What is the dating world actually like?
January 23, 2013 4:41 PM   Subscribe

I have a friend who insists on a certain way of understanding how men and women couple off. Basically, he sees the situation as rather animalistic, where all the women are essentially waiting to be asked out, and the first men to do so get the "choicest" women. The rest of the women are left for, well, the rest of the men. Obviously, this is pretty traditional/sexist/chauvinistic. Anyway, barring all that, he feels a constant urgency to get to women "before somebody else does," because "the best women will be taken." Of course, I understand asking someone out before someone else does, but his theory is off-putting to me. It seems like human personalities, reasoning, circumstances, geographies, and cultures throw a monkey-wrench into his theory. Things are a lot more complicated in my mind. Do you have an alternative way of seeing the dating world, have a different experience, or are there any studies that you could point me to on this subject?
posted by uncannyslacks to Human Relations (38 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I really wish I could claim that the world isn't like that, and that all the stereotypes are wrong and that we're all unique perfect little snowflakes who just need to be honest with each other and we'll find happiness.

I can't, though I can reccomend Doctor Nerdlove as a sane place to get advice about it.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 4:48 PM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Here is a good starting point.
posted by lambdaphage at 4:51 PM on January 23, 2013

Part of your friend's problem seems to be the asssumption of the "dating word" as a big meat market where the women are all on display waiting for men to ask them out. Most people find their mates other ways than through going to nightclubs and engaging in the ritual as portrayed on television. People meet partners in school, at work, through mutual friends, by doing activities together, etc. And men and women both do the asking and the being asked, the choosing and the being chosen. Most often, a mutual choice is made.

If your friend wants to compare us to animals, remind him that in sexual selection theory it is almost always the males being chosen by the females. That is why male birds, mammals, and fish tend to have bright colors and patterns, while the females do not: the females are choosing the males based on their appearance.

Also, your friend seems to be assuming that there is a single scale upon which all women are measured and that all men desire the same women in the exact same order. That's really not how romantic relationships work. People are attracted to different things in each other.

Finally, some people are gay.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:56 PM on January 23, 2013 [32 favorites]

Even if your friend were 100% right in his model, and all women were just sitting around waiting to be asked out, he'd still be missing one crucial point: women get to choose who they date. We don't just hook up with the first guy who asks.

This will open a whole new can of worms in which your friend may have totally wrong ideas of what women want, but that's a starting point.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:58 PM on January 23, 2013 [33 favorites]

urgency to get to women "before somebody else does," because "the best women will be taken."

This is just nonsensical. There is a literally unending supply of women. New women are entering the dating pool every day, either because they come of age or their current relationship ends.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:04 PM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

[Folks, this is not the devil's advocate thread. Answering the question means helping the OP with what they are trying to do.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:06 PM on January 23, 2013

I don't think there are objectively "the best women". Introversion/extraversion, the desire to live in city/country, wanting 0/2/5 children, liking animals... all of these are more about compatibility than being an objective best. However, I do think that the best partners FOR YOU might be taken if you wait too long.

To me, dating is getting out there and finding the best match for you. This means that you have to (1) know what you want, not just what you think you want, and (2) actually meet many potential partner somehow so you can find a good match.

So, yes, I think if you're single, it is to your advantage to go out and date as much as possible (which does not mean sleeping around, necessarily, but interacting with different personality types). And there is a possibility that a good match for you is already taken by someone else (and I think this is more likely to be true the older you want your partner to be, as people who want to be paired up are more likely to have done so if they've had more time).
posted by ethidda at 5:14 PM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

In my opinion, that script is really harmful to women, as well as men. What is a "choice" woman? Does that mean there's a whole category of "unchoice" women? Whatever delight I can imagine someone having in capturing one of these choice individuals seems to be counteracted by the reality that this is just such a sad and bleak way to look at the world and compartmentalize into these different classes of "choiceness." I find it slightly horrific.

I think the alternative is a humanistic view. The notion that we're all bumbling around getting to know each other's flawed selves, romantically and non-romantically. Which is what I try to espouse when I am not jaded by dating manuals etc. that suggest your friend's view.
posted by mermily at 5:14 PM on January 23, 2013 [8 favorites]

Metroid Baby has part of it down: women get to choose who we date. I'm selective, and I know lots of women who are like me, and we tend to be really wary of those guys who seem really... rehearsed when approaching women.

I've also taken the initiative when I was attracted to someone, like a shy guy who was afraid to take the next step. So there's a contradictory data point to the "waiting to be asked out" bit.

