According to a study out of Binghamton University, "Intrasexual Mate Competition and Breakups: Who Really Wins?", women who lose their unfaithful mate to another woman "win" in the long run because we have adapted to cope with breakups in favorable ways. These results come out of the largest-ever study on relationship dissolution. Of the over 5700 individuals who participated in the online survey, 61 percent of those women reported being exclusively heterosexual and 2,843 had experienced a breakup.
After having your male mate "poached," you could return to the "dating scene" in even better shape than you had been in before, research associate at Binghamton University and lead author on the study, Craig Morris, tells Broadly over email.
This is because of something Morris, a biocultural anthropologist and evolutionist, calls higher "mating intelligence." Meaning, after a break up with a shitty partner, a woman may gain insights that help her pick a better one.
Breakups are usually associated with external expressions of grief—like social withdrawal, lethargy, loss of interest in school and work, loss of focus, and depression. Although these are often thought of as negative reactions, Morris and his team found that they can actually serve an instructive purpose. "It's possible that these symptoms promote time for self-reflection and personal growth," Morris says. Turns out all those sad nights spent alone with Netflix and declining invites from your friends may be positively adaptive. "Women, almost exclusively as compared to men, eventually report that they took the time to assess their former mate, themselves, and even their life in general. This 'positive rumination' is what appears to lead to a more successful return (at the time of her choosing) to the 'mating game.'"
And what about the lousy partner? Morris tells Broadly that they did no research on the success rate of the cheater's new relationship, but that the data "anecdotally suggests that the relationship between the cheater and the 'other woman' will not be successful in the long run." Morris adds that a forthcoming paper will explore the infidelity hypothesis as it applies to non-heterosexual relationships.
Morris says he was compelled to study breakups and female-female mate competition because there is plenty of research surrounding how and why we choose mates, but none focusing on why we move on from them—or what happens afterwards. "I wanted to fill that gap in the literature as it seems so very relevant to many, many people." Over 85 percent of American adults have experienced at least one major romantic breakup.
After all of his research on the topic, I decided to ask Morris to offer some sage breakup advice: "You're not alone. It's going to hurt," he said. This sounds very much like the advice my mother gave me when I was 20 and going through my first major heartbreak. "Grieve. Learn. You will get through it."
Eventually, though, more in line with an evolutionist than a parent, he says: "If our ancestors didn't recover from breakups and find a way to move on successfully, we wouldn't be here."