. It is interesting to read the part about the orbitofrontal lobes and that research show how it’s similar to brain damage. As a business major, it scares to me that in order to obtain more authority that you’d have to succumb to being less empathetic in a lot of areas of doing business. Back in my hometown there are a lot of successful business men around and so when I talk to them, a lot of them seem to have a hard shell when it comes to doing their work. This is scary for me seeing how empathy is one of the strongest qualities I have. But I’ve definitely noticed amongst business people, men are more likely to lose their sense for feeling for another because of the “tough guy” stature they uphold.

  11. I appreciate this blog so much! Too often have I seen females stay in relationships that are clearly not working for them and making them unhappy. A lot of times the reason they stay is because the boyfriend thinks they should stay together, given them no actual reason and are unwilling to make any changes because they don’t believe they have to. I personally was in a relationship like this for far too long and so glad that I finally put an end to it, and yes, he was pretty shocked. What is most frustrating is that a lot of complaints that females make about men is answered with “that’s just how guys are”, which is not a valid excuse! Society has created and accepted a set of behaviors for males and females that has created an inequality in relationships that almost always puts a female at a disadvantage. This definitely needs to change. More females need to put their happiness before the satisfaction of men because if they’re not cutting, then they need to be cut! Let men get surprised until they finally get used to it!

  12. I definitely enjoyed reading this article, probably because I was able to easily relate to the points that were made. I do believe that often times, men assume that women are emotional, irrational, and clingy in a relationship. I’ve been in a relationship where my previous boyfriend took my time and effort for granted during our long distance relationship. There were many times where he would “forget” or “didn’t have the time” to return my phone calls or text messages. When I confronted him with issue that was bothering me, he denied his lack of effort in our relationship and blamed it on his busy schedule. It took me a good four months to realize that his behavior wasn’t going to change and that was when I finally decided that things needed to change. When I broke up with him, he was shocked and furious. It wasn’t until I broke up with him that he realized how he has been treating me. A lot of men don’t realize what they’re doing wrong and empathize with how you feel until you give them a big wake up call. He even specifically told me that he “took me for granted and figured that I would with him no matter what.” Because of our long distance relationship and the fact that he began college a year earlier than I did, it give him a sense of authority in our relationship that he took for granted. We’ve been living in a very patriarchal society where men are seen as “masculine” and women as “feminine” (WRWC 21). They control how we are depicted in society because their voice and sayings are the dominant segment of society. A lot of men and women have been living with the ideas from the past- how men are strong, powerful, and smart while women are weak, emotional, and dependent. I agree how men and women need to realize each other as full partners in a relationship.

  13. This is the first blog that has gotten me to really look at myself and wonder what the heck. I am currently in a relationship that feels truly equal. My boyfriend respects me, listens to me, and puts a lot of effort in trying to understand me. I broke up with my ex for many of the same reasons in this blog and it seemed that everyone knew the breakup was coming except him. When I told him I no longer wanted to date him he couldn’t believe what he was hearing and didn’t see anything wrong with the way things were. He was an emotional wreck for a long time. I am not sure if he has been able to look back and see thing from my point of view (I highly doubt it). Most men do find a need to “wear the pants” in a relationship but many do not understand that a women’s desire for a strong man does not mean that sensitivity is obsolete. Men like to be in control and feel powerful, for many women this can become a controlling and suffocating relationship. I agree that many men do not monitor their relationships and therefore do not see warning signs that things are going south. If men and women could each out more effort into communication (nagging and fighting are not communicating) then maybe we could give more men a chance to catch up and not be blindsided. I found that big about how nice guys finish first to be very interesting. I had never realy notice this before but now that I look back at certain situations in my own life I see that power does change people and many times that change in unconscious.

  14. I cannot agree more with that fact that men’s are surprised when broken up with. I had experienced a break up and as cliché as it sound he was surprised. He went on and on about how good he was and I would not find one like him. His mind was not in the right place and it was a great thing that I broke up with him. He did not have any regards for my emotions or my idea’s at all. We were not compatible because of his egotistic personality. I also have to agree that power make men more egocentric, because of power they feel that they are on top of the world and could do anything they want. I think both men and women have to be on the same page in order for a successful relationship.

