Category Archives: Mating

Ignoring Betrayal

Suspicious:  I suspect my long-time business partner of corrupting our venture's bylaws to give him lopsided gains from our joint efforts.  Confronting him might devastate our relation, but I have to know.  What should I do?

Business-Abby:  Give careful thought, please, to what you "have to" know.  Most who fear cheating are mistaken, and even if your bylaws are lopsided that could just be an honest mistake.  Even mentioning your suspicions to anyone might destroy your business, and could you really live with yourself if you destroyed your life's work, and betrayed employees, customers, and suppliers who rely on you?  If you wouldn't act on the info, why get it?  If you must do something, first consult with a lawyer about the consequences of even looking into this possibility. 

This would be odd business advice; I'd suggest first privately asking an accountant if your bylaws are lopsided.  Why get worked up over something you can cheaply check on?  But the above is pretty much what advice-columnist Carolyn Hax tells a man who suspects his wife's two year old daughter is not his:

Give careful thought, please, to what you "have to" know. When just seeking the truth could change your life in dramatic and irreversible ways, it's best to start not by actually doing something but by inviting each possible truth into your imagination as fact. … You need to … assume your wife did cheat … and then you need to decide whether you'd want to stay in the marriage or leave.

If the answer is to stay … then you need to ask yourself, is that outcome better served by not digging into the past? If the answer is to leave, are you ready to challenge your paternity — or have it challenged by your at-that-point-estranged wife? …  You can't entirely rule out the rarer than rare, yet not unprecedented, hospital error. …

If you decide you'd want this child no matter what, then the question becomes, again, why you'd want to risk everything to scratch even a torturous itch.  And finally: What if you started digging, wrecked your marriage and learned your daughter is "yours"? … If you're considering any action at all, have a lawyer vet it legally. Only then can you be confident whether truth-seeking serves your interests — and your family's — or smashes them to bits.

Is there any other common betrayal situation where neutral third parties would so strongly advise not looking to see if you've been betrayed?  I can't think of one.

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Generous Lust

I've been pondering this 2007 JPSP article, summarized by the Economist:

They divided a bunch of volunteers into two groups. Those in one were put into what the researchers hoped would be a “romantic mindset” by being shown pictures of attractive members of the opposite sex. … The unlucky members of the other group were shown pictures of buildings …

The participants were then asked … to imagine they had $5,000 in the bank. They could spend part or all of it on various luxury items such as a new car, a dinner party at a restaurant or a holiday in Europe. They were also asked what fraction of a hypothetical 60 hours of leisure time during the course of a month they would devote to volunteer work. …

In the romantically primed group, the men went wild with the Monopoly money. Conversely, the women volunteered their lives away. … Meanwhile, in the other group there was little inclination either to profligate spending or to good works. Based on this result, it looks as though the sexes do, indeed, have different strategies for showing off. …

Continue reading "Generous Lust" »

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Female Orgasm as Screening

I talk often about "signaling," i.e., acting to show observers one's desirable qualities.  "Screening" is matching actions by observers, who can go out of their way to encourage signaling.  For example, you might insult someone to see how they react to insults.  Similarly, it seems evolution designed orgasms to help human females screen mates:

First suggested by David P. Barash nearly three decades ago, the idea is that orgasm might be a way a woman’s body speaks to her brain, “telling herself” that she has been having sex with a suitable partner—that is, one who is not worried about being displaced by a competitor, who is self-confident and unhurried enough to be satisfying to her.  When Barash was a graduate student more than ten years earlier, he observed that when subordinate male grizzly bears copulate, their heads are constantly swiveling about on the lookout for a dominant male, who, should he encounter a couple in flagrante, will likely dislodge his lesser rival and take its place. Not surprisingly, subordinate males ejaculate very quickly, whereas dominants take their time. …

Research on a large captive group of Japanese macaque monkeys is also suggestive. … During 238 hours of observations in which 240 copulations were observed, female orgasmic responses occurred in 80 (33 percent). Of these orgasms, the highest frequency took place when high-ranking males were copulating with low-ranking females, and the lowest between low-ranking males and high-ranking females.  … Maybe, [female orgasm] is designed to be more than a little hard to get, adaptive precisely because it can’t be too readily summoned, so that when it arrives, it means something. …

Continue reading "Female Orgasm as Screening" »

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Why Love Is Vague

Concepts can vary from specific to abstract, and it makes sense to have more concepts, at varying levels of abstraction, on topics we care more about.  Hence the myth that Eskimos have more words for snow. 

Our relations with each other are very important to us, and they vary in a great many important ways.  Why then do we use the word "love" so often to describe our relations, as in the famous three words "I love you."  Why not instead use a variety of more precise words that convey more detailed meaning?  Why not say "I wistfully-romantically-heart you" or "I hopefully-lustfully-want you" or "I wearily-unwillingly-stick-to you"? 

The answer comes, I think from realizing that if we described our relations in more detail, we would have to acknowledge finer changes in our relations.  Our current "I love you" approach lets us use the same descriptor at all stages in our relation, and at all points in our mood cycles.  We don't have to announce when our relation moves from hopeful lust to wild passion to tender comfort to favorite-old-shirt familiarity.  Such announcements could be quite awkward, especially if our perceptions are not exactly in sync.

I suspect we are also purposely vague with many of the other words we use, but I haven't spend much time trying to think of other examples.  Can readers think of more examples?

