Q: I’m a 37-year-old woman, and I’ve always been quick to have sex, but I’m trying to just “date” first. Well, I’ve been on five dates with this one guy, and all we’ve done is kiss. Now I’m beginning to think that he isn’t attracted to me or is put off by my past, which, unfortunately, I was honest about.—Dismayed
A: Try to think of this as artisanal dating. Maybe he’s finished building the bed out of antique Popsicle sticks but his carpal tunnel kicked in while he was killing the flock of ducks for the mattress or spinning the cotton for the sheets.
If that sounds like a stretch, well, it’s no more of one than your notion—that the guy’s gone out with you five times because he finds you repellant or stays up nights picturing your sexual past (complete with barricades and rent-a-cops for crowd control). Do you think he’s enrolled in some underground rewards program, like you go out with a woman six times and you get a complimentary latte or maybe an iTunes gift card?
Evolutionary psychologists David Buss and David Schmitt point out that “human mating is inherently strategic.” Genetically, they explain, it’s generally in a man’s best interest to pursue a “short-term sexual strategy.” (Scientific journals and tenure committees frown on terms like “hit it and quit it.”) Basically, a man can limit his participation in sex to the fun part and still pass on his genes. Women coevolved to expect men to try for this sort of limited participation (so your bewilderment at his crossed legs isn’t exactly surprising). But a man can come to a point where a “long-term sexual strategy” becomes wiser, and it’s generally when he’s serious about finding a partner and not just a sex partner for the evening.
Note that the guy keeps coming to pick you up, and not because he is an Uber driver or is being held at gunpoint by your mother. You could say something to him—maybe, “Hey, I was really hoping you’d take me home one of these nights.” This may be the nudge he needs to make a move—or at least tell you what’s up. And sure, it is within the realm of possibility that he has ED, an STD, low sexual desire, or a seriously small penis and is waiting until you’re emotionally attached to break out the news. But it’s also possible that you aren’t the only woman he’s seeing and he’s trying to be adult about it, meaning that he’s learned that many women get emotionally attached after sex. Sleeping with two women is a good way to end up with a girlfriend—and one would-be girlfriend in the bushes with ricin-tipped blow darts or at least searching Yelp for the best-rated local assassins.
Q: My friend says that you only find out who somebody truly is when you break up with them. He suggests that I pick a few fights with anybody I’m dating so I can see their true colors. Is this really a wise idea?—Skeptical
A: If you really want to see what a person’s made of, after goading them into a fight, you might do a lung capacity test, like by holding them down and trying to drown them in a bathtub.
Though it seems an obviously bad idea to pick petty arguments, your friend has a point—that you don’t find out who somebody really is when the most pressing question they’re asked is, “Do you need a few more minutes to look at the menu, monsieur?” What comes out in the early stages of dating is temperament more than character. In social psychology, temperament is basically what “flavor” a person is—introverted or extraverted, loud or quiet, happy or glum. Character is values-driven behavior—meaning whether a person’s likely to do what’s right as opposed to what’s easiest. (Like if there’s a landslide, do they try to save you or just wave goodbye?)
Character is mostly revealed in two ways: Over time and through stress. To speed up the character revelation timetable, do challenging activities together—the sort in which “party manners” are hard to maintain: Camp. Go on a high-stakes scavenger hunt. Go on a juice fast. Go on a juice fast while camping. Who a person really is can’t help but come out when they’re in the middle of the woods with you, they haven’t eaten solid food in a week and a hiker walks by with a bag of Doritos. (It’s the little things that count—like how they lovingly brush that telltale orange dust out of your hair before the cops come.)