It once took a friend of mine two months to break up with a guy. She wanted to call it quits because it was long distance. He countered with a detailed calendar of all the time they could spend together.
She was left with a couple of months of stressful phone calls and face-to-face encounters before it finally did end.
For most of us, it’s not the breakup that takes so long, it’s getting over it. We spend our time mourning the relationship’s end, and our friends graciously endure the odd tearful and/or vitriolic outburst.
But Eli Finkel and Paul Eastwick, researchers at Northwestern University, have found we actually handle breakups better than we think we will.
“People think that a romantic breakup is going to be worse than it actually is,” says Finkel, an assistant professor of psychology.
The study, which can be found online in the Journal Of Experimental Social Psychology, was completed over nine months and looked at 26 university students — 10 women and 16 men — who broke up during the course of the study. All predicted their breakups would be more distressing than they actually were.
One reason for that, says Eastwick, is people don’t consider the good things that can happen once the relationship ends.
“That could include seeing your friends, good things that are going to happen at work, or even meeting somebody else in the process,” he says. “When people make their forecast (of how bad the breakup will be), they aren’t really thinking about those kinds of things that help them get back to baseline.”
Both sexes equally underestimated their ability to recover from a breakup. Not surprisingly, the more in love the couple was, the harder they took the actual breakup; they also had the most dire predictions about their ability to bounce back from the relationship. “Bottom line, people don’t appreciate how resilient they actually are,” says Eastwick.