By Amy Alkon
Q: I’m a guy in my late 20s. Two years ago, I started a friends-with-benefits thing with a woman, which honestly has turned into one of the most relaxed, comfortable relationships I’ve had. Unfortunately, the sex isn’t that great. I’ve tried to get her to work with me on that, but she just isn’t very physical. I also get the sense that she’s holding out for a serious relationship with me (babies/marriage/house). I’m just not in love with her that way. I don’t want to hijack her uterus, but I’m having trouble breaking up with her. The relationship isn’t broken, and I don’t want to hurt her. I’m not sure I have it in me to say, “You’re bad in bed, so I’m out.”—Shallow
A: Surely, you wouldn’t find the bunny-hugging vegan “shallow” for not being up for the long haul with the guy who electrocutes the cows.
The rational decision is clear: You don’t have what you need; you should move on. The problem is what the late Nobel Prize-winning cognitive scientist Herbert Simon deemed “bounded rationality.” This describes how our ability to make rational decisions is limited—by, for example, incomplete information about our alternatives, how much time we have to decide, or, as in your case, our emotions: Dreading hurting somebody and feeling like kind of a pig for dumping a perfectly nice woman just because her sexual spirit animal is the paperweight.
Simon didn’t just point out the decision-making problem; he came up with a solution—his concept of “satisficing.” This combo of “satisfy” and “suffice” means making a “good enough” choice—as opposed to incurring the costs of endlessly searching for the best choice. (Think of somebody who spends an hour looking for the primo parking space by the store entrance—in order to save time walking to and from their car.)
To decide what’s “good enough,” figure out the minimum stuff (good sex, etc.) that you absolutely must have to be satisfied in a relationship, and keep searching until you find somebody who has it. Forget about what you “should” need. If your life is not complete unless a woman will, say, wear a doorbell on each nipple, well, ring on, bro.
As for breaking up, this means telling somebody it’s over, not that their sexual technique is a ringer for hibernation. Give her only as much info as she needs to make her way to the door, like, “I love you, but I’m not in love with you, and I need that.” Though she won’t be happy to hear it, what’s cruel isn’t telling her; it’s waiting to tell her. As that mildewed saying goes, “If you love something … ” don’t hang onto it until its uterus sends you to the drugstore for a box of mothballs.
Q: Last week, I went out with a guy I met on a dating site. He was very attentive and affectionate, and he even texted me the next day. Well, I think I screwed up, messaging him at the same frequency and intensity as before our first date, which was quite a lot, and mentioning seeing him again before he suggested it. His responses were infrequent and short. I haven’t heard from him for five days, and he hasn’t made plans for a second date. Is there any way to remedy this? Should I message him with some witty banter?—Faux Pas?
A: Sadly, our genes have not been introduced to Gloria Steinem.
As I frequently explain, there’s a problem with a woman overtly pursuing a man, and it goes back millions of years. It comes out of how sex leaves a man with about a teaspoon less sperm but can leave a woman “with child” (an adorable term that makes pregnancy sound like a quick trip to the drugstore with someone under 10). From these rather vastly differing costs, explain evolutionary psychologists David Buss and David Schmitt, come differing sexual strategies. Women evolved to be the choosier sex—looking for men to show signs that they’re willing and able to commit themselves and their resources—and men coevolved to expect to work to persuade them. So, when women turn the tables and act like the, well, chase-ier sex, it sends a message—of the “FREE!!! Please take me” variety you’d see taped to a toaster somebody’s put out on the curb.
In other words, no, do not contact him. Not even with “witty banter.” Seeming amusingly desperate is not any more of a selling point. The way you “remedy” this is by turning it into a learning experience. In the future, sure, go ahead and be flirtatious—just not with the, um, eagerness of that guy in the hockey mask chasing people through the woods with a machete.