Heartbreak is often described as a sharp, physically crumbling pain. When it comes to a broken heart, we imagine a flood of unadulterated emotions, almost as if we have been informed of the death of a loved one.
But I see heartbreak differently. In my view, the feeling of heartbreak isn't about a sharp pain, and it's not just about the pain that develops when we're reminded of the person who broke our heart. Rather, it's a chronic, dull pain that sticks with us from the moment we wake up to the time we go to bed. Everything is dulled -- even the good moments aren't as good.
It's kind of like wearing a thick, itchy sweater in 100-degree heat. We want nothing more than to rip it off, cut it off. We just want to feel normal again. But we can't. And even when we do manage to shed that sweater, we still feel like it's kind of on. We have to continually remind ourselves that it has been shed.
One of the major frustrations I hear from women is related to the process of dealing with heartbreak in their life. They are angered, frustrated and awed by the ability of their former romantic partners to seemingly move on in their lives after the relationships end. These women often wonder: How can these men move on so quickly with another woman? How can they not feel crazy like me? Why am I the one who texts, calls and emails him? Has he forgotten what we shared? Did he ever care?
These women also wonder why they can't shed the pain attached to heartbreak for weeks, months, sometimes years. And one of the biggest questions they ask themselves is how they can stay in control in every other part of our lives, process major issues with a healthy outlook and still struggle with the absence of a lost partner, especially one who wasn't very kind.
I don't blame these women for feeling this way. After all, they're just basing their observations about how men deal with the end of relationships from experiences in their own lives. They see his actions as indicating that he has moved on, appearing as if everything in his life is normal and happy. He's being social and exhibiting absolutely no symptoms of heartbreak. And it seems that the man in the relationship has completely let go of his feelings of the past and any connection he had with his partner.
A man's sense of emotional expression may be different, but the way he thinks and feels are not. They are often struggling with heartbreak every bit as much as women.
While there are definitely instances of failed relationships where the man legitimately moves on more quickly than the woman, I find cases of men easily dusting themselves off from a broken relationship to be rare. The idea that men universally move on faster than women is absurd.
How do I know this?
Well, contrary to popular belief, I am a man. But more importantly, I inhabit a unique sphere where I hear the confessions of both men and women. And I always wish that the women I speak with and receive letters from could hear what men tell me in relation to their experience of heartbreak, because between men and women, there isn't much of a difference. When it comes to a broken heart, men suffer from the same pain, confusion and sadness women deal with.
The difference with men is that they don't share their heartache -- they don't talk about it. Their issue goes back to the way in which men in our culture are stifled, emotionally trapped by their conditioning. Their focus is to hide any visible sign of weakness, emotional fragility and vulnerability. It's the ultimate insult for a man to appear emotional, to be seen as "a pussy."
A show of vulnerability is unimaginable for these men since we, as a culture, have managed to convince them that it's not attractive or "manly." So the only acceptable way for a man to express pain over heartbreak is raw anger or silence. The concept of articulating the words "I'm hurt by this," or "This is making me sad," is unfathomable to most men.
Instead we get, "How the f*ck could you do this to me!"
Or nothing at all.
My feelings on this subject were further enhanced through the live, on-air radio show I occasionally co-host. During the advice portion of the program, all of the people calling in to ask questions about not being able to give up, move on or proces their feelings around heartbreak were men.
In particular, there were three men who called into the show to pose questions and concerns about recovering from a broken relationship. These men were asking the same questions about heartbreak as women: Why am I still thinking about her months later? How has she been able to move on so quickly? Should I reach out to her and tell her how I am feeling?
Of course, the anonymity of radio allowed these men to feel comfortable enough to express these thoughts.
But more interestingly, these callers serve as a very clear reminder that the ability of men to feel emotion is not the issue at hand. Rather, the issue is about their ability to express it.
What I've learned in my short time on earth is that nobody, neither man nor woman, can wish heartbreak away. Everyone has to (or at least should) work through it, not around it or against it. And as long as you're doing the right things, i.e., not hiding away from your life, you will eventually move past it. But that sucks, doesn't it? You open your heart, have the best of intentions, then you're left dealing with the pain. It's no wonder that you ask yourself, "What's the point?"
But there is a lesson in all of this. Who is ultimately suffering when it comes to dealing with heartbreak? The woman who shows and feels emotion, or the man who is silent?
In our culture, we constantly talk about the difference between the way men and women think. Some people have accused me of doing this. This insinuates that I believe differences in the thought processes of men and women are based on biology.
It may be different, but it's based on social conditioning, not biology. It's that same conditioning that gives a man a map for a detour around the heartbreak, a map that is inaccessible to most women. But it's ultimately sad, because while you grow stronger, driving through the pain, he has dismissed it and it's just going to haunt him again, again and again.
That detour he took? It comes at a high price.
This piece originally appeared on The Current Conscience.