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The Evolution of Desire Book Summary – David M. Buss

What you will learn from reading The Evolution of Desire:

– The general sexual strategies and preferences of male and females.

– The mate poaching strategies that people use to steal peoples partners.

– The role jealousy and attention play in relationships and how they are used in relationships.

The Evolution of Desire Book Summary:

Following on from our last book summary Red Queen which explores a very similar topic using evolutionary logic to explain the importance of sex and sex differences in human evolution.

This book – The Evolution of Desire by David Buss explores more explicitly the exact strategies and preferences human males and females use in the mating market to attract and maintain partners. It’s quite frankly a must read to understand the world we inhabit better, and the underlying dynamics involved in creating and maintaining a lasting relationship.


Evolution’s ruthlessness:

Evolution operates by the ruthless criterion of reproductive success, no matter how repugnant we may find the strategies produced by that process, and no matter how abhorrent the consequences of those strategies may be.


Finding a mate isn’t the end of the problem:

Keeping a mate is another equally important adaptive problem; mates may continue to be desirable to rivals, who may poach, thereby undoing all the effort devoted to attracting, courting, and committing to the mate.

Furthermore, one mate may break up a relationship because of the failure of the other to fulfill key needs and wants, or simply because someone fresher, more compelling, or more beautiful arrives. Mates, once gained, must be retained.


Womens’ general mating strategies and preferences:

To paraphrase the evolutionary anthropologist Sarah Hrdy, “Men are one long breeding experiment run by women.”

Women shun men who are easily dominated by other men or who fail to command the respect of the group.

Preferences that women express in the similar contexts—desiring immediate resources from brief affairs and reliable future resources from enduring mates.

Perhaps only a woman who is high in mate value herself feels that she can control the wandering eye of an attractive, masculine man by reminding him that he risks losing her.

Women benefit from having other men as potential backup mates.

Women tend to have affairs when they are unhappy with their primary relationship, whereas men who have affairs are no less happy with their marriages than men who refrain.

Ovulating women, for example, experience a higher sex drive, may feel sexier and more desirable, and so feel that they can successfully attract men of higher mate value.

Women get extremely upset by male infidelity because it signals that the man is diverting resources to other women and might even defect from their relationship.


Mens general mating preferences:

Men abhor promiscuity and infidelity in their wives. Unfaithfulness proves to be more upsetting to men than any other pain a spouse can inflict on her mate. Women also become extremely upset over an unfaithful mate, but several other factors, such as sexual aggressiveness, exceed infidelity in the grief they cause women.

The psychological clues that reveal men’s strategies for casual sex are numerous: sexual fantasies, the Coolidge effect, lust, sex drive, inclination to seek intercourse rapidly, relaxation of standards, attitudes toward hookups, emotions of sexual regret, the closing time effect, post-orgasm shifts in judgments of women’s attractiveness, homosexual proclivities, and willingness to use prostitution as a sexual outlet.

Kinsey sums it up best: “There seems to be no question but that the human male would be promiscuous in his choice of sexual partners throughout the whole of his life if there were no social restrictions. . . . The human female is much less interested in a variety of partners.”

Many believe that men desire women who are runway-model thin; most men do not.

In human prestige criteria, dating someone who is physically attractive greatly increases a man’s status, whereas it increases a woman’s status only somewhat.

There are deeper personal qualities that are also critical to men’s desires, such as intelligence, personality, social skills, and compassion.

Given the importance that men attach to looks and sexual exclusivity in a potential mate, they are especially sensitive to deception about a woman’s age and sexual history.


The Mating Market and the Current Technology:

The ability to scroll through thousands of potential mates on Internet dating sites and apps such as Tinder, Match.com, and OKCupid may trick our psychology of mating into thinking that there is always someone better out there if only we can swipe or click through enough options.

Reported “swiping right” on dozens or even hundreds of female profiles in the hope that a few would reciprocate. Women were considerably more selective, picking just one or a few for potential matches. Male lust, seemingly insatiable, drives men’s search for sexual variety in the modern world of Internet mating.

But we confront these modern novelties with an ancient set of mating strategies that worked in ancestral times and in places that are irretrievably lost. Our mating mechanisms are the living fossils that reveal who we are and where we came from.


Beauty Standards:

Many people hold an idealistic view that standards of beauty are arbitrary, that beauty is only skin-deep, that cultures differ dramatically in the importance they place on appearance, and that Western standards stem from the media, parents, the culture, or other agents of socialisation. But standards of attractiveness are not arbitrary—they reflect cues to youth and health, and hence to reproductive value.


Mate Poaching Strategies:

Mate poaching has probably been successful often enough to have evolved as a distinct sexual strategy.

