Mick and Sylvia split up six months ago. She’s dropped from a size 16 to a size 12, sports a sexy, new short haircut and has just been promoted. ‘I’d love to meet for dinner,’ she bubbles over the phone. ‘But it’ll have to be in a few weeks because I’m just sooooo busy.’
Mick’s also lost weight – in all the wrong places. He’s got all the time in the world to meet for coffee because business ‘just isn’t happening’. He turns up in a crumpled black T-shirt with matching bags under his eyes and confesses (quite -unnecessarily) that he’s not sleeping. ‘I just can’t get over this. I can’t stop thinking about her,’ he says desperately.
It’s an all-too-common scenario. Don’t believe the romance novels: women aren’t the love slaves. Psychol¬ogists have discovered that, while men still fall in love less often than women, when they fall, they fall harder, quicker – and out of love slower. And while a tougher, smarter breed of women cope better with split-ups, the new age man, just starting to appreciate the joys of committed relationships, is finding it more difficult to let go. Why? Here’s five good reasons.
1. Women have better coping strategies.
A typical female reaction to a painful break-up is to hotfoot it to her best friend’s house and spend the next three weeks (or three months) talking about her ex and her feelings to anyone that will listen. Women are more emotionally expressive and healthily in touch with their soft underbellies. By letting out our grief and sadness we get the pain out of our systems and are able to move on quickly.
Men, God love you, bottle things up. Your reaction to a split with a treasured girlfriend is to mask the pain. You’ll either a) not think about it and throw yourself into work in an attempt to reaffirm your own worth; or b) not think about it and start sleeping around for the same reasons; or c) not think about it, get drunk and stay out until 3am, running yourself into the ground. In other words, you’ll do just about anything rather than confront the pain and deal with it. Men don’t analyse, they just hope like hell time will make the pain go away. ‘How do men cope when they’re dumped?’ says Andrew, a friend of mine. ‘We don’t. We go off the rails and have real trouble holding it all together. Work deteriorates and everything starts breaking down. All you want to do is go down the pub and get mindlessly pissed.’
Ironically, the more you’re seen about town with replacement bimbettes on your arm, the more you’re probably hurting. It doesn’t mean you don’t care – in fact, quite the opposite. When people lose someone they love they’re overcome by feelings of worthlessness. Women cope by getting their act together, proving their worth that way. For some men, it’s simply easier to sleep around. If I can pull the chicky-babes, I must be okay. This is also why you become self-abusive. You’re feeling unloved and unworthy so you treat yourself accordingly, swallowing spirits and party drugs as fast as you can score them. What you really should be doing is quite the opposite: you should be looking after yourself more. Replace the love you’ve lost with another: your own.
2. You can’t talk to your friends the same way she does to hers
‘I simply can’t imagine rocking up to a mate’s house, sobbing my eyes out and saying, “I’m hurting,” ’ says Peter, 28. ‘I’ve got balls. Guys don’t do that. You just don’t cry – it’s a male thing.’
This is why the Forum here on Men Scorned helps you so much. You can anonymously talk about what you’re going through without feeling embarrassed or judged. And if you have already been through the traumas of finding out your partner has cheated on you, and you’ve come ou the other side, you can offer advice and hope to those still suffering.
While female relationships are based on talking, especially about our feelings, men’s relationships are based on doing: things like playing sport, joking around, having a beer. While some men do have substantial conversations with their friends, many don’t. Talking about their pain or their problems just isn’t acceptable: they feel stupid, weak and pathetic if they broach personal topics. As a result, men are more emotionally independent than women and are used to being self-reliant. Fabulous, until you hit a rough spot.
The female support system is infinitely more helpful at a time like this. We accept and value expression of emotion. We’re good at advising and take it as a compliment if we’re asked to help someone through a rough time. It’s different for a guy. Even if your male friends are concerned about you they often wouldn’t have a clue what to say to fix it. According to Andrew, the only time he even comes close to talking in detail about personal matters is ‘if you’re really drunk. But then, if I was that drunk, I’d probably be more inclined to turn up at her place. Men are the stronger sex. We’re not supposed to hurt.’ Darcy, 24, a journalist, says his male friends had three pieces of advice when he split with his girlfriend. ‘Go out and bonk someone as quickly as possible, throw yourself into work and there’s plenty of other girls out there. I don’t think men like talking about it because it reopens the wound of their old break-ups. The most intimate thing I got was, “Mate, I got over Kate.”’
