How to Flirt Effectively

Of all the people you know, who is best at communicating their attraction to members of the opposite sex? Chances are it’s someone who:

  • is extroverted
  • is assertive
  • is resilient
  • has a history of success attracting all kinds of people

These lucky few enjoy receiving attention and bestowing it on selective others. They experience rejection as much, or even more, than other people, but they chalk it up as the other person’s loss. I often hear people like this described as being someone “who can get anyone they want.” They know how to flirt in a way that sends exactly the message they want to communicate, and they flirt so much that they get results.

Flirting is an important part of the mating dance. It’s a way of expressing sexual attraction in a lighthearted, fun way. If it’s not reciprocated, there’s really not much loss of face. Of course, many of the signals we send are subconscious body language and facial expressions. However, despite our being biologically programmed to signal interest and recognize it in others, we often get our wires crossed.

  • He thinks she’s into him because she gave him a friendly and open smile.
  • She thinks he’s not interested because he hasn’t asked for her number.
  • He’s convinced she’s out of his league, so her witty banter strikes him as needlessly cruel.
  • She believes that he is very interested because he touches her arm and back when he is speaking to her, and she doesn’t notice that he does this with a lot of girls.

Jeffrey Hall, a professor at Kansas University, just completed a study which looked at the flirting styles of 5,100 adults. His goal was to help people become more self-aware in the way they communicate.

People often find themselves frustrated or unhappy with their ability to get others to notice them, for others to find them interesting, and for others to know they are interested in romance — not friendship or just a short-term hook-up.

Knowing something about the way you communicate attraction says something about challenges you might have had in your past dating life. Hopefully, this awareness can help people avoid those mistakes and succeed in courtship.

Hall designed a survey, available online here, that has now been taken by more than 25,000 people. (I encourage you to take it – at the end you’ll get an analysis of your flirting style, placing you within percentiles for your gender and age.) In studying the results, Hall identified five distinct styles of flirting:

1. Physical flirts:

  • Tend to feel attracted right away.
  • Express sexual interest in a potential partner with body language.
  • Develop relationships quickly.
  • Have high sexual chemistry with their partner.
  • Have a greater emotional connection to their partner.

2. Traditional flirts:

  • Think men should make the first move and women should not pursue men.
  • Adopt a more passive role in dating.
  • Women are likely to report trouble getting men’s attention and are less likely to flirt or be flattered by flirting.
  • Women may mistakenly think someone is flirting with them.
  • Men often know a potential partner for a longer time before approaching them.
  • Men are more likely to wait until an existing relationship ends before flirting with a woman.
  • Tend to be introverted and prefer a more intimate dating scene.

3. Polite flirts:

  • Focus on proper manners and nonsexual communication.
  • Are less likely to approach a potential partner.
  • Do not find flirting flattering.
  • Tend to have meaningful relationships.

4. Sincere flirts:

  • Believe that personal and private conversation is the best way to develop romance.
  • Create emotional connections and communicate sincere interest with confidence.
  • Women tend to score higher in this style, but it is advocated by both genders.
  • Have strong emotional connections.
  • Have strong sexual chemistry.
  • Have relationships that are typically meaningful.

5. Playful flirts:

  • Often flirt with little interest in a long-term romance.
  • Tend to flirt and be flirted with everywhere they go.
  • Find flirting fun and enhancing to their self-esteem.
  • Are often perceived as flirtatious, even when they don’t intend to flirt.
  • Are less likely to have important and meaningful relationships.

Hall concludes:

Being aware of how we communicate romantic interest gives us insight about how that style may not always work out in the way we want. We might attract people who respond to our way of flirting, but not help us get the relationship we want. Because all people are a mix of styles, they should attempt to emphasize the styles that meet relationship goals more than the styles that do not. It is easier to emphasize or minimize parts of our behavior that are already there than change them completely.

Not surprisingly, Hall found a high correlation between Physical and Playful styles, Traditional and Polite, and Polite and Sincere. Conversely, the Polite and Physical styles are polar opposites.

