Women have two, conflicting instincts when choosing men. On the one hand, women want superior men, a.k.a. "alpha" males. On the other hand, women want men who can materially provide for their families, commit to a long-term relationship, and enjoy interacting with children, a.k.a. "good relationship skills."
What kind of "alpha" male are you?
If you're a gorilla, you're big and strong. You're twice the size of a female. You fight any male you meet. You live with your harem of two to five females. Your females are monogamously faithful to you. Your penis is one inch long. Sex is quick.
If you're a gibbon, you mate monogamously for life. You live with your mate and your children. You sing to your mate. She sings back to let you know where she is. You and your mate are the same size and look identical. You start each morning with a half-hour of loud hooting to frighten other gibbons away from your forty acres of forest.
If you're a chimpanzee, you live in a group of fifty individuals. When a female is ovulating, she has sex with every male in the group. You have a large penis, large testicles, and ejaculate lots of sperm. You reproduce not because you dominate females or other males, but because your sperm is more active than other males' sperm (i.e., you're healthier than other males).
If you're a baboon, you live in a troop that varies from 10 to 200 individuals, depending on habitat, time of year, and predation. You make friends with other males. When another male threatens you, your friends back you up. You avoid fighting. Fighting leads to injuries, and lions eat injured baboons. You also make friends with females. Female baboons mate with their male friends. They like males who have many friends.
Women Go For Tail Feathers
Among the Aché hunter-gatherers of Paraguay, the men hunt big-game animals. They bring home a big animal about one day in ten. They return empty-handed the other days. Men, on median, bring in 4,663 calories per day.
Aché women gather plants and small animals, and care for their children (see How Our Ancestors Lived). The amount of food a woman brings home depends only on how many hours she spends laboriously picking and processing foods. Women, on average, bring in 10,356 calories per day.
When an Aché man brings home a deer, he shares it with other families, not only with his wife and children. Why do Aché men hunt large animals, only to give away this relatively rare food? Why not help their wives gather food? Such a man could easily bring home enough plants and small animals for two wives and their children.
Aché women view big-game hunting like peahens view peacocks' tail feathers. Big-game hunting shows that a man is physically and mentally fit. Giving away meat shows that he has more than enough strength and skill to survive. Women like men with many friends, and giving away meat maintains friendships. Men give meat to lower-status individuals to show their superior place in the social hierarchy (see The Great Male Hierarchy).
Extramarital sex isn't unusual among the Aché. When asked who had fathered their children, Aché women named, on average, 2.1 possible fathers for each child. On the list of possible fathers, the best hunters' names came up most often.
Women prefer high-status men. In workplace affairs, men are equally likely to have sex with a superior or subordinate woman. Women, in contrast, are seven times more likely to have sex with superior, rather than subordinate, men.
Many societies expect the sons of leaders to become leaders. Women who want "alpha" sons marry "alpha" husbands. E.g., the 2000 presidential election was between the son of a president, the son of a senator, the son and grandson of four-star Navy admirals, and the son of a wealthy banker (George W. Bush, Al Gore, John McCain, and Bill Bradley).
To attract women, improve your social status. Give away stuff to make friends. Help less-fortunate individuals, to show that you're above average. Lead groups, e.g., captain your softball team. Dress well. Speak well, perhaps by joining Toastmasters International.
If money attracted women, Bill Gates would be sexier than the Beatles in 1965.
Women are conflicted about money. Women want "alpha" males who show off their money like peacocks show off their tail feathers, e.g., buying a round of drinks in a bar. But women also want "relationship" men who put their paychecks into a mortgage.
Show off your money to attract a woman's attention. Then talk about the home you're buying to make her want a relationship.
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors owned nothing but what they could carry to the next campsite. Accumulation of wealth wasn't possible. Women's cerebral cortexes have learned to appreciate accumulated wealth, but their brains aren't hardwired for this. In a conflict, women tend to choose their more basic instinct—love—instead of their newer appreciation of wealth.
Confidence and Stress
Aché men gamble on bringing home a deer one day in ten, instead of choosing the safety of helping their wives gather food. Gambling—and a man's life in general—is stressful.
Mammals produce glucocorticoid hormones in stressful situations. Too much glucocorticoid causes health problems. In male and female primates, high-status individuals produce minimal glucocorticoid in stressful situations. Low-status individuals produce too much glucocorticoid. Stress—"the fear of fear itself"—physically hurts low-status individuals. Stress doesn't affect the health of high-status individuals.
