Women, Men and Breaking Up

Breaking up

Breaking up

Is breaking up harder on women? Who have a stronger emotional reaction?

A study released a few weeks ago says, “Yes.” … But not really…

I took a look at the numbers and — really! — the sexes are much more alike than different.

There’s actually no “evolutionary” difference to explain (though the researchers say there is).

Binghamton University and University College London conducted an online study of 5,705 English-speakers from 96 countries. Average age: 27.

Respondents answered these questions:

  • Have you experienced a breakup?
  • 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?
  • Rate your response to breakups on a scale from 0 (none) to 10 (unbearable).

75% had experienced a break up. Usually because of poor communication.

Intensity of break up, emotional and physical pain are similar

Women and men both ranked intensity of breakup as “7” (of 10). Pretty bad, but not unbearable.

And women and men both:

  • Felt more anger and depression than fear or instability
  • Were more likely to have trouble sleeping or struggle with weight than have panic attacks

But women experience greater emotional pain, say researchers.

Hmmmmm. Do they?

Breaking up is hard to do

Breaking up is hard to do

When it came to feeling sad, depressed, anxious, fearful or experiencing a “loss of focus” there’s actually little difference:

Women: 6.84 Men: 6.58

That’s practically even. Both round up to 7.

And women felt the physical pain (e.g., insomnia, panic attacks, eating disorders and weight change) of breaking up more acutely?

Women: 4.21    Men: 3.75

Still not much different. Again, they both round to 4.

The evolutionary psychologist researchers attributed the so-called sex difference to evolution. Women are just programmed to want men to commit and stick around to provide resources for their children. So they get more upset over partings.

Except that they don’t, really.

And if women are programmed to want the guy to stick around, why are women usually the ones initiating the break ups (according to the research)?

Overall, it looks like women and men are pretty similar when it comes to how they experience breaking up.

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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 March 23, 2016, in men, psychology, relationships, women and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 29 Comments.

  1. The opinion poll findings are interesting and prove that widely believed notions are not quite on the mark. Even I was under the impression that break-ups were harder on women than men. In a way, it is appropriate it is evenly balanced, as the situation makes the recovery equally poised on both sides, with its attendant benefits.

    • Also interesting how you can see what you want to see. Even though there is negligible difference these evolutionary psychologists want to see what they want to see.

  2. I’ve noticed that when women break up at first they take it harder harder then men. They are most emotional at first & have all the feels. And I have noticed that guys tend to act like its nothing but later on the depression hits them. Might be the fact because guys want to act hard & like they don’t need the girl in order to show to everyone they are strong too!

    • There are a couple of possibilities here. One is that men are trying to cover up how they feel but being honest on a survey. Another possibility is confirmation bias. We tend to see what we expect to see. And another possibility is that there is a bell curve and that you are seen something different from what is typical. (There’s always a bell curve on these things.)

    • Anna – I agree with you to an extent but in many instances, I have also seen that situation in reverse. I know many women who will refuse to let their ex-partner see how badly they are hurting which suggests to me that socialization may play a part here.

  3. Savannah Owens

    This study shows that men and women experience breakups in pretty much the same way. I think that evolutionary psychologists might be overly eager to perceive men and women differently. Evolutionary psychologists are quick to blame the slight difference in data on biology/reproductive success. In my opinion, the data is so similar that the differences probably come from socialization and not evolution. I do not think there is any significant evolutionary benefit that comes from women having a harder time with breakups. The slight difference in responses between men and women come from the way they are socialized in out society. Women are allowed to be more emotional than men. Therefore, they are more likely to respond more emotionally to breakups – which is why they rate them as harder.

    • Evolutionary psychology is inherently conservative. They seek to show that the way we behave is grounded in our genes — so we can’t change. And here the numbers are so close together that it’s basically mute.

  4. So, it’s almost the same for both the genders. Most of the men think breakups are harder for women… 😀

  5. If anything it seems like break ups can hit men harder than women. Remember the blog you wrote and I inspired you with about men unfortunatley being abusive or killing their gfs who break up with them? You don’t see women doing that to men or not even close to the same ration that men have done to women. So culture seems to have a lot to do with men having a harder time or some men I mean having a harder time to deal with break ups than women.

