Q: A lot of women are posting pix of themselves on Instagram in very skimpy attire. I don’t feel comfortable doing that (though I’m in great shape), because I’m single and I’m afraid men would think I’m “easy.” Am I right in thinking men don’t take you seriously as relationship material if you post this type of pix? Or am I prudish and out of touch?—Curious
A: Ideally, if you tell somebody you have a few more weeks out on disability, they don’t immediately assume it’s because you got really bad friction burns working the pole. Evolutionary psychologist Cari Goetz and her colleagues note, not surprisingly, that men see skimpy attire on a woman as a signal that they can manipulate her into casual sex. (Women in their research also understood that men perceive skimpy attire this way.) But who actually ends up manipulating whom?
Goetz and her team speculate that some women—especially those who perceive themselves to be “low in mate value”—use revealing attire to advertise what seems to be their hookupability and other “exploitability cues.” However, these seemingly poor, defenseless sex bunnies may actually be looking to “advance their own mating and relationship goals.” As for how this might work, if a man likes the casual sex and keeps coming back for more, maybe, just maybe, she can draw him into a relationship. (Hookupily ever after?)
However, this approach is a risky strategy because, as Goetz and her colleagues point out, “men found women displaying cues to sexual exploitability to be attractive as short-term mates, but, importantly, not attractive as long-term mates.”
As for what you might make of all this, it’s best to avoid clothes with coverage just this side of G-strings and nipple tassels, as well as overtly sexual poses (like sucking on a finger—subtle!). However, you can take advantage of evolutionary psychology research that finds that men are drawn to women with an hourglass figure (as well as, heh, women who use deceptive undergarments to fake having one). In short, your best bet is posting shots of yourself looking classy-sexual. This means wearing clothes that reveal your curves to a man—but not your medical history: “I don’t know her name yet, dude, but I can tell you that she had her gallbladder removed.”
Q: I love my girlfriend, but she has some weird rules about her place: no shoes inside, cabinets can’t be left open, etc. We’ve gotten in fights when I’ve forgotten to do this stuff and then mentioned how ridiculous I find it. Should I have to do things I think are stupid?—Besieged
A: Your girlfriend reminds you of a well-known television star. Unfortunately, it’s Judge Judy.
You, like many people in relationships, have the expectation that your partner’s requests should make sense. This is where you go wrong. To be human is to be kind of an idiot. We’re all idiots on some level—meaning that we all say and do things that make sense to us but that others would reasonably find utterly idiotic.
That said, our idiocy is not without benefits. Economist Robert H. Frank observes that we evolved to sometimes behave in “seemingly irrational” ways that actually serve our interests. An example would be acting out in ways that test others’ commitment to us (though, typically, we don’t see it that way and may not even intend to do that).
So, though your girlfriend would probably list reasons for each of her rules—reasons you might find silly—what isn’t silly is her caring about your following them or at least caring enough to try. In short, you don’t have to endorse her ideas to try to act in accordance with them and to treat her kindly when she gets upset that you’ve forgotten. (For example, you could say: “I’m sorry. I know it’s important to you that I do this.”) This would be a signal that you care deeply about her, that you love her enough to do ridiculous things just to make her happy—maybe even to the point of handing her a shopping bag: “Look, honey! There was a sale at Prada on surgical shoe covers!”