Confident men—who believe that their powers or circumstances can handle stressful situations—attract women. To attract women and improve your health, take a stress-reduction class. Learn to handle stressful situations with confidence.
The common belief that men are hardwired to be alone ("go to their caves") after a stressful day and that women are hardwired to talk to a supportive partner is a misconception. The former is the avoidant attachment style and the latter is the secure attachment style. It's true that attachment styles are hardwired in adults, and it's true that this distinction is of paramount importance in relationships (mismatched partners have more relationship difficulties, and avoidant individuals have more relationship difficulties in general) but the hardwiring is from the individual's early childhood relationship with his or her mother. Men and women can have either attachment style.
Looks, Height, and Strength
Women rate tall, strong, athletic males as "very desirable" marriage partners. Women are almost twice as likely to value physical strength in men, as men are to value physical strength in women.
However, women prefer men with feminine-looking faces. E.g., women prefer Leonardo DiCaprio to Tom Selleck.
American women prefer men 5'11" (180 cm) or taller. Tall men receive more personal ad responses than short men.
If you're short, study Japanese. Then vacation on Guam, the Hawaii-like American island where Japanese women vacation.
Never-married women are more likely to prefer physical attractiveness. Conversely, divorced and widowed women are more likely to select good character over physical attractiveness.
Men with good language skills attract women. The language area in women's brains is better developed than in men's brains. Women love talking. To improve your language skills, take a creative writing class. Or memorize a few romantic poems.
Or learn a foreign language. The words conjugate—to form variations of a verb—and conjugal—relating to marriage—come from the same root word. Foreign women will think that a man who can conjugate verbs correctly in their language will make a good husband.
Women select personal ads primarily by age. Women select men who are, on average, three and a half years older. Older men, in general, have more social status and emotional maturity.
The worldwide average age difference between brides and grooms is three years. Americans marry closer in age.
In 1890, the average age at which men first married was 26. Women married at 22.
Figure 1: Age At First Marriage
During the first half of the twentieth century, increasing affluence enabled younger men to support families. Secondary education and increased leisure time facilitated dating. Dating sometimes led to sex, pregnancy, and early marriage. In 1956, men married at 22, women at 20.
The FDA approved oral contraceptives in 1956. The Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973. Women delayed motherhood to start careers. In 1998, men married at 27, women at 25.
Couples now live together from the age that their parents' generation married. The average man now first lives with a woman, either in marriage or as an unmarried couple, for the first time at 22. The average woman moves in with a man at age 20 or 21.
Couples that marry younger than 25 have dramatically higher divorce rates. Our brains' prefrontal lobes don't mature until 25. This "executive decisions" brain area is where we make good judgments. Automobile insurance rates drop at 25 because drivers with mature prefrontal lobes get into fewer accidents. Similarly, men and women make better relationship decisions after 25. (If you want to marry younger than 25, ask your parents to arrange a marriage for you. That idea sounds radical but it has worked for thousands of years.)
Women want men who'll stay in a faithful, long-term relationship. But a woman can't predict a man's behavior twenty years in the future. Women instead look for signs that a man is relationship material.
Women prefer men who have a steady job, are dependable, and are emotionally stable. A predictable man may be boring, but a woman feels that she can predict his behavior twenty years into the future. Unpredictable, "flighty" men turn off women.
E.g., if you want to date a certain waitress, eat at her restaurant every day for months, at the same time each day, ask for the same table, and order the same meal (and leave the same big tip).
One of the highest factors correlating with likelihood of a man to marry is home ownership.
If you own a home, when asking a woman out, give her your business card and write your home address on the back. She'll drive by and look at your home. On a date, talk about your home.
If you don't own a home, say that you've been looking at homes to buy. Women enjoy talking about buying homes.
Another sign that a man will be a good husband and father is his relationship with his family. Show women photos of yourself playing with your nieces and nephews. Invite your date to meet your siblings or cousins and their nieces and nephews (meeting your parents and grandparents is less effective).
Men positively interacting with children attract women. Men who ignore a child in distress turn off women. Women's favorite pinups show bare-chested, muscled men holding smiling babies.
In contrast, men have no preference for women interacting with children versus women alone. E.g., men like pinups of bare-chested women, but not holding babies.
Astrology and Personality Types
Astrology and personality types fascinate women. They hope to predict the future of their relationships. Talk about personality types on dates (see Personality Types).
Or put astrology software on your laptop computer. If a party is boring, sit down at the kitchen table and offer to do astrology charts.