Based on my observations of the sexual marketplace (SMP), here are some speculative thoughts I have about flirting styles:

  • The most promiscuous women rely heavily on Playful flirting with a strong side of Physical flirting. They engage in clear, sexually charged touches and body language.
  • Many women engage in Playful flirting, even though they do want a long-term relationship. They are unaware of sending a message to men that is in direct opposition to their goal.
  • Playful flirting is perhaps the most common style in a college environment, reflecting the focus on short-term flings.
  • Men with high social visibility and status, i.e. Players, are most likely to use Playful and Physical styles.
  • Men with less social dominance, i.e. Nice Guys, are more likely to use Traditional, Polite and Sincere styles.
  • Having a sincere conversation can be a form of flirting. The best way to demonstrate sincere interest is to seek the thoughts, opinions and experiences of the other person.
  • Women who believe that men should do all the pursuing clearly get pursued less than other women. Passivity means lost opportunities for flirting and communication.
  • Men who are traditional do not flirt if they are unavailable – a major plus in terms of character.
  • Traditional flirting is least effective in the current SMP, as it best characterizes the formal dating mores before 1970.
  • Polite flirts are likely to be effective only with other polite flirts, as they are extremely reserved in their demonstration of interest.

By the way, in doing this reading I came across another study on flirting. Badoo, a global networking site, looked at 20 countries to see what percentage of contacts between the sexes are initiated by women. Here’s their final ranking:

  1. Spain
  2. Poland
  3. Dominican Republic
  4. Italy/Argentina (tie)
  5. Brazil
  6. Chile
  7. Portugal
  8. Canada
  9. Venezuela
  10. Netherlands
  11. Germany
  12. Colombia
  13. United Kingdom
  14. Czech Republic
  15. Mexico
  16. France
  17. Belgium
  18. United States :-/
  19. Ecuador

Lloyd Price, Badoo’s Director of Marketing was quoted:

This study focused on who makes the first move. What it shows is simply that American women are less likely than those in most other countries and much less likely than Spanish and most Latin women to be the one initiating something with a man.

What this suggests to me is that an American woman who is willing to initiate should expect a warm reception overall. Clearly, the stubborn notion that men should initiate is not nearly as prevalent elsewhere as it is in the U.S. Many American women must be pursuing a Traditional flirting strategy, the least effective one in drawing male attention.

Additional thoughts? What kind of a flirt are you? Is your flirting style serving you well?


Jane Austen Explains It All For You


Lizzy and Mr. Darcy

I’m traveling today, so I’m bringing you an older post that many of my newer readers will have missed. I originally called it Dating Advice From a Dead Virgin, and it didn’t generate a lot of traffic. Hmmm….maybe I should just have entitled it Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. Either way, it’s still full of some of the best dating and relationship advice I’ve ever come across. The fact that it all comes out of the head of a woman who may not have ever been kissed is quite remarkable. Hat tip to reader Ex New Yorker here, who recently amazed me by quoting Persuasion. A guy who knows his Jane Austen? Perfection.

Jane Austen understood everything about the human heart. That’s an astonishing accomplishment for a woman who died a virgin at 41. Lauren Henderson, a novelist who attended Cambridge University in England and wrote her dissertation on the courtship rituals in Jane Austen, has gathered JA’s wisdom, and added some of her own, into Jane Austen’s Guide to Dating.

She felt compelled to write it after she moved to the States and fell victim to The Rules and other bad dating advice. After nearly driving away the love of her life with her crazy manipulations, she decided that a dose of JA’s common sense was in order. Isn’t that always the case? It hasn’t lost its validity in nearly 200 years! Jane Austen’s Guide to Dating is a great read, with lots of practical and sensible advice, and some pretty interesting case studies too, from both the novels and from modern day America. I encourage you to pick it up.

In the meantime, here are my Cliff Notes:

I. If you like someone, make it clear that you do.

It’s smart to show a man that you are interested in him, provided that your enthusiasm is in equal proportion to his.

  • Be open and easygoing.

If you like a man, show him. Accept his invitations with pleasure.

  • Enjoy the moment.

Let the attraction grow naturally. Don’t lose yourself in someone new. Maintain your own interests and friendships. Delay sex until you feel sure that he is interested in all aspects of your personality.

