How Men Experience Heartbreak (Yes, It's Different Than Women)

To you, the word “heartbreak” might be synonymous with long nights spent crying, endless days that feel empty without him, and more than a couple of evenings watching rom-coms while drowning your feelings over a pint of chocolate ice cream. But is that what heartbreak looks like for men?

By Keelia Clarkson4 min read
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The majority of us who’ve dated at all have experienced some kind of heartbreak (unless you’re one of the lucky ones who found the right guy on your first try). Some of us have gone through a breakup we didn’t initiate or even want. Some of us have had things end with the guy we truly thought we were going to marry. Some of us have struggled with getting over a breakup within what’s considered to be a “normal” timeframe.

Whatever the circumstances have been, heartbreak is never easy for anyone. It can feel like the world you’ve been living in is coming to an end, and you’re forced to find a new world to craft and inhabit – all the while feeling like the place (or the person) that once felt like home to you is gone. It’s crushing, devastating, and even embarrassing when a relationship ends. You wonder if anyone else has ever felt so broken as you do now. And in the thick of heartbreak, it’s difficult to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

So what have you typically done in the past when you’ve had a broken heart? You’ve called on your friends, asking them to come over for a sulky girls’ night in, complete with chocolates and tissues and belting out a breakup anthem or two. They’ve encouraged you to get out, so you’ve tried to fill up your time with activities and social gatherings and new hobbies. You’ve journaled a lot. You’ve booked a trip with your bestie. You’ve sat in the pain, and then slowly found your way out of it, into a life you’re happy to be living. You do your best to move on after falling apart for a little while, leaning on your closest friends all the while to help guide you and love you through it. This is how all of your girlfriends and your sisters have gotten through their heartbreaks too.

But as you navigate the waters of the end of a relationship that really meant something to you, you might wonder: What’s going on for him right now? How is he handling the breakup? Is he out there, chatting up every girl he lays eyes on? Is he missing you too? Is he feeling heartbroken, or is it just another Tuesday to him? Do guys experience heartbreak differently from women?

The answer is yes, they do. While heartbreak might be a universal experience, men actually go through it differently from the way you, your friends, and your sisters do. Here’s how guys deal with the pain of a breakup.

They Experience More Emotional Pain Than You Might Think

We’ve all heard it said that women are far more invested in their relationships than men are, that a breakup is bound to hit us harder than it does them, that we’re the ones left mourning while he’s off living his life as if he’d never even known us. But this actually isn’t the case at all.

A team of researchers at Lancaster University analyzed the behavior of over 184,000 Reddit users searching for relationship advice on the online forum in order to gauge what people sought help for outside both clinical and relational settings (meaning, outside of therapy and close friendships).

Dr. Ryan Boyd, the lead researcher for the project, wanted to find out if the assumption that men are less affected by breakups than women are is true or not. “As we were conducting the study, we realized that this was an important opportunity to put a lot of common ideas about gender differences to the test. For example, are men truly less emotionally invested in relationships than women, or is it the case that men are simply stigmatized out of sharing their feelings?” he said.

What they found was that the men in these forums were more likely to express emotional distress than women were. Researchers also found through natural language processing methods that the theme of “heartbreak” was one that popped up quite often in the men’s posts – surprisingly, more commonly than in the women’s posts. Lastly, researchers concluded that men were more likely to seek relationship help through online settings than women were.

The anonymous format of Reddit allows men to more openly express their emotions.

Charlotte Entwistle, an associate professor at Lancaster University, suggests that the anonymous format of Reddit allows men to more openly express their emotions: “When you take away all of the social stigma, men appeared at least equally emotionally invested in the relationship before the breakup.” This theory rings true, especially considering that men are more likely to enlist a professional to help them through a breakup than they are to lean on their friends.

But They Tend To Ignore the Pain in the Beginning

Now we know that men experience at least as much emotional pain during a breakup as women do, perhaps even more. So why does the stereotype that he’s not all that bothered by the death of the relationship persist? Why does it still feel like your ex isn’t nearly as broken up about it as you are?

Many theorize that men aren’t as likely to deal with their emotional pain from a breakup at the beginning of it as women are. While it’s common for women to immediately begin processing their pain by means of wallowing, crying, and calling friends, men are more likely to ignore their pain in the immediate aftermath of the breakup, and instead of grieving, focus on their career, a project, or their social life.

It Takes Them Longer To Get Over It

At the beginning of a breakup, it can feel as though you’ll never make it out alive from this painful emotional whirlwind. Every hour feels like agony. The days seem to last forever. The weeks drag on. Time slows down when your heart is freshly broken, but eventually, you find that time seems to have returned to normal. One online poll of both men and women found that the average amount of time it took to simply feel better after a breakup was three and a half months.

But interestingly, it takes men longer than it takes women to fully recover from a breakup. According to Dr. Scott Carol, who is a relationship expert and psychiatrist at the University of New Mexico, men favor a “fake it until you make it” approach with processing their emotions, and when it comes to actually getting over an ex, “it can take some men years – or even decades … if they truly loved her. They just don’t show their grief to others – or even to themselves.” In fact, one study even suggests that some men will never entirely recover from a breakup – they’ll simply find a way to move on.

They’re More Likely To Engage in Destructive Behavior

A bad breakup can lead you to some pretty low places. Women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression as men are, and there’s nothing like heartbreak to send you on a downward spiral. And while women going through a breakup tend to feel deep sadness and sorrow that can lead to a bout of months-long depression, men sometimes go in a different direction.

Men tended to report more anger after a breakup.

A 2011 study conducted by researchers at Binghamton University found that “men tend to be more self-destructive after breakups, reporting things like drug and alcohol abuse and irresponsible sexual behavior,” shares Craig Morris, author of the study. Along with that, Morris found that men tended to report more anger after a breakup. Another study found that divorced men were eight times more likely than divorced women to die by suicide.

They’re More Likely To Think of Their Ex Fondly

Maybe you look back on your relationship with your ex with neutrality. You might miss things about him or the relationship, but also feel at peace with the ending of the relationship. Or maybe, all you can remember when you reflect on the relationship are the terrible things that led to the breakup. Maybe the memories that immediately come to mind when you hear his name make you shudder. It’s not uncommon for women to have negative feelings about their ex and dread ever seeing him again, but it turns out that for men, it’s not quite as common. 

In three separate studies, with over 800 total participants, researchers found that in all three studies, men were more likely to view their ex in a positive light than women were. Researchers suggested that this could be due to the emotional support they had received from their ex, and for that reason, men may be less willing to completely cut ties with their former partner or even experience a greater desire to get back together with their ex.

Closing Thoughts

Remember this the next time it seems like your ex couldn’t care less about things ending. While it might feel like you’re the only one mourning at all, chances are, your ex is just handling the heartbreak differently than you are.

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