The prefrontal lobes (part of the cerebral cortex) enable affect-regulation, or the
ability to regulate our emotional reactions, control our impulses, or moderate the survival reflexes of our ancient reptilian system.
— Joseph Chilton Pearce, The Biology of Transcendence (2002)
The prefrontal lobes are our most recently evolved brain area. This is also the last area to develop in each individual—maturing between the ages of 15 and 25.
Women want emotionally mature men. An emotionally mature man changes his emotions as situations change—or to change a situation. Although his limbic brain experiences a wide range of emotions, his higher self (his prefrontal lobes) stays constant. Such an individual is capable of a long-term relationship.
E.g., in Roxanne (1987), a man insults Steve Martin. Martin at first shows anger at the insult. But then he switches to humor. Martin first makes jokes about himself. Then he switches the subject of his wit to the other man, making a crowd laugh at the man. The other man shows only one emotion—anger—in response to each of Martin's changing emotions.
Imagine that your emotions are like a car with a standard transmission. To shift from one emotion to another, you shift through neutral. In neutral, you quiet one emotion before shifting to another emotion. When you quiet your own emotions, you can feel your partner's emotions. Buddhists call this state egoless. Christians say selfless. When you feel your partner's emotions, you can select the best emotion for the situation.
Fear Reduces Us to Reptilian Responses
You meet an attractive woman. Your cerebral cortex imagines your friends' envy if she goes out with you.
Your limbic brain fears that she'll reject you.
Your reptilian brain wants to have sex with her.
In a conflicted brain, the older brain area wins. You're capable of having sex with her. Your reptilian brain is perfectly functional.
Your limbic brain is warning, "Don't emotionally connect with her! You'll get hurt!" You're unable to feel her emotional state. She seems like a beautiful statue in a museum.
You've locked out your cerebral cortex. Language is a cerebral cortex activity, so you can only stare at her breasts and mumble incoherently.
When integrated, [the triune brain] offers us an open-ended potential; an ability to rise and go beyond all constraint or limitation. But when that integration fails, our mind is a house divided against itself, our behavior a paradoxical civil war—and we become our own worst enemy.
— Joseph Chilton Pearce, The Biology of Transcendence (2002)
Developing Awareness of Choices
Cerebral cortex activity won't get you out of an internal conflict. E.g., repeating positive statements (affirmations) while blocking awareness of your emotional state won't help.
Instead, connect to your limbic brain. Feel your emotional state.
Slow down. When you react quickly, your brain selects myelinated or habitual responses. Instead of going with your first reaction, pause and breathe.
Imagine your choices. Imagine alternative responses.
No one needs to be completely hemmed in by circumstances; no one needs to be the victim of his biography.
— George Kelly, The Psychology of Personal Constructs (1955)
Think through your general fear to specific fears. E.g., you fear that she'll say that you're too old for her. Imagine different responses you could make to that rejection:
When Hugh Hefner first asked Barbi Benton out, she said, "Well, I've, uh, never dated anyone over 23 before." Hef responded without hesitation, "That's okay. Neither have I."
You'll no longer feel fear. What seemed like an insurmountable problem now looks like a variety of choices, each leading to a positive conclusion.
Imagining different possible futures is a cerebral cortex activity. Feeling emotions is a limbic brain activity. Imagining your emotions in various scenarios connects your cerebral cortex and limbic brain. You unblock your internal conflicts.
Play a Game
When an unexpected event upsets you, the problem isn't the event. The problem is that you don't know how to respond. When you're upset you fail to see positive opportunities. You see only that your plans are blocked. Instead, stay flexible and look for opportunities in unexpected events.
E.g., a man sees a woman sitting in a bar booth. He walks over, bends down to talk to her, and bonks his head on a lampshade hanging over the table. Momentarily stunned, he stands there while the lampshade swings back and bonks his head a second time.
He says, "Excuse me. Let me do this again." He returns to his bar stool. He comes back to the woman, puts his hand calmly on the lampshade, bends down, and introduces himself.
This happened to one of my friends. He and the woman dated for several months.
He managed his fear by playing a game. Play boosts emotional experience, and develops relationships with other individuals.
Children play obvious games. Adults play subtle games. Let's make my friend's game more obvious:
- Shift to a pretend world.
- He said, in effect, "I'm going to pretend to meet you." In pretend worlds we're less afraid of showing emotions.
- Focus on a bipolar construct.
- Psychologists call a pair of opposite ideas a bipolar construct. A literature major would say irony. Whatever you call it, when an individual does two, opposite things at the same time, we laugh. In this game, the bipolar construct was being cool vs. being clumsy.
