Academic studies can be fascinating… and totally confusing. So we decided to strip away all of the scientific jargon and break them down for you.
After studying romantic relationships for over 30 years, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher concluded, “We humans are soft-wired to suffer terribly when we are rejected by someone we adore.” Nowhere is this more apparent than in breakups. Countless songs, poems, books and movies have been inspired by them, and researchers like Fisher have spent decades trying to nail down romantic rejection. But if heartbreak is both universal and specific, can we narrow down the experience according to gender? Researchers from Binghamton University and University College London recently conducted a study to find out.
The study was based on an online survey of 5,705 English-speaking men and women from 96 different countries. The average age was 27. In the survey, participants were asked about their romantic relationship history. Questions about breakups included: 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?
Then, participants were asked to rate their responses to breakups on a scale from zero (none) to 10 (unbearable).
Unsurprisingly, breakups were pretty common, with 75 percent of participants reporting the experience. Women tended to take breakups a bit harder, reporting significantly higher levels of emotional responses than men. They also showed a higher “fear” response and experienced unwanted weight loss or gain after a breakup more often.
But things evened out a bit when it came to how men and women assessed their own responses to heartbreak — both sexes averaged a seven out of 10 when asked to rate the intensity of their breakups. Plus, it’s not like the women were left helplessly flailing — more often than not, they were the ones initiating the breakups (something research has found time and again). “Lack of communication” was the most common reason for splits.
Clearly, these findings are huge generalizations and may only apply to the people in this particular sample. Still, it’s interesting that women tended to not only feel the impact of a breakup more acutely, but they were also the ones who really thought about the state of their relationships and made decisions to change things in their lives for the better. That kind of agency is actually pretty empowering for women. Not to mention, allowing yourself to emote without shame or judgement isn’t such a bad thing, either — that’s how people grow and learn from their experiences.
At the end of the day, isn’t connecting with people and, you know, feeling things the point of it all? Just make sure you’re equipped with some of that aforementioned breakup music.
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