If you men out there have just broken up with your girlfriend, you will probably hear the platitude “time is the greatest healer”. Given enough time you will be able to forget that old flame and move on to someone better. Science has, unfortunately, shown this to be nothing but empty words. According to the Journal of Evolutionary Psychology [pdf], women viewed men who had been rejected by their previous partner as significantly less desirable for long term relationships. Men who dumped their old lady were actually seen as better partners. Conversely, men found women less attractive if they found they had dumped their boyfriend.
Who we chose to pair up with for the long haul is an important decision for both sexes. For men, a youthful, attractive, healthy woman is best – they will produce more offspring for the lucky man. For women, men with resources are desirable – children need food, clothes, university educations, ipods, etc. We all, consciously or unconsciously, are judging each other for these traits. This new piece of research had now added previous relationships to the growing pile.
Men who cannot keep a relationship going – in other words get dumped lots – must have something wrong with them. The previous girlfriends must have a reason why she left – he was stingy, unattractive, boring, whatever. Men who dumped, instead of being dumped, obviously have no flaws serious enough to jeopardise a relationship. They must, therefore, be high quality mates and are seen as more desirable by women. Women who break up with boyfriends obviously have too high standards for some men – they might even end up doing the same again – and so are seen as less attractive than less picky women.
It has been known for a while now that we are all easily influenced by the opinions of others. A landmark paper published in Scientific American by Solomon Asch showed that peer pressure could make many people believe things contrary to what they would if they were on their own. For example, people would completely underestimate the length of a line drawn on a piece of card, if other people nearby (stooges in the experiment) gave the wrong result.
Using social information is a shortcut to a wealth of information about the quality of a potential mate. We dont have time to analyse every little characteristic about someone – by asking about how previous relationships ended can help us make an educated guess about how a future relationship might progress.
So, next time you find someone truly special to share the rest of your life, its probably best to break up with them. That way you can get someone even better next time.