But while it might not be okay to blab or blubber to a male friend, platonic girlfriends are sometimes a different story. She could well be your saving grace. ‘If you want to talk about anything, you ring a female friend,’ says Mike, 21, a student, echoing a sentiment expressed by lots of men I spoke to. ‘For some reason, it’s okay to get advice from a female. They even seem to like doing that sort of stuff!’
3. You didn’t see it coming
Women see the writing on the wall when it’s in tiny, tiny letters. You wouldn’t notice if she wrote, ‘You’re about to be dumped,’ on the bathroom mirror. With your shaving cream. It’s the right-brain, left-brain thing. The left side of our brain is the ‘thinking’ part (logic and facts); the right side works with ‘feelings’ (emotion, intuition, expression). Usually men are more left-brain dominated and women right-brain. So you’re not as in tune with the touchy-feely side that would warn you she was about to leave.
She thinks she’s given you lots of really obvious messages she’s not happy, but you often miss them all. She’s tried to solve the problems, resentment builds up and she gets so angry she can’t wait to get out of there. You didn’t even notice there was a problem and are left thinking, Hang on a minute, I thought we had a great relationship. What’s happening? Says Darcy, ‘When Jenny moved out, I was left thinking, God! If only I’d not gone out drinking with the boys. I should have bought her flowers more. I should have helped her with the dishes. That’s why I thought there was still hope. She might have tried her hardest but I hadn’t.’
4. You lose mutual friends
While women lean heavily on good friends after a break, men often do quite the opposite. They tend to drop ‘couple’ friends in favour of single males who’ll go out and party with them. Sometimes you’ll avoid good friends of your ex because it’s too painful to hear how well she’s faring without you. The end result: you’re lonely and dwell on the past. Brendon, 24, a personal trainer, says, ‘The last thing I felt like doing was have these sad dinner parties with our old friends and talk about how tragic it was that we’d split up. Seeing them made me miss her even more and her female friends always think that unless you’re sobbing into the entree you don’t care about her – then they tell her that! Men are just better at covering up. We’re used to hiding our feelings, so it’s easy for us to pretend we’re over it when all we’ve really done is put a Band-Aid on top of a sore that’s festering away nicely underneath.’
Scott, a 26-year-old manager, agrees. ‘She keeps all the friends because she’s been crying on their shoulders,’ he says. ‘By the time you’re over the party stage and ready to calm down again they’re annoyed because you haven’t seen them or she’s turned them against you. It’s always the guy who has to get out there and build a whole new social circle.’
Women often look better after a break-up. They reappraise their image and develop a toughness that’s attractive to men. Feeling great and looking fabulous, they’re more confident and their social life blooms. If he’s still moping about depressed she does quite the opposite. Says Brendon, ‘My girlfriend transformed herself after I left. It was quite remarkable: she’d gone from a shy wallflower to this incredibly confident girl who everyone wanted at their party. No-one asked me anywhere – probably because when they did I stood in a corner and felt sorry for myself or behaved like a total moron by getting too drunk.’
5. You don’t clear out the closet for next time
A crucial part of getting over someone is getting rid of – or at least putting away – remnants of the relationship. It’s all part of letting go. If her old hairbrush is still in the bathroom you may get stuck and never let go.
If your next girlfriend finds herself walking into a shrine of your ex she will not be happy. You might defend the pictures on the wall by saying your ex is a friend but it’s obvious to her that you’re looking for a new relationship to mask the pain of the last one. She also knows it’s quite common for men to fantasise about sorely missed exes, masturbate while looking at her picture, imagine you’re making love to her when you’re with someone else. Call it women’s intuition but if that’s what’s happening you won’t get away with it.
Often, it’s only when you meet someone new, someone you can trust, that you finally do deal with all the pain the break-up caused. ‘You have to let go of the hurt at some point – and more often than not it’s your next girlfriend that cops it,’ says my friend Michael. He says he realised he had to get rid of emotional mementos when a girl he liked heaps innocently put on a song that made him desperately miss his old girlfriend. ‘I couldn’t believe it – I burst into tears!’ he said. ‘She sat with me and listened as all the pain came spilling out. I finally felt myself letting go. I felt free for the first time in years.’