When I write an Ask a Guy, Sabrina and I will usually discuss the content before it goes live.
Recently the subject of guys and breakups came up and Sabrina and I went back and forth about what guys generally go through when they breakup. It came down to be too much to put into the article I was writing, so we decided that I should throw it all into an installment of “Decoding Male Behavior.”
To start, I wanted to write this article to dispel some of the misconceptions I’ve heard in regards to men and breakups.
I’ve heard things like: “When a guy’s relationship ends, he replaces her. When a woman’s relationship ends, she mourns,” or, “He’s just hooking up with such-and-such to spite the ex-girlfriend,” or “Guys just don’t care” and other nonsense.
To dispel the misconceptions, let’s take a look at some of the universal truths about guys and breakups – some of which may surprise you since they certainly are hidden from the surface.
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Breakups are hard on all guys. Simple enough to say, but I know plenty of women will talk about how some guy came off like an insensitive jackass after the relationship fell apart because of his actions post-breakup.
The fact is: If a guy is profoundly obnoxious or terrible after a breakup, it is most often a testament to how rough the breakup was on him. Some people cope by lashing out.
But what about the guy who breaks up and goes totally cold?
Jerry Seinfeld once said that breaking up a relationship needs to be like taking off a Band-aid – One motion: OFF! In the same regard, when a relationship ends, it is much much harder for a guy to go back and discuss and revisit and talk through and explain, etc. etc.
In fact, guys like to keep their emotional spectrum focused on a tight range of emotions – somewhere between amusement and contentedness. So any interaction that a guy knows will bring him out of that sweet range of emotions is an interaction he’s going to do everything he can to avoid.
Personally, I have had breakups where I pretty much went cold. It’s not that I simply stopped caring. I wanted her to be OK, I wanted good things for her in life, but I knew that nothing was going to make the situation better.
No discussion was going to fix things, no clarity was to be had – it would have just been an emotional toilet for both of us. I realize it probably came off jerky, but when I cut off communication, my heart is in the right place. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a monster, I won’t completely cut a girl off, but I definitely won’t discuss anything along a relationship conversational thread.)
But what about the guy that immediately gets into a new relationship?
This could be for a few reasons.
In the case where you dumped the guy, one common reason is that the guy doesn’t want to be alone, he doesn’t want to deal with his grief over the breakup, and he doesn’t want to “deal with himself.”
When he jumps into another relationship, he can get a dose of external female validation and derive a feeling of false sense of self-esteem and self-worth from her positive attention. It has its cost though and eventually devolves into a crippling neediness. That is to say, he seeks his feeling of validation and worth from how a woman treats him.
It’s not uncommon for people, men or women, to derive their sense of well-being, self-worth, and self-esteem from how other people treat them. Unfortunately, it’s a false sense of well-being and is entirely dependent on the actions of others (thus the inevitable crippling neediness).
For men and women, growth in relationship is in direct proportion to one’s sense of emotional responsibility. When a person (male or female) realizes that only they themselves can be responsible for their emotions, actions, and reactions… they break the chain of seeking a sense of OK-ness externally.
For people that haven’t yet fully realized that all of us need to be emotionally responsible (which is most people), this is where much of the pain of the breakup originates from (they blame themselves for not “measuring up”… or they blame the other person for not “making them happy”… or a little of both).
It’s incredibly painful to believe that someone else could be responsible for your emotions or that you could possibly be responsible for their emotions.
It’s painful because it’s a belief that something that is impossible is could be possible… and therefore sets countless impossible expectations into motion. When we believe something that is out of alignment with reality, we suffer…
To wrap up this point: Most people can’t recognize when they believe something impossible, nor can they see the false belief as the source for all of the suffering… All they experience is the continuous suffering and they want the suffering to end.
So as an easy way to “numb out” from what might seem like unending suffering, they jump into another relationship so they can continue feeding their sense of well-being.
