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March 18, 2010

(Why) do men take breakups harder?

Filed under: Psychology — posted by Breakup Girl @ 12:29 pm

‘Tis the season: Easter, Passover, a delightful asparagus frittata. The New Scientist’s got an interesting thinky essay about which sex has the evolutionary upper hand when it comes to the mechanics of reproduction; there is, thus, discussion of the once-seen-as-all-powerful egg–and the eventually dominant homocentric view that semen “perfects” it. Cue epic battle between “ovists” and “spermists,” then an uneasy truce brokered by the emerging field of genetics. But ultimately (long interesting story short, with other implications not relevant here), the writers (professors of ecology and evolution) conclude that since the mother nurtures offspring inside her body for so many months — therefore wielding more genetic influence — “it looks like eggs rule after all.”

Mothers have more genetic influence; ergo: that’s why men take breakups harder. That’s the theory advanced in response to the NS piece by Alex Balk over at The Awl (h/t The Atlantic). He writes:

Why should it be so that a man has greater difficulty coming to terms with the end of a relationship than his female counterpart? (This is gonna be a very heteronormative discussion here, so gays and lesbians are free to check out some of the fine content at the right.) My research suggests that it all has to do with childhood.

Little girls are often treated as “princesses,” the object of paternal affection in an idealized-but-not-romantic way. This convention is so strong that they are referred to even by non-relatives as “daddy’s little girl.” Daddy is the man who adores them, who sets the template for what they will expect from all other men in life when it comes to affection.

Little boys are often treated the same way by their mothers. “Mommy loves you,” she will repeat over and over. “You will always be Mommy’s little boy.” Mommy makes it very clear that her little boy is most special boy in the world—even more special than Daddy—and that he will be an object of veneration and pride so long as she lives. This also sets a template.

The difference is stunningly obvious: Dads are far less committed parents than moms. Daddy may tell you that you are Daddy’s little girl, he may take you to a Daddy-Daughter dance one night after weeks of prompting, but most of the time he’s at the office, or away for business, or out with his buddies for important “man time.” Young girls, who, let’s not forget, mature far more quickly than boys, pick up on this: The man who says he loves me, they realize, is not at all reliable. He says what he thinks he is supposed to say, but his actions tell a different story.

Moms, on the other hand, are always there. They do the majority of the parenting, of the cooking, of the cleaning, of all the things that we equate with nurturing. To a boy, there is never any disconnect from the message of love he gets from Mommy and the way that he sees it play out in real life.

And this is why men take break ups harder than women. When a woman breaks up with a man, it is Mommy telling him that she doesn’t love him anymore. And Mommy promised that she would always love him! What is so terrible about him that Mommy stopped loving him? He can bury the sadness with alcohol, or watching a lot of sports, or sleeping around, but deep down he cannot fathom how this rejection has happened to him. His cries of pain, either voiced or shown by his actions, are really him shouting, “Mommy, why did you stop loving me?”

Whereas for a woman, she had no illusions that Daddy wasn’t going to leave at some point. Sure, she’s hurt initially, but she knew the score going into the game. And because women are more or less what Science refers to as “mercenary bitches,” even as she’s filling her pint of ice-cream with those fat, salty tears, she is unconsciously determining whom she will settle on next, the better to get her eggs fertilized so that the cycle might continue. [I should note here that a scholarly friend of mine (who is well-versed on the subject of women by virtue of her position as an expert on young adult novels for girls) had a minor dissent to this hypothesis, noting that every woman has one man who legitimately broke her heart and for whom she will always pine; I am perfectly willing to accept this “ur-Daddy” postulation and add it to the literature.]

Also relevant: the fact that men are not culturally conditioned to feel and express and wallow and process after a breakup. This may or may not be a good thing. (Freeing for the dump-er, limiting for the dumpee?)

So what do you guys think? Broadly speaking, does one gender take breakups harder, and why? Discuss! Through fat, salty tears!

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