Advice Goddess

Q: I’m a single man in my 30s, and I don’t want a relationship right now. I keep meeting women online who say they only want something casual. Then, on the first or second date, it becomes obvious they want a relationship, not just fun and sex. What’s with the bait and switch?—Annoyed

A: Women who bait and switch like this reflect what evolutionary psychologists David Buss and David Schmitt call men’s and women’s conflicting “sexual strategies.” These are best summed up as “happily ever after” for women versus “hookupily ever after” for men.

These differences in sexual strategy trace to differences in “obligatory parental investment.” This refers to how a man can bolt after sex, while a woman can get pregnant and stuck with a kid.

Accordingly, Buss and Schmitt explain that women typically benefit most from a “long-term sexual strategy,” vetting men to see if they’ll stick around to invest in any children that might come out of sex. Men, however, benefit most (that is, leave more descendants carrying their genes) from a “short-term sexual strategy”—having casual sex with a variety of hot-erellas.

This doesn’t mean men never want to commit or women never want to hook up. But because men and women coevolved, they are at least subconsciously aware of each other’s intentions and shade the truth to put themselves in the most “marketable” light. So, men often act more interested in commitment than they actually are (in hopes of getting sex) and women often act less interested, in hopes of ensnaring Harry Hookup and turning him into Harry the Husband.

It probably makes sense to err on the side of assuming a woman will want commitment, whether she knows or articulates that or not. My advice for first and second dates: Meet for happy hour drinks or coffee for an hour or two, max. You still might get women who said they just want casual fun going gooey on you at the end of date two. At least you won’t have shelled out for filet mignon and fine wine only to hear the no-strings-attached sex version of “First 100 callers get a free TV!” … “Oh, sorry, sir … you’re caller 101.”

Q: My girlfriends are all writing out their visions for a partner, as if they’ve met him already (“Thank you, universe, for bringing me this man … ”). They claim they’ve gotten boyfriends because of it. Is this just New Age crap, or is there something to writing down what you want?—Boyfriend-Seeking

A: This apparently is a thing, women writing a letter about the man of their dreams and then feeling like they ordered online from the universe: “My man’s on his way. Just waiting for the tracking number!”

Once they get a boyfriend, the belief that their letter writing made it happen comes out of a common cognitive bias called the “illusion of control.” This term, coined by psychologist Ellen Langer, describes people’s tendency to believe they have control over outcomes that they obviously do not. An example of this is gamblers blowing on dice.

Ironically, the fact that it’s irrational to do this doesn’t mean it’s unhelpful. Research by psychologists Michael I. Norton and Francesca Gino finds that a ritual, a “symbolic activity” a person performs in hopes of making something happen, tends to increase their “feelings of control” over situations in which outcomes are uncertain. This, in turn, decreases the stress they feel.

In other words, it’s possible that the ceremonial act of writing a “Dear Santa” letter to the universe makes a woman more appealing to men by calming her down and getting her to act less crazy and desperate. It’s like putting in an order at a restaurant. You have faith your dinner is coming; you don’t stalk the waiter on Instagram and text him 30 times, alternating pictures of your boobs with plaintive questions and abuse: “Is the chef okay? … Are you on a smoke break? … I bet you gave my steak to a prettier girl. … You’re a terrible waiter. … I hate you.”

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