  • Don’t chase a man.

He wants to come after you. Don’t make excuses if he lacks enthusiasm. If he seemed very interested but then pulled back, let him go.

Sense and Sensibility

Marianne and Willoughby

II. Don’t put your feelings on public display, unless they’re fully reciprocated.

Showing someone you like him is a good thing, as long as you’re getting from him at least as much as you’re giving.

  • Keep your self-control.

Don’t throw yourself into a relationship until you’ve had time to discover who he really is, and whether he can be trusted with your love. You don’t want to let someone take you for a ride.

  • Be discriminating.

An attractive flirt is not necessarily the best relationship material. Take the time to see how compatible you are.

  • If a guy makes you feel that you need to compete with other girls for his attention, it’s a red flag.

He should make you feel that you are the only woman he is interested in. If he doesn’t, move on or he will always make you feel insecure.

  • Refrain from overindulging your feelings.

If your love is hopeless, don’t allow yourself to dwell on it day and night. Distract yourself and try to put it from your mind. It will make it much easier to get over him.

III. Don’t play games or lead people on.

If you play with men’s feelings, you will sabotage the possibility of forming a good relationship.

  • Meet new people and flirt like crazy, but do so with tact and discretion.

Flirt as a way of getting to know people, not with the sole purpose of making them want you.

  • Be wary of people who are trying to play you.

Don’t give away too much of yourself too soon.

  • Don’t play games to win a man’s heart.

Don’t try to keep him insecure, off balance or interested by being mean or indifferent to him.

IV. Have faith in your own instincts.

You can analyze everything a guy does and says for hours on end, but it really boils down to this:

Is he making you feel secure and cared for, or is he keeping you off balance?

Is he really worthy of you? Is he meeting your needs and making you feel that you are meeting his?

  • Listen to your inner voice.

If there’s something about him that doesn’t seem right, he is not right for you.

  • Learn to trust yourself.

Don’t blind yourself to his faults because you are caught up in the attention he is showing you. Don’t be so desperate for a relationship that you will stop protecting yourself.

  • Don’t be taken in by a player.

He’ll be good at flattery because he’s had a lot of practice. You don’t want to be someone’s latest conquest.

V. Don’t fall for superficial qualities.

Fall for someone who has the same values and goals as you do.

  • Watch how he treats other people.

Is he kind and generous with someone he is not trying to flatter?

  • Is he interested in you as a person, or is he treating you like arm candy?
  • Falling for a guy who appears to have qualities you lack will only make you feel more insecure over time.

When we fall for a guy who is gorgeous, athletic or wanted by lots of other girls, we are often expressing our own lack of self-esteem.

VI. Look for someone who can bring out your best qualities.

  • Hold onto your own values. Don’t compromise who you are or what you believe.
  • Choose someone who brings out the best in you.
  • If you’re always criticizing, the relationship isn’t working.

Don’t try to change him. It never works, and just turns you into a nag.


Anne and Capt. Wentworth

VII. Don’t settle.

  • Don’t enter into a relationship out of convenience or loneliness.

You’ll need to have feelings strong enough to carry you through the inevitable hard times.

  • Have faith that you will meet the right person.

Don’t compromise for less than love.

  • Be positive about being single.

Sure you want a relationship, but you want the right one, and it’s only sensible to be choosy. You’re far better off single than in an unhappy relationship.

VIII. Be witty if you can, but not cynical or cruel.

Don’t use humor to hide from your true feelings.

  • Be spontaneous; that’s where the best humor comes from.
  • Choose someone who can make you laugh, and laugh at yourself often.
  • Don’t be cynical.

Don’t use humor as a defense, which places boundaries between you and another person. You have to open up and be loving to be loved.

Emma and Mr. Knightley

Emma and Mr. Knightley

IX. Be prepared to wait for the right person to come along.

Don’t give in to desperation. Be brave enough to hold out for someone you can really love.

  • Learn to discriminate between Mr. Right and Mr. Right Now.

If you throw yourself at someone, and he steps aside, you’ll crash into the wall instead.

  • Pace yourself and earn his respect by letting him know that you can’t be rushed.
  • Don’t waste time with someone who isn’t right for you.

It’s unfair to him, and prevents you from meeting someone who is a better match.

X. If your lover needs a reprimand, let him have it.

Deal with problems openly, and work together to find a solution.

  • Stand up for yourself.

If someone is doing something you don’t like, tell him, and be prepared to end the relationship if it doesn’t change.

  • Be fair.

Don’t store up grudges. Speak carefully and stay focused on the problem at hand. Think through your criticisms to be sure they are reasonable.

  • Be honest.

Guys are not so great at interpreting our subtle hints, and they’re terrible at reading our minds. Whatever you do, don’t claim that nothing is wrong when you are upset.

Are you a Jane Austen fan? Do you think she had it right?


What Women Really Want From Men

Why are women so freaking hard to understand?

Why are women so freaking hard to understand?

This list of 35 brutally honest truths will tell you what women really want from men. Let’s just say I’m trying to promote cross-cultural understanding. Think of this as an Instruction Manual.

1. Women don’t tell each other everything.

We don’t share a lot of intimate sexual details. OK, if you’re hung like a stallion, it may come up in conversation. But we generally share the really personal stuff in only two situations. The first is when we’re seeking support. We’re upset about something that’s happened, and we want to find out how our trusted female companions view the situation. Are we overreacting? Or is it a dealbreaker? The second is when we are providing support to a friend in that same situation. If we’ve been through it, we’ll cough up the story to make her feel less alone.

2. We know when we’re being bitchy/PMS’ing.

If you call us out, we’ll deny it and get pissed, but if you cut us some slack and say “I love you even when you’re a bitch,” we’ll be grateful.

3. We don’t care about penis size.

That’s not what makes a good lover. It’s way, way down on the list, under the heading “Nice But Not Essential By Any Means.” It’s like men and huge boobs. Some men like ‘em, some don’t, but it’s hardly a requirement for choosing a real partner (we hope).

4. When you tease us about our weight, you make us feel completely worthless and disgusting.

It’s about the worst thing a woman can hear. And it makes us want to keep our clothes on.

5. The majority of us can’t come from thrusting alone.

Studies have shown that if a woman’s clit is more than 1 1/8 inches from her vaginal opening, there’s no way she can have an orgasm without direct clitoral stimulation. It seems like Mother Nature really screwed up here (bummer!), but you shouldn’t take it personally.

6. We do care about your going down.

It’s vitally important to most women (the 70% who need clitoral stimulation). It’s hard to enjoy it, though, if we don’t think you love it. It’s the same as when you enjoy a blow job more when it’s done with enthusiasm. We won’t beg for it, though. The basic rule is, “Love me, love the vag.”

7. Re oral sex, every woman is different, but don’t take your lessons from porn.

That’s way too much licking and lapping from too far away (camera angle considerations). Think in terms of French kissing. A tight seal, light suction, soft tongue action. Gentle, gentle, gentle.

8. We are incredibly self-conscious about the way we smell.

Believe me, we know better than you do how gross VO can be. If you like the way we taste and smell, please say so. If you don’t have anything nice to say….well, you remember what Mama said. And we promise to keep it clean.

9. Anal sex hurts like hell.

It makes us sore for a week. If we do it, it’s because we really, really want to please you. Request it only occasionally.

10. We know you enjoy looking at other women.

But it makes us feel terrible if we detect it. When we’re together, please don’t look at other girls.

11. We’re the generation of women caught between wanting chivalry and wanting independence.

It’s confusing. We are proud to be self-sufficient, but we love it when you act chivalrous and protective.

12. We love the smell of your sweat and your musk.

Don’t cover it up with anything more than soap.

13. Your penis is magical.

We adore the penis as the font of life and we like to be penetrated by it. We cede dominance to you entirely in this arena.

14. We want to be appreciated for our intelligence.

We are threatened by beautiful, stupid women, and hope that you won’t choose them. You should know that IQ for boys is carried by the x chromosome of the mother, so if you have a stupid wife, you will have dumb sons.

