The Evolutionary Psychologist’s Guide to Picking Up GirlsF. Roger Devlin
Tucker Max and Geoffrey Miller
Mate: Become the Man Women Want
New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2015
Time was when a young man did not need to master evolutionary psychology in order to find himself a girl. The adult world provided the young with ready-made social rituals for meeting, assessing one another’s prospects as a mate, and (eventually) entering into a lifelong covenant to bear and raise a new generation. For most people, it wasn’t all that exciting; but since they never expected it to be, they were not overly disappointed. Social pressures and low expectations were such that even the homely usually married one another rather than remain alone.
Prosperity raises expectations. World War II was followed in the West by the greatest and most broadly spread prosperity in the history of the world. Not only the idle rich, as in former ages, but even the man (and woman) on the street began to see marriage and childrearing as an obstacle to personal sexual fulfillment. Unprepared and atomized young people bought into the fantasies of Playboy and Cosmo; what they ended up getting was a cruel Darwinian competition that usually culminated in sterility, abandonment, and dying alone.
It is surprising, in retrospect, how much time passed before anyone stepped up to provide guidance to young men trying to cope with the new situation. Commentators of the older generation, innocent of biology, still think the abolition of monogamy puts a harem at the disposal of every young man; their rescue fantasies adorn paleoconservative journals to this day.
But a social need will eventually produce entrepreneurs claiming to satisfy it. First to market was a schmuck named Eric Weber, who walked around Manhattan with a portable tape recorder (c. 1970) asking pretty girls what they looked for in a man. He published the results in a worthless booklet called How to Pick Up Girls, took out teensy ads for it in Playboy, and watched the money roll in. Many imitators followed, but it was a long wait for books that benefited their readers as much as their authors.
Today, the field is highly competitive. Too much advice is focused on short-term “scoring,” but such is the nature of the target audience, and many of the points taught are equally valuable to men with a longer-range perspective.
The book under review is a valuable addition to the genre, the product of an unusual partnership between evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller and bestselling author Tucker Max. Miller is Professor of Psychology at the University of New Mexico and author of The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature (reviewed here). That book is an attempt to revive Darwin’s theory of sexual selection from The Descent of Man, as opposed to his better-known theory of natural selection familiar from The Origin of Species. The textbook example of sexual selection is the peacock’s tail: it is cumbersome, consumes a great deal of energy, and leaves the peacock more vulnerable to predators—but it endures because peahens like it. After Darwin, unfortunately, many biologists were reluctant to go very far beyond peacock’s tails in applying the theory of sexual selection. Miller’s thesis in The Mating Mind is that sexual selection can be used to explain all kinds of surprising phenomena formerly left unexplained or imperfectly explained in terms of natural selection alone. Miller is also the author of Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior, a book applying the insights of evolutionary psychology to the field of marketing (reviewed here).
Self-described “asshole” Tucker Max spent the flower of his youth getting drunk, getting in trouble, and having one-night stands. What makes him unusual is that he wrote a book about it: I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell (2006). It became a bestseller and Bible of the college party set, inspiring a whole new literary genre known as fratire. Four sequels have appeared. He was unsuccessfully sued by a former Miss Vermont after their one-night stand became the subject of a humorous story in one of his books. One of Mr. Max’s stated ambitions is to have an abortion clinic named in his honor.
The central message of Mate can be summarized as “back to the stone age.” That roughly 95% of human history—between the appearance of the first hominids two or three million years ago and the development of metallurgy a few thousand years ago—is man’s environment of evolutionary adaptation. Women are programmed to mate not with men who possess traits that can rationally be seen as advantageous under modern conditions, but with men who possess traits beneficial to their Paleolithic female ancestors.
The authors explain, for instance, how to interpret women’s stated desire for a “strong but sensitive” man from this evolutionary perspective. In the civilized West, sensible men who avoid taking their dates into “vibrant” ethnic neighborhoods will not usually be forced to defend them physically. But civilization is still too new and fragile for women’s limbic systems to have gotten the message: they go right on wanting men who know how to land a spear in a saber-toothed tiger.
They also, of course, prefer that a man be kind and considerate. But they do not care equally about these two qualities:
In any relationship with a woman, you’ll probably be in tender mode 95 percent of the time and defender mode only 5 percent of the time. [But] how you act in those 5 percent of defender cases will determine a larger percentage of her attraction to you than the quieter 95 percent of tender moments.
The reason “assholes finish first” (to quote the title of one of Tucker Max’s books) is that the Paleolithic human female needed to worry more about saber-toothed tigers and marauding enemy tribesmen than about romance. Her female descendents today will still choose a capable man who treats her condescendingly or neglectfully over a nice guy who does not know how to be assertive.
Among the most valuable chapters in Mate is entitled “Understand What It’s Like to Be a Woman.” Ordinary human self-centeredness means that men tend to assume women’s experiences of men mirror their experiences with women, and feminist ideology has served to reinforce this lazy assumption. As the authors point out, so many men are oblivious to the woman’s point of view that anyone who learns to understand it is at an enormous advantage. For example, a woman’s attractedness to defender traits is also at the root of the peculiar dialectic between fear and arousal at the heart of female sexuality: the man who can best defend her could also kill her with his bare hands. Or again, women’s cynicism about men approaching her is fueled by the unrepresentative sample of guys who have hit on her:
Think about women’s experience with guys like a city cop’s experience with people in general. Cops spend 90 percent of their time dealing with the scummiest 5 percent of humanity. The ones who’ve been around awhile often develop a cynical view of humans. It’s not that humans are all bad. It’s that cops see only the worst. Likewise, women spend a big proportion of their time avoiding the small percentage of guys who are the most intrusive, obnoxious, or insane. Psychopaths are sexually predatory, uninhibited and confident, so although they’re only 4 percent of the American male population, they might account for 40 percent of the men who have hit on any given woman.
Another message of Mate concerns signaling: even if you’ve got it, you must know how to flaunt it. Intelligence is among the traits most highly valued by human females, yet everyone knows about socially inept computer nerds who bomb with women. This is because they do not signal their intelligence in a way women can pick up on. Directly telling women about your intelligence or other desirable traits is another common mistake; instead of signaling intelligence, the braggart signals insecurity.
Women have also evolved to become masters at seeing through male fakery. In most cases, the only way a man can signal a positive trait effectively is to acquire that trait. Mate ends up being a kind of general self-improvement book that uses mating success as the bait. There are chapters on nutrition, physical fitness, improving social skills, building self-confidence, and finding the right places to meet the sort of women you are looking for. Most of the advice offered can improve a man’s life in ways unrelated to mating.
I heartily recommend this book.