People bring all kinds of personal baggage to relationships, they have all kinds of strengths and weaknesses; appearance is just the initial factor in attraction. They get together and break up all the time, and that only stops when two people who are suited find each other and stay together.

So there are really attractive people who are total narcissists, douchebags, you name it, and they ARE on the market because their personalities make them toxic to long-term relationships. Meanwhile, people your friend might consider homely who make the best partners ever are OFF the market because someone else was smart enough to look past the superficial stuff and grab onto them.

So the idea that you should always go for the most physically attractive available person is, I guess, not entirely without merit, but I doubt it is going to result in better relationships for your friend.

That said, it might result in more potential relationships, because he is getting out there and asking out a large volume of women.
posted by misha at 5:14 PM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

This also presumes a definite and objective 'best' for women that isn't on hand for men (otherwise the 'best' would just choose each other and quickness wouldn't matter). There is no objective best when it comes to relationships. Some people actually want drama! Some people like nerd skills! Some people aren't attracted to ego/confidence!

Individual attraction seems to play no part in his schema - has he considered that at all? Or are women a big interchangeable mass, ranked by some weird internal system that only applies to him?
posted by geek anachronism at 5:16 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, and your friend's method could arguably lead to a "grass is always greener" scenario, where he is never fully satisfied with the woman he's with because he's always checking out the possibility that a 'better' woman might have just come back on the market.
posted by misha at 5:17 PM on January 23, 2013

the first men to do so get the "choicest" women

Why the emphasis on "first"?

I generally date people because I like them, because we have fun together, etc. Not because they asked me first.

I mean, I think your friend's way of seeing things is probably efficient, in that if you don't ask, you don't get, and if you keep putting off asking, you will never get.

But no, women aren't bound to the first person who asks us out. We have opinions and emotions and things that turn us on, just like all other humans.
posted by Sara C. at 5:18 PM on January 23, 2013

This all dosen't change the fact that the most attractive and confident people attract the most mates.

But the OP's friend is not saying the most attractive and confident people attract the most mates. He's saying that the guy who asks women out first will "get the choicest women." That is a completely different (and pretty ridonkulous) belief.

To answer your question, OP, in most situations I have observed where a guy is going around and abruptly asking out large numbers of women (like this one guy I can think of who hangs out in my favorite coffeeshop) the guy is usually less attractive than average. These are not who I think of as the "most successful" guys. The "most successful" guys I know personally who attract lots of girls, are just good looking, personable and fun guys and they have plenty of girls coming to them and falling all over them. Most people fall somewhere in the middle.

And most people, whether they are attractive or "choice" or whatever, aren't going to just go out with the first person who asks them unless they are totally desperate. Sometimes they'll wait until they meet somebody who they like. Sometimes they are not interested in dating anyone at all at that time (they could be busy, or just broke up with someone and not ready for another relationship) so if you ask too soon they will say no when they might have said yes later on. Sometimes the person is actually not as "choice" at first as they would be later on - like if they mature over a few years. Sometimes you THINK someone is "the most choice" when you meet them but you could just be judging people superficially, and if you had taken more time to get to know people you might actually realize someone totally different would be way more choice for you.
posted by cairdeas at 5:19 PM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

See also, in computer science, there is a Stable Marriage Problem. In this case, women wait around for men to ask them, and will always accept a man's proposal (even if she's already engaged!) if he's "better" than her existing prospect. If anything, I would say that's closer to the dating world. AND in this scenario, women get the best choice they can, not the man. (Not sure if the Wiki article addresses that.)

(Also, yes, the computer science field is very misogynist.)
posted by ethidda at 5:22 PM on January 23, 2013

I'll also say that, as a relatively average-ish woman, when I see a dude who I'm attracted to and he seems to be surrounded by fawning women, or if I see him "playing the game" in public a lot, I tend to assume he's either very narcissistic or a sleaze. I don't want a guy who wants A Woman, or a guy whose head is easily turned by any pretty girl. I want a guy who wants me.

(I ducked out of gender neutral language on this one because I have never met a queer woman who plays this game. I'm sure it exists, but I think it's fair to talk mostly about men who behave this way, since it's far more common for guys to take this approach to women.)
posted by Sara C. at 5:26 PM on January 23, 2013 [6 favorites]

all the women are essentially waiting to be asked out

Except for all the women who loathe this particular world-view.
posted by heyjude at 5:31 PM on January 23, 2013 [9 favorites]

The first to the finish line is an interesting take even if the premise is pretty sexist, but hey I'll bite.

