Women endure more emotional pain when a relationship ends but once recovered, they could be in better shape than their former other halves.
"Put simply, women are evolved to invest far more in a relationship than a man," says Craig Morris of Binghamton University in the US. "A brief romantic encounter could lead to nine months of pregnancy followed by many years of lactation for an ancestral woman, while the man may have left the scene literally minutes after the encounter, with no further biological investment." Although men feel less pain, they never fully recover, according to the study, they simply move on.
It's a question of biology, says Morris, remarking that women have more to lose by dating the wrong person.
"It is this risk of higher biological investment that, over evolutionary time, has made women choosier about selecting a high-quality mate," says Morris. "Hence, the loss of a relationship with a high-quality mate hurts more for a woman."
Working with 5,705 participants spanning 96 countries, Morris and his team asked them to rate the emotional and physical pain of a breakup on a scale that represents no pain at one and ascends to 10, at which point the pain is unbearable. Women reported higher levels of emotional pain, averaging 6.84 on the scale, while men only averaged 6.58. Women's physical pain averaged 4.21 while men's was only 3.75.
As for men, their evolution has led them to compete for women's romantic love, which Morris believes diminishes their pain upon losing a high-quality mate. "The man will likely feel the loss deeply and for a very long period of time as it sinks in that he must start competing all over again to replace what he has lost -- or worse still, come to the realization that the loss is irreplaceable," he says.
Most of us will experience three breakups by the time we turn 30 years old, with at least one of them bringing a level of pain significant enough to decrease our quality of life for weeks or even months, according to the study.
"People lose jobs, students withdraw from classes, and individuals can initiate extremely self-destructive behavior patterns following a breakup," says Morris. "With better understanding of this emotional and physical response to a breakup -- Post Relationship Grief -- we can perhaps develop a way to mitigate its effects in already high-risk individuals."
The study was published in the journal Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences.