What with all this hype around Brad Pitt banging on about his failed relationship with Jennifer Aniston, I've been thinking again about that old question of who copes better after a break-up: men or women?
A first love that lasts protects both men and women against depression in later life. But, given that many first relationships don't last, who suffers more?
Some research sows that initially it is men that experience more depression, distress, and anxiety after breakups than women do. Why? Well firstly they are more likely to mask the pain. Women face their pain by crying and talking about it. Jen is the prime example, having talked openly about her break-ups in the media and stating in interviews that after a break-up: "I go straight to my girlfriends." Men, on the other hand are more likely to suffer in silence. Also, men are less likely to turn to others for emotional support. They depend on their romantic relationship for intimacy, and when it ends they don't' necessarily confide much in others.
But the other main reason why women cope better in the initial stages is that women are more likely to have anticipated the break-up before it happens. This mental preparation is key, because, as research published in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology points out, often the fear of a break-up is worse than the break-up itself. The amount one thinks they are going to suffer usually exceeds actual suffering when it happens. This is especially true for those who claim to be deeply in love: they imagine a breakup would be catastrophic, so in comparison when it happens it is actually, well, alright.
So far, Jen 1, Brad 0. But the scores change with time, because, as we all know, men are forgetful. Women on the other hand, are more affected by the past. As Jen points out in one of her interviews: "I still have the cassette tapes of messages from my first boyfriend, my second boyfriend, my husband. . . It's like saving love letters."
Unsurprising then that men are better at bouncing back than women, and don't get progressively affected by numerous breakups. However, for women an accumulation of break-ups correlates with more depression or anxiety: unhappiness becomes worse with increasing numbers of break-ups. Things cannot be easy for Jen then who has been in 14 celebrity relationships averaging approximately just over a year each, and had one marriage lasting about 5 years. Luckily she is now in a relationship with Justin Theroux. For women who have had previous breakups, a new relationship will lift their mood, but to a lesser extent with the more breakups they've had in the past.
So men may suffer more initially but they will forget faster. Luckily the cure to cheer oneself up is the same for both sexes. Firstly, it's time. Yes, the research shows that time really is a healer. And secondly? What Brad and Jen have both done: jump back on the bandwagon with someone new of course.
Follow Dr Anuradha Arasu on Twitter: www.twitter.com/doctoranuarasu