15. We’d like to think that you could find us appealing in a turtleneck and old jeans.

It’s exhausting to always be figuring out ways to display the produce most effectively. And there are times when we don’t want you to feel sexy, because we don’t.

16. We can’t resist a guy acting domestic.

Cook us dinner, and you will almost certainly get laid.

17. Most of us aren’t gold diggers.

But we do care about effort. If you’re short on funds, we’re happy to go on endless cheap dates if you’ve given it some thought. Picnics, staying in to cook, hikes, museums, bike rides are all good. So is spending a whole weekend in bed.

18. The things a woman longs to hear:

  • You’re the only one I want.
  • I’ve never felt like this before.
  • You’re all I think about.

But only if you mean it.

19. Even when we act like it’s casual, it isn’t.

Very, very few of us really want no-strings sex. You can get away with a single hookup, but you should know that if we start having sex regularly, drama is inevitable.

20. Women cry even when we don’t want to.

We’re not using tears as a weapon to manipulate you and get what we want. We cry when we’re sad, angry, frustrated, scared, and discouraged. We also cry when we’re happy. If a woman cries during sex with you, she is thinking of you as a potential baby daddy.

21. I want to know that I’m sexually attractive, even though I’m taken.

I can get that from you, but if you don’t express how hot you think I am, I’ll wind up seeking that validation elsewhere. Don’t make me flirt with other guys.

22. When your plumbing doesn’t work, we think it’s our fault.

We know it’s very hard for you when this happens, but we blame ourselves, even if you had 18 beers.

23. We like to be dominated sometimes.

Whether it’s roughing up the sex a little or bossing us around, it’s exciting to take the sexual tension up a notch by reverting to a “Me Tarzan, You Jane” kind of scene on occasion.

24. We feel extremely threatened by other women you’ve hooked up with.

We will acquire photos of them online and ridicule them for hours on end with our friends. We will wonder how you could ever have liked such a fat, ugly, mean girl. (This will have nothing to do with her real appearance.) For this reason, it would be ideal if you pretended you never knew her, and never mentioned her in our presence.

25. Our women friends judge whether you treat us well enough.

Please do not tease, humiliate or ignore us in public. Even if we disagree, please stay cool and save it for later. Once our friends think you’re a douchebag, life is going to get a lot harder.

26. We are incapable of understanding your natural need for sexual variety.

We view it as a direct threat to our femininity and desirability. And we worry that we are just some of that variety, not the real deal. If you are willing to be monogamous with us, let us know asap. It makes a huge difference.

27. We love it when you ask us for our opinion or advice.

Men seem so self-sufficient that it’s rewarding when you can use a little help. We’ve been trained to offer support and nurturing since we were two, so let us do that once in a while.

28. We want to be pursued.

We want you to be the aggressor. If we ask why you never called, please don’t say, “Well, you didn’t call me either!” Once we’re in a relationship, we can talk about meeting halfway, but in the early days we feel more comfortable if you are the one making moves.

29. Please do not try to model your body after a gay underwear model.

Chest hair is sexy. We don’t like men who primp and preen too much. If you’re fit and healthy, that’s fine. And we hope you know that we find huge bodybuilder type muscles repulsive. They’re freaky.

30. Shaved heads are totally sexy.

If you haven’t got the fullest head of hair in the world, consider shaving it. A combover or anything close to it is a ladyboner killer.

31. There’s a difference between being flaky and being uncaring.

We want you to be reliable, but we’ll cut you some slack just for being a guy. Once we detect, though, that you’re jerking us around, you’re in trouble.

32. Uncontrolled farting has ended relationships.

We don’t care if you pee in front us, but any air or matter emanating from your back door should be kept as far away from us as possible. Loud burping is only slightly less offensive.

33. If you’ve put on some beer fat, buy bigger pants.

We don’t want to see exposed belly, love handles, or plumber’s crack because you’ve squeezed into the 32s you outgrew three years ago. One glimpse will put us off sex for a week.

34. We love getting a peek at the little boy you once were.

Get silly with us sometimes. We know you were ridiculously impulsive as a boy, so show us that side of you from time to time.

