I’ve been noticing more discussion in the mainstream media of the consequences of radically shifting social norms during the last fifty years. From James Taranto at the Wall St. Journal to Frank Bruni at the New York Times, men are stepping up and dissecting the long-term effects of the Women’s Movement on both sexes.
Jeremy Nicholson is a psychologist who specializes in persuasion and influence as it applies to dating. He’s frank about the fallout as well. He addresses the problem from a clinical or behavioral standpoint rather than a political one, but he has several interesting essays on his blog at Psychology Today.
In a recent post he addressed the high level of frustration men are experiencing in dating today. Previously, he had written about what he calls the “double bind” of female sexuality – women may lust after one type of man, but prefer to attach to a different type of man. It’s the Goldilocks dilemma, and finding just the right mix of traits is a challenge, leaving many women unhappy in this SMP.
With those two “feelings” juxtaposed, women often find themselves unfulfilled in love. Many that I talk to seem to hover between what they call “nice guys” and “jerks” in their dating life. They become attracted to “jerks” for their status, ambition, and dominance—only to be hurt when those men don’t live up to the cooperative and considerate cultural standard for an attachment partner. Women then may gravitate towards a culturally prescribed “nice guy,” only to find that they become bored, their libido wanes, and their eyes wander back to “jerks.” Either way, they find the relationships largely frustrating and unsatisfying.
Of course, this isn’t exactly news for regular readers of HUS. Echoing what so many men have expressed here, Nicholson then shares the male perspective:
If men choose to follow social norms and become compliant as “good guys”, they may get a “relationship partner”. However, due to women’s social vs. biological double-bind, these compliant men may also not be “attractive” to those same relationship partners (Buss & Shackelford, 2008). As a result, they may be punished by their girlfriend’s/wife’s lack of sexual interest, being cheated on, or disrespected as a “push over”. These men may further be regarded as “just friends”—expected to pay for all of the costs of a relationship, without the physical and intimate benefits.
In contrast, if men shun social pressures to be “nice” and follow what is biologically attractive, they have a higher likelihood of getting “sex partners”. However, these men are often punished by being socially labeled as “jerks”, “players”, or even “creeps”, unfit for socially-defined relationships. Furthermore, their tactics are often designated as “sexist” (Hall & Canterberry, 2011). Therefore, these men may get sex, but they often do not get love and respect.
Nicholson reports that men in both camps report finding an attractive long-term partner difficult. Of course, men are in a double-bind of their own. The females they deem attractive - women who are sexually-selective, faithful, physically attractive, and have a pleasant, respectful disposition – are in short supply because they too have been guided away from biological characteristics and steered toward new social norms instead. With so few incentives, it’s not surprising that many men would abandon such a seemingly hopeless quest.
Nicholson doesn’t have the answers – like me, he concludes that the only thing we can do at present is muddle through as best we can. To that end, he offers his observations of the four primary strategies he observes men using today.
Nicholson is a fan of Game for the same reason I am – he feels that the overall message of empowerment and self-development for men is positive. He does caution that assertive PUA tactics do not produce lasting relationships:
Becoming Attractive - one strategy adopted by some men is to become attractive, dominant, and sexually-forward. These are the guys who are often labeled “players”, “macks”, and “pick-up artists”. With this strategy, men are often able to fulfill their short-term sexual needs—especially within the modern, socially-sanctioned climate of “hook-ups” and causal encounters. Many of these tactics, however, primarily attract women who are focused on short-term flings with attractive men.
…The results of the study (Hall and Canterbury, 2011) primarily indicate that [PUA] tactics are used for short-term mating and casual sex. Both the men who employ them and the women who find them attractive are high in sociosexual orientation – basically looking for more casual encounters. Furthermore, there is strong support that the women who find these “assertive” tactics appealing have more traditional/sexist views about women (higher in both hostile and benevolent sexism).
