It’s safe to assume that not every age gap relationship will work out; you may find yourself in a few different relationships before settling down with the right person. A May-December breakup is never easy, but as painful as it might feel at the time, that feeling will dissipate, because according to new research published in the Review of General Psychology, our brains are hardwired to move on after heartbreak.
Researchers believe that your ability to move on after a May-December breakup boils down to evolutionary psychology. In humans’ evolutionary past, the individuals who were able to successfully split from a mate if need be, and instead find a more suitable mate were better equipped to reproduce. “In other words, they sent more of their genes on to the next generation,” explained Dr. Brian Boutwell, the lead author of the study.
Boutwell’s study analyzed the process called “primary mate ejection” (no longer being in love) and “secondary mate ejection” (starting another relationship). They found that when we experience that euphoric feeling of being in love, there’s an increase in neuronal activity in the pleasure-center of the brain; this is the same area of the brain that’s stimulated with addictions. So, going through a painful May-December breakup for instance is akin to conquering an addiction. According to this new research, your brain will eventually start working to correct certain emotions after a breakup, which will eventually lead to you to new mates and relationships.
It also helps to come to terms with a May-December breakup when you have a clear understanding of what caused it. This study revealed that although everyone is capable of moving on from heartbreak, the sexes differ in their motivations for ending a relationship. According to these findings, men are more likely to leave their partner if they suspect that they’re sexually unfaithful, while women are more likely to leave if their partner is no longer able or is unwilling to offer sufficient resources and security for themselves and their offspring. Again, it all goes back to evolutionary psychology and the inherent desire to reproduce.
Although humans are generally monogamists, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re wired to stay with that one person forever. “We virtually never mate for life with one partner, so mate ejection provides a mechanism for moving between partners when that becomes necessary,” said Dr. Boutwell. It might sound absurd, but it does make sense. How many people do you know end up marrying the first person they ever dated? It could happen, but it’s not very common, because as you age, you have different needs. The person you dated when you were 16 probably won’t be able to give you what you need in your 30s, 40s, or 50s. So, while a fresh May-December breakup might seem like the end of the world at first, it might actually be for the better!
Boutwell, B.B., et al., “When love dies: Further elucidating the existence of a mate ejection module,” Review of General Psychology 2015; 19(1): 30-38.
Gregoire, C., “Your Brain Is Wired To Move On After Heartbreak, Study Says,” Huffington Post web site, March 28, 2015; http://goo.gl/xQMQe0.