  6. parijatshukla2014

    Great 🙂

  7. Self-reporting isn’t nearly as accurate as actual behavior. Who gets violent after a break up? Suicidal? Turns to drinking or drugs? My guess is men in probably all categories. Also, I’ve NEVER heard of a woman losing her mind because a stranger on the Internet she’s never even talked to before turned her down for a date or a hookup. Crying in your wine glass over a man you fell in love with and dated for over a year is one thing…but men get upset over being rejected by women they’ve never even met!

    • You make some good points.

    • I wonder if it’s because it’s a “bigger fall from grace” for men that some of this break up stuff can be so catastrophic. In our culture women aren’t valued the same as men, whereas white men but men in general. Are trained to feel like they have to be leaders, strong, tough. But also with that comes expectation and burden. And with this ego, can build up an imaginary pedestal some men might build up of themselves of their macho, heroic, studly visualization. And rejection or breaking up with such men, abruplty crushes their fragiel egos built up so much on what they are supposed to be and protecting themselves from the reality and break ups make them face this very harsh reality of what they though they are and society expects them and how they see themselves after and possibly not being as great as they thought or hoped they were. And some, it can apparently be unbearble to cope with. Women don’t have that same violent anger maybe becsause of biology but also because like you said, women don’t have the expectation on them therefore, women don’t place this ego and bubble of themselves like men might so it’s not an abrupt altering from an ideal view to reality. Sure women can put themselves on pedestals but it’s more on a vanity beauty perspective, not a strong perspective.

      Plus women are conditioned to express themselves in a more full spectrum unlike men so they can cry or get sad and have “weaker emotions” expressed plus therapy and social networks with how other women are usually there to talk it out more so with each other than men are. Women are more likely to share feelings and have heart to hearts to help emotional wounds from a break up. When men are conditioned to really expressed emotions in more macho ways such as anger, which turned around can be depression it can lead to volatile actions especially when not having outlets or taught to not look from them like women. You add this all up, it’s a toxic combination or bottled up anger and sadness, like a volcanco, where that pressure keeps being held in, but the pressure just keeps building up more and more over time until there’s a breaking point and a man goes “postal” and either beats up his ex gf or kills her, or kills himself or kills her and the new boyfriend she is with out of jealousy and anger.

  8. Mehtab Bhinder

    Because society expects men to be stoic and emotionally distant, I feel as though they are expected to have that same attitude towards breakups. I’ve also heard and personally seen that my male friends seem to be fine after a fresh break up but they break eventually. For my female friends it is more typical to see them be hurt and disappointed much sooner and get better with time. This article also reminds me of coping mechanisms, we expect men to go out and party and occupy themselves so they forget their loss whereas we think women sit around watching the Notebook eating a tub of ice cream. All in all, this article clearly shows that although individuals may cope differently a breakup still affects men and women the same. It’s odd to me though because I have actually seen some of my male friends take breakups much worse than my female friends but they are too ashamed to talk about it so no one really knows how they’re feeling.

  9. I have to agree that the self-reporting is fairly problematic in surveys like this. It’s similar to how old surveys done on penis size were done by men self reporting their measurements, however the most recent survey done in Europe, the first not to be self reported, found that the average penis size is smaller than what was originally found to be the average. lol. In the same way, I think most men are not really that honest when it comes to how they feel when it comes to breakups, as they don’t want to appear weak to other men. I have to agree with some of the other posts that brought up the points about men acting out in violence over breakups or rejections, (something women don’t typically do.) I also agree with those saying that women might take it harder at first, but because they are more honest and have better support systems than men do, they typically work it out quicker, while men who are more prone to repress their feelings will feel it harder later and longer because he doesn’t typically have that support system. A lot of men will typically go into another relationship with a woman thinking that will be the cure all, but I know in a lot of cases this doesn’t work. I’ve heard many women complain about how men will go into a relationship with her, still having unresolved feelings for his ex, which ultimately destroys that relationship. I say this too speaking as a man that’s being honest and that has experienced this for myself. My ex left me over year ago and it has left me absolutely miserable. I’ve pleaded for her to take me back, but she won’t. She is completely happy now, single but moved on and wants nothing to do with me. Meanwhile I still have feelings for her and am miserable. I tried moving onto another woman, but that didn’t work because I still had feeling for my ex. I know so many other women too that constantly, either directly or indirectly, get pestered by their ex’s to take them back. Some guys either directly, like me, go crawling back asking her to take them back or they indirectly try to weasel their way back into her life. such as just asking to live with her because he has no place to stay, or asking her to just have sex with him, thinking that these will give him an avenue to regain her heart again. I rarely hear about women doing this though. My guy friends and I never had women come begging us to take them back. Not saying it doesn’t happen but I know so many of my female friends and family that have ex’s that keep trying to get back with them.

