A study of undergraduate-age men and women in North Carolina has shown that men appear to suffer greater anguish than women when a love affair or relationship ends. I think this finding would strike a lot of men as true, if they think about it, and possibly most women too. There are all sorts of reasons. The researchers say it’s because women have supportive friendships at that age whereas men invest everything in the relationship.
I think you could add to that the fact that men do have friends, but definitely they do not talk to them about their feelings of anguish in a way that might help them. Men do not like to talk about feelings. Especially when we are young. We are far more likely, at age 18 to 23, to try to resolve emotional distress — the grief of a break-up — in a self-destructive way. By drinking heavily, for example. The male way to deal with pain of this sort is to try to angrily, wordlessly, blot it out. Women, I suppose, are more likely to share sadness with friends and perhaps gain useful perspective from that process. So that would tend to make them more resilient. Alternatively, they just slide into depression. If you like, they turn their anger inwards.
Then there’s the question of the effect a catastrophic rejection has on the male ego and sense of self. It’s crushing, totally devastating. And possibly that damage to amour-propre is more of a blow when it happens to a man. Men are proud creatures. Also, for some young men, dealing with women, and intimacy generally, can be a bit of a challenge. I know this for a fact. This is one reason why alcohol comes in so handy, of course, in romantic dealings between the sexes: it brilliantly reduces fear and boosts self-confidence. Drink delivers the necessary insouciance to the nervous male, or that’s the belief we cling to, at least.
The most controversial possibility — but it’s one that has to be considered, even if only to be ruled out — is that there’s actually something tougher, something intrinsically harder about women. Could this be true? That women are constitutionally more equipped to deal with endings of relationships? And the corollary — that men are, deep down, softer and more liable to be hurt? It’s that familiar idea of the lethal female who will break your heart, destroy you and then coolly move on to the next victim. Perhaps best to say that these women certainly exist, but by no means all of them are like that.
Women as a group must be quite tough, though, I can’t help feeling. Think of childbirth. Women go through that process, often repeatedly, with all the pain and indignity it involves, with minimal complaint. There are nasty bits they hardly even mention. Imagine the fuss men would make if we had to give birth.
There's lots of helpful stuff to digest there. And let me add one more. One more factor that will, perhaps, shock you – or at least surprise you. Or, maybe (and hopefully) even encourage you. Here is the factor:
God has designed men not to break up with their women.
So when they do break up, you should not be surprised that its ridiculously painful – perhaps even in a way that women will never empathise with.
Let me argue my case.
It is commonly acknowledged amongst Christians that God's intention for male-female relationships, if they occur (not when, as anyone who reads 1Cor. 7 should plainly see), is monogamy. But what is not so clearly understood these days is the non-equivalence which God has designed in that relationship. By “non-equivalence” I mean that God has intended that men and women should relate differently to one-another in marriage – men should relate to their wives in a different way to which wives relate to their husbands.
The grounding for all this comes from God's self-revelation of his intentions for marriage in the pages of the Bible, specifically Genesis 2.
Genesis 2:24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and unites with his wife, and they become a new family.
The Hebrew somewhat under-translated here as “unites” is actually better rendered by the old KJV (and other more modern translations such as the NASB) as “cleaves”. That is to say, the sense of the original is not so much a bilateral joining together but a unilateral “clinging” on the part of the man. The Bible's view of marriage, God's view, is that a man leaves his parents and attaches himself to a woman. One woman. Till death do they part.
There is no such call placed upon the woman. Now, of course, that is not to say that wives are not called to love and be faithful to their husbands, nor that this is not a marriage of equals. But the overwhelming emphasis in the Scriptures is on husbandly love and cleaving/attachment to that one woman. If you think this is not the case then consider for a moment the number of examples you can think of where the Scriptures call husbands to love their wives.
There is no such command to wives. Take a moment to process that. Again, the Scriptures are not saying that wives should not love their husbands, but the emphasis in marriage relationships is on husbands loving/attaching to their wives.
Now, why is this? The simple answer is provided by the Apostle Paul:
Ephesians 5:31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery– but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Paul's argument is simple. The relationship between husband and wife is a mirror of that greater relationship between Christ and His Church, between God and His people.
