Sexy science: Breaking up is less hard to do with a new hairdo

Men and women react differently to the end of a once-hot relationship. But however we then behave, we'll get over it. University of Texas researchers think that's how we have been programmed

IT LOOKS like Madonna might be on the road to divorce from her husband of seven years, Guy Ritchie, and if so she's likely to find it a costly exercise.

Just as Macca was parted from a few of his multi-millions along with Ms Mills, so it will be for Madonna if she decides to end her marriage.

Divorce among us mere mortals is pretty common. A marriage lasts, on average, about 11-and-a-half years, though if you think that's bad consider the poor hunter-gatherer Ache people of Paraguay; at the tender age of 40, their average adult has experienced 12 marriages and 11 break-ups.

Most of us don't suffer quite so many romantic splits, but the point is that it happens with depressing frequency across classes and cultures. This universality led Carin Perilloux and David Buss of the University of Texas to propose that through the course of human evolution we must have developed psychological mechanisms to minimise the costs of romantic break-ups and to help get us back into the hunt for that perfect partner with whom to perpetuate our genes.

For a study published recently in the journal Evolutionary Psychology, they quizzed nearly 200 male and female university students about how they felt after romantic break-ups, as well as the costs they suffered and the coping strategies they used, to see if their experiences matched up with what would be predicted if we are designed to maximise our chances of having a successful relationship and children.

In general, the predictions were upheld. For example, the researchers reasoned that since men are physically stronger and able to dominate women, men are more able to try to coerce an unwilling partner into staying with them, and sure enough, women in the study reported more stalking by their partner after they had broken off with him.

Recall DJ Andy Kershaw, who in his grief at their split hounded his ex and consequently ended up behind bars earlier this year. And he's certainly not the worst – every week we read in the newspapers about some guy whose raging jealousy or possessiveness has led to a horrific crime of violence against his former partner or family.

Female dumpers were more likely than men to feel sad, confused and scared, while men giving their partner the heave were more likely to be happy or indifferent.

Women trying to avoid being dumped showed a tendency to cry and plead. However, many men who wanted to hold on to a reluctant partner tried to take advantage of the fact that women usually place a high value on emotional commitment.

Phrases like "let's move in together", or "let's have kids" were considered persuasive. As is getting down on one knee and proposing.

When it comes to strategies used to cope with the break-up, the study confirmed something we all know: women do endless amounts of analysis discussion, unpicking every aspect of the relationship with their friends (and yes, probably eating a bucket of chocolate ice-cream too) – which may help to avoid making the same mistakes again – but then again probably not.

Men indulged less in spilling their guts to their friends, which isn't really surprising when we consider that for men to attract women status is vitally important, and so men can't be seen to be weak in the eyes of others or give up information that could be used against them later. Instead, they were more likely than women to jump straight back in the sack.

Anyway, the coping strategy that showed by far the biggest sex difference of all was… shopping. Whether girls were dumper or dumpee, they shopped. And if they had measured it in the study I'm pretty sure the researchers would have found an increase in visits to the hairdresser, beauty salon and gym.

A woman can get supreme satisfaction from wafting past her ex looking like a million dollars. Physical appearance is more important for women than men in attracting a new mate, and bagging a new mate (or getting the old one back) is exactly what our biology is trying to get us to do after a break-up.

Madonna turns 50 next month, but she's still gorgeous and I guess she's got plenty of new outfits. Go get 'em, Madge.