- Exaggerate emotions.
- If my friend had played the game to entertain a child, he would've amplified his emotions. E.g., he returns to his bar stool. Then he pretends to see the woman for the first time. His eyes pop open and his jaw drops. His hand shakes and he nearly spills his beer in his lap. He exaggerates preening in the bar mirror, then swaggers over.
- Repeat the game
- If he were playing the game to entertain a child, he'd bonk his head on the lampshade—three times. Then he'd repeat the skit. He could repeat it thirty times and the child would laugh every time.
- Exchange roles.
- If he were entertaining a child, he'd trade places with the child. The child would pretend to be clumsy Joe Cool.
- Make your game physical and unstructured.
- Children play physical, unstructured, non-competitive games. Adults play abstract, non-physical, structured, competitive games, e.g., spectator sports, casino gambling, ballroom dancing, and board games. My friend's game was physical (bonking his head on the lampshade) and unstructured (he didn't hand out a sheet of rules).
- Schedule playtime.
- For your next party, tell your guests that the first hour will be games, e.g., Twister.
Laugh to Connect Your Limbic Brain and Cerebral Cortex
Only humans laugh. Other animals express emotions as they occur. Our emotional regulation stops us from suddenly expressing unexpected emotions.
Our cerebral cortex sends emotions it doesn't know how to regulate to our speech area, and we laugh. We associate laughter with humor because humor is always unexpected. But humor isn't one emotion. Humor is any emotion we can't regulate. Because different individuals regulate different emotions well or poorly, different individuals laugh at different events.
A sense of humor attracts women. Laugh in emotional situations, e.g., when you do something embarrassing. Laughing connects your limbic brain and cerebral cortex, enabling better awareness of your emotions.
Reveal a Secret to Emotionally Connect
In 1957, a young man arrived in Nashville. He stuttered, but played guitar, and could sing without stuttering.
Soon he had a job performing with Minnie Pearl, the country comedienne. Pearl encouraged him to talk on stage. He refused, afraid that the audience would laugh at his speech.
Let 'em laugh. Goodness gracious, laughs are hard to get and I'm sure that they're laughing with you and not against you, Melvin.
The singer developed humorous routines about his stuttering. Audiences laughed. His career took off.
Word began to circulate around Nashville about this young singer from Florida who could write songs and sing, but stuttered like hell when he tried to talk. The next thing I knew I was being asked to be on every major television show in America.
— Mel Tillis
Don't be afraid to share a secret. Women share secrets with girlfriends to emotionally connect (see Women's Support Circles). But don't whine about your problems. Instead, talk confidently about a secret to show that you've turned a weakness into strength.
Entertainment expresses emotions. Effective entertainers emotionally connect with their audiences.
Entertainment integrates limbic brain emotions with cerebral cortex imagination. When an entertainer expresses an old emotion in a new way, we applaud.
Other animals do the same mating rituals generation after generation. E.g., peahens never get bored watching peacocks show off their tail feathers. Like peahens, older women enjoy 300-year-old operas. But young women want only new music, the latest clothes, and the coolest actors. Their greatest put-down is "that's so ten minutes ago."
Mankind might well be a tool-making and tool-using species, but nothing so separates us from the lower animals than our almost comic enthusiasm for the new, new thing.
— Nick Schultz, editor of TechCentralStation.com
Effective entertainers have integrated brains. Conversely, to improve your brain integration, develop your entertainment skills.
Entertaining men attract women. When a man's performance makes a woman feel emotionally connected, her limbic brain tells her that she's in a long-term relationship with him.
A woman with an integrated brain responds, "I want a long-term relationship with this man. I'll buy his CDs (or watch his movies). I'll feel as if I've known him for years."
A woman with a poorly integrated brain might try to have a physical relationship with the man, even though her cerebral cortex tells her that he'll never commit to a relationship with her. In a conflicted brain, the older area wins.
Entertainment skills can make women ignore a man's faults. E.g., Woody Allen's sense of humor attracts women, even though he's small, scrawny, and married his stepdaughter. (At least he's a family man.)
Women's Entertainment Skills
Male entertainers, in general, have both male and female fans. Female entertainers, until recently, had only female fans, and had fewer fans than male entertainers. E.g., your local ballet company has fewer fans than your professional basketball team.
Masculine individuals (generally, but not always, men) use entertainment skills to attract sexual partners. Feminine individuals (generally, but not always, women) use entertainment skills to keep a partner in a long-term relationship.
