Why A Broken Heart Can Hurt Men More Than Women - Men's Health Magazine Australia

Why A Broken Heart Can Hurt Men More Than Women

Data shows when it comes to break-ups, gender stereotypes don’t hold up

In the 1996 film Swingers, an aspiring actor, Mike, played by Jon Favreau and his motormouth mate, Trent (Vince Vaughn), spend their nights frequenting hip LA bars looking for women. Mike is trying, rather unsuccessfully, to get over the bust-up of a six-year relationship that emotionally levelled him. 

Trent is determined to get his friend out of his funk by relentlessly telling him how “money” he is, as they carouse bars and house parties, hoping to pounce on what Trent calls “beautiful bunnies”. The problem is, Mike is not in the right head space. When he does manage to get a woman’s number, he can’t wait the requisite “two days” mandated by Trent and his delinquent mates to call her, instead buzzing her as soon as he gets home and leaving cringey, laboured messages on her answering machine. Predictably, the woman finally answers, telling him never to call her again. This sends Mike further into despair. For the next few days, he barely leaves his gloomy apartment, emotionally catatonic as he pines for his ex while slurping orange juice from a carton.

He’s rescued from his descent by his mate Rob (Ron Livingston), who gives him a timely pep talk, reflecting on the fact that the pain of a break-up does eventually subside.

Rob: “I don’t know, man. It’s like you wake up every day and it hurts a little less, and then you wake up one day and it doesn’t hurt at all.

And it’s like, and this might sound a little weird, but it’s like you almost miss that pain.”

Mike: “You miss the pain?”

Rob: “Yeah. For the same reason you miss her… Because you lived with it for so long.”

Aside from the dated use of landlines and answering machines, the film is one of the few Hollywood movies to explore the emotional pain men experience during heartbreak. Most of the time in movies, and society more broadly, men are expected to take Trent’s advice and shake off their heartache by getting back ‘out there’. Women meanwhile, supposedly being more emotionally invested in relationships and in tune with their feelings generally, are encouraged to indulge their emotions, eat tubs of ice cream and slabs of chocolate, while pouring their hearts out to friends.

Not only are these tropes hackneyed, they also might not be accurate, according to a study from Lancaster University, that found men experience more emotional pain than women when a relationship hits the skids.

In the study, an international team of psychologists conducted the first-ever “big data” analysis of relationship problems among 184,000 people who posted to an anonymous online forum. The researchers were then able to statistically determine the most common themes that emerged in each post, creating a “map” of the most common relationship problems.

Contrary to expectations, the team’s findings showed that men discuss heartbreak significantly more than women, challenging the stereotype of men being less emotionally invested in relationships.

“The fact that the heartache theme was more commonly discussed by men emphasises how men are at least as emotionally affected by relationship problems as women,” says lead researcher Charlotte Entwistle.

Another interesting finding was that the anonymity offered by online forums made men more likely to seek relationship help than women.

“Traditionally, women are more likely to identify relationship problems, consider therapy, and seek therapy than are men,” says fellow lead researcher Dr Ryan Boyd. “When you remove the traditional social stigmas against men for seeking help and sharing their emotions, however, they seem just as invested in working through rough patches in their relationships as women.”

The study’s authors suggest the findings may help reduce the stigma around men seeking relationship help IRL. 

Relationship in trouble? Seeing a counsellor gives you the best chance of salvaging things. But if you can’t, don’t be afraid to download your feelings to a good friend or a professional, rather than dulling them by getting back out there before you’re ready. As Mike eventually found in Swingers, that’s a surer route to getting to a place where you, “miss the pain”.

By Ben Jhoty

Ben Jhoty, Men’s Health’s Head of Content, attempts to honour the brand’s health-conscious, aspirational ethos on weekdays while living marginally larger on weekends. A new father, when he’s not rocking an infant to sleep, he tries to get to the gym, shoot hoops and binge on streaming shows.

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