35. We’ve pretty much figured out that it’s normal for you to watch porn.

But you need to know that almost everything you see in porn will not work if you try it with us. We won’t sound like that, look like that, or act like that. If you’re having trouble getting it up with a real girl, you might lay off the porn and see if that helps.

I hope my female readers will weigh in here and add anything else you’d like to share. And I always welcome comments from the guys!


Are You Fast, Good or Cheap?


The Concept of Fast, Good or Cheap?

Psychologist Linda Young has written an article at Psychology Today that caught the attention of the largely dormant MBA part of my brain. She takes a Project Management construct and applies it to dating. It’s called Fast, Good or Cheap, and I think it works.

The concept refers to the fact there is no way to create a product that is optimally all three of these things.

  • Fast refers to the time required to deliver a product to the marketplace from start to finish.
  • Good refers to the quality or excellence of the product.
  • Cheap refers to the cost of designing and building the product.

There’s no way to maximize all three, you need to focus on two. As Dr. Young says, “What is good and cheap won’t be fast, what is good and fast won’t be cheap, and what is fast and cheap won’t be good.”

The concept has been applied to social customs before:

  • College: Work, Sleep or Play
  • Men: Handsome, Faithful or High Earner
  • Women: Sane, Sexy or Smart

For the record, I take great exception to the last one (although my weakest of the three is Sane). I also think it’s possible to get all three in a guy, though personally I would focus on Faithful and High Earner before insisting on top notch looks. Dr. Young’s position is that there’s no right and wrong, it all depends on  your priorities. She defines the terms for relationships as follows:

Fast=Quick Partner Selection

Love-at-first-sight or hooking up. Characterized by:

  • physical attractiveness
  • symbols of wealth or status
  • charisma
  • flirtatiousness
  • sense of chemistry

Good= High Quality

For short-term flings the only valid criterion is sex appeal.

For long-term relationships, quality means:

  • sex appeal
  • emotional stability
  • flexibility
  • ability to accept partner influence
  • compassion
  • humor
  • empathy
  • trustworthiness
  • integrity
  • responsibility
  • assertive communication

Cheap=Low Investment

Means minimizing:

  • effort
  • emotional risk
  • time spent together
  • money
  • care or attention

How do you tend to approach relationships?

Good + Cheap=Slow

You’ve identified a terrific prospect, but you don’t want to get too invested. You try to keep that person from becoming too important in your life by keeping an emotional distance, and not spending too much time together. You’re cheap with your resources. A high quality prospect will move on to someone who recognized their worth and is willing to invest greater resources in the relationship.

Cheap + Fast=Low Quality

You’re all about the hookup. You are seeking short-term gratification. You are not interested in really getting to know the other person.

Good + Fast=Expensive

You’ve met the perfect person, and things get serious fast. You reveal every part of your inner self, which makes the frequent sex physically and emotionally intense. You’ve effectively dived off a cliff into a very symbiotic relationship. The risk here is that a couple of months down the road, when you realize the person is not perfect, you will begin to feel repelled by their idiosyncracies or faults. You will begin to wonder whether this is such a great deal after all. After about nine months, the sex may seem lackluster compared to those early days.

This relationship is very costly in terms of life balance, as you focus exclusively on each other. Friends and family will resent your sudden unavailability. In addition, if the good you have focused on primarily is sex appeal, the relationship is also likely to be costly financially.

Dr. Young did include an interesting piece of research, which perhaps testifies to the importance of chemistry:

“In some interesting, perhaps counter-intuitive research on love-at-first-sight relationships, Earl Naumann found that over half the nearly 1500 people he interviewed who fell in love at first sight married the partner and three quarters of those stayed married, beating the national average.”

None of these relationship combinations may sound appealing, but remember these are extreme examples. It’s a question of where you prioritize your attention and resources.

  • Cheap and fast is easy. Most of us know that drill all too well. That’s not what you’re going for if you want a relationship, and that’s not what your partner should be looking for either.
  • Good and cheap is a trap that many guys fall into. They are attracted and interested, but they’re either unwilling to risk rejection in the long-term, or are averse to the idea of commitment and the sacrifice of sexual variety it requires.
  • Good and fast is nearly impossible to resist in the short-term. If you don’t want the interest and the passion to burn itself out, though, you would be wise to pace yourself accordingly and take things more slowly. A slow win is more gratifying in the long run than a quick conquest.

