Science Says Your Ex STILL Isn't Over Your Breakup

Photo: weheartit

By: Scott Muska

One chilly, rainy May night toward the end of my sophomore year of college, I stood outside my apartment and experienced the worst breakup of my life (so far). It marked the end of the most intense emotional relationship I’ve had, and it was the night I found out that sometimes loving someone isn’t enough to make things work.

I went inside, lied down in my twin bed and cried until sunrise. It was an ugly breakup. Things were said that hit me hard and in a way that’s tough to come back from. It broke me in a few ways that had me reeling for a long time, and that I still haven’t completely recovered from almost eight years later

It always struck me as weird that it’s been so hard and taken so long for me to bounce back. (In fact, I haven’t had a “girlfriend” since.) I thought I was an outlier, because there have been people who have experienced a divorce and gotten happily remarried in less than half the time it’s taken me to get to a place where I feel like I’m finally semi-prepared for a serious relationship again.

But science says I’m not alone.

Recently released results of an English study found that while women tend to experience more emotional distress in the time immediately after a breakup, men are slower to fully recover from getting their beating hearts metaphorically ripped from their chests.

The study, called “Quantitative Sex Differences in Response to the Dissolution of a Romantic Relationship” (or, for the layman: “Differences in How Men and Women Respond to Crippling Romantic Heartbreak”), surveyed 5,705 participants in 96 countries, and analyzed something the researchers dubbed “Postrelationship grief (PRG).”

The study’s findings hit close to home for me, and made me feel less weird and alone about my apparent inability to get over the breakup and fully move on with my life.

It also gave me that lovely term, “PRG,” that I can now use to define my situation in a better, more scientific way than my usual explanation, which often goes something like, “I am a broken human being, romantically speaking.”

To paraphrase one of many interesting findings from the study: It was discovered that the termination of a relationship can in many situations be particularly traumatic to males, because they may have a tough time finding a new female mate, based on the notion that women are often choosier than men when it comes to finding romantic partners (i.e. no one wants to be our rebound gal).

I believe this to be true, from my experience. This wasn’t covered in the study, per se, but I’m of the opinion that when a relationship implodes (especially when the woman is a charismatic, stone-cold fox), it’s often easier for the woman to find her next mate, even if she’s choosier than her male ex. Because thirsty men immediately throw themselves at her.

I saw it happen firsthand. While I was too emotionally vulnerable and torn up to even consider the thought of entering another relationship (which would come with the potential for heartbreak, something I didn’t think I could psychologically withstand), my ex-girlfriend found herself in another serious relationship with a guy she would live with for a few years.

After that breakup, she eventually moved on to another very serious relationship—and by “very serious” I mean that they’re due to get married less than a year from now. (For what it’s worth, this woman is one of my best friends, and she is definitely marrying a guy who is probably better for her than I ever would have been...So it goes.)

But—and the ex and I have discussed this—our breakup definitely hit her harder immediately. We both had a very tough time, to be sure, but while she faced her sadness head-on starting the day after we finished, I bounced back in a slightly manic, energetic kind of way.

I took up running in hopes I’d get thin and become more physically attractive to other women; I developed a nonsensical self-confidence and vague entitlement that led me to blindly reach out to women I’d been with before in hopes of rekindling things (they obviously and wisely deflected my advances); and I dealt with my pain by surrounding myself with friends and drinking a pretty astounding amount of Labatt Blue Light and cheap scotch for the next few weeks, which turned into the next better half of a f*cking decade. (Though now it’s mostly mid-shelf scotch. I ditched the beer because CARBS ARE THE ENEMY.)

I hate to admit it, but I am still often sad and occasionally disgruntled about this breakup that happened so long ago, and I often get upset about the lasting effect it’s had on me.

I can’t deny that it’s drastically influenced the way I interact with women. I either try to get too close too quickly—I get creepily gung-ho, and nothing will screw you over more than openly being the one who cares more from the outset, because then these choosy women who have so many choices will vanish from your life and move onto the next guy who they may ultimately deign their choice for something potentially lasting.

So what I’ve taken from this study and my own personal experience is that if you’re a woman going through a breakup, and you’re having a really f*cking hard time with it—if you’re listening to a lot of Taylor Swift while sobbing uncontrollably and downing ALL OF THE CARBS, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s coming at you quick.

And the dude you broke up with is likely destined to continue listening to T-Swift until the cows come home while eating depressingly impressive amounts of pizza. 

I know, because I am one of those dudes.

This article was originally published at Women's Health. Reprinted with permission from the author.