If your friend was right then very attractive women would virtually never be single for more than days or a couple weeks at a time. These women would have to pretty much lock themselves away to avoid being immediately snatched up. Also, it ignores the fact that very attractive women in relationships get propositioned all the time, especially in the manner of "give me a call when you drop the bf" and therefore, first "dibs" would have already been called on the woman and she would immediately transfer, almost instantaneously, from one man to another at the conclusion of a relationship.

This is clearly not the case. Of the women I've know that were what one could call borderline model quality looks, I would say their periods of singleness have been roughly similar to everyone else. They do get asked out more, but the "more" generally comes in the form of total strangers accosting them in bars or on the street and using some of the most ridiculous lines you've ever heard. Virtually never does this tactic result in a date, let alone a relationship. And when it has, honestly, the guy was very attractive himself. If anything all the guys trying to get to them "first" are generally an annoyance and impediment to dating because men of this ilk often try to prevent other men from interacting with them or try to call "dibs" so that their other friends can't ask the girl out themselves. I've never seen this tactic actually work out for the guy in question because if she was interested he wouldn't have to call dibs in the first place or "eliminate the competition."

If you're friend is a super concrete thinker I would explain it like this. There is a vacant position for a high paying job. There is an application period. The first application in doesn't just get the job. The employer waits for all of the applications to come in, they are reviewed at the end of the application period, and the best are called in for an interview. Women may not have an infinite amount of time to pick a mate, but they have more than enough time to gather a good number of applications. There is no incentive for women to give priority to the first application in the door. And there is also no set "application period" so women can drag things out for quite some time if they don't like their current pool of applicants.
posted by whoaali at 5:33 PM on January 23, 2013 [32 favorites]

Show him this scene from A Beautiful Mind.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:38 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, and here's something else your friend might not be thinking about, OP. It's not good to hang around someone pretending to be their friend for a long period of time in the hopes that they will go out with you eventually. But SOMETIMES, people get more interested in you once they get to know you better. If you are asking people out ASAP then you're not giving them the chance to judge you on anything but your looks, pretty much, so unless your looks are more of a strength than anything else you have going for you, you're handicapping yourself. I am female and I think I am an attractive person but I also don't think a lot of guys are bowled over by me just by seeing my physical appearance; there are tons of other women around who are more physically attractive than I am. For me, I usually have much more success if I have the chance to have a few good, long conversations with a guy, or play some really physical sports with him. I think there are quite a few guys who have been interested in me after things like that, who would not have been all that interested on first meeting. It may be the case for your friend too.
posted by cairdeas at 5:40 PM on January 23, 2013

Whoaali has it.

I'll say one thing, though. Your friend's chances with the woman of his choice will be greatly improved if he does actually ask her out.
posted by tel3path at 6:15 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Most of my dating experience occurred during college, and there was an interesting demographic component to it that's supportive of your point about circumstances/geography but possibly relevant to your friend's cognitive model.

I have never seen and have trouble imagining a richer dating environment than a large state university in a tiny rural town, experienced from the point of view of a college student. The population density of potential partners--mostly your age, mostly not in long-term/committed relationships, and often having similar backgrounds/aspirations--is just crazy. And you have so many excuses and opportunities to meet them that it makes online dating look extremely awkward and impoverished. I mean, it doesn't feel like it every day, but meeting new people there under friendly, natural circumstances on a weekly basis was incredibly easy. Later on, at a different school, I really felt for my undergrad friends for whom meeting people seemed so much harder, because the demographics at that school went against them so badly.

So, yes, I think circumstances like that can dramatically change your dating opportunities, and your friend's cognitive model would be way off base there, except for one thing--if by chance nothing works out during that window of opportunity, it can get much harder as you move into environments where in your default interactions most of the people around you are attached and you're meeting them under professional circumstances that preclude even talking about this kind of thing very much. I have no experience with dating beyond college, but from an external point of view, it looks relatively difficult to get into situations where you can engage with new people without any awkwardness and have a sense of who they are before you actually go on a date.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 6:16 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're trying to get your friend to question his dating worldview, perhaps you could suggest is that he share it with the women he's hitting on. I'm guessing their reactions will sway him more than any study could.
posted by DingoMutt at 6:51 PM on January 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

Possibly the world of mating systems would be of interest to your friend? These are various non-human models of how and why individuals pick mates. He could start with animals that take many years to sexually mature - individuals may 'practice' with mates before breeding but often they will change mates before breeding (animals for which parental care is important often show this delay so that individuals get experience before they are required to raise offspring). There are various competing models for why animals choose partners and why they would change mates. For example, maybe there is nothing absolutely wrong with a partner but maybe it doesn't work with your patterns - say, night-owl vs. morning lark. The most physically attractive individual (look at that tail!) may not work with you. Or maybe the best looking individual spends all their time fighting and not enough loving you or taking care of your offspring. Those are reasons to break up and don't correspond to who is new and single.