…The strategies help men and women looking for short-term sex find each other and connect. Other strategies might be better suited for those looking for a monogamous marriage partner instead of a fling.
The study looked at aggressive courtship strategies, including:
- competing with other men who are also interested in the woman
- teasing or “negging” the woman
- isolating her away from her friends
In response, women with a preference for ‘no strings attached’ sex and negative attitudes towards other women are more likely to respond to men’s aggressive strategies.
2. Nice Beta Guy
Another approach guys use is the “pure beta” approach, which requires a level of vigilance and “expecting the worst” that surely won’t appeal to most men:
Partnering Carefully - another strategy adopted by some men is to adhere to social norms and become a “good guy” or even “domestic partner”. These men often find relationships more easily. However, men who follow this strategy should pick their partner carefully. Men successful with this strategy attempt to find an honest and faithful partner, who respects their needs, and is grateful for their contributions. Men pursuing this strategy also report the need to stay vigilant for their partner’s waning attraction, signs of cheating, and being taken for granted (much as women in “traditional” relationships do). With divorce a very real (and punishing) possibility, these men may also choose to think carefully before committing.
3. The Whole Package
The most difficult to pull off, this is the strategy that I recommend to women here at HUS. It’s a long-term strategy, requiring considerable investment both in self-development, and in qualifying potential partners. The goal is to practice this strategy while seeking someone else who does the same.
Holding High Standards - yet other men continue to hold high standards for both themselves and their partners. They invest in their own attractiveness, value, and success. They also treat partners equitably according to their behavior, worth, and contributions to the relationship. These men further qualify and screen partners well, not selling themselves short for less than they deserve. This approach takes constant effort though—both in the man maintaining his own standards, and in his motivating and inspiring others to do so too. It also requires patience in searching for someone who can live up to those desired standards. However, these efforts are often met with a partner who is attracted to them, respectful, and attractive for them too.
Nicholson cites a plethora of research identifying self-control and conscientiousness as the two most important personality traits for relationship success. He suggests four ways to screen for these traits:
- Attention span – Is the person focused in general and attentive to you?
- Delayed gratification – Is the person self-indulgent or patient and willing to work towards a goal?
- Planning – Avoid people who “wing it” or are overly spontaneous
- Achievement – Does the person “get things done?” Do they finish what they start?
This is the non-mating strategy. More men are making this choice, decreasing the pool of potential partners for women.
Opting Out - finally, some men choose opting out as the best option for them. This is sometimes known as the “men going their own way” (MGTOW) movement. Essentially, these are the guys who have been frustrated and punished to the point that they see no further incentive to relate. Rather than spending their efforts on material success to attract a partner, they focus on making themselves happy. Although these guys are often socially-shamed as “not growing up”, in fact, they are arguably just reacting to the lack of outside motivation…and taking care of themselves.
What does this mean for women?
It’s not easy to snag the Whole Package.
If you have high expectations for a man, you’d better make sure you’re holding yourself to the same standards.
Go for guys in the same SMV (sexual market value) range as you. Select for character traits and achievement. Express appreciation and respect to deserving guys.
If you’re lucky enough to land one of these men, lock it down. Don’t foolishly delay commitment because your 20s are about “having fun” and “being single.” Commitment -minded men who are accomplished and attractive are becoming increasingly rare. Grab one if you can, even if he’s still young and a bit rough around the edges. It’s doubtful you’ll get another chance.
Players are strictly for short-term use. If you decide to have a fling with a player, be aware that you’re also demonstrating a lack of self-control to the ideal guy you haven’t met yet. Don’t play the loser’s game of thinking you can flip a cad. They never stay flipped for long.
Avoid men who do not attract you sexually.
A long-term monogamous commitment will fail if you are not attracted to your partner. It’s unfair to both parties. Furthermore, if a man is fearful that your attraction will wane, the relationship is doomed. He will become increasingly insecure, jealous and possessive, torturing himself and repelling you. Don’t go there.