Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Women are all the same - Part III

The previous two posts in these series have caused quite a bit of stir and controversy (as expected). Most readers took issue with my suggestion that we have a cognitive bias for overestimating individuality and uniqueness. Others suggested that my personal experiences are marred by selection bias and other confounding factors.

Before hardening up my admittedly weak anecdotal evidence by getting more into the science that help shaping my opinion, I would like to avoid some more confusion.
Here are the two points I tried to make, in full clarity:

1) We tend to think that we are more unique in our preferences than we actually are
Note that I do not say that we are all the same (as some commenters took it). To quote myself:
"We all want to be special little snowflakes. And to some extent we are.  Of course, there is truth to our uniqueness. Yet, it is far more limited than we think."

2) Especially when it comes to mate choice, we are almost all the same (and women even more so than men)
In other words, we all agree on what is sexy.
And that has many surprising repercussions.

It is at this point that I need to make an important disclaimer. What I am referring to as mate choice is essentially sexual desire.

Women get most sexually aroused by alpha males (who fit the "Lover" bill), yet yearn for long term romance with more reliable "Provider" males. Discussions on the topic of mate choice often get muddled by this diametrical female emotional need of men. In other words, when women close their eyes and think about their "ideal man", they think of husband material and not the guys she hooks up with in her youth.

Likewise, men tend to be more selective when committing to a single female. While few single men would  abstain from flings with highly attractive, yet promiscuous females, nobody wants to marry a whore.

So you might think that my focus on attractiveness is misleading (at least for those who are more interested in long term dating than one night stand).  Yet, (somewhat surprisingly) despite everything mentioned above  - our long term mate choices are not entirely independent of our short term mate preference.

In other words, while (the vast majority) of men are unwilling to fully commit to highly attractive girls if they deem them too promiscuous, they will not marry unattractive girls either. It is more like: men want attractive women.
And if they are too commit, they will sub-select the ones that do not completely destroy their hopes of raising their own (rather than another man's child).
And then there are other factors, too, of course. Smart men know that it takes more than sex to have a family and thus women get screened for their companionship prospects in addition to what I described above. This is where men start to think about how a woman's intelligence, education and political opinions match his own.
But, be as it may, attraction needs to be there in the first place.

How about the opposite sex? One could argue that women do select two non-overlapping populations for short term mating and long term relationships indeed.
The former consists of the few alpha males, who are desirable not despite but because they are desired by many other women. emotionally cold and inaccessible, risk taking and aloof in nature. They are shitty husbands but great lovers.
The latter are the more reliable men who are less prone to live out the male drive to serial promiscuity - either because they drank the societal Kool Aid or simply because they lack the options. These men are stable, responsible and kind. They are great husbands and more often than not boring lovers.

And indeed, some women follow along these lines and differentiate men in this way. They marry ("settle for") men they are not strongly physically attracted to after a youth full of alpha flings. After all, a woman can easily quench her thirst for premium sperm by having a "girl's night out" while her nice, reliable, unsuspecting husband is busy amassing what it needs to "provide".
Yet, the ultimate female fantasy is to unite Lover and Provide in one partner. Romance for women is to win the Lover and gain him as a Provider. This is the stuff that chick flicks are made of. This is why women chase bad boys even if they are not in the mood for one night stands. There is always the hope that this could "turn into something more".
So, for women, too, when it comes to long term partners, attraction needs to be there in the first place.

The result of the above may be surprising to some:

When it comes to actually choosing a mate your guess about your own preferences is way off.
(The study I link to is a citation classic, and absolutely worth a read. It puts an end to all discussions on "what women want in a man" based on introspection. Actions simply speak louder than words.)

As a result, researchers find that even in speed dating events, where people arguably look for long term partners rather than one night stands, sexual attractiveness is king: Men want sexy women while women look for high status males. To quote some of the (highly significant and often reproduced) key findings:
"Many traits had surprisingly little effect on people’s desirability ... including education and income, previous marriages, having children, concordant desires for future children, religious compatibility, appetites with respect to casual sex, and having similar habits with regard to smoking and drinking"

What this all means is that what we mean by "love grows" is getting used to the flaws and mismatches between our wish list and our partner's actual traits because they are sexually attractive rater than the other way round.

