It’s been less than two years since I was first introduced to the concept of female hypergamy – the desire for a woman to be with a mate of the highest possible status. This desire will drive women to “trade up” when given the opportunity. For that reason, it profits men to maintain as high a level of status as possible. Though prestige and affluence clearly play a role, women often prioritize a man’s level of social dominance as the most telling predictor of mate fitness.
For obvious reasons, this “instinct” often malfunctions in contemporary terms. The thug who may provide strong physical genes that will enable your offspring to survive infancy is also an unpleasant individual, lacking partnership skills. Yet the thug, and the many variations on that “bad boy,” will often attract more women than stable, attractive, productive men without the dangerous edge.
The Sexual Revolution, ushered in by the Pill and the Women’s Movement, unleashed female sexuality in an unprecedented way. The result has been a hypergamous free-for-all, with women demanding increasingly long checklists of features from men as qualifications for dating. No one wants to “settle,” so we’ve created a sociosexual environment where a brilliant and attractive professional may go without a date if he isn’t the male that all other males turn to for guidance on what’s cool. Never mind that he’s doing brilliant research – it will count for less than the ability to walk off a rugby field battered and bloody but still smiling.
I believe that this sorry state of affairs is worst in the U.S., since feminism is more entrenched here than anywhere else, and most contemporary cultural trends (including hookup culture), originate here. This weekend, though, I encountered thought-provoking examples demonstrating that hypergamy is thriving around the world.
My husband and I watched the film Leaving (Partir) starring Kristin Scott Thomas, who seems to have made something of a career of acting bilingually in French films. She plays a wife and mother living a gracious and comfortable life. Her husband, a successful doctor, is guilty of having fallen into the routine of taking her for granted, but so has she – they’re a typical affluent couple approaching middle age, and their marriage is boring.
As you can see, she throws it all away for an ex-con who roams from short-term gig to gig, and she destroys numerous lives in the process, including her own. My husband was surprised (and reassured) by the strength of my reaction to the total selfishness of Scott Thomas’ character. My impression was that the female director sympathized with her more than I did. The film received critical praise, and I recommend it highly. No effort required – we streamed it from Netflix.
I then spent much of Sunday with my nose buried in a book I simply can’t put down: To the End of the Land, by David Grossman. From Amazon:
To the End of the Land is a book of mourning for those not dead, a mother’s lament for life during a wartime that has no end in sight. At the same time, it’s joyously and almost painfully alive, full to the point of rupture with the emotions and the endless quotidian details of a few deeply imagined lives. Ora, the Israeli mother in Grossman’s story, is surrounded by men: Ilan and Avram, friends and lovers who form with her a love triangle whose intimacies and alliances fit no familiar shape, and their sons Adam and Ofer, one for each father, from whom Ora feels her separation like a wound. When Ofer, freshly released from his army service, volunteers for an action in the West Bank instead of going on a planned hike with his mother in the north of Israel, she goes instead with Avram, who fathered Ofer but has never met him and has lived in near-seclusion since being tortured as a prisoner in the Yom Kippur war three decades before. As they walk and carefully reveal themselves to each other again, Grossman builds an overwhelming portrait of, as one character says, the “thousands of moments and hours and days” that make “one person in the world,” and of the power of war to destroy such a person, even–or especially–when they survive its cruel demands.
Grossman, whose own son was killed during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict, writes directly from the heart in this scorching antiwar novel.
Ora, Ilan and Avram meet in a hospital in 1967 when all three are recovering from serious hepatitis, and forge a lifelong bond. Ilan is emotionally distant, but intimidating, and on one occasion he kisses Ora in a feverish state that makes her weak in the knees. In contrast, Avram is smart and funny and incredibly present emotionally. Here is the text of a telegram he later sent Ora, after they’d been released:
“It was not love at first sight because I loved you long before that stop before I met you stop I love you backwards too stop even before I existed stop because I only became me when I met you stop.”
I guess you know who got the girl.
Avram, a prolific writer, continues to share his thoughts in letters to Ora, who pulls back after receiving his telegram. He shows amazing insight, and no resentment whatsoever, in this excerpt:
“Last night I was at a jazz show with Ilan (who keeps trying to peek over my arm at what I’m writing, even though he continues to insist that he’s not interested in you!). Anyway…I was able to pull together some of the opinions I’ve been gathering about girls lately, and I came up with some well-founded and interesting theories about them, and mainly about you. I believe that, ultimately, you will not tie your fate with mine but with some other dude, Ilan or someone of his ilk, the point is, a guy who will definitely not tickle your navel with giggles like I do, and won’t drive your mind wild with sharp obsrevations like I do, and make every organ of your body tremble with pleasure like I do. But the thing is, he’ll be hunkier, much hunkier, and calmer and more solid, and mainly more understandable to you than I am. Yes: that in the end you’ll mate for life with some gorgeous, grave-looking, silver-haired alpha male.
…For I suspect, my duplicitous Ora, that deep in the depths of your light-filled and beautiful soul (which, I do not need to tell you, I love very much) lies a minuscule recess (like the ones in some corner stores, where they keep the old preserves?) that is, forgive me, slightly narrow-minded in matters of love. Of true love, I mean.
..I can only eat my heart out over the fact that it didn’t happen to you with me, that revelation of love (because love is a revelation!!), because I was so close (fuckit, hissed the defeated Avram as he poured out his wrath), and that’s also something I feel quite a lot in my life, the almost-happened, and I only hope it won’t be the guiding principle of my life, the main tenet of all the guiding principles of my life.”
“Yours, Dispirited by Torments.”