Why Are Men Surprised by Breakups?

Over the years I’ve dated men who’ve ogled other women. Actually, only four men behaved that way, most weren’t so rude. When I told them their behavior bothered me, it had no effect. One responded, “Someday you’ll have a breakthrough and get over it.”

Instead of breakthroughs, I broke up with each of them. They all were shocked.

Sometimes the surprise happens differently, as when men “hear” me say that I like what I don’t.

When I was in college at BYU some of the students believed that although Mormons no longer practice polygamy (only “Mormon Fundamentalists” do) polygamy was the way of Heaven. (A religious instructor told me this was folklore and not theology. I haven’t been to church in years and don’t know what the common view is now.)

Still, I heard men say they couldn’t wait to have many wives up in Heaven. Put off, I asked men how they felt about polygamy. I told one man that it pissed me off. But projecting his own interest onto me, he was certain that I was as intrigued by the idea of heavenly threesomes as he was. I was mystified. He was surprised when I broke off our relationship.

Breakups can be harder on men than on women. Partly because men are more likely to be surprised.

Why are they so often surprised?

The male role seems to be in play. Men are less relationship-oriented, so they are less likely to monitor their relationships. Men learn that they’re not supposed to listen to women. Not helpful! Taught to constrain their emotions, men are less able to read the emotions of others.

Women are commonly objectified, too. When men see women as objects, sex toys that exist for their pleasure, men don’t experience women as having feelings. They lack empathy and can’t feel women’s pain.

Additionally, men often have more power in society and in relationships. How could this hurt them?

The Wall Street Journal recently reported studies showing that power decreases empathy.

People moving up the ladder of success are typically considerate, outgoing, agreeable and extroverted. Nice “guys” do finish first.

But once in power, things change.

One researcher compared the effect to brain damage, saying that people who hold a lot of authority can behave like neurological patients with damaged orbitofrontal lobes, an area of the brain that’s crucial for empathy.

I’m not saying all men behave this way, but it’s an interesting observation.

Still, the scales of power are tipped in men’s favor, often because it feels natural and normal to many men and women. So it’s interesting that even limited experiments, like asking people to describe a time when they felt powerful, could make them more egocentric.

Power keeps people from hearing points of view that differ from their own. So when a woman says she’s unhappy, and her partner feels she shouldn’t be, he may not sense her suffering even as she tells him about it.

Power diminishes empathy. Lacking empathy, some misread their partner’s feelings.

Then its surprise! Bye, bye baby.

Women, if you’re having issues, perhaps this will help you to understand what’s going on. Maybe you can have a conversation (if he’ll make an effort to talk to you.)

Men, if you want to keep your relationships strong, recognize women as full partners. Be attuned and listen to them. And be empathetic and alert to your partner’s emotions.

Georgia Platts

Sources:

Elizabeth Rider. Our Voices. Wadsworth. 2000

Jonah Lehrer. The Power Trip.” Wall Street Journal. August 14-15, 2010

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