11 Lies We Need to Stop Telling About Breakups
We can all agree: Breakups are the worst.
But, as one of the most universal experiences stemming from romance, it's a circumstance many of us can relate to. The average woman, for example, will experience severe heartbreak at least twice before she ends up with a long-term partner — if she ever does.
While lifestyle magazines may force-feed us supposedly foolproof methods for getting over a breakup (ice cream, sobbing, Tinder binges) and others may emphasize the seven "normal" phases of a breakup, the aftermath of splitting from someone you truly care about is enormously complex and unique for every person.
People deal with breakups in different and much messier ways than the media would have you believe. Here are 11 lies about breakups we need to stop telling ourselves — and each other.
1. You shouldn't dwell on it.
Yes, you should. A recent study from the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science found that critically thinking about and dwelling on a past relationship (preferably while eating a tub of ice cream) might actually expedite the healing process. By allowing ourselves to work out what went wrong in a relationship, researchers found that recently heartbroken people could quickly rebuild the sense of self they once had as a single person, according to the study.
What's a healthy mourning period? However long it takes, but the sooner we verbalize emotions, the sooner we can leave them behind. That's how an attached "we" becomes a confident, single "I."
2. Men initiate breakups most often.
Wrong. It turns out that women are much more effective at initiating breakups than men.
A survey Cosmopolitan reported last year found that, on average, women take about six days to decide to break up with a partner, while men agonize over the decision for about 10. That's because, according to the study, 88% percent of men are working carefully to frame a polite "exit strategy." While there aren't a lot of stats about who dumps who in premarital breakups, past research indicates that women initiate about 66% of divorces.
3. Rebound relationships and sex don't work.
Actually, they do. In many cases, experts recommend using rebounds — short flings or even longer-term relationships — as a healthy way to assess yourself and what you're looking for in a new partner.
A 2006 study from Princeton University found that people who enter new relationships immediately after a divorce don't have a higher future divorce rate than those who took their time getting back in the saddle. As Jennifer Nagy advises on the Huffington Post, "Enjoy a rebound relationship, which offers fun, companionship and excitement, without the long-term commitment."
4. Men cope with breakups better than women do.
This troubling gendered myth not only paints women dealing with breakups as pathetic, but also does a disservice to men who are trying to get over the person of their dreams.
A 2010 study from the Journal of Health and Social Behavior examined the effect of men's and women's relationships on their mental health and found that, "[w]hile current involvements and recent breakups are more closely associated with women's than men's mental health, support and strain in an ongoing relationship are more closely associated with men's than women's emotional well-being."
In sum, men often rely on their partners, rather than friends, for emotional intimacy and personal support, and losing that support during a breakup can cause a lot of emotional distress. As Men's Health points out, "Women adjust better to the end of a relationship because they've already given consideration to the possibility of a breakup, whereas men are typically unprepared for it." But it's okay, dudes; the truth is that we all have an incredibly hard time getting over a breakup.
5. It's totally cool to still follow your ex on social media.
No. Unfriend and unfollow immediately. It's really bad for you.
A 2012 study conducted by Western University found that around 88% of individuals dealing with a breakup in the last 12 months have followed their ex's Facebook activity, while another study from Brunel University found that surveilling an ex on social media slows down the recovery process. If love has an effect on the brain similar to that of drugs, then it makes sense that liking every Instagram selfie your ex takes just feeds the endorphin-fueled addiction. "Continued Facebook surveillance may mean that an individual becomes stuck in a rut, unable to let go of that ex-partner," study author Tara Marshall told Mic.
You don't need to go cold turkey, but use the reality of your breakup as a digital wake-up call. As online dating expert Laurie Davies tells Refinery29, "Give your timeline a reality check. Following them is fun, but it can hurt your heart ... if they want to get in touch, they will."
