By Amy Alkon
Q: I’m a 31-year-old single guy with a problematic pattern. Women I ask out seem to love how I’m open and very complimentary from the start, but then, suddenly, they get cold feet. It seems that once women know they’re desired, they’re done with you. My guy friends tell me I should “play it cool,” but then I’m not being authentic.—True Man
A: Gushing over a woman right out of the gate—“Wow … you have skin!”—tends to give a man all the rough-hewn sex appeal of a Care Bear.
The problem here comes out of what evolutionary psychologists David Buss and David Schmitt explain as men’s and women’s conflicting sexual strategies. For an ancestral woman, there was the possibility of high back-end costs from any sex act (children to dig grubs for and drag around). So, women evolved to be the commitment-seekers of our species, and men, the commitment-free sex-seekers. Men still had a good chance of passing on their genes, even if they chose to “fun and run.” (Of course, this worked better in the days before state-ordered child support.)
Though it’s the tail end of 2015, evolutionary psychologists Leda Cosmides and John Tooby explain that “our modern skulls house a Stone Age mind” with “Stone Age priorities.” So, women expect to work to get a man to commit just as men expect to work to get a woman into bed. And just as women get devalued by men for being sexually “easy,” men get devalued by women if they seem emotionally “easy”—like by immediately throwing around compliments like glitter at a gay pride parade. This sort of thing doesn’t say that you find the woman beautiful or whatever; it says that you find it a miracle that she went out with you at all.
Try something new—keeping a lid on the word drool. In other words, shut up and listen. Ask a woman about herself—where she’s been, what she thinks, what matters to her—and engage with what she’s saying. That’s the sincere way to compliment a woman—showing that you’re interested in her as a human being instead of slobbering all over her like a dog that’s been left home all day.
The safe time to compliment a woman on her hotitude is after you’ve slept together. Women are often insecure about their bodies, and post-sex compliments will be appreciated (instead of depreciating you). All in all, keep in mind that the dating realm is like many other endeavors. Too much enthusiasm too soon typically makes you seem desperate … for something … anything … anybody. Picture yourself wandering into a bank and having a bunch of execs dash over: “We’d like to make YOU the president of Wells Fargo!” And you’re like, “Umm … I was just coming in to get quarters for the laundromat.”
Q: My girlfriend of a year has a really hard time looking into my eyes when we have sex. Eye contact is a big turn-on for me because it’s so intense and intimate. She says she feels scared and vulnerable: “I don’t want you to see how much I care.” I also think she feels insecure about how she looks during sex. How can I reassure her?—Not Going Anywhere
A: OK, so your girlfriend’s idea of something sexy to wear in bed is a Richard Nixon mask with the eyeholes taped over. (On a positive note, this isn’t because keeping her eyes closed makes it easier to pretend you’re Channing Tatum.)
Your girlfriend’s likely to let go a little if you grab onto her a little tighter. This advice comes out of “the dependency paradox,” a finding by social psychologist Brooke C. Feeney that the more you show a romantic partner that they can rely on you, the less they feel the need to cling. This would seem to apply to emotional risks, too, like not just having sex while blindfolded. In pitch darkness. In a cave. In the middle of the earth.
To help your girlfriend understand that, in you, she has what Feeney calls a “secure base,” warn her that you’re going to start bombarding her with how much you love her and how beautiful you find her. And don’t just do it in bed. Hug her, kiss her, love on her while in line at the DMV. (Keep at it until strangers coo—or yell, “Get a room!”) Ask her to try eye contact while clothed—at first for three seconds, and then for five—and then try the same in bed. Eventually, she should feel more secure about your loving her and finding her beautiful—even in bed, when she’s making a face like Mao Tse-tung straining on the john.