579: Breaking Up

How do you generally handle a break-up?


Full episode script

The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, which we’ve discussed previously on this podcast, lists divorces and separation as the number 2 and 3 most stressful experiences in life — and for very good reason. Relationships (romantic or otherwise) are one of the defining factors in our lives.

 

As the paper “Who am I without you? The influence of romantic breakup on the self-concept” discusses, after a breakup most people experience “reduced self-concept clarity” — or, put differently – you lose the sense of who you are. This is because we often define ourselves as a part of a relationship, and so we need to figure out what our personality even is again.

 

What I find particularly interesting is how most breakup advice is written – in a heavily gendered way. I suppose it’s not entirely surprising, given that there’s plenty of heteronormativity still built in to research and language. Quoting from an article in Big Think:

Researchers from Binghamton University and University College London asked 5,705 participants in 96 countries to dig deep into those emotional memories and recall their last breakup. The researchers then asked the participants to rate their emotional and physical pain following that breakup on a scale of one (none) to 10 (horrible). Women tended to feel the strongest effects following a breakup. Their average rating for emotional and physical pain being 6.84 and 4.21. The men on the other hand averaged 6.58 for emotional anguish and 3.75 for physical. So, still hurt, just not as much.

 

Which makes sense, given the emotional and physical differences in how genders are coached to handle emotional expression. It’s the rest of the quote from that article that leans heavily on gendered evolutionary biology, saying:

Lead author Craig Morris, a research associate at Binghamton University, offered a suggestion in a press release for why this difference exists:

“Put simply, women are evolved to invest far more in a relationship than a man. A brief romantic encounter could lead to nine months of pregnancy followed by many years of lactation for an ancestral woman, while the man may have ‘left the scene’ literally minutes after the encounter, with no further biological investment. It is this ‘risk’ of higher biological investment that, over evolutionary time, has made women choosier about selecting a high-quality mate. Hence, the loss of a relationship with a high-quality mate ‘hurts’ more for a woman.”

Given this particular mindset, what I find particularly amusing is not the different advice, but how similar the advice for getting over a breakup is in both Cosmopolitan and Men’s Health. The short version from both – rediscover yourself, rely on your friends, and be kind to yourself.
This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.