I mean if your friend is going to go 'animalistic' he needs to know a lot more about how animals mate. I don't think there is a single species where 'first male gets the best lady' is the model (maybe one kind of insect who tries to mate wih virgins just hatching but that's a different system if your friend isn't interested in newborns). Plus I'm pretty sure those 'ladies' still mate with a
bunch of dudes, just the first dude fertilizes more eggs.
posted by hydrobatidae at 7:11 PM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Here is how I see it... your friend's theory would only apply in a very specific set of circumstances that I can actually see happening in Real Life (a room full of "choice" women and men lining up outside since the day before doesn't seem realistic to me). Say Woman is single and looking for a relationship. Man1 and Man2 both possess the qualities that Woman is looking for in a partner, and have personalities that click well with hers. Man1 asks Woman out first, and by the time Man2 comes along, Man1 and Woman are already in a happy relationship. Woman is no longer keeping an eye out for potential partners, so Man2 is out of luck. Fair enough, Man1 asked first so he "got" Woman, even though Woman would have been just as happy to pair up with Man2.

But your friend's theory falls to pieces as soon as these circumstances vary. What if Woman was in a happy relationship all along, or happily single and not looking to date? Then neither Man1 nor Man2 would get anywhere with her, no matter who asked first. What if Man1 has a quality that is a total turnoff or even a dealbreaker for Woman? It could be anything from wanting or not wanting children, to being too young or too old, to being a smoker, to having bad hygiene, to being too short or too tall, to having brown or blond or black or red hair, to owning a Hummer, and on and on it goes. Or vice versa, Man2 is repulsive to Woman, so he didn't miss out on anything by not getting there first. Maybe Woman and Man1 were perfect for each other on paper, but have zero chemistry in person, so being the first to ask doesn't give Man1 any advantage. Or maybe Woman meets Man2 quite soon after she started dating Man1, develops stronger feelings for Man2, and breaks it off with Man1 to see where things go with Man2. Or maybe when Man1 is about to make his move on Woman, Woman has already asked Man2 out. Ad nauseum.

The key thing is, women are not mens' possessions. Men don't have "claims" or "dibs" on women. Not even when they are in a relationship! The woman is free to leave whenever she wants (imagine that!), and it's possible for her to do just that if she meets someone who is a better match for her. It's possible for a woman to choose a man to ask out too. I have done both these things. And women are individuals. Your friend seems to view women as all the same, passive beings with identical laundry lists of what they want in a man, who only differ in terms of outward appearance. It's a view that is terribly skewed, and it won't do him any favors in the dating world. Many, many women loathe being hit on by a man whose thought process resembles something like, "Female, check. Good looking, check. Now use douchey line to hook her. Negative response, move on to next female." In your friend's rush to "get there first," he is probably sabotaging his chances with women who would otherwise have given him a shot.
posted by keep it under cover at 7:18 PM on January 23, 2013 [14 favorites]

I'm sure I've read about a study that concluded that women who were generally considered more attractive married later on average than women who were generally considered less attractive.

The reason posited for this was that the attractive women had more options than the less attractive women, so they tended to delay commitment and extend the dating period in order to maximize the quality of the mate that they ultimately decided on. Whereas less attractive women, knowing they may have fewer options, made a choice earlier.

Not saying I agree with this, but it's pretty much the inverse of your friend's theory so it might be interesting for you to talk about with him. Unfortunately I can't seem to find a link for this anywhere - Googling related terms brings up a whole range of different articles about women, marriage and attractiveness.
posted by RubyScarlet at 7:29 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am an attractive woman and I by no means date the first guy to ask me out, even if he's the babin'-est. I date men based on their personalities, attractiveness, and absence of ideologies such as your friend's. In fact, the way your friend seems to be addicted to the idea of snagging the "most desirable" woman leads me to believe he'll end up in a relationship lacking nearly everything I find makes a relationship warm and worthwhile.
posted by stoneandstar at 9:10 PM on January 23, 2013 [9 favorites]

Your friend's model sounds almost completely unlike the real world. It consists of only a single cohort, with a single relationship choice in their life, made exclusively by one gender, and made against a single-dimensional "quality" ranking.

