For those of us who lay on the bedroom floor and howled last night, there is vindication. Breaking up with a partner really can be painful. Scientists have proved for the first time ever that mental agony is controlled by the same gene as physical pain. So if you're reeling from a text from a lover saying, "Sorry but there's no spark", or reminding you that you are simply friends with benefits, you are not alone.
Psychologists at the University of California say the body reacts by releasing the same chemical painkillers for a broken heart as it does for a broken leg.
Already I feel much better. Part of the pain of rejection is the humiliating sense that you are overreacting. That you are wallowing in self-pity when far greater tragedies are going on in the world.
Have I been dumped? Let me count the ways. Stage one: behave like a complete drama queen (drink, tears, no sharp instruments in the house). Stage two involves rallying and plotting and scheming. Stage three? Well, let's just say sobbing naked at the bottom of the stairs ("But why won't you sleep with me?") is not a good look. But now we martyrs have gravitas. There is a genuine overlap in the neurobiology of physical and social pain. Maybe we'll even get time off work.
Better still, researchers have found that some people simply do suffer more. Those with a rare form of the gene are more sensitive to rejection than those with the more common form. Scientists can tell because we have higher levels of the gene that regulates the body's most potent painkillers – mu-opioids.
It's been a good week for the lovelorn. 500 Days of Summer – the new intelligent autumn rom-com – is taking America by storm. We get it here in a couple of weeks. And it really does make rejection look pretty damn cool.
The film – dubbed the first great cinematic romance of the Facebook generation – follows Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an aspiring architect turned greetings card writer who is dumped by the love of his life, Summer (brilliant Zooey Deschanel). We watch as bliss on Day 28 turns into agony on Day 316.
The great twist is that the film is written and directed by three men. Not only do we get the story through Tom's eyes (the sensitive Gordon-Levitt is an honorary girl), but it also means rejection in love is presented with wit and colour and dignity. And there's a bloody great soundtrack.
Decent people suffer, the film seems to say. We shouldn't apologise for being genuine. Instead of the usual embarrassing Bridget Jones eye-rolling and hand-wringing, you think: "Hey that looks OK. I can defend being distraught in love."
Rejection needs a better press, my friends. Because it teaches us stuff. According to Professor Eisenberger, co-author of the University of California study, we are hard-wired to feel the pain so we turn out better friends and lovers. "Because social connection is so important," she explains, "feeling literally hurt by not having social connections may be an adaptive way to make sure we keep them."
As 500 Days of Summer proves, even handsome, clever men can pathologise the love object and make mistakes. The difference is that Tom isn't made to look ridiculous. Women will love the film – proof that we aren't the only ones to be mad and bad and sad.
Men should love it, too. The only problem will be getting them to go and see it in the first place.Reuse content