Many individuals tend to think of dating and relationships as an “anything goes,” dog-eat-dog enterprise. Yet you may be surprised to learn that human mating remains much more complex and much more science-based than you could ever imagine. When it comes to human mating, then, the psychological and sociological research appears to suggest that a myriad of strategies exist for both men and women.
In “The Evolution of Desire,” a book by psychologist David M. Buss, human mating is broken down into its fundamental parts. Buss covers topics such as “attracting a partner,” “breaking up,” and “what women want.” Moreover, according to Buss, evolution and natural selection have played a major role in shaping the psychology of humans, especially regarding human mating and relationships. Buss writes: “Darwin’s theory of sexual selection begins to explain mating behavior by identifying two key processes by which evolutionary change can occur: preferences for a mate and competition for a mate.”
Indeed, this line of thinking pushes us in a new direction, a direction that is well understood by psychologists and other social and behavioral scientists yet is poorly understood by the general public.
When Darwin’s Sexual Selection Theory was put forth, it initially met some resistance. In part, as pointed out by Buss, because male biologists hesitated to acknowledge that women had as much influence as they did in the process of choosing a mate. Sexual Selection, however, gained ground over the past century, and it is now widely accepted.
When a mate is chosen, it is never chosen “at random,” as Buss argues. Rather, who we choose and how we go about gaining that person’s favor remains part of a much deeper process of our mating strategy. “Our mating is strategic, and our strategies are designed to solve particular problems for successful mating,” Buss writes.
So, in sum, the process of selecting a mate remains as important as the physical traits and personal qualities that individuals often prize.
Much time has been devoted to this topic in popular culture and in social science for a long time. To begin, it is worth noting that women have a much greater investment in pregnancy than men do. This fact alone creates some interesting behaviors. First, women tend to prefer men who have greater “economic capacity” and dependability and stability. What’s more, ambition and industriousness in men are often prized attributes by women.
Although an entire volume can be devoted to “What Women Want” or “What Men Want” topic, the generalities noted above remain largely true and consistent across different cultures.
“Youth is a crucial cue, since women’s reproductive value declines steadily with increasing age after twenty,” Buss writes. To elaborate, men often put a larger emphasis on youth and physical attractiveness than women do. Whereas in survey after survey, women tend to prize economic stability and industriousness, men tend to favor youth and physical attractiveness. Moreover, “[m]en seek attractive women as mates not simply for their reproductive value but also as signals of status to same-sex competitors and to other potential mates.”
Generally speaking, although human mating strategies remain an intricate subject, there are nevertheless important broad takeaways one can discern from the research to date. As noted above, some of these include: how men and women chose a mate, the physical attributes and personal qualities men and women prefer, and how evolution and natural selection play a role in human behavior.
What is also important is that, if we become aware of these innate, underlying evolutionary drives, perhaps then we can learn something from them: Perhaps human mating does not have to seem so cloudy and ambiguous. Most interestingly, too, remains the idea that behind our preferences and desires—things that seem individually and personally constructed—are, in some ways, part of our evolutionary past.
Buss, D. (1994). The evolution of desire: Strategies of human mating. New York: BasicBooks