"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Dating Behavior–Was Darwin Right?

Academics are at it again.  Their business in a crowded and competitive university world has always been to carve out a niche, publish, write a series of articles defending their theories, find peer reviewers who will be generous, and then go at each other like the literary bitches on the back pages of the New York Review of Books. Apparently the evolutionary basis for dating is coming under attack and old rivalries are being renewed. 

The old revered theory is being reexamined.  It used to be simple: women, the child-bearers had a lot at stake in choosing a mate.  Once a woman became a mother, she became the primary caretaker of the next breadwinner.  If she chose properly, her son would have the same strong limbs, sharp eyes, and fierce courage of her mate.  The higher up he was on the social ladder, the greater chance she had of benefitting from his wealth and power.  She was stuck.  She had to breastfeed the child and was chained to him for two years.  Since her mate was out hunting antelope and gazelle and she had to stay by the fire to take care of the children.  If she could somehow keep her man and his meat, she and her babies might survive.  She didn’t have the time to screw around and little incentive.  Men are stupid, but not stupid enough to completely ignore a wife’s pregnancy which had to happen while they were out on the veldt, the steppes, the jungle on an extended hunting party.  The results of her infidelity would be catastrophic.

There is plenty of academic literature around on the nature of jealousy, and some have shown that it is an evolutionary imperative:

David Buss wrote The Dangerous Passion – Why Jealousy is as Necessary as Love or Sex, and the author contends that jealousy is an evolutionary imperative:

From an ancestral man's perspective, the single most damaging form of infidelity his partner could commit, in the currency of reproduction, would have been a sexual infidelity. A woman's sexual infidelity jeopardizes a man's confidence that he is the genetic father of her children. A cuckolded man risks investing years, or even decades, in another man's children. Lost would be all the effort he expended in selecting and attracting his partner. Moreover, he would lose his partner's labors, now channeled to a rival's children rather than his own. (David Buss, NYT)

But who cares who fathers a child or where a man's commitments get channeled?Shouldn't we love all children equally? Buss goes on:

Perhaps in some utopian future, we might, but that is not how the human mind is designed. Husbands in our evolutionary past who failed to care whether a wife succumbed to sex with other men and wives who remained stoic when confronted with their husband's emotional infidelity may be admirable in a certain light. Non-jealous men and women, however, are not our ancestors, having been left in the evolutionary dust by rivals with different passionate sensibilities. We all come from a long lineage of ancestors who possessed the dangerous passion.

In other words, the evolutionary standard was a faithful wife who, if she strayed, would be punished, abandoned, thrown out, tossed into the wild.  Given the physical strength and economic power of men, women had far more to lose from sexual infidelity than men.

Now, evolutionary psychologists contend, these socio-biological imperatives no longer are operative.  Women think about sex as much as men, and have just as much desire to hop in bed with any sexual offeror as their male counterparts.  These academics come up with some pretty devious ways of proving this and Dan Slater, writing in the New York Times (1.13.13) describes three experiments. In one, researchers found that if men thought that their claims to exaggerated sexual prowess would be called in a lie detector test, they lowered the number of experiences; and that number was little different from women.  We are not told by Slater if the women were also subjected to the lie detector test, but it appears not.  We have to conclude that they were not; and their avowed number of sexual encounters was also distorted, more likely downward; so that the real differences between men and women remained the same.

In another experiment researchers asked men and women: a) Will you go out with me tonight; b) will you come over to my apartment tonight; and c) will you go to bed with me tonight?  Not surprisingly most men welcomed the thought of jumping in bed with the attractive researcher (or maybe not so attractive, since research has proven the old adolescent male adage referring to sex with an ugly woman “Put a flag over her head and fuck for Old Glory”); and most women did not.

Of course the results are predictable said opposing academic reviewers.  Who goes around propositioning strangers in the middle of a college quad?  If you ask the question more sensibly, such as, would you like to go to bed with Hugh Jackman, you would get more realistic and enthusiastic responses from women.

Both arguments are dumb, as is the whole question of determining evolutionary determinism.  There is no doubt that we are still the same  X-Y chromosome human beings we were when we came down out of the trees, but we have fashioned society in ways that totally change the operational calculus of mating. In a society where women are the social and economic equals of men, and where private incomes and public programs provide for unwanted or unexpected children, the women will be as promiscuous as men. One of the more serious social problems in America today is illegitimacy – single women, particular poor minority women living in dysfunctional inner-city neighborhoods, have children by the dozen.  Why not? ADC is there.

Upper middle class women put it all out there because they have equal sexual power, the Pill, and a societal conviction that they have complete control over their bodies (abortion).  So why sweat it?  Don’t like one guy?  Very little to lose by sleeping with another to check him out between the sheets while you are Google-ing his economic prospects. In other words, there is no reason for women to behave in predictable evolutionary ways.

At the same time, the old ball-and-chain (the suckling baby) is still around women’s necks; and it is far easier to raise a child with a husband/partner than not.  Although women may have achieved parity with men in many spheres, they still like the idea of a solid, reliable, non-straying husband.  Only makes sense. If a woman has a new, liberated life and can do what she wants but can also rein in a man to do the dishes and change the diapers, why wouldn’t she?

There are, however, some sane voices of reason out there in the academic community:

In an article responding to the new studies last year, Mr. Schmitt, a leading voice among hard-line Darwinians, ceded no ground. Addressing Ms. Conley’s finding that women were more likely to agree to casual sex with a celebrity, Mr. Schmitt argued that this resulted from “women’s…short-term mating psychology being specially designed to obtain good genes from physically attractive short-term partners.”

He continued: “When women’s short-term-mating aim is activated (perhaps, temporarily, because of, e.g., high-fertility ovulatory status or desire for an extramarital affair, or more chronically, because of , e.g., a female-biased local sex ratio or a history of insecure parent-child attachment), they appear to express relatively focused desires for genetic traits in ‘sexy men’ that would biologically benefit women when short-term mating.”

In other words in today’s gender parity society (at least in the higher socio-economic groups) men are making mating decisions on non-survival criteria.  A young woman who is attractive, successful, and financially secure is right to look for a hunk who is also sensitive and cook with her.

The only thread that goes through pro-evolution and anti-evolution theorists is that men still will fuck for Old Glory and women  still go through preference algorithms.  Men tend to wind up with a reasonably compatible mate after trial and error; women appear to want to make the process more efficient and winnow out the dumb hunks before bedding them.

The current academic debate misses the point.  We are still the same animals we were back in caveman days, with the same XXYY chromosomes, and without a doubt at least some residual old-style mating behavior remains.  Men, however you measure it, still think about sex all the time – not some of the time, but all of the time; and most men, except the most uxorious, will take advantage of sexual opportunity when it is offered.  The reason why there is a disparity between thinking about sex all the time and having a paltry 4.4 encounters is because there is a lot of competition out there; women can be harridans and succubuses when scorned; and not all men lack the confidence to take risks and sexual chances.  

Women will do the same whenever, however, and with whomever – until it is time to start thinking of a family (ball-and-chain). Casual sex, an issue raised in the Slater article, is a non-starter; for if minimal socio-psychological conditions are met, a vigorous sexual life in the early mating years is normal for both sexes.  It decreases only when women’s biological clock starts ticking louder and when men want someone to wash their socks.

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