There is one more important repercussion.

While we might all have different "wish lists" for long term partners, we arguably agree much more on who is "hot or not". As a result we all rival for the same few attractive/desirable partners.

The tremendous difference between the genders is that men are attracted by looks (low BMI accounts for almost a third of the variance in female desirability!), and beauty is ubiquitous.

Women, however, are attracted by high social status, and there can only be one at the top. Thus, women seem to be "more selective" than men. So selective they truly all want the same. Or, to to tie it back to the original headline: "When it comes to choosing men, they are all the same".

It follows from that "there are few sexually attractive individuals and lots and lots of compromise".

You might not like seeing yourself, or your partner this way, but telling yourself that you found love because it is "such a good match" is denying the truth that you simply are out of options. Things tend to get murky if a more attractive person becomes available (men tend to divorce their wives for younger women. n'est-ce pas?). And what is attractive or not is much less in the eye of the beholder than scientifically quantifiable:


  1. "So, for women, too, when it comes to long term partners, attraction needs to be there in the first place."
    But, in addition to that, would you agree that alpha males complement the female nature, which would also sustain the long-term relationship?

  2. would you agree that alpha males complement the female nature, which would also sustain the long-term relationship?

    A lot of the "female nature" to sustain the relationship amounts to beta-ization.

    It is impossible to be fully committed and fully alpha. Provider and Lover are too mutually exclusive to trick a female (subconscious) mind into believing she found both type of men in the same person.

    A committed man will seem "trapped" and thereby of lower status to her sexual unconscious. Likewise, a man who retains full alpha status will keep her untrusting and insecure.

    It is important to note that women really have an emotional need for both types of men in their lives. They want to get creamed all over with the superior sperm of the alpha who keeps his foot in the door, while enjoying the security of a tight emotional partnership with a beta. One type of man without the other leaves them unsatisfied.

    In the long run a woman in a committed relationship will either get depressed because of her consistently failing beta-ization attempts, or she will get bored and frustrated about the lackluster (sex) life her beta provides.

    So how does one deal with that problem as a guy who is interested in long term partnerships rather than bar bathroom blow jobs?

    There is little out there on relationship game, but the one resource I can highly recommend is "Practical Female Psychology".

    In short, one can exploit the fact that women do not crave Lovers (alphas) and Providers (betas) at the same time. They happilly go back and forth between them. One thus can alternate between roles, rapidly switching between lovingly warm and unattachedly cold to keep her on her toes eternally (if one feels that this is worth the effort).

  3. Really interesting series. The whole thing kind of reminds me of the old cliche where the hero or villain eventually discovers they were a clone/born in a test tube all along :P

  4. You wrote that telling yourself you found love/a good match is because you are simply out of options. How can you make that deduction? Many women & men in committed relationships are very attractive to the opposite sex. Often, it is neither the case that those in relationships are settling for their partners nor that their partners simply settle for them. In fact, I know many attractive males & females who are in committed relationships, and I highly doubt they are desperately settling for their partners.

    Or are you saying, in this & all your posts, that longterm relationships are for only the foolish?

  5. You wrote that telling yourself you found love/a good match is because you are simply out of options. How can you make that deduction? Many women & men in committed relationships are very attractive to the opposite sex. Often, it is neither the case that those in relationships are settling for their partners nor that their partners simply settle for them.

    Yeah, that wasn't worded very well. I certainly did not mean to judge.

    What I meant by "running out of options" is that you have "leveled out" in the market place; you believe you got "the best deal" possible.

    Put simply, attractive people date attractive people.
    And they make sure they match in that respect.

    The happy feeling of romantic love in a relationship is likely to be the mental expression of your subconscious belief that you found a partner that is equally or more attractive than you are.
    (And there is nothing wrong with that, of course.)