  15. I agree with the blog comments and others too that all men are not same. I kind of really like how the blog describes the men’s behavior and explains that men have more authority in general and in society and the world. I agree with that because I have heard and experienced that. It doesn’t matter what race and ethnicity you are, males typically show their power and their ego to their wives. And when the women express their feeling about their attitude toward them, they are totally ignored. I’m not sure why men misuse their authority and power toward women instead of helping and understanding another person’s feeling and be supportive to keep a strong relationship. I think recognizing one’s owns behavior and admitting the mistakes are very important to maintain the relationship so that partners aren’t surprised by breakups. I believe that the men authority and power really plays a big role in our society and erases their humanity and empathy toward women.

  16. I absolutely agree when it comes down to this topic. The vast amount of men are indeed surprised during and after a break-up. I haven’t actually experienced a break-up in which the person whom I was breaking up with was surprised, but I’ve had many girlfriends who have had their boyfriends in complete shock when they are broken up with. In my opinion, guys are usually quite oblivious. This is because; when a woman complains about what she doesn’t like, or what needs to be done in order for the relationship to continue, the man almost always tells her that he will “change” when he really has no intentions in changing. He is most likely not listening to a word that she is saying. Then when the woman has had enough, he is confused as to why she is leaving him when she has told him over and over again her reasons. I’m not trying to say that all men are like this, but a very good amount are.

  17. I agree with Jerry when men do not listen to women, it is true. The only reason I know this is becasue my boyfriend did not listen to me and never cared for my ideas. He never took me seriously till I threatened to break up with him. He then straightened up his act and became an almost complete gentlemen. He is still rough around the edges but he is getting to the point where he isn’t [and pardon my language] ass hole, and still keeping his personality. So men can change and also I do not agree at the fact that women go for the “less cooler” males. Women just want to be appreciated and respected even for a bit.

  18. I really enjoyed this one. Before I got to the part that talks about the guys’ ego I was totally thinking that was why they can never see it coming. The article kept getting more and more true. A guy often thinks he is “god’s gift to women” when really he is really a lazy piece of crap who expects everything handed to him and that when his women does everything for him he believes she does it because she wants to not because if she doesn’t do it, it wont get done. Men can be very unreliable and irresponsible, and it leaves women to pick up their slack and when they do pick up the slack it makes men lazier and rely more so on the women. Eventually most women get fed up with things like this and leave, and it doesn’t even surprise me that men are in complete shock like “what do you mean your leaving me, you don’t like doing the grocery shopping every week, doing my laundry, folding it, making my lunch everyday, after your 8 hours of work everyday?” Women typically do a lot for their men and the biggest problem is that the men don’t always do enough in return. Sometimes them just recognizing it would make a world of difference. Their help would also make a big difference. But instead they can be so obvlious sometimes.

    • I had a boyfriend once who wanted me to do his laundry. I said sure. Then I quoted my hourly rate on top of which he had to pay for the laundromat and the soap. I did my part, he paid up, and he never asked me again. Problem solved.

  19. This blog is as accurate as the new iPhone is. I being a guy just lived through this whole blog’s topic as the victim just recently. I was criticized for my ego and lack of accepting ideas and views that werent similar to my own and was left. Girls are more emotionally sensitive and have a greater strive to be accepted in society equally. So when a female’s partner shoots down her ideas, thoughts, and/or ambitions, she is more likely to leave that person who isn’t as supportive of her as they should be. As Cassie commented along with the blog, the girl of course will let u know she is displeased by ur ego but if the guys have that big an ego they hear the complaining words as wind bristles and keep the same attitude; i know this is from first hand experience. It is more true than false that men try not to listen to women as much, it could be because we’ve been hardwired to view men as authoritative objects and women as sexual objects. Back to the case on why men are surprised by breakups is because the breakups happened because of natural attitude rather than something wrong they purposely did wrong. Some guys change thier ways when they realize why they cant keep relationships and some don’t care and stay the same. So women learn to accept and embrace a guy’s big ego and some leave and settle for guys that are less cool.

  20. I agree you you on this and have noticed this surprise from the man when I ended a few relationships myself. The guys were completely shocked and surprised as if I had never once verbalised my displeasure or anger with their behavior toward me and if my complaint was heard it was completely discounted in their minds. And your points on authority reducing empathy, I have seen that as well. It doesn’t seem to matter in what area of life the man is initially granted more authority, the granting of authority period can spread into any any all other areas of life as well. I have seen men who get a raise or promotion and shortly after that decide they are the king of the castle and can do anything they want in the relationship almost like they become untouchable. But this is definately not true. I am so thankful all men are not like this. There are those men who are more down to earth and are very interested in being in touch with their partners feelings and those are the keepers.

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