When I started reading your blog almost two years ago, I’d never had sex, had a girlfriend, or even been kissed. Today, thanks to your blog and some very good luck, I’ve done all of the above and more. I have a great relationship with my girlfriend; despite being in my early 20s, I feel that she could potentially be someone I’d marry when I’m more mature and financially responsible. We are both each other’s first significant other and sex partner. She’s a few years younger than me.
However, I sometimes feel inadequate and “not good enough” for my girlfriend. I don’t think I’ve worked as hard as I should in school, and I don’t have a great job lined up like many of my friends. A few of them have even started firms that have received VC funding! I sometimes feel that my girlfriend and my parents regard me much, much too highly compared to what I’ve really accomplished relative to my peers. However, I’m not depressed and I know I will do much better in the future.
Nonetheless, I’m very curious about my attractiveness to other girls. Somehow I don’t feel it’s enough that my girlfriend adores me. I love her and her loving me should be enough… for both of us. Yet, I feel that if other girls don’t like me then my girlfriend’s getting “ripped off.” If other girls like me then I’d feel confident and content about her, me, and how she feels about me. Also, that’d feel really good given my past and its dearth of interest from females. In a way, I’m asking for validation from females. Of course, I don’t want to cheat on my girlfriend.
A week ago, I asked out a girl I’d met in one of my classes. Incredibly, she said yes even though I didn’t put much effort into asking her out. However, a few days ago she found about my relationship status and it made me feel incredibly stupid. I didn’t really think the situation through; I had no end game. What was I going to do if I had gone to the date? Kiss her and cheat on my girlfriend? I politely ended contact with her and felt really, really stupid. In addition, I felt like a major asshole.
Yet, there seems to be an asymmetry between women and men when seeking validation from the opposite sex. Women just have to dress well and men’s intentions will be quite obvious. It’d not hard for them to value their own raw and superficial attractiveness. However, as a man, I seem to have a really hard time judging my own attractiveness from the behaviour of others unless I ask them out… but that’d definitely be a faux pas when I’m in a relationship. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, my girlfriend would feel I’m cheating and the other girl would feel I’m a major DOUCHE.
Susan, what should I do? Is there any way to get validation from women without deceiving them and betraying my girlfriend? If not, then should I just give up trying to think how other women feel about me?
That’s an awesome field report! I’m so glad to hear that you’ve got a great relationship, and that you value it (and your girlfriend) highly. While I can’t condone all of your actions, I can say it is very clear to me that you are a man of character who wants to do the right thing. You have considerable empathy for your girlfriend. You also are very introspective and self-aware for a young guy. That is all to your credit.
The feelings you are having are also perfectly natural and normal for a man in your position. I would never suggest that you stop thinking about something or bury it to keep the peace. Doubts or questions that you have will not be denied forever – it’s much better to deal with them squarely, and it’s really only fair to both of you.
Let’s deal with the question of preselection first. If you’ve been reading here for a couple of years, then you’ve seen in the posts I’ve written and in the comments that men benefit directly from the attention of other women. Studies show that having an attractive woman at your side will increase your chances of attracting other women. (A wingwoman is potentially far more powerful and helpful than a wingman.) Research also shows that women rate “taken” men as more attractive than single men, everything else being equal. It’s not hard to understand why:
- Female intrasexual competition is often fierce. Observing that a man is taken means that women presumably competed for him. Obviously, few men have women fighting over them, but having a girlfriend gives you the credibility of having attracted and won a woman.
- It’s human nature to want what others have, and this is hardly restricted to women (though it may be that women are more influenced by preselection). This behavior can be observed in toddlers: “I don’t want my apple, I want her apple!” All of us like winning, and we like having the best or being the best. We tend to become dissatisfied with ourselves, always wanting more (see Woody Allen).
- Some researchers believe that a man who is already spoken for is communicating that he has clearly met the criteria for an LTR. He’s in a relationship, and he’s presumably making his woman happy. That’s a potentially powerful filter, as it may save considerable “costs” to other women, e.g. time, energy, emotional investment.
