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Male Poaching, Psychology of Breakups and Shoe-Buying

Melissa Burkley on male poaching: (PDF)

What were the main results?

Single women were more interested in the man when he was described as attached (90% interested) than when he was described as single (59%). Men showed no difference in interest between a single and attached woman.

Why are single women more interested in men who are attached?

There are probably several reasons why single women engage in mate poaching. The current study did not address this, but some possible reasons include: A taken man may be seen as more of a challenge, Women may be socialized to compete with other women for men’s attentions and this chase for a taken man’s attention is thrilling, they may see themselves as “saving” the man from an unhappy relationship, taken men have already proven they have resources and are willing to commit. For Jessica Parker’s dissertation, she is examining if self-esteem is a motive for mate poaching, specifically among women who base their self-esteem on their appearance. If this is the case, women may use mate poaching as an attempt to protect and restore self-esteem. A woman who successfully lures a man away from his partner may use this “success” to convince herself that she is better than his current partner and it may be that these feelings of superiority provide a boost to her self-esteem.

David Buss has published a lot of research about mate selection and evolutionary biology.

David Buss concludes that this poaching effect differs markedly between men and women (PDF):

Women rated men more desirable when shown surrounded by women than when shown alone or with other men (a desirability enhancement effect). In sharp contrast, men rated women less desirable when shown surrounded by men than when shown alone or with women (a desirability diminution effect). Study 2 (N = 627) demonstrated similar sexually divergent effects for estimates of the desirability of same-sex competitors. …men will judge their same-sex rivals as being more desirable to women when depicted with other women and (b) women will judge their same-sex rivals as being less desirable to men when depicted with other men.

This effect suggests that sexual promiscuity may in fact increase a man’s desirability in a woman’s eyes.

In a study that tries to explain how women compromise on qualities in a mate, Buss lists some “desirability qualities” and then ponders why intelligence isn’t seen as one such quality:

We propose that women should value at least four clusters of characteristics in a long-term mate: (1) good genes indicators (Buss and Schmitt, 1993), (2) good resource acquisition indicators (Buss, 1989; Symons, 1979), (3) good parenting indicators (Buss, 1991), and (4) good partner indicators. These clusters may or may not covary—an empirical issue yet to be determined. A man good at acquiring resources that can be channeled to a woman and her children, for example, may or may not be a good dad or a good partner. On the other hand, it is possible that these clusters covary.

One other puzzle remains, centering on the trait of intelligence. Intelligence has been hypothesized to be one of the cardinal indicators of good genes (Gangestad et al., 2007; Miller, 2000). The current study, however, did not find that attractive women express a stronger preference than less attractive women for intelligence in a mate. Furthermore, Gangestad et al. (2007) failed to find the hypothesized female shift in valuing intelligence more around ovulation. Although Gangestad and his colleagues state that readers should not reject intelligence as a good-genes indicator based on their single study, the current study may raise an additional doubt or add to the puzzle. If intelligence is indeed a powerful indicator of good genes, as it should be on theoretical and empirical grounds, then attractive women should value it more according to the hypothesis articulated in the current article (which they do not) and women should value it more around ovulation (especially in short-term mates) according to the trade-off model (which they do not).Future research could profitably be directed to resolving puzzle of why women’s preferences for intelligence do not shift in the predicted directions according to a woman’s ovulation status or mate value.

Buss points out why women are attracted to high testosterone men (PDF)

And attractive and feminine women show stronger preferences for masculinized male voices than do less attractive and less feminine women (Little, et al., 2001; Feinberg, et al., 2006). The studies on masculinity are based on the premise that the trait of masculinity is a good-genes health indicator. The rationale is that testosterone, which produces masculine features, compromises the immune system. Consequently, during adolescence when facial features and voice take their adult form, only those males who are extremely healthy can “afford” to produce high levels of testosterone.

David Buss on the various reasons women have sex:

Researchers discovered 28 tactics women use to derogate sexual competitors, from pointing out that her rival’s thighs are heavy to telling others that the rival has a sexually transmitted disease.  Women’s sexual strategies include at least 19 tactics of mate retention, ranging from vigilance to violence, and 29 tactics of ridding themselves of unwanted mates, including having sex as a way to say good-bye.  Some women use sexual infidelity as a means of getting benefits from two or more men.  Others use it as a means of exiting one relationship in order to enter another.  When a woman wants a man who is already in a relationship, she can use at least 19 tactics of mate poaching to lure him away, from befriending both members of the couple in order to disarm her unsuspecting rival to insidiously sowing seeds of doubt about her rival’s fidelity or level of desirability.

From a snide comment on a game/evolutionary biology blog (warning: adult language):

the cool thing about scientists is how they manage to find that, say, 89% of women have sex outside marriage and are totally incapable of concluding that also applies to the women around them in the labs.

Finally, a study about the costs and coping strategies involved with breakups by Carin Perilloux and David M. Buss. (PDF) Some conclusions: rejectees experience more sadness than the rejectors (duh!), women rejectees experience more negative consequences than men rejectees, and that women are more likely than men to cope with post-breakup blues by going shopping (aka the “Carrie Bradshaw shoe-buying binge.”). Also, there was no statistical differences between genders about who did more stalking (“this may be attributable to the small proportion of participants who had actually experienced stalking”).

Based on my admittedly limited personal experiences, I have to say that women are more inclined to label any unwanted male interest as stalking. (I once was labeled as a stalker on a discussion board for females merely because I had the temerity to email someone I was having a rather heated argument with). Ooh, email! I feel so violated!

Also, I question the use of the word “breakup.” What exactly is a breakup? In many cases, a relationship doesn’t end because of a quarrel. It ends between one person wants the status quo to advance to more commitment, while the other person refuses. Alternatively, one person accepts a job in another city and ends up choosing the job rather than the boyfriend or girlfriend. In my cases, there is no breakup, merely abandonment.

I have three  personal beliefs (which I really cannot verify).

First, I believe that when breakups do occur, most of the time,  it is the women who initiates them.  Even though ultimately the male’s behavior or attitude may be the cause of the breakup, the woman is forced to take action in response. Men, on the other hand, are lazy bastards who are less conflict-oriented than the stereotypes indicate.  One explanation for this behavior is that men are more likely to be considered wrong when doing the breakup. Nick Fielding comments:

One of the hardest positions a man can be in is when he’s involved in a relationship that is about to end. Whether he’s dissatisfied with his woman or is about to get blindsided with bad news, there is little doubt he’s stuck. Why? Because, for some reason, our society seems to dictate that no matter what happens, the man can never walk away smelling like roses. If she ends the relationship, it’s because he’s a jerk, and if he ends it, it’s because he’s a jerk. Talk about being wedged between a rock and a hard place…

Second, often people label the partner as having “cheated” when in fact the relationship was already over to begin with (and the person never caught the signal from the one who did the “cheating”). I have met so many women who complain about the cheating boyfriend, and after talking to them further about the cheating boyfriend,  I start to wonder why the complaining women ever believed the relationship still existed in the first place.

Third, even though I’ve seen examples on both sides, women are more likely to ignore the ex (regardless of whether the woman was the rejector or rejectee).  Men are much more civil than woman towards ex’es. Women are much happier with the idea of never hearing from an ex again. (Men, on the other hand, are more charitable about keeping in touch). Partly, this may stem from women’s fear of encouraging stalking behavior (although genuine stalking happens a lot less frequently than people think).  Men seem to have less to fear (emotionally or physically) from the idea of staying in touch with an ex; because they feel more in “control,” they feel they can handle it.

I realize that these personal beliefs are shaped by my own experiences. Perhaps a woman with a different romantic past or an older person or younger person may reach totally different conclusions. Finally, I have to wonder how much sexual incompatibility plays a part in breakups (and by “breakups,” I really mean divorces. This topic isn’t really addressed in these studies, but it would be interesting to pursue (because longterm sexual compatibility becomes a more important problem for a couple married for over a decade). Maybe the “breakup” concept is too tied to adolescent relationships than dissolution of marriage itself.


(I am providing complete citations in case the links stop working):

Male Poaching, July 2009 issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Buss, D.M., & Shackelford, T.K. (2008). Attractive women want it all: Good genes, economic investment, parenting proclivities, and emotional commitment. Evolutionary Psychology, 6, 134-146.

Buss, D.M., & Shackelford, T.K. (2008). Attractive women want it all: Good genes, economic investment, parenting proclivities, and emotional commitment. Evolutionary Psychology, 6, 134-146.

Perilloux, C. & Buss, D. M. (2008). Breaking up Romantic Relationships: Costs Experienced and Coping Strategies Deployed. Evolutionary Psychology, 6, 164-181.

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