My experience is that "best" is not a remotely well-defined concept, that lots of people don't want to be permanently coupled, that people of all genders don't date from an exclusively active or reactive stance, that lots of people who do couple for a time break off those couplings and thus become single again, that each relationship affects each person (both who they are and what they want), and that the whole thing averages out to a sort of steady state of random comings and goings of many lovely people of all genders.
posted by ead at 12:51 AM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Or, if he insists on the dating word being "animalistic," show him Green Porno.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:08 AM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

The one part of your friend's muddled thinking that may have some merit is that if he does find a 'choice' woman who is mutually interested in a serious relationship with him, it would be both kind and smart of him not to dither around making up his mind and navel gazing his shit and seeing whether someone even more 'choice' comes around.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:56 AM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Treating your love life as a statistical operation is off-putting. Essentially it's the SPAMmer's theory of dating. I'm pretty sure most of the "choicest" people have finely honed Bayesian filters in their heads to avoid falling for the approach.
posted by rocketpup at 7:03 AM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

A slightly less off-putting way of reframing his theory is simply: the most confident, outgoing people are the most likely to ask potential partners out. And, to be fair, this is true.

What he's missing, but what is necessary to complete his theory, is that the most confident, outgoing people are also the most likely to say yes to a potential partner who asks them out, and say no to someone asking them out who doesn't seem to be a potential partner.

So yes, if you consider this from a statistical standpoint, there's a certain amount of validity, but he's treating the askee's role as a static and somewhat desperate one. Which is, of course, offensive. As a tool for motivating yourself past shyness, I can see the usefulness of it -- as Salamandrous says above -- but anything beyond that, and it is a depressing viewpoint at best.
posted by davejay at 7:55 AM on January 24, 2013

Hm. Let me complete my first paragraph, since I left a bit out.

A slightly less off-putting way of reframing his theory is simply: the most confident, outgoing people are the most likely to ask potential partners out, and so are the most likely to attract the attention of other confident, outgoing people (aka the people they're asking out.) And, to be fair, this is true.
posted by davejay at 7:57 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

What he's missing is that the women are actually choosing the men. A guy can be the first to ask out all the women he wants to, but most of them are probably going to say no unless he has a lot to offer (tall, handsome, smart, polite, etc.). That key point strangely seems to be missing from his equation.
posted by Dansaman at 8:27 AM on January 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

It can be easy to fall into a fallacy like your friend's, when you meet fantastic person after fantastic person...and they're all taken. So you start thinking, damn it all, how come I couldn't beat *that* guy to the punch! But it's a fallacy--you didn't beat that guy to the punch because you didn't even know the girl when they met! It's not a factor of choiceness or not choiceness, it's a factor of pure luck and timing.

Which is really pretty much all there is to the dating world. Luck, and timing.

Oh yeah and also women are not required to take all comers in first-come-first-serve fashion. I don't know whether to tell him to put down the Maxim or put down the Jane Austen...
posted by like_a_friend at 8:29 AM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

"the best women will be taken."

I'll focus just on this particular misconception: there is not a single scoreboard on which all women (or men for that matter) can be ranked in order of quality. The best woman for me is not the best woman for your friend.

Obviously you don't have to hurry to make friends with other guys as quickly as possible because otherwise all the good guy friends will be taken: different people make different friends because they have different interests. For some reason it's less obvious that the same thing is true for relationships.
posted by ook at 9:01 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

That's funny. That sounds like what women in my culture are told these days.

I'm Indian. My mom and older sister told me the same thing about Indian guys. If I waited too long to get an arranged marriage, then by the time I decided I wanted to be married, there would only be "leftovers" and divorced men (the latter are considered "complicated").

Is your friend Indian?
posted by discopolo at 11:11 AM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

That's funny. That sounds like what women in my culture are told these days.

I'm an Indian woman (born in America but culturally) too, and have never heard this. Whether the OPs friend is Indian or not it's not helpful to spread this crappy stereotype. If the friend were Indian how does that even change anything?
posted by sweetkid at 12:50 PM on January 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Anyway, barring all that, he feels a constant urgency to get to women "before somebody else does," because "the best women will be taken." Of course, I understand asking someone out before someone else does, but his theory is off-putting to me.

It should be. No one seems to have called it out here, but when a man says things like this it often implies that they see women as degraded by sexual contact with men. It's the skeevy purity/innocence sublimated virgin fetish misogyny thing. Guys like this don't care that the girl may leave the other guy that "got her" (more archaically, "had her") first, because she's somehow less after that and so is the value of sleeping with her.

This is one of my all time most hated strains of Just Us Guys Talk.

Fucking Ick.

(Obviously, this is different than Mom nagging you about grandkids and needling you about not being young and attractive forever, etc. That happens to guys too. Even between guys--especially of divergent ages. But the subtext is totally different.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:29 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

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