I don’t think it’s that guys don’t want to deal with the breakup… I think it’s more that they wouldn’t even know how or where to begin… all they feel is suffering and they want it to end.
Again, all this was said in the context of if they guy was the one who was dumped. So…
What about the guy who dumps the woman and then immediately starts dating another woman?
I hate to say it, but this is usually a case where the guy wasn’t feeling happy with the relationship for a while and when another opportunity came along, he jumped ship.
If this happened in your case, I’m sorry… I get it… and honestly, I think all of us, man and woman, have been there at one time or another. I don’t have much to say about it, other than that it sucks and that your best move is to move on, get back out there and date new people.
Sure, you could seek closure … or try to get your ex back … or do any of the things all of us have tried … but if I could go back and tell my 15-year-old self a piece of advice about breakups, it would be, “If you get dumped, just move on right away. It doesn’t mean anything about you, your worth, your attractiveness, your value, etc. It has nothing to do with you, you don’t need to understand, you don’t need closure. Move on immediately, you’ll save yourself a whole lot of time and heartache.”
But what about the guy that “goes off the deep end” and just starts hooking up with every girl he sees?
A guy once told me that, “A man is devastated at the end of a relationship to the extent to which he sold himself out.”
What does it mean for a guy to sell himself out (in the context of a relationship)?
Every guy has a set of core values for who he is, what he stands for, and what he really wants out of life. Sometimes in a relationship, a guy will really, really love a girl and may start to compromise these core values. Maybe he changes his lifestyle, stops hanging out with certain friends, or changes his habits.
It seems innocent enough, but over time the guy begins to starve for whatever it was he got from the things he gave up. It changes the guy and, in turn, changes the relationship. As a result, the relationship usually suffers and, in the case of this example, ends.
When the relationship ends, that guy is forced to evaluate himself – he doesn’t like who he’s become and he doesn’t like the feeling that his relationship and his love brought him to this place.
So what’s the solution?… (or a solution)… Hook up with a bunch of girls and have a series of flings. I mean, think about it – no chance of love, no chance of commitment (and therefore, no risk of falling into being a way he doesn’t want to be and doing things he doesn’t want to do) and plenty of plausible external validation that the guy is a “worthy man” since he’s getting so much ass.
Problem is, once the guy is done licking his wounds and mentally revisiting the pain of his past relationship, a feeling of loneliness will set in and hook-ups will seem empty and hollow.
This roots back to what I was saying earlier about neediness and a guy deriving a sense of well-being through how women treat him. When people, male or female, derive a sense of well-being, self-esteem and self-worth from how other people treat us, we suffer…
There’s no amount of chasing good feelings (or trying to escape bad feelings) that will lead to a sense of peace, happiness, or well-being. Eventually, even if you’re successful in your frantic attempts to cover up the emotional restlessness through outside actions or getting a specific kind of response from other people, the negative feelings will still be there, unmoved…
So even for the guys going on a hookup binge post-breakup, they eventually crash back to Earth and have to deal with their feelings head-on. The crash is inevitable, but most people will try to numb themselves and distract themselves for as long as they can, until it’s blindingly obvious that nothing they do on the outside can make them feel OK.
That’s when they finally deal with their feelings head-on (maybe).
So what does a guy do when he doesn’t go cold, jump into another relationship, or hook up with as many girls as he possibly can?
In my opinion, the best thing a guy can do is hang out with his friends after a breakup. Get some male perspective on the situation, forgive himself for what he wishes he did differently and take some time to be single.
And when I say single, I don’t mean single on a hookup rampage or single because he’s seeing a girl that he doesn’t want to call his girlfriend. I mean single – comfortable with not having an attachment for a while without going to an extreme.
Sooner or later, a guy will come to this place of reconciliation with himself and I think it’s essential that he does before he starts another relationship.
Long story short, if a guy acts extreme after a breakup, it’s his way of dealing with (or not dealing with) his emotions about his relationship and relationships in general.
Hope it helps,