    The authors of the speed dating study I link to put it more eloquently:
    "Our results ... suggest that men and women are both aware that they are in a market and know, to some degree, how to respond to market forces."

    The result is that:
    "When men and women increase their selectivity, they exclude less desirable people. The result is that more selective men choose and are matched with women who are, on average, thinner, younger, and more attractive, while more selective women end up choosing and being matched with men who are ... more attractive."

  6. Aw, look at me, I got a comment-link. I feel so flattered.

    And it really is posts like this that make me wish that there was a conference based not around pick up, but just the study of seduction, sexuality, sexual/social dynamics. Just sit around and discuss until our brains implode.

    Your personal experiences were incredibly marred by selection bias. I found the initial posts on the topic to be akin to the idea of putting one's hand into a bag of red marbles, drawing out only red ones, and then declaring no other colors of marbles existed.

    I would argue your two points, about uniqueness and about what we "all" consider sexy, but you're mostly right, aside from that general 31% of outliers I illustrated (with my bad, tired math) in the linked comment.

    What I've always felt, though, is that women love the idea of the conversion of the bad boy into devoted romantic partner because of the need to feel unique, to feel special. They've tamed the savage beast, they're so desirable, so "x" that this rugged alpha male could not resist them, would willingly change for them. Pure ego.

    I do find it interesting that this post started out as a support to your series of women being all alike and turned into, essentially, a post telling us that not only women are all alike, but so are men.

  7. One thing that really got me in these studies was that mens' income and education had basically no impact on female selection. The former is surprising simply because it is a commonly-stated (and anecdotally observed) fact that women prefer rich men. The former and the latter are both surprising in that income and higher education are generally (from anecdotal observation) correlated with higher social status. Since men can often be successful in business and academia w/out having great social skills (business less so, especially considering archetypes like the nerd and the geek), this makes a certain amount of sense - the traits that women evolved preferences for are no longer as good of indicators of real-world success as they once were - but the fact that there's almost no correlation whatsoever is surprising, since it seems like there is correlation between being alpha and being rich and intelligent.

    Another thing that got me, from the second study:
    "Men appeared to attempt to compensate somewhat for having a less attractive face, but not at
    all for being older or shorter. Women also did not appear to adjust their selectivity for being

    So...basically your level of attractiveness and what that should buy you in the sexual marketplace gets imprinted on you when young and changes very little.

  8. "(if one feels that this is worth the effort)."

    Trust me, it ain't.

  9. So, you're saying an alpha male who does committ and displays affection, won't fully earn her trust and security at the unconscious level?
    Or is it that he can't committ without losing some of his desirability at the female's sexual unconscious? And I guess if he were to do the latter than than he has gained her trust and security.

  10. **I meant if the secondary scenario occured then that is what would happen.

  11. "Women get most sexually aroused by alpha males (who fit the "Lover" bill), yet yearn for long term romance with more reliable "Provider" males."

    I don't know if you "do requests" but you might wan't to review an old movie that focuses on this theme someday.It's called Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands. Brazilian film. I haven't seen it in quite a while but my hazy memory recalls that it was a particularly insightful treatment. Here's a link:


    Whaddaya say?

  12. @ Browser - Great points. It is comments like that keep me motivated.

    @ Poetry - wait for the final post of the series.

    @ Anonymous - it depends.

    @ Justin - "he can't committ without losing some of his desirability at the female's sexual unconscious."

    @ Ovid - can't promise a post, but I will have a look at it. thanks for the tip!

  13. 11minutes, this is a great post! I quite appreciate the clarifications you have made. The major points that you postulate in this post are ones that I thoroughly agree with.

    I'm curious, given that you view a clear dichotomy between the provider and lover roles, what do you see as the best way to approach LTR game? Given that alternating roles constantly does require a fair amount of effort, do you see a more easily sustainable solution?

  14. Alternate theory:

    One piece of rubble is rather similiar to another.

    When the government and big business do everything in their power to smash people into the ground, you get rubble.

    And one piece of rubble is rather similiar to another.

    Of course, your attitude is just another tool they use to smash people into the ground, so I'm sure they thank you.

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