Why Men Should Move Slowly into Relationships

by Eric Disco
Aug 21

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The reluctant groom may be more than just a macho stereotype; it may be an in-built evolutionary mechanism that reflects the differences between male and female mating strategies.

In How to Get Her to be Your Girlfriend, I talk about why it’s advantageous for a man to not be so straightforward with a woman about his intention to make her his girlfriend.

If the ‘relationship’ is moving along at a brisk pace, it’s in his interest to get her to ask him to be exclusive rather than the other way around.

This advice does not necessarily pertain equally to men and women. It’s not just advice to try and gain the upper hand in the relationship.

This may be evolutionary by design.

At Overcoming Bias, Robin Hanson explains brilliantly Why Men are Bad at Feelings.

From an evolutionary perspective, when ‘deciding’ to have sex (as in an evolutionary impulse, not a logical decision), women have very different investment considerations than men.

Firstly, women invest nine months physically during pregnancy, and then usually carry the brunt of the child-rearing after birth.

Since cooperation between men and women in child-rearing was evolutionarily advantageous, pair-bonding developed and men would provide support for the upbringing of children. To facilitate this, evolution created feelings of attachment.

Hanson writes:

Such bonds can break, however. And because they are asymmetric, their betrayal is also asymmetric.

Women betray bonds more by temporarily having fertile sex with other men, while men betray bonds more by directing resources more permanently to other women.

So when farmer husbands and wives watch for signs of betrayal, they watch for different things. Husbands watch wives more for signs of a temporary inclination toward short-term mating with other men, while wives watch husbands more for signs of an inclination to shift toward a long-term resource-giving bond with other women. (Of course they both watch for both sorts of inclinations; the issue is emphasis.)

This asymmetric watching for signs of betrayal produces asymmetric pressures on appearances. While a man can be more straight-forward and honest with himself and others about his inclinations toward short-term sex, he should be more careful with the signs he shows about his inclinations toward long term attachments with women.

Similarly, while a woman can be more straight-forward and honest with herself and others about her inclinations toward long-term attachments with men, she should be more careful with the signs she shows about her inclinations toward short term sex with men.

We can see why men are more opaque with their feelings and women are more opaque with their sexual inclinations.

But here’s the rub: not only are they opaque to others, but their feelings are opaque toward themselves.

For evolution to work flawlessly and in its own best interest, those signals are not only hidden from the opposite sex, those inclinations are hidden from ourselves.

Men and women may have evolved, either genetically or culturally, to adapt to these pressures on their appearances. If so, then we should expect men to be more self-aware, transparent, and simple regarding their feelings about short-term sexual attractions, while women have more complex, layered, and opaque feelings on this subject.

In contrast, women should be more self-aware, transparent, and simple regarding their feelings about long-term pair-bonding, while men have more complex, layered, and opaque feelings on this subject. By being more opaque on sensitive subjects, we can keep ourselves from giving off clear signals of an inclination to betray.

Standard crude stereotypes of gender differences roughly fit these predictions! That is, when the subject is one’s immediate lust and sexual attraction to others, by reputation men are more straight-forward and transparent, while women are more complex and opaque, even to themselves. But when the subject is one’s inclination toward and feelings about long-term attachments, by reputation women are more self-aware and men are more complex and opaque, even to themselves.

So let’s sum up. Why don’t men express their “feelings”? (At least about “love” — they easily express “feelings” about sex.) And why don’t women know when they are “horny”? Perhaps because such knowledge is dangerous — if you know it, then others may learn what you know from you. Which might destroy your marriage. So our feelings may be most opaque to us when we need them to be opaque to others.

While gushing, over-emotional displays can certainly be unattractive in both genders, we can see in long-term relationship building, that a guy being overly emotional at the beginning is more likely to be a problem than a girl being overly emotional.

In other words, things like gift-giving and sentimentality are more risky for men at the beginning of a relationship. And in fact explicitly pushing for a relationship and asking for one is much riskier for a guy.

Likewise, pushing for sex at the beginning of a relationship is much riskier for a girl. Rather than sex on the first date, giving in to sex after a few dates makes it much more likely he’ll want a relationship.

A slower, giving-in to the relationship is more beneficial for the guy, just like like a slower sexual surrender is more beneficial to the girl.

Also see, Why You Should Start All Relationships as Casual for a first-hand, woman’s perspective of what happens when a guy moves too fast into relationship territory.

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posted in Relationships, Sex and Escalation

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