None of us are immune to the pain and trauma of a bad breakup, not to mention the depression, anxiety, and even physical distress that can so often follow. Yet research shows that men and women experience breakups in markedly different ways, and in the long-term, it’s men who may have it worse.
The study, conducted by researchers from Binghamton University and University College London (UCL), revealed that while women tend to experience more intense short-term grief after a relationship ends, men are far more likely to experience lingering feelings of breakup regret in the long-term. Indeed it may be because women grieve more deeply early on that they’re able to heal more completely.
Craig Morris, Ph.D., co-author of the study, offered an explanation for why women tend to feel a more immediate sense of grief at the end of a relationship. “Put simply, women have evolved to invest far more in a relationship than a man,” Morris said. As he put it, a “brief romantic encounter” could result in months of pregnancy, followed by years of lactation and a lifetime of childrearing. Men, on the other hand, can walk away from a romantic encounter with “no further biological investment,” Morris added.
Of course, love has evolved since the days of cavemen, and our relationship dynamics are far more complex than our biology dictates, but men still tend to be less immediately impacted by a romantic split, statistically speaking. Yes, the male study participants reported feeling sad and distraught by their breakups, but they also spent less time grieving at the time of their relationships’ end and entered new relationships faster.
Women, on the other hand, moved on more slowly and were more likely to have spent time reflecting with the help of their support systems. “Women reported they spoke with friends and family and clergy,” Morris told Vice. “Many will say, ‘It was a long time ago’ and, ‘Here’s what I learned from it.'”
Meanwhile, men expressed far more regret. “Not one guy said, ‘I’m over it. I’m a better person for it,'” Morris explained. The male subjects were more likely to speculate about the life they could’ve had if not for the breakup, and more often expressed remorse at losing the best relationship of their lives.
So, should you find yourself looking back on lost love with regret, it’s worth questioning whether you’ve truly processed the breakup and addressed any lingering feelings. If not, the hard work of healing may still lay ahead—even if the relationship itself is long gone. And for more on avoiding life’s greatest regrets, check out The Biggest Regret You’ll Have in Life.