According to a recent New York Times article, research has shown that single women prefer attached men by a significant margin over unattached men, a phenomenon referred to as mate poaching. The women who conducted the study gave a couple of possible reasons for this behavior. They believed it was possibly due to the male having been pre-screened or accepted by another female and having shown he could commit. These are not hard conclusions drawn from a part of the study, however.
My theory? Single women may be looking for a man who is a challenge, forbidden fruit. Perhaps they are working from a place of jealousy, wanting to stop a fellow woman from having what the single woman does not have.
It’s all speculation. None of these reasons were tested, only the behavior in a controlled situation. It may not be possible to find a specific motivation; as human beings, we operate from such a complicated and interwoven set of behaviors, influenced by societal, biological, genetic and psychological bases (to name only a few), that it may not be possible to comb through the tangle and separate each strand.
There may be a number of factors affecting such choices and they may have nothing to do with what modern men or women consider reasons to select a mate. We are driven by unseen, subconscious and instinctive factors when it comes to selecting a person of interest. Women in the study may be working from age old patterns left to us from our ancestors.
Then again, perhaps they are working from a very shallow place, where what another has is what is most valuable, a form of envy or keeping up with the Joneses taken into new territory. It could be that there is a part of us that we’re born with and never grow out of, a child-like need to have the toy that our playmate has, one that loses its value the moment the goods change hands.
What the study could teach us is that cheating (from full blown affairs to simply finding another person attractive) may be out of our control and so perhaps shouldn’t be viewed in such a fatalistic manner or subject to puritanical rules. If we have multiple biological urges toward straying, perhaps what is wrong is an unnatural commitment to a single mate for a lifetime.
Maybe we need to have a serious discussion about whether monogamy truly serves our individual or collective needs. It may be time to establish a new set of rules. If what was created before, the old portrait of marriage, came to be accepted, we could learn to accept something new. If the majority disagree, well, it really is up to each couple where they set the boundaries and the rest is no one else’s business.
The original study is published in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (a PDF of the full article is provided by following a link within the NYT story) and makes an interesting read, including similar research previously conducted in the field.
Do Single Women Seek Attached Men?
By John Tierney
August 13, 2009
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