Which two do you prioritize? How’s that working for you?


Understanding and Managing Jealousy

jealousy-lg-49319888Jealousy is one of the most powerful and potentially destructive human emotions. When we feel jealous, we say that we are sick with it. Jealousy is the emotion that can make us feel like we’ve been punched in the stomach and had the wind knocked out of us without warning. It can feel like a form of madness, a temporary insanity.


Jealousy occurs in a close relationship when one person fears losing the other to a rival. Close relationships are important to our self-esteem, so losing a loved partner is very threatening. It’s accompanied by all sorts of terrible feelings, including fear, anger and humiliation.

The primary characteristics of jealousy include:

  • Fear of losing an important person to an attractive other
  • Lack of trust; Suspicion or anger about betrayal
  • Humiliation; Low self-esteem and sadness over loss
  • Uncertainty and loneliness
  • Need to control a loved one

French psychiatrist Marcianne Blevis, author of Jealousy: True Stories of Love‘s Favorite Decoy says, “All human emotions exist to help us figure out who we are in the world, and jealousy is no exception. It is a resource we call on when we feel at risk, when our sense of self is put in jeopardy. When we are jealous, we are in fact in the grip of an identity crisis. From the rival emanates an aura of magical attributes that he or she possesses and we don’t. Yet we are the ones who assign those attributes to the rival; what they really represent is something unrealized in ourselves.

The formula for jealousy is an insecure person times an insecure relationship“, says psychologist Steven Stosny. “But it’s insecure people who tend to destabilize relationships and make them insecure. More often than not, feelings of jealousy flare with such intensity that they burn a hole in the brain, obliterating rational thought and setting off behaviors that create a self-fulfilling prophecy by pushing away the very person one desires, or needs, the most. Ironic that an impulse that arises from love can so easily destroy it.”


Jealousy evolved when primates became capable of long-term love and monogamous attachments. Its purpose is to help maintain intimate relationships. It’s a “built-in infidelity detection system.”

University of Texas psychologist David Buss argues in The Dangerous Passion: Why Jealousy Is as Necessary as Love and Sex, that men and women experience jealousy differently, and that it’s the threat of sexual infidelity that most stirs jealousy in men. “The burden of manhood is uncertainty of paternity; jealousy serves to keep a mate from straying, upping a man’s confidence that he is the genetic father of his partner’s children. Jealousy arose to keep him from the reproductive dead-end of investing his finite resources in raising some other man’s children. Women respond most to the possible loss of love to a rival female, a way of protecting a partner’s needed commitment to home and kids. And perhaps in the small bands in which humans lived for most of evolutionary history, jealousy was effective in keeping a mate from straying.”

Today, however, relationship bonds are not necessarily lifelong. Though we’re still  programmed to experience jealousy, it may no longer be an effective tool for maintaining intimacy. Historically, jealousy was considered a socially appropriate response to infidelity, but now jealous behavior is often perceived as pathological.


Jealousy can promote intimacy in relationships, especially in the early stages, before trust has a chance to develop, because it correlates with caring. “The paradox of jealousy is that we all want some of it,” says Stosny. “It’s a measure of commitment. In small doses it’s an expression of caring. Jealousy is like a way of testing whether it’s safe to invest more emotion. It’s safe when a person cares enough to be uncomfortable. If your partner doesn’t respond, then it’s not safe.”

“The surprise is how easy it is to trip the male jealousy switch. A lot of times men aren’t even aware of the emotional manipulation,” says Buss. If a woman perceives that the man is less committed than she is, she will often try to provoke jealousy in him so that he finds her more desirable.


