Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Reiber, Chris

Second Advisor

Merriwether, Ann

Third Advisor

Seibold-Simpson, Susan M.; Wilson, David S.


The formation and maintenance of romantic pair bonds is a well-represented topic in human evolutionary sciences. This extensive body of work, drawn mostly from the field of evolutionary psychology, has proposed mechanisms for attracting a mate (e.g., resource display, physical cues), attaining a mate (e.g., intrasexual competition), and keeping a mate (e.g., competitor derogation, emotional manipulation). However, this evolutionary model of human pair bonding has not fully addressed relationship termination. If we accept that we have an evolved suite of behaviors that encourage and facilitate pair bonding, then we must also look to breakups and ask whether evolution has played a role in shaping “heartbreak”—the post-relationship grief (PRG) which many individuals endure.

The evolutionary model of human mating predicts divergent mating “agendas” for men and women. The first step in our research program was to conduct a modest pilot study to address how and when PRG differs between men and women. This pilot study is included as Chapter One for convenience. Having concluded that many of the existing suppositions about breakups were not supported by our initial inquiry, we set out to expand and revise the current model so that it can be used to make accurate predications regarding a more complex suite of variables (e.g., life history, sexuality). Chapter Two explains the logic and implications of this expansion via the example of a specific breakup scenario: the loss of a woman’s partner to a romantic rival.

After presenting the possible evolutionary cause and adaptive benefits of PRG, we next tested both new and existing hypotheses as they relate to biological sex differences (Chapter Three) and life history variation (Chapter Four) in PRG. This quantitative foundation for ongoing qualitative study concludes with an overview of PRG in a population that is sorely underrepresented in evolutionary literature—individuals whose sexual orientation is not exclusively heterosexual.

Included in

Anthropology Commons