Q: I’m a woman who’s fiercely competitive in the business world. I’ve been rewarded for pursuing deals as relentlessly as highly successful men do. Yet, taking this approach in my dating life—energetically pursuing men and confidently asking them out—has been a bust. The men I go after seem to find my openness, excitement and confidence off-putting. I keep hearing that I need to chill out and let men pursue me. This seems crazy. I shouldn’t have to act like a debutante, waiting for a man to ask me out.—Irritated
A: In seduction, more is not more. You’ll be most attractive if you simply let who you are sparkle—a term that has more in common with “twinkle” than “immobilize men with the alien death ray of your personality.”
As a heterosexual woman, pursuing romantic partners as ferociously as you’d pursue a business deal is especially counterproductive. Though we’re living in modern times, we’re stuck with an antique psychological operating system, calibrated to solve ancestral mating and survival problems. This means the psychology driving us is sometimes seriously mismatched with our modern world.
For example, we now have reliable birth control, and even if that fails, children won’t die of starvation because the dude who fathered them “hit it ’n’ quit it.” Yet, we’ve still got our evolutionary legacy running the show. In vetting potential sex partners, women evolved to be more quality-conscious—choosier, more “hard to get”—while men evolved to take a more quantity-driven approach.
These differences in sexual choosiness emerge from what evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers explains as men’s and women’s differing levels of “parental investment.” The members of a species with the greatest possible costs from having sex—like pregnancy and a kid to feed—evolved to be more selective in mate choice.
Women’s emotions are their parental-investment watchdogs, pushing them to make sure a man’s willing and able to stick around and provide resources. Though some women can take an emotionally Teflon approach to casual sex, anthropologist John Marshall Townsend finds that for many, hooking up comes with some emotional reflux—even when a woman knows a one-nighter is all she wants from a guy. She’ll boot some himbo out of bed only to worry that the guy she wants nothing more from doesn’t want anything more from her.
These differences in male and female mating selectivity showed up in a big way in a recent study looking at heterosexual Tinder users. Belgian econ doctoral-candidate Brecht Neyt calculated the percentage of profiles men and women gave “super likes” to—a Tinder function as of 2015.
For those uninitiated in Tinder-ese, swiping right “likes” another user, but they will be none the wiser unless they, too, swipe right on you. Swiping up, however, is a “super like,” which automatically notifies the super-liked person. (Annoyingly, the researchers didn’t mention or take into account that super likes are generally seen as a sign of desperation.)
Neyt and his colleagues found that men super liked 61.9 percent of women’s profiles, while women super liked only 4.5 percent of the men’s. Their finding is a pretty dramatic reflection of men’s evolved quantity-over-quality default.
So, if you’re reasonably attractive and in a man’s age range, there’s a good chance he’ll go out with you simply because you ask—though he may not be interested beyond a hookup. But let’s say he’s somebody who would be interested in you. Because men co-evolved with women, men expect women to be choosy, and they tend to devalue women who just tumble out of the sky into their lap.
The best test for whether a man has real interest in you is seeing whether he’ll lay his ego on the line to ask you out. You aren’t without control in this approach; you can flirt with a guy you’re interested in to signal that you’re open to being pursued by him.
Should things be different? Well, sure, in a more perfect mating universe. But if you want to be successful in this one, you should do what works—which is driven by men’s evolved psychology. Though men will eventually take a selective approach when considering a woman as a long-term partner, many will have sex with anything this side of a pound of liver in the refrigerator (and sometimes that will just have to do).