To some extent, all men are prone to jealousy. Jealousy can be useful in obtaining reassurance and eliminating doubt. But it is painful to experience, and many men will eliminate the source of it rather than endure it. Alvin La Victoria, in 5 Things That Your Boyfriend Won’t Tell You, points out that men worry that their guy friends will want you:

“We want our friends to like you… but not love you. In guy world the approval of our friends is very important so it makes sense that we want our friends to like you. But what we don’t want is for them to covet you. When we hook up with a very hot girl and our buddies ogle her it is a real turn off. This is why so many really pretty girls find themselves single. We just can’t handle the thought of losing you to one of our friends because if that happens we lose our girl, one of our boys and a big chunk of our egos. So if our friends like you and think you’re cool that’s great but if they wish they could have you that’s bad. Unfortunately this is totally out of your control.”

In WHAT MEN WANT:  Three Professional Single Men Reveal to Women What it Takes to Make a Man Yours, authors Gerstman, Pizzo, and Seldes claim that a man will dump a woman who makes him feel the pain of jealousy:

“Men are extremely jealous, so trying to inflame his jealousy will always backfire.  If he is jealous, he is struggling with the thought that he thinks there is someone out there who can make his gf happier and treat her better than he can.  This is his greatest fear:  he is not man enough to make the woman he loves happy.  A man will drop a woman rather than suffer this kind of torture.”

Buss points out that jealousy often occurs when there is a discrepancy between the “mate value” of two partners—one partner is more attractive than the other. “Some men luck into a woman who is higher in mate value than they are,” reports Buss. “And on some level such a man has some realization that he is not going to be able to replace her with someone of equivalent value. So he is on jealousy hyperalert.”


Jealousy is often the motivation behind psychological, verbal and physical abuse. Normal jealousy is a response to a real threat to a relationship, but much jealousy is delusional. Our partner can become irrationally jealous even when there is no real threat. Innocent social interactions loom as evidence of betrayal, and the threatened partner soon creates a prison of distrust and anger within the relationship.

The tendency towards destructive jealousy is correlated with various factors:


  • Destructive jealousy is usually triggered by insecurity about our prospects.
  • Someone who thinks he’ll never find another partner as good as the current one will obviously go to great lengths to keep the one he’s got. People with a poor sense of self are more prone to the deep hurt and fury that precede angry outbursts.

Childhood Baggage

  • Jealousy is often rooted in the lack of parental attention and affection early in life, undermining the capacity for trust. When we fall in love, we experience a rush of positive feelings and unconditional acceptance. Our normal vulnerabilities and insecurities disappear for a while. When something happens to threaten that love, however, as it inevitably will, we experience those fears with brute strength.


  • Buss has found that jealousy is negatively correlated to agreeableness, the tendency to be cooperative and compassionate, rather than suspicious and antagonistic. Like all the major personality factors, agreeableness is influenced by heredity and environment, including early experience, in roughly equal proportions.


Jealousy fears are deep rooted and can be very difficult to eliminate. The fear of abandonment sets off alarms that induce emotional panic. Your openness or friendliness, your style of dress, your relationships with other members of the opposite sex are not the reason that your boyfriend feels jealous. If his jealousy is not destructive, but more an attempt to be reassured by you, there are ways that you can provide that once you understand what he is really feeling.

  • Acknowledge that you understand that you are upsetting him.
  • Ask him specifically what behaviors he finds most threatening. If you’re a flirt, it seems reasonable that you tone it down if you want him to feel secure. If he seems uncomfortable that you are becoming BFFs with his guy friends, step back a little. Give it more time. You shouldn’t have to change your personality, but if you care about someone who is feeling threatened, there are probably ways that you can shore up his confidence. Take it one bit at a time. If you go from Queen of the Scene to Mother Superior overnight, it’s not going to work.
  • Tell him in a kind and loving way how his reactions make you feel. Help him understand the potentially negative consequences of his mistrust.
  • One of the worst things about jealousy is that it’s a Catch 22: We feel unlovable when we’re jealous, and we’re jealous because we feel unlovable. Reinforce and reward the lovable things about him. Dwell on what is positive and special in your relationship.

It’s important to be aware, however, that jealousy is a red flag. You need to be vigilant about whether it’s the benign variety that helps us test our value early in a relationship, or whether something more destructive is brewing. If you find that you are unable to reassure your partner, and that an irrational fear of betrayal becomes a constant in your relationship, you are in over your head. The damage was done long ago and cannot be undone by you.