Everyone knows that women and men are very different animals. But now a new study has found that teenage boys and girls are also vastly different creatures when it comes to how they process and handle failed romantic relationships, and the impact that has on their mental health.
American researcher Brian Soller interviewed 5,300 high-school students to examine the mental-health consequences on girls and boys when a relationship goes south.
In an interview this week, he said adolescent girls' mental health suffers far more than boys, who basically feel no mental-health wear and tear from a failed relationship.
"I found that girls' risk of severe depression, thoughts of suicide and suicide attempts increase the more their relationships diverge from what they imagined or expected," said Soller, author of the study and an assistant professor of sociology at the University of New Mexico.
He also concluded that the reason girls take it so much harder is because they're socialized from a young age to focus more on their interpersonal relationships, which become a huge component of girls' self-identities. "Relationships strongly impact how they feel about themselves – both good and bad," Soller said.
"Boys, on the other hand, may be more likely to build their identities around sports or other extracurricular activities including music, which is why they're affected far less by relationship inauthenticity."
The report, published in the Journal of Health and Social Behaviour, was based on results from interviewing the teens who were asked to rank images (including everything from holding hands to kissing to sex) in the order they expected them to unfold in an ideal relationship.
Soller met with participants about a year later, and asked them to reposition the images as they played out during their actual relationships. During both interviews, the adolescents were asked about their mental health.
Soller said he was surprised that boys in failed relationships, whom he expected might react by externalizing their behaviours through aggressive behaviour or substance abuse, tended not to lash out in any significant way.
"Romantic relationships simply aren't as essential to the way boys see themselves."
He added that parents, educators and policy makers should think about how to help girls construct identities that are less closely tied to romantic involvement. "Helping girls build their identities around things other than romantic liaisons may mitigate the effect of relationship authenticity on their mental health," he wrote in his paper.
Soller also recommended creating programs and interventions aimed at providing youth with tools to help them better control and manage hiccups in their relationships as they play out, which he adds could promote more stable, and positive mental-health outlooks.