Added: Tyler once listed many different reasons to say "I love you."

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I’ll Think of a Reason Later

I just got a lovely gift of a song called "I'll Think of a Reason Later" by Lee Ann Womack.  Maybe some of you already know it.  Here is the chorus:

It may be my family's redneck nature 
Rubbin' off, bringin' out unlady-like behavior 
It sure ain't Christian to judge a stranger 
But I don't like her 
She may be an angel who spends all winter 
Bringin' the homeless blankets and dinner 
A regular Nobel Peace Prize winner 
But I really hate her 
I'll think of a reason later

Tasty.

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Hated Because It Might Work

Imagine someone who wanted their body dumped into an active volcano when they died, in order to really be one with Earth.  Even if this cost tens of thousands of dollars, few people would dump a significant other, or divorce a spouse, for this. Sure it is a bit weird, but hardly a deal-breaker.  Yet people do commonly divorce spouses for wanting their body dumped in liquid nitrogen at a similar expense, to live again.  (Bryan Caplan is aghast.)  What is the difference?  Two possibilities:

  1. Even though skepticism about whether cryonics will work is one of the main arguments against it, in fact people think there's a substantial chance cryonics might actually work.  This triggers an abandonment reaction, like your buying a one-way-ticket to a distant land from which you could never return.  And it creates uncertainty about whether you are actually dead, making it harder for loved ones to have closure after a funeral.  This is the reason my wife gives for intending to prevent my being frozen. 
  2. Saying you want to do something weird for value or symbolic belief reasons is far less threatening than saying you want to do something weird for instrumental reasons.  Common social norms encourage acceptance of weird values and symbolic beliefs, as long as those don't much effect ordinary behavior.  But by saying your weird act is a much better way to achieve important ordinary goals, you are saying the rest of us are making a big mistake. 
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Equal Cheats

As math requires, men and women cheat in equal numbers:

[Researchers] gave 203 young heterosexual couples confidential questionnaires asking them whether they had ever strayed, and whether they suspected or knew their partner had strayed. In this, 29 per cent of men said they had cheated, compared with 18.5 per cent of women.  The men were better than women at judging fidelity. "Eighty per cent of women’s inferences about fidelity or infidelity were correct, but men were even better, accurate 94 per cent of the time" … However, men were also more likely to suspect infidelity when there was none. … Complex statistical analysis of the data hinted that a further 10 per cent of the women in the study had cheated on top of the 18.5 per cent who admitted to it in the questionnaires, whereas the men had been honest about their philandering.

So why are men more honest than women in cheating surveys?

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Porn vs Romance Novels

From an ’04 book chapter by Cathy Salmon on porn vs. romance novels:

There is such a thing as a pornography consumed exclusively by women .. it is the romance novel.  Romance novels account for 40% of mass market paperback sales in the United States …. The realm of the romance novel, which might be called "romantopia," is a utopian erotic female counterfantasy to pornotopia.   Just as porn actresses exhibit a suspiciously male-like sexuality, romances are exercises in the imaginative transformation of masculinity to conform with female standards.  …

The public debate over pornography has been going on for years …. [and] had has covered everything from the treatment of women within the industry, to the image of women it presents and the impact of that image on men in the general population as well as the effects on women in the general population. … [Studies show] men who viewed sexually explicit films did not have negative attitudes toward women’s rights, nor were they more accepting of marital or date rape.  … [Regarding] the incidence of rape in several societies … increased availability was not associated with increased reports of rape. …

On a personal level, women often express concern over a partner’s regular purchasing of Playboy or watching pornographic videos.  In particular there is a verbalized concern that these things will effect their relationships.  … [And in fact] males that viewed images of attractive models reported being less committee to their partner after the viewing.  … Playboy centerfolds … got the same results.  … Modern media .. perhaps giving men an unrealistic view of how many attractive available women are out there.

If women complain porn hurts relationships by giving men unrealistic expectations, why don’t men complain romance novels hurt relationships by giving women unrealistic expectations?  Why so much more effort to regulate porn than romance novels?  Is it just that men complain less overall?  HT to Fortune Elkins.

Added 2Nov: Robert Wiblin found this Atlantic quote:

in a 2006 study, the Clemson economist Todd Kendall found that a 10 percent increase in Internet access is associated with a 7 percent decline in reported rapes.

 

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Equally Shallow Genders

Women think they are different but they are not.  When people about to start speed-dating are asked what they want in a partner, men rate physical attractiveness as far more important than earning prospects, while women rated attractiveness as only a bit more important than earnings.  In actual speed-dating choices, however, men and women both rely on looks much more than earnings:

Speeddating

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No Rose-Colored Dating Glasses

We might see ourselves with rose-colored glasses, but apparently we see our dates clearly:

When less attractive people accept less attractive dates, do they persuade themselves that the people they choose to date are more physically attractive than others perceive them to be?  Our analysis of data from the popular Web site http://HOTorNOT.com suggests that this is not the case: Less attractive people do not delude themselves into thinking that their dates are more physically attractive than others perceive them to be.

Added: Anna points us to a study showing distorted sight:

Intimates in satisfying marriages perceive more virtue in their partners than their friends or their partners themselves perceive. … In contrast, intimates in less satisfying marriages perceive less virtue in their partners than their friends or their partners themselves perceive.

So perhaps we see accurately on average, but some are biased up while others are biased down.  And perhaps we see more clearly while dating than after we’ve been married for a while. 

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