"He’s a great guy, but I’m worried about the sex appeal factor. It seems like there should be more sparks between us." A friend said this about a man her age, whom she had finally met after speaking with him for many hours on the phone. Their phone conversations were long, candid, and filled with laughter…but in person he was a bit shy, and waited for her to take the lead. Something seemed amiss.
"I’m used to dating older men, whose physical touch is confident," she lamented. Those men, who skillfully swept her off her feet with Hollywood passion, also tended to dance on to the next partner with equal dexterity. The last one, after a brief affair, had left my friend with the classic line: "You’re just too good for me; we have to end this."
Now she was wondering if she should trust her gut, which said, "only go for men with whom the sparks are flying?" Or put up with the unfamiliar chemistry between her and this gracious, generous man, and see if he would relax into a confident mate?
In thinking about her dilemma, I flashed on a major "aha." The flip side of men wanting women who are twenty, or look like they're twenty (very fertile), is women picking men because they're talented seducers. Why? They are promising vehicles for passing genes into future generations.1
At first this isn’t obvious. Logically one would think that men who are drawn to monogamy would be the best insurance for seeing one’s female genes safely into the future. But the subconscious program I’m referring to no doubt evolved during the millions of years that our ancestors lived in tribes. Children weren’t dependent upon insular couples; they were literally raised by a village.
Monogamy was expendable as a survival factor, so other genetic imperatives took precedence. Females unconsciously chose qualities that would make their male offspring more dominant. This tendency is common to many species. Peahens pick the peacock with the biggest tail display - even though his fancy tail makes him easy prey. Cow seals pick the bull with the most blubber, even though he’s not too mobile on land. And a woman picks a guy who can easily seduce her (and everyone else) even though he won’t stick around. All can expect that their male offspring will inherit the same tail, blubber, or magnetism…and be more attractive to the females of the next generation. In this way, these discriminating females’ genes will live on, even though their love lives will likely be brief, or even emotionally excruciating.
So it is that women often find themselves with the self-destructive urge to surrender sexually to males who easily attract lots of females. Not because they make better mates. They don't. Not because their offspring will make better mates. They absolutely won’t. But because seductive males will improve the women’s genetic success in the next generation. In this way, women perpetuate the "Don Juan" curse. Without realizing it at all, these women value themselves more as gene machines than as individuals with other contributions to make to the world.
Men, too, serve as gene machines above all else when they know they "have to have a younger woman because they just aren’t attracted to women their age, and they can't help it."
As the saying goes, like attracts like. So if you're subconsciously choosing your mates to win The Great Gene Competition, you will attract lovers who are, too. On the other hand, if you want a man who sees you for more than your body, you will have to see him for more than his skills as a Don Juan.
All this is a long way of saying that many of us are blind when it comes to mate choice as long as we trust our guts. No matter how good our gut reactions may be in other areas of our lives, they may well be set on "maximum genes" in our sex lives.
What to do?
Become aware of this programming, and realize that your gut doesn’t have your best interests at heart if your goal is deeper union or lasting companionship.
Do a lot of inner listening, meditating, or praying about mate selection instead of relying on first impressions of chemistry. If quiet listening isn’t an option, listen to friends’ advice. Often they can see what you can’t.
Realize that a lack of chemistry can be overcome with a bit of patience and a new approach to intimacy. Move your focus to putting your partner at ease. Create ways for you to touch each other that are not foreplay: dancing, hand massages, foot massages, etc. When you put your attention on another’s wellbeing, you increase your ability to bond with him (or her). You also bring out the best in your partner.
If you have ever improved your diet, you know that, with time, your taste actually changes to reflect the shift. You start to prefer healthier food. Changing your approach to courtship from "getting" what your genetic programming wants to "giving" what will put your partner at ease, may well change your taste, too.
The seduction game grows less appealing. You may find yourself genuinely turned on by generosity, thoughtfulness, humor, companionship, etc. The hot passion of surrendering to become another member of an alpha male's harem is no longer as inviting.
Finally, recognize that if you want to accomplish your life’s work with contentment and inner balance, you probably don't have time and energy for impulsive gene shopping with its brief, dramatic highs and heartache, and its discouragement and inherent fear of aging (because your mate will predictably be seeking younger, more fertile women as you grow older). You will have to choose consciously, rather than unconsciously, if you want a mate who can help you make a difference in the world.
Many people today insist that any of us can have whatever we want by "getting clear about it" and "focusing our intention." But when we want a mate who will ultimately sadden us and hamper our purpose on the planet, what then? This is the hidden danger of gut dominance in decision-making on mate selection.
Back to my tale. What did my friend choose? She's visiting him again right now. I'll let you know soon.
- 1. For a more recent article on the evolutionary influences on mate choice, see "Adultery yields benefits to females as well as males"
Also see this 2007 research confirming that dominant males' pheromones stimulate females' brains differently than subordinate males' pheromones.