E.g., a woman who makes her husband laugh each day, and makes his heart ache when she sings lullabies to their children, has a husband who's not going to leave her.
Legendary King Shahryar took a new woman to bed each night, and then killed each woman in the morning. One woman saved herself by telling a story with a cliffhanger ending. Shahrazad kept this up night after night, spinning Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Sinbad the Sailor, and other stories into One Thousand and One Arabian Nights (circa A.D. 1000).
Truth and Lying in Art and Entertainment
Entertainment skills increase reproductive success so effectively (i.e., get women to have sex with men, and get men to stay with women) that sexual selection for entertainment skills may have driven our ancestors to evolve larger cerebral cortexes.
Art and entertainment are lies, from the point of view of the liar. E.g., when an actor playing Hamlet says that he's going to kill his stepfather, the actor isn't threatening his stepfather's life. A painter creates an image that looks real, but isn't. A poem makes us visualize a scene we don't see. Novels and movies take us into a worlds we've never experienced.
But art and entertainment are truthful, from the point of view of the audience. Effective artists and entertainers communicate emotions that "strike a chord" in the listener or viewer. They tell the truth not about themselves—e.g., you don't want to know that an actor is afraid of forgetting his lines, or is hoping that a movie producer might be in the audience and offer him a better-paying job—but instead quiet their own emotions and emote the audience's feelings.
Religion and Evolution
Art, entertainment, religion, and reproductive success are entwined. Religious men and women sing in church or synagogue, dramatically recite Bible stories, dance at rituals, etc. Most societies encourage religious men, e.g., rabbis, to marry and produce large families. Men prefer to marry religious women, because they're more likely to be sexually faithful.
Our ancestors' sexual preference for partners with deeply moving emotional skills may have driven them to evolve brains capable of spiritual thought. I.e., evolution enabled humans to think spirituality, and, conversely, spiritual thinking may have driven human evolution.
Consumerism as Runaway Sexual Selection
For our ancestral fathers, entertainment was "do it yourself." Dinner was killing and roasting an animal. After dinner, they played music, danced, or told epics of their heroes.
Now consider what happens in modern courtship. We take our dates to restaurants where we pay professional chefs to cook them great food, or to dance clubs where professional musicians excite their auditory systems, or to films where professional actors entertain them with vicarious adventures. The chefs, musicians, and actors do not actually have sex with our dates. They just get paid. We get the sex if the date goes well. Of course, we still have to talk in modern courtship, and we still have to look reasonably good. But the market economy shifts much of the courtship effort from us to professionals. To pay the professionals, we have to make money, which means getting a job. The better our education, the better our job, the more money we make, and the better the vicarious courtship we can afford. Consumerism turns the tables on ancestral patterns of human courtship.
— Geoffrey Miller, The Mating Mind (2000)
I can't stand dinner and a movie.
— Julia Schultz, Playboy centerfold
Onstage, I make love to 25,000 people—then I go home alone.
— Janis Joplin
Consumerism hotwires our brains' relationship circuits. Cars, shopping malls, television, and Julia Schultz's Playboy poses hit these neural circuits.
Women are especially susceptible to consumerism. E.g., on eBay, women described 11% of their shoes as "sexy." Men described only 0.005% of their shoes as "sexy."
Consumerism makes us work longer hours to buy more stuff for our mates. Women have less time to exercise and look attractive. Men have less time to practice entertainment skills. Couples have less time together.
The effects of consumerism range from environmental destruction to anti-American hatred. Runaway consumerism—not war, crime, or disease—is the greatest threat to human survival. Focus on relationships, not buying stuff. You'll be happier and your grandchildren will have a planet to live on.
- Cohen, J. E. 1969. "Natural primate troops and stochastic population models," American Naturalist 103:455-477. Cohen, J. E. 1971. "Social grouping and troop size in yellow baboons," Proceedings of the 3rd International Congress of Primatology, 1970 March 2-5 3:58-64. Cohen, J. E. 1972. "Aping monkeys with mathematics," In Tuttle, R. ed. The Functional and Evolutionary Biology of Primates. Aldine-Atherton, Chicago. Samuels, A. and Altmann, J. 1991. "Baboons of the Amboseli basin: demographic stability and change," International Journal of Primatology 12:1-9.
- Sapolsky, Robert. "Gorilla Tactics," Men’s Health, March 2002, p.68.
- Buss, David M. Evolutionary Psychology (Allyn & Bacon, 1999, ISBN 0-205-19358-7), p. 110.