The internet got a front-row seat to the demise of a relationship with a viral video that’s being shared with the hashtag #HurtBae. The clip shows a pair of exes, Kourtney and Leonard, discussing Leonard’s infidelity and its causes. Commenters were struck by the difference in their reactions — Kourtney’s searching tear-filled eyes are a sharp contrast to Leonard’s calm demeanor — but their emotional disparity doesn’t need to be too much of a mystery. According to psychological studies, there’s a big difference in the way men and women react to emotional and sexual cheating.
While gender-based conclusions come with the caveat that there can be differences on the individual level, multiple studies have found that heterosexual men and women feel differently about infidelity. In a 2016 study published in Sexual and Relationship Therapy, a team of researchers found that the people who see sex-based and emotion-based acts — having sex with, or falling in love with, someone else — as cheating share many characteristics. Those people, they determined, tend to be women, people who don’t have much fear of intimacy, and people who are more open to sharing their thoughts and feelings.
Comparatively, those who don’t see those actions as cheating tend to be men, people who have a high fear of intimacy, and people who don’t like to like share their thoughts and feelings.
To determine this, the researchers surveyed 354 college students between the ages of 18 and 50. The participants, comprising 77 percent women and 23 percent men, were asked what they were like when they were in relationships, how they felt about emotional and physical intimacy, and how they would feel if their partner cheated on them. While they found that men and women reacted differently to infidelity, they did not widely differ in sensitivity to rejection or intimacy.
In the video, created by Condé Nast’s The Scene, the emotional reactions to infidelity are clearly different between Kourtney and Leonard. When Kourtney asks him how many times he’s cheated on her, he replies “I don’t know” and “I wasn’t counting.” While he originally explains that things “weren’t the same” because she was looking at his phone (because, again, he was cheating) he reverses his explanation to a problem with intimacy. A fear of intimacy, explains the researchers, alleviates negative thoughts about cheating because people have already put up the emotional walls.
“It had more to do with me just not being able to commit,” says Leonard. “There’s nothing that you could’ve done differently that would have prevented it.”
There are two theories that may explain why there is a gendered difference in reaction. One explanation is evolutionary: The authors argue that men are afraid of a women’s sexual infidelity because it means he loses on the reproductive effects, while women could be concerned that they won’t be provided for. The other, more modern, explanation is called the “double shot hypothesis.” The researchers write that women may “fear that a man’s emotional infidelity would lead to his sexual infidelity, and men fear that a woman’s sexual infidelity would lead to her emotional infidelity.”‘
It’s important to note that these theories are based on older research that says women care more about sexual cheating and men care more about emotional cheating; the current study, however, found that women care about both forms of infidelity.
In this case, Kourtney’s fear that her boyfriend’s sexual infidelity would result in emotional infidelity (she says that he is her “best friend”) is fair. But, thanks to Twitter, we know that she’s doing alright: