Be hard to get and enhance your desirability
I’m a therapist with a question about my client, “Suzy”. Suzy is middle-aged and has one young child, and she’s recently begun dating online. After just three weeks of dating “Steve”, she’s already refusing to see others, but he hasn’t said anything about their being exclusive. I know this is the wrong strategy for finding a good man, but I don’t know what to tell her about why, and what she should say and do instead. Any advice?
You’re absolutely right. If she wants anything long-term later, Suzy needs to keep dating others now, and more than that—she needs to say so to Steve. But I’ll bet Suzy doesn’t see it that way. She probably thinks dating others will turn Steve away, feels dishonest about dating around, wants to avoid hurting his feelings by showing him a clear path ahead, and hopes that by showing early commitment, she can influence Steve to reciprocate. Unfortunately, that’s wrong x 4.
Although the sexes share important values for long-term mating, there ought to be a scientific term that means the error of believing the opposite sex has the same mating psychology as oneself. There’s abundant, global scientific evidence that the sexes possess different mating psychologies, that people make this mistake, and that this error costs them dearly. So let’s invent that term now:mating-centrism. And mating-centrism could end Suzy’s shot at long-term love faster than you can say fling—all because she’s about to give Steve the cues he’d need to take her for a low-status Miss Right Now rather than a possible Mrs. Right.
Why? Women have spent the entirety of human history choosing husbands who are successful providers and protectors, and rejecting suitors who don’t measure up. Consequently, today’s desirable men are competitors who seek status in everything—including that one woman they strive to win. This doesn’t mean men are ruthless cads. But male mating psychology is geared toward the long-term only when they emotionally connect with the high value of a particular woman. So although Russell Clark’s, Elaine Hatfield’s,David M. Buss’, and others’ research shows that Miss Right Now can be a total stranger who approaches random men for sex, is low-IQ, or is barely conscious, Mrs. Right is held to quite another standard: She must be high-status.
Gaining high status by being hard to get
Three global markers of high status? Youth, Beauty, and being at least somewhat hard to get. Your client may be beautiful, but she’s not especially young. Also, she’s got a child, and unfortunately, evidence shows most men view others’ kids as a cost in long-term relations. So Suzy really needs to be hard to get by staying in the dating pool and saying so. This *increases* her desirability and benefits her in at least four ways:
- It enhances her status because she can hold out for other competitors;
- it decreases Steve’s security, letting him emotionally connect with whether or not she’s important to him;
- *combined with early sexual restraint*, it effectively screens out Mr. Right Now (but not Mr. Right); and
- it reassures Steve that if he has to work to have Suzy—sexually and otherwise—, she’s going to be faithful to him later—which is always on men’s long-term love radar.
Losing high status by being too easy to get
But up-front, uninvited exclusivity marks Suzy as low-status. And far from drawing Steve in, it can pressure him into running from a perceived ankle-weight or—worse—hanging around for months or years with no intention to commit. Ever.
What about honesty and guilt over possible hurt feelings? Suzy must be honest, but making Steve too comfortable too soon is likely to backfire. Men, being competitors, live in hierarchy. They constantly measure their status to discern who’s one-up and who’s one-down. But Shelley Taylor has shown that women actively reduce hierarchy to encourage intimacy, comfort and equality. Although this makes men and women prefer females as friends, it’s bad for early-stage dating, causing women to say things like, “I can’t go out with you tonight, but only because I’m babysitting for my sister.” (Did you hear that woman’s stock fall?) Reducing hierarchy too soon not only puts Steve’s status one-up and Suzy’s one-down, but it removes the discomfort and insecurity that would tell Steve he is starting to care for her. The plain truth is this: Steve is not yet Suzy’s friend for life, and so she must maintain the hierarchy until he expresses a desire for exclusivity, or else risk much wasted time and emotion.
So, here is what Suzy can say that will maintain her honesty, keep her one-up at this early stage, raise her desirability through competition, and help Steve figure out whether he really does like her:
“Steve, I am having a good time getting to know you, but I should tell you, to keep things honest, that I always date around until a man I’m seeing asks me to become exclusive. I’m not suggesting you feel that way about me, but I want to let you know I am seeing others, and I understand that you may be dating around, too.”
If Steve really likes Suzy, he will not like this; it will put him one-down, it will be uncomfortable, it will make him work harder than he may have planned. But not liking this and not liking Suzy are separate matters. In the end, to be hard to get is a good antidote to women’s mating-centrism.
All material copyrighted by Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., 2009; reprinted with permission, 2014