That relationship is, even more than marriage, one of “non-equivalence”. The great news of the Gospel is that the Lord Jesus Christ has cleaved/attached to His own bride, the Church. And what holds that marriage together? It is the unfailing cleaving of the husband Christ in the face of His bride's wavering loyalty. That unceasing dedication is expressed a number of time in the Scriptures. For example, the prophet Hosea is called to enact it in his own marriage to the prostitute Gomer.
Hosea 1:2 When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, he said to him, “Go marry a prostitute who will bear illegitimate children conceived through prostitution, because the nation continually commits spiritual prostitution by turning away from the LORD.”
Of course, Gomer behaves as you would expect her to and any reasonable man would, at this point, be entirely justified in casting her off once and for all and calling it a day.
But not God.
Hosea 3:1 The LORD said to me [Hosea], “Go, show love to your wife again, even though she loves another man and continually commits adultery. Likewise, the LORD loves the Israelites although they turn to other gods and love to offer raisin cakes to idols.” 2 So I paid fifteen shekels of silver and about seven bushels of barley to purchase her.
God has cleaved to His people and so Hosea is to be a living, walking, multimedia illustration of that fact by himself cleaving to Gomer.
So what do we do with this great truth? A number of thoughts:
- Young men (and I mean those of you in your 20s and 30s – but feel free to include yourself in the description whatever your age if you like), be careful how you cleave. It is my observation as I rapidly hurtle to middle-age that many men in their twenties (especially, but not confined to that group) cleave far too early. They attach to women, and when they do they are all-in. Young men, beware of this. You may find yourself in far too deep far too soon. Be aware of your in-built propensity to give your heart wholly and, instead, take your time. I am not, of course, calling you to be heartless, unfeeling robots – only to be sensible with yourselves. Not only for the sake of those women you are in relationship with but also for your own emotional well-being. As a man who, when younger, cleaved too early and was terribly hurt by it I urge you to be aware of how steep the slide becomes once you launch off. I recall vividly my ex-girlfriend saying to me after it was all over, “this feels like a divorce”. I don't think either of us quite understood the truth of it at the time but, theologically, she had tapped into something quite profound. I had cleaved – and far too early.
- Having said that, let me add this – Young men, do not be afraid to cleave. To find a good wife is to find a very good thing. To commit yourself wholeheartedly to one woman for life is commendable, it is a very good part of God's creation design for many people, and it displays the gospel in a glorious way to the world. There are, perhaps, some younger men reading this who need to stop messing about and actually cleave good and proper. Stop stringing that girl along – if you're going to marry her then actually marry her. Look to the Lord Jesus Christ as your model and strength in upholding your marriage vows – He does not create such a wonderful institution and then not give us the means to maintain it. Seek advice by all means but, perhaps, you simply need to get on with it.
- Men, God cleaves to His people for the sake of His people, not His own gratification – we should do the same with our wives. Of course, there is great joy in the cleaving (and God Himself delights in His bride) but the joy comes from seeking the benefit of the other. There is no excuse here for oppression, the wrong form of patriarchy and any of the sort of rubbish that men pull on their women. Jesus doesn't do any of it to you. QED.
- Young Ladies. Look for a man that will cleave. Simple as that. What will make your marriage succesful is a man who loves Jesus and who will cleave to you as Jesus has cleaved to both of you. Again, I'm not saying that you don't have to have attraction and the rest of it but do stop for a minute and consider what it is you're actually looking for. God says that you are looking for a man you can safely allow to cleave to you and to whose loving cleaving leadership you can submit
- Finally, whether we are young or old, men or women, we can all take great comfort in the fact that Jesus has cleaved completely to us as Christians. He will never forsake the vows He made about us. Like Hosea He has paid a great price to purchase us even when we do not deserve it. Like Boaz with Ruth He has redeemed us and brought us home. Consider for a moment – Ruth had another kinsman-redeemer (Ruth 3:12) but that man was unwilling to pay the price needed (Ruth 4:5-6). Boaz models for us the Lord Jesus Christ who is prepared to pay the price, pays it, and cleaves to His bride. There is a great security for the Christian in the unfailing loyalty and faithfulness of Jesus for His bride.
So the researchers are right- breaking up is hard to do, especially for the men, and thus we need to be careful.
But also take great comfort that, at the end of the day, breaking up is impossible for Jesus to do, no matter how undeserving we, His bride, are. He has cleaved to His wife and shows us how to model our own marriages in the same way.
for some reason, this entry was not taking comments yesterday. I've just posted one now – do feel free to comment or let me know (Twitter @davidould) if you still can't make it work – David