Q: I met a guy, and he was very enthusiastic, calling and texting multiple times every day, almost obsessively. Soon after, I was having a really bad week: too much work, health issues with my parent…just really vulnerable. He said stuff like “I’d never leave you,” “I’ll never run away.” Well, a couple of days later, he just vanished. I blocked him after two days of no contact, and I feel kind of bad. All my girlfriends think it was too harsh, but my guy friends think it was the right thing to do and said they block people all the time. Why the difference in opinion?—Ghosted
A: Being in a relationship can have some costs, but ideally, they don’t include hiring a private detective with a team of tracking dogs.
It actually isn’t surprising that your male and female friends have differing reactions to your blocking the dude. Psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen’s research suggests that women are born empathizers in a way men are not—meaning that from early childhood on, women are driven to notice and identify others’ emotional states. They tend to be deeply affected by others’ feelings and are emotionally triggered into a sort of fellow feeling (empathy). Men, on the other hand, tend to be “systemizers,” driven from early childhood on to identify the “underlying rules” of the inanimate world, like those governing the operation of machines, abstractions (such as numbers), and objects (like a soaring baseball).
Of course, men aren’t without empathy. But research consistently finds women higher in empathy than men. Law professor and evolutionary scientist Kingsley Browne observes in Co-Ed Combat: The New Evidence That Women Shouldn’t Fight the Nation’s Wars that women’s “greater empathy may be responsible for the heightened guilt and anxiety that women feel about acting aggressively.” Browne cites brain imaging research by neuroscientist Tania Singer that suggests men’s empathy for a wrongdoer “may be more easily ‘switched off,’” and observes that “men’s diminished empathy for those who ‘deserve’ punishment probably increases their willingness to kill the enemy” in war.
The thing is biology is not destiny. Recognizing that you, as a woman, might have a propensity to be “nice” to people who don’t deserve it can prompt you to recheck your decisions to go easy on somebody. Don’t expect it to feel comfortable at first when you stand up for yourself; you’re bucking countless centuries of evolved human female psychology. In time, however, acting empowered should start to feel right—meaning you’ll be all “Of course!” about blocking a guy who doesn’t get that just disappearing is acceptable only for a tiny subgroup of beings: those whose workstation is a magician’s top hat.
Q: I’ve slept with a lot of really hot guys, but weirdly, the guys who end up being my long-term boyfriends are not the super hot ones. My current boyfriend is attractive but not even close in hotness to some of the guys I’ve had one-nighters with in the past. I’ve noticed this pattern in female friends’ guys, too. Why is this a thing?—Interested
A: There’s a certain kind of man a woman looks to date exclusively…for three to five hours.
I often cite research from evolutionary psychology that finds that women across cultures prioritize finding a man who’s a “provider.” A man’s appearance isn’t unimportant, but context—whether a woman’s going for a long-term or short-term thing with a man—is a factor in how much it matters. Not surprisingly, if a guy is a potential husband, a woman’s more likely to make do with, say, a dad bod and a weak chin than if she sees him as a potential hookup—a disposable himbo, a single-use Adonis.
However, when a woman needs to make trade-offs between hunkaliciousness and character to land a long-term partner, it surely pays to relax a little on physical criteria: go for a really good man who’s good enough in the looks department. “Good enough”? He doesn’t have to be smokin’ hot, but he can’t be so uggo that you need to reassure him, “Not to worry! My sex drive will come back…um, when you’re on the mantelpiece in an urn.”