If your best guy friend just went through a break up but refuses to talk to you about it, there may be a reason why, a new study has found.
Men are more likely than women to seek online communities on Reddit for relationship advice or for a space to vent their frustrations, a new study has found.
The review, published on October 23 by researchers at Lancaster University and the University of Zurich, analyzed the Reddit activity of 184,631 people in ‘r/relationships’, an online community devoted to discussing romantic relationships.
Of the 184,631 people analyzed, the review found that 54.62 percent of the users soliciting relationship help were men, and only 45.38 per cent were women.
‘Considerably more’ adolescent boys, the study published in SAGE journals, were also found seeking help on the forums than girls of the same age, with the former submitting around 5,447 posts versus 1,828 posts published by teenage girls.
“We actually found that really interesting,” said study researcher Charlotte Entwistle, a PhD student in psychology at Lancaster University. The findings contradicted previous research on gender-specific, help-seeking behaviours that found women were traditionally more likely to seek help for relationship issues and to encourage their male partners to seek help.
The study examined some of the central relationship themes discussed in the forum and found that ‘heartache’ was by far the most popular.
A quick scan on Reddit by the National Post found posts detailing questions about unrequited love, long-distance relationships and post-separation heartache.
“my (45 m) girlfriend (26 f) said love isn’t real. How do I deal with the heartache?”, reads a Reddit post from three years ago.
Reddit users — surprisingly gentle in responses to someone baring himself to an onslaught of online opinion — suggested he let the relationship go, given the major age gap and his girlfriend’s feelings on love.
In another post three months ago, a 29-year-old man wrote a long, heartfelt diatribe about his 15-year-long secret love for his female best friend, to which Reddit users unanimously advised him to go for it.
“You waited 15 years it’s now or never,” reads one response.
Their language patterns on the forums seemed to be consistent with ‘secure attachment’ behaviour, the study says, in which a distressed individual displays a comfortableness turning to others for support and protection.
This was despite previous research, Entwistle explained, that found that men more commonly expressed avoidant behaviour, in which an individual avoids intimate relationships and seeking support from others.
The data in her sample seemed to show the opposite, Entwistle said. “They would use a lot more couple focused language,” she said. “So more ‘we’ words and less self-focused language … and the tone was more positive and less negative.”
“These patterns just really indicated that the men seeking help for the relationship were actually more securely attached.”
Which brought up yet another interesting contradiction — if the men in the sample are comfortable seeking support from others, then why do so anonymously online rather than in person?
It’s a fear of social stigma, Entwistle explained. “This platform was fully anonymous and it just really removes this social stigma attached to seeking help.”
Rebecca Horne, a PhD candidate in social psychology at the University of Toronto, agrees. “I do think that the stigma is still prevalent, although its diminished in recent years” thanks to media and social campaigns encouraging men to speak up.
However, the kind of traditional gender roles in which men are socialized to be tough, independent, non-emotional are “still really sticky and really hard to change,” she said. “When men violate these rules, they face backlash and a lot of the kind of backlash comes from other men who are kind of policing each other and trying to uphold this notion of really rigid masculinity and what that looks like.”
Seeking help anonymously on an online platform allows for an easy, controlled access to support, she said, in which an individual does not need to physically face the people they receive support from, can control how much information they give out without the additional burden of receiving or reacting to the listener’s non-verbal cues.
Men on the platform, researchers found, became much more vocal about issues of heartache, dating, partying, personal qualities and language, while women on the other hand, appeared to focus on more practical matters such as finance, abuse, housework and distance in the online forum.
The difference in these themes seemed to conform to the “traditional gender stereotype,” Entwistle said.
Researchers were especially intrigued by the way issues of heartache were discussed among users — rather than devoting the discussion to resolving a specific relationship problem, they found that people mostly used the platform to vent their distress and reach out for social support.
“It was very interesting that men appear to discuss this theme of being heartbroken and heartache more than women did,” Entwistle said. “Which really just kind of just tells us that they’re actually a lot more emotionally invested than previously thought.”
The study accompanies an accumulating trove of research proving wrong the old adage that men are less emotionally invested in relationships than women — research released on November 3 found that break ups are more painful for men because they’re more emotionally invested in the relationship than women.
This paper, Entwistle hopes, will help put to rest some of the social stigma men face when reaching out for support and generally “normalize” help-seeking behaviours. In the future, she suggested a study that looks at the other side of the coin and studying the quality of advice received in an online, anonymous context.
“In professional settings, when people go to seek professional help, we kind of know or can presume that there’s going to be benefits for the couples involved,” she said. “Whereas in on an anonymous platform, we don’t know what the quality looks like.”