6. The time it will take you to get over your relationship is equal to half of the time you spent together.
Known as "the breakup golden rule," this formula is dangerously misleading. Pop culture loves perpetuating this rule of thumb on shows like How I Met Your Mother and Sex and the City, but there's one key problem: Emotions can't be timed.
A 2009 study suggests it can take up to 18 months to get over a serious relationship, and that's just a survey average. But many factors contribute to how long someone takes to heal after a breakup, such as the length of the relationship, terms of the breakup, amount of communication and future romantic opportunities.
When the question was posed to the men of Reddit last year, responses ranged from 18 hours to 10 months to going on 11 years. The golden rule must be thrown out the window.
7. If you were supposed to break up, it won't be tough to get over.
No matter who initiates a breakup, both parties will likely experience a strong emotional reaction. Those who did the dumping know that initiating the breakup doesn't necessarily mean it will be easier to get over.
As Jennifer Kromberg notes in Psychology Today, "The part of our brain that governs emotional reactions doesn't care whether or not the breakup was for the best. It just knows there's been a loss. As shaped by your previous experiences of loss, the emotional center of your brain may still react negatively even when the logical part of you knows it's positive." As much as we want our reaction to breakups to be logical, we're still dealing with the messy knot that is love and loss.
8. Breakups are caused by the change of seasons.
"Breakup seasons" are not real, as heartbreak happens at all times of the year. The major reasons people break up aren't because "it got hot" or "it got cold." A Cosmopolitan survey of 1,400 women found that the most commonly cited reasons for a breakup were falling out of love, infidelity, lying and incessant fighting.
But still the the popular myths remain — people believe others are more apt to break up as the months warm up, when more people go out or are open to summer flings, some say. Facebook data shows the opposite is true: Breakups start rising in mid-November and peak two weeks before Christmas. They also tend to peak around Valentine's Day and spring break. These trends have less to do with the seasons themselves and are more likely in correlation with the heavy questions big holidays tend to stir up: "Am I with the right person?" "Do I want to introduce them to my family?"
So, don't write off a breakup to just the beginning of tourist season or the onset of Thanksgiving. It's more likely indicative of an issue that was present long before the change in season. Or, maybe, it's just a Monday.
9. Men do most of the cheating.
Stop blaming men, and look towards your genes. A new study from the University of Oxford in England explains there are many factors that contribute to someone cheating, and that hormonally, some of us are more likely to be promiscuous than others. The study shows that there are two different "mating" strategies — people who stray and people who stay. Factors like a long ring finger (compared to the index) may suggest someone is more likely to stray. But it's good to note that daters destined for either long term or short term partners come in all shapes, sizes and, importantly, genders.
10. All breakups are explicit.
Have you ever heard of something called "ghosting?" It's a term that describes when a person just fades away without any formal breakup. The increasingly virtual nature of our dating lives has made it easy for many of us to us that sense of anonymity to avoid awkward moments like breakup talks.
Surveys like the one reported in Elle show that up to 27% of women and 14% of men have been ghosted. And just because we have been ghosted doesn't mean we don't ghost people ourselves. So, no, signs of a breakup are not explicit to everyone — especially when we haven't been given a proper goodbye talk (or even a text.) In today's dating landscape, many of us might not know we've been dumped until our partner has given us a few weeks of radio silence.
11. With every breakup, you're just collecting baggage.
Past relationships can help inform our future ones, and are crucial for our personal and romantic development. Singles now make up the majority of the adult population in the United States. While that may mean that more potential romantic partners than ever are previously dumped or historical dumpers, it doesn't mean we have to worry about what our baggage means.
Western Illinois University professor Christopher Carpenter found in a 2013 study that the more previous relationship statuses a person has on Facebook, the more "likes" and interests they display on their profile. The study indicated that the more unique interests we adopt from a partner, the more attractive or interesting we will look to future dates. So that David Bowie obsession you adopted from your college boyfriend back in 2006, the one that inadvertently attracted someone on OkCupid? Thank your ex. You couldn't have gotten here without a breakup.