Mating Idealism

Who is the most idealistic about mating?  It seems to me it is children, post-menopausal women, and young male “nerds”, i.e., with especially weak current mating prospects. These folks talk as if they hold themselves and others to the highest standards of ideal love, while happening to speak when they have an especially low chance of fertile sex.

Coincidence?  I think not. Remember, sex is near; love is far.  In Far Thoughts Fit Ideals, I said:

We tend more to say we will act in accord with our verbally expressed and proudly embraced abstract ideals, e.g., individualism, collectivism, universalism, environmentalism, when we are put into the mental mode that was designed more for talking relative to doing – the far mode.  In contrast, when we are in our usual near mode … we tend to ignore those abstract ideals, … practically achieving our usual ends.
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  • nazgulnarsil

    people get mad when you try to talk about one in terms of the other. they can’t quite put their finger on it, but they know you’re a total nerd who just doesn’t “get it”.

  • Roko

    I just noticed that this post is tagged “cynics”. Perhaps the tag is somewhat redundant on OB nowadays?

  • Psychohistorian

    What evidence do you have for post-menopausal women talking in such terms? Not a stereotype I’m familiar with, and possibly one explained by generational differences or relevant audiences.

    As far as kids (who haven’t had sex) and nerds (who also probably haven’t had sex) and a group you missed, “abstinence-pledge” or other “saving-it-until-marriage” types (who, yet again, have not actually had sex), they all have one very conspicuous factor in common (hint: they haven’t had sex). That factor seems like it might be rather more important than the near-far view.

    Consider people in sexless marriages. Wouldn’t sex be far for them? Do you think they’d be particularly idealistic about it?

    • matt

      Consider people in sexless marriages. Wouldn’t sex be far for them? Do you think they’d be particularly idealistic about it?

      No, sex is a “near” issue in this case. No sex is the couples near mode way of dealing with sex.

  • michael vassar

    Seconded Psychohistorian. Stated better than how I was about to say it.

    • Cyan


  • tom

    I agree with Psycho historian too. This post is about people old enough to be having ‘fertile’ sex who aren’t having it. Robin focuses on nerds, but they are only a subcategory of this group. You could make the same case for people who are socially/religiously prevented from having sex for reasons other than unattractiveness. It is best described as those who haven’t had ‘fertile’ sex yet but really want to.

    And I agree that it is weird to think of post-menopausal women as being idealistic about mating. What does that even mean? The best I could come up with was the stereotype of an old lady matchmaker. But she is finding mates for others, not herself. There are no stereotypes of idealistic older widows or divorcees, and I don’t even think there are stereotypes of idealistic spinsters who passed their entire lives without mating but have a highly idealized conception of the process.

    Finally, I’m not even sure that nerds today have a highly idealized view of mating. It depends on what you mean by idealized and what you mean by mating, but nerds have access to so much pornography now that they probably have a pretty good idea that the act of mating is not necessarily super romantic.

    Maybe Robin needed three categories to make it a bigger subject.

  • Eric Falkenstein

    Robin: ever notice that all your new, true, and important insights are depressing? Perhaps you should bias your observations to be happier, or do you prefer being right rather than happy?

  • nathan

    Maybe some of what people above have argued is true, but abstinence pledges are having plenty of sex, they just say that they aren’t going to.

  • “These folks talk as if they hold themselves and others to the highest standards of ideal love, while happening to speak when they have an especially low chance of fertile sex”

    What’s fertile sex? Impregnating someone? Then surely unfertile sex must be jacking off or using contraception?

  • Violet

    Why post-menopausal women?

    What is fertile sex? Does contraception count, hysterectomy, or gay sex?

  • Detecting Pandering

    Men enjoying delayed adolescence /male menopause whose knowledge of/time with actual women is filtered thru sexual desperation/nostalgia may not stop to ask the empirical basis for your generalization about “postmenopausal women.”
    Having known many raunchy, cynical, bitter, sex-obsessed 30-95 year old women(as you may know, hysterectomy at any age causes immediate menopause) professionally & personally, I would appreciate links to reproduced non-preliminary research on this topic.
    Since so much psychology research seems to be done on college undergraduates & then extrapolated to apply to all humans, I am thrilled to hear that attitudes toward romance in postmenioausal women have been studied.! Thanks for the info!

  • michael vassar

    How about artists? It seems to me that verbal/musical artists tend to have idealistic theoretical attitudes towards sex but have lots of sex regardless while visuali artists don’t have such idealistic attitudes. Obviously, this is just an “it seems to me” but those seem like fair game here.

  • Folks I’m talking tendencies; must I always explicitly disclaim that?

  • Eric Falkenstein

    The New York Times often has 6 paragraph stories about some pattern, and uses 1 to explain that the generalization does not hold for every case, and some cases are even contrary to the pattern. If I were an editor there I would find such repetition grating, but they obviously feel it’s necessary.

  • Detecting Pandering

    “Tendencies” = anecdotal evidence in your personal experence, or peer group? “Tendencies” = speculation based on ______? Tendencies = 1 or 2 small studies done how long ago with what range of nationalties/cultures?

  • Detecting Pandering

    Sorry for compressing a word & possibly my intent above.:) By ” tendencies” do you mean studies you could direct us to done how long ago with what range of nationalities/cultures?

  • Patricia

    It seems more intuitive to me that post-menopausal women would be telling their teenage granddaughters ‘boys are only after one thing’ and ‘marry one with better financial prospects’ rather than ‘one day your prince will come, and after a whirlwind romance where you bond over danger and overcome (possibly magical) enemies, you’ll ride off into the sunset together on the back of a unicorn’.

  • natha, abstinence pledgers are in fact more likely to be abstinent. There was a study that was reported as saying otherwise, but that was a misreading.

    Robin, your response was very weak. People were not claiming to refute your theory with anecdotal examples, they were disputing whether such tendencies actually exist (particularly for post-menopausal women) and what is the best explanation.

  • I suppose this belongs in open-thread, but I didn’t see it in the recent posts bar and this one at least mentions age. The more we age (study is from 70 to 90), the more different from our cohorts we become. Hat tip to Razib.

  • A counter-example: more intelligent people are more likely to approve of pre-marital sex, but less likely to have it. I’m a counter-example to that, perhaps related to a highly religious formative period (Robin himself once belonged to a “cult“, and might generalize from that experience or milieu) whereas intelligent people tend to be irreligious and may have been so from an earlier age.