Sometimes I wish it were socially acceptable to break up with someone in order to see what type of person they are before you fall head over heels in love with them. Wouldn’t that be amazing? See someone completely raw and unfiltered, without a preoccupation of trying to impress you or convince you they are worthy of love. You could see firsthand if she is the type of woman who would post your social security number on 4chan in an act of revenge or if he is the type of man who has to crawl next to the closest warm body in order to feel whole; it would really save us all a lot of time and energy.
However, we do not live in a fantasy land and unfortunately, in order for heartache to really be heartache, you have to be in love with them, first. But, I have noticed through my years of experience in this arena, men and women tend to handle our break ups in different ways. Why is that? For the most part, women deal with it immediately. We mope around the house like poltergeists, throwing shit and smashing photographs; eating ice cream while simultaneously sobbing over rescue dog commercials. Women revel in their mourning until it feels right to finally come back to life. And men, well, they are a completely different beast. Much like the sink full of dishes, they procrastinate on their heartache.
Now, do not mistake me, I am well aware every person is a delicate, unique snowflake and not all men and women fall into these broad stereotypes, but the vast majority do and I believe there is a deep-rooted reason for this behavior. Girls from a young age are taught compassion and how to share their inner emotions. As we grow, we continuously share our feelings and create bonds with other men or women without restraint. It is not uncommon for a girl to call her mother, best friend, and sisters all in the same day to discuss the same damn problem. But sadly, boys are not given this nurturing atmosphere or even taught how to communicate their feelings in a proper manner. Instead, they are often told to “man up,” and “get over it.” So, it is no surprise to me that men tend to shut off their emotions and seemingly move on without complaint while women melt into a puddle of tears after a breakup. While most would assume men react this way because they have the emotional range of a teaspoon, it is not so. In fact, I daresay men may even love harder and also have a deeper sense of loss than women. For the ladies reading this, do not be upset over this statement; I am by no means stating your pain is irrelevant or less than. Pain is universal and cannot be categorized by level of awfulness – pain is pain. You can’t sit in front of a “How Bad Does It Hurt?” poster and choose on a scale of 1-10 of how horrible your broken heart feels; it fucking hurts like a drill bit to the chest; the pain is immeasurable. But imagine the following scenario: Since a young age, you have been forced to hide how you really feel; clam up. After the age of five, you could no longer cry in front of your friends or talk about how sad you are or how much you care; it would be frowned upon, laughed at, even. Now, twenty years later, you’ve met someone. It could be another man or another woman and suddenly, the world makes sense. They understand you. They make you feel safe. For once, you can share your innermost thoughts and true feelings without being scrutinized or worried over judgment. You fall in love. You fall deeply, madly in love. And then, it doesn’t work out. Now all of that emotional safety you have grown so accustomed to is gone. You are left with no one else to confide in and your person is no longer your person. The pain is indescribable. So, what shall you do?
Anything but talk about it, of course.
Upon this revelation, I recognize I have been far better equipped to cope and move on than any of the men I have dated; if heartbreak was a survival show, females would be Bear Grylls and males would be de-clawed teacup Yorkies in a lion’s den. While girls seemingly fall apart, shoving Oreos covered in peanut butter into our mouths and not showering for three days straight, we allow ourselves to grieve. Yet men run from it. They deal with their pain by reaching the bottom of beer bottles or slithering into another’s body, adding insult to our already injured hearts. And in my mind, their reactions have been both cold and cruel, but now, when I think back and ask myself the question, “Why do men and women handle heartbreak so differently?” The answer has become so glaringly obvious it almost makes me sick: We handle our heartbreak the way we were conditioned to. I was taught to mourn and be reborn whereas the men I have left shall be stuck in purgatory for the rest of their life. Which brings me to my next point – how do we fix this?
I believe the only way this emotionally-based gender bias can be regulated is if we eradicate the idea men are not allowed to foster connections the way women do. Men, given the chance, will surprise you. They have dropped their clubs and moved out of caves long ago. From now on, allow your sons to cry. Teach them compassion. Be there for the men in your life and do not judge them for their emotional fragility. Cherish the rare moments a man will open up to you and do not scorn it. Be the forward-thinking change and offer kindness to all those you meet whether they be male, female, or somewhere in-between. Heartbreak is already hard enough. We don’t need to add to the burden of it by denying one their closure.
Image by: Perfume Dos Sonhos