Can Heartbreak Break A Man?

This post was originally published on The Good Men Project. Republished with permission.

Nicole Johnson argues that societal tropes of masculine strength and perseverance obscure the fact that emotional damage can destroy a man.

I have been the beneficiary of magnificent male mentors. From dating tips to elevator pitches, I have received outstanding advice from men. Yet, there is one piece of advisement that stands out amongst the myriad of bestowed male wisdom.

I started my professional career at Vogue magazine. And just in case you’re wondering, The Devil Wears Prada (book and movie) was an accurate depiction of what happens behind-the-scenes at the largest fashion magazine in the world. Ugliness thrives amidst all of that beauty.

Interestingly enough, it wasn’t the enchantment of Couture clothing I remember from my first job. My memories of Vogue magazine lie in my love for New York City and a notable piece of personal advice I received from a co-worker. I was told this by a male mentor 20 years my senior: “Nicole, don’t ever play with a man’s heart. If you don’t like him, cut him loose; don’t string him along. Heartbreak can drive a man crazy.” Fifteen years later, I still ponder his admonishment. Can heartbreak actually drive a man insane?

My husband and I know a man who can’t recover from the heartbreak of his divorce. Two years have past since his divorce was finalized, and he cannot rebound from the loss of his marriage. Prior to his divorce, there were three years of martial struggles, which included therapy and a trial separation. I knew time apart and therapy could not save his marriage. I also knew, from the time they started dating, their relationship would never last. What I did not know was how his heartbreak would debilitate him to an unrecognizable state.

Today I bemoan the plight of this man’s emotional health. He’s been in and out of therapy, he has an extraordinary family, and he has a prefect, precious daughter. However, none of these factors have assisted him on a path to recovery. I no longer recognize him. I’m confounded by his actions and thought process. Consequently, do I think my mentor was correct? Can heartbreak drive a man insane? Yes, I believe this type of pain can break a man.

There are pervasive stereotypes of men in our culture. Here’s the short list: it is not preferable for men to fail, it is not preferable for men to be weak, it is not preferable for men to be helpless, and it is not preferable for men to be overtly emotional. Moreover, men are expected to be strong, men are expected to be brave, men are expected to succeed, men are expected to be powerful, and men are expected to be providers.

Men also have to contend with cultural clichés. For example, phrases such as: “Grow a pair,” “Take your balls out of your purse,” and “Man Up” have become ubiquitous in modern vernacular. (Conversely, the female equivalents to this jargon are nonexistent.) These generalizations have the potential to greatly impact a man’s psyche, especially a man suffering from a failed relationship or marriage.

Family history, personal history, and biochemistry will continue to be the primary factors when analyzing emotional health. In conjunction with these markers, I believe we should acknowledge the culture we live in. If people recognize the suppressive stereotypes our society places upon men, perhaps they will be more skilled at helping men through heartbreak. Of course, a man’s free will and personal accountability are considerations that need to be examined. If a limitless amount of personal and professional assistance cannot lift a man from heartbreak, how can he be saved? The answer lies within the man. He is the only person who can save himself from the insanity of heartbreak.

Photo credit bored-now/Flickr

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