Often times, the preselection is not readily apparent to the observing female. In your case, the girl in your class responded positively to your invitation without realizing you were already in a relationship. (For your sake, I hope she never feels motivated to communicate this to your gf.). Rather, you are most likely coming across to women differently – you feel validated by your girlfriend’s attention and love, so you are able to approach another girl without being overly invested in the outcome. In fact, your clear ambivalence about the whole thing may have worked in your favor.
In short, you have successfully parlayed your preselection in at least one case, and I have no doubt you could do it again if you chose to. Of course it pleases you to discover that you are attractive to several women instead of one. Why shouldn’t it? The question you need to answer for yourself is what you want most – the relationship or the variety. You cannot have both and still be a man of character, as you have clearly acknowledged.
Not being “good enough”
The next thing I want to address is your feeling of inadequacy. It doesn’t make sense that your girlfriend is being shortchanged somehow because she didn’t choose you via preselection. There is a wide range of male behaviors that influence how attractive they are to women. The #1 most powerful predictor is extraversion. That doesn’t mean extraverted males make better mates, just that they are better at seeking and receiving attention. Similarly, there is also a wide range of female attraction cues, and a woman’s own level of extraversion also plays an important role. Some women can only “get it up” for highly visible men who are players and cads. Other women avoid such men at all costs.
My guess is that your girlfriend is far more comfortable in a relationship with someone of similar outlook and experience to her own, and would not appreciate or like you more if she knew that girls in your classes were open to being asked out by you. No doubt she already believes that, as she is clearly very attracted to you herself. You successfully met her criteria, and the relationship is thriving. She does not feel shortchanged in any way, so it’s not useful or valid to project your own need for attention from other women onto her.
As for your sense that your status is not high enough to warrant her love and admiration, I think you are being too hard on yourself. At your age, girls are measuring you on potential, not VC funding. Clearly, despite your sense of disappointment, both your girlfriend and your parents feel just fine about where you are in life right now. Ease up on yourself.
The male preference for variety
That brings us to your own ambivalence about commitment vs. getting validation from other girls. Ideally, many men would like the opportunity to have a mutually loving relationship, along with additional sexcapades on the side. As I’m sure you know, this is not what most women want. Most women want a monogamous commitment and are unable to desire another man when they are in love.
I don’t think I need to tell you that your asking the other girl out constitutes cheating. The fact that she found out the truth and called it off doesn’t let you off the hook. Cheating is anything you do in secret because you know it would hurt your girlfriend. Is secretly texting a cute girl the same as having sex with someone else? No, but both actions are on the cheating spectrum.
In this case, it’s “no harm, no foul,” but you need to think about what you want and then live with your decision. Your girlfriend deserves your full commitment. If you can’t give it to her, you need to cut her loose. And there’s nothing wrong with that. You may feel a real desire to date other people and see what else is out there.
It’s true that women have a much easier time getting sexual validation. That’s not surprising – men would like to have sex with as many women as possible. It’s hardly a mark of distinction to be singled out for sex by some horny guy.
Women, on the other hand, are wired to have sex with as few men as possible, and to distinguish ourselves by earning commitment from a quality male. We’re much more likely to focus on whether a guy is willing to make us his girlfriend than feel good about getting our asses grabbed while grinding at some party.
(Of course, there’s a high level of dysfunction in the SMP, so we see women chasing sexual variety and men chasing commitment. But that’s wacked.)
Overall, you seem like someone who has a lot of empathy, but some difficulty understanding how your girlfriend is experiencing all of this. I urge you to talk about it with her. Ask her outright whether she notices or cares whether other girls think you’re hot. And believe her when she tells you what she feels. If she is able to reassure you and you still find yourself tormented by the idea of wanting validation from other girls, then I think it has more to do with what you want, not what she wants.