    • And you would expect that since men and women are self reporting that there would be a bigger gap, with men claiming to be less bothered by the break up. So the fact that you still have a very small gap is quite telling.

  10. Hei Yiu Hailey Wong

    It is interesting to read that break ups in fact have similar emotional impact on both women and men, and how the researchers actually want to mislead and convey us that there is that “evolutionary” difference between the two sexes when encountering life events . In the society, we are always taught that girls and women are more emotional and fragile in handling relationships, while male is tougher and rational. In the study from Binghamton University and University College London, the researchers tried to emphasize that tiny, unnoticeable difference between the numbers to coincide to this particular social norm/ideas, justifying their theories of evolution and the disparity between sexes and things they can and cannot do. It illustrates that both sexes are trapped in this patriarchal system. Although intensity of break up, emotional and physical pain, are same to both sexes, men are expected not to show it. The society impose the ideas through what we consider as subjective, scientific means: in this case the study that is conducted.

  11. it’s very true. I think both men and women are same kind and I always asked myself why society thinks women always suffer the most in the break up. But that not really true. Men are expected to feel tough, they are expected to feel nothing, in short they are thought to be strong in any aspects in life. And on the other hand women are not necessarily thought to be emotional when it comes to breakups, but it’s accepted by most people for women to feel more pain than men. Women tend to show their real emotion upfront it might be by crying or talking about it. Men deal with their break up by going to a party or by going to the bar to forget their loss by alcohol. I think our society needs to accept the fact that the feeling is mutual between both genders.

  12. It’s very interesting what studies have shown. To me it is not that surprising that there are no big differences between women and men’s emotional state after a breakup. Growing up you always have to deal with breakups. Sadly relationships don’t last forever especially as a teen. I like that this article emphasizes the idea that men and women for the most part are equally emotional after their breakup. I’m not exaggerating, in middle school and in high school after a breakup, it would seem like the boys would be perfectly fine afterwards whereas the girls would always be the ones sobbing. Later on when people started getting into serious relationships it would always be the boy begging for the girl back. Funny how it works.

  13. I recall reading about this research in a well known, right wing (slightly misogynistic – ie. anti-abortion, anti-working mothers, anti-choice for women in pretty much every aspect of their lives) British newspaper and the reporting was very much suggesting that women suffered a great deal more than their male counterparts when it came to breaking up because as they put it, we women are just so emotional. Yet, I also recall reading the data and remember thinking, this does not tally up with their “findings”.
    Needless to say, this newspaper (also not famed for its intelligent writing), went on to contradict themselves by concluding that although women were more likely prone to anger in the short-term, many men never recovered from said break-ups, therefore from their own definition, how did this translate to women suffering more from an emotional fall-out than men?

  14. It seems that the researchers are biased on the notion that women are more emotional. Therefore, their research shows what they want to prove. However, I think that too often, we have internalized these ideas that women are somehow more emotional than men, so we just kind of believe that that is the way nature intended it. Before reading this post or even taking a women’s studies class, I thought that women were more emotionally attached than men for the sole reason of being a woman. It probably has something to do with being maternal and motherly. Anyway, from my personal experience, I took my breakup very hard. For a very long time, I felt depressed and I felt my chest hurting, as if my heart actually broke. I think that on a scale of 1-10, I would say that I was around a low 8. It was heartbreaking, but also I knew that I would get through it someway or another. My point is, how we deal with our emotions is subjective. Everyone has different experiences and deal with things differently.

    • And it’s interesting that despite the stereotypes, and masculine expectations, men and women still answered these questions pretty similarly to each other. Turns out, men are people too — with human emotions.

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