Additional benefits unique to the context of mate poaching. One is gaining revenge against a rival by stealing the rival’s mate. Vengeance could only have evolved as a motive, of course, if it served an adaptive function, such as inflicting a cost on a rival that lowered the rival’s relative reproductive success or deterring other potential rivals from inflicting costs. Another benefit is securing access to a pre-approved mate, one who has already established credibility by passing another’s screening criteria.

One way to drive a wedge is to boost the target’s self-esteem, conveying messages that enhance their self-perceptions of their own desirability. At the same time, the poacher might communicate that the target is not appreciated by the regular partner: “He doesn’t treat you well,” or “You deserve better,”

Once in close proximity, mate poachers encourage rifts in the couple’s relationship: “I don’t think your partner appreciates you”; “You are too good for him”; “I think you deserve someone better, someone who treats you like the princess you are . . . someone like me!”


Fending off rivals:

Men and women do not merely enhance their own attractiveness; they also derogate their rivals.

Saying that a rival cannot stay loyal to one man was judged to be the single most effective derogation tactic for a woman to use in the marriage market.

Women also call their sexual competitors prudish, priggish, or puritanical. Questioning the sexual accessibility of rivals is an effective female strategy, because unavailable women are costly for men who seek casual sex—they risk channeling time and resources toward dubious prospects.


Male Sexual Strategies:

Men are especially susceptible to the sexual over perception bias when interacting with physically attractive women—an ironic finding since attractive women are generally very choosy.

Men’s sexual over perception bias evolved to motivate approach.


Female Sexual Strategies:

Successful women convey being discriminating without turning off the particular man they desire. The effectiveness of playing hard to get as a long-term attraction technique stems from providing men with two key reproductive assets: desirability on the mating market and a signal that he alone will have sexual access.

Women, in short, sometimes exploit men’s sexual over perception bias for their own ends.

Another function of sexual withholding is to manipulate a man’s perception of a woman’s value as a mate. Because highly desirable women are less sexually accessible to the average man by definition, a woman may influence a man’s perception of her desirability by withholding sexual access.

Women may try to avoid seeming helpless as woman’s apparent helplessness may signal ease of sexual exploitation—sex without the cost of commitment.

Women impose costs on men as a tactic for eliciting commitment. A moody woman may be saying: “You had better increase your commitment to me, or else I will burdon you with my emotional volatility.” It is one tactic in women’s repertoire for eliciting male commitment. Women need not be aware that they are attempting to test the strength of the man’s commitment. Men need not be aware that they are trying to minimize their commitment to preserve some for efforts outside the couple.

Women described their tactics for breaking up variously as refusing to have physical contact with their mate, becoming cold and distant sexually, refusing to let her mate touch her body, and declining sexual requests.


Dealing with Jealousy and Mate Keeping Strategies:

Jealousy is an adaptation that becomes activated in response to a threat to a valued relationship.

Actively being vigilant for infidelity conveys a message to a mate that evidence of consorting with rivals will be detected and acted upon.

Men and women conceal their mates by refusing to take them to parties where competitors will be present, refusing to introduce them to friends who might mate-poach, and taking them away from gatherings filled with potential competitors. When used judiciously, it is an effective method for rendering rivals less attractive and lowers the odds of a mate’s defection.

A close cousin of concealment is monopolising a mate’s time—insisting that all free time be spent together and monopolising the mate at social gatherings.


Mating value discrepancies:

When there exists a mate value discrepancy: the less desirable partner may abuse the other to reduce that partner’s perceptions of the discrepancy.

When a current mate became less desirable because of a decrease in abilities or resources or a failure to provide the reproductively relevant resources expected in the initial selection; when the person experienced an increase in his or her own resources or reputation that opened up previously unobtainable mating possibilities; and when compelling alternatives became available.

It may be disconcerting to acknowledge it, but most people continue to assess outside options while in a committed relationship.

They imply that men and women evaluate changes in their mates over time by very different standards. As a woman ages from twenty-five to forty, for example, she experiences a rapid decline in her reproductive value, although other components of her mate value may increase and compensate for the loss. During a comparable period a man may elevate himself in status and so enjoy an unanticipated avalanche of mating opportunities.


Men and Jealousy:

When it comes to sex, men everywhere seem to regard wives as “theirs” to be owned and controlled. Men react to cuckoldry as they would to theft and sometimes leave a trail of destruction in their wake.

Male sexual jealousy is the single most frequent cause of all types of violence directed at wives, including physical abuse and actual murder.

Men who allow themselves to be cuckolded are subject to ridicule and damage to their reputation, especially if they take no retaliatory action.

In evolutionary terms, a man’s efforts to guard his mate should be most intense when his mate is youngest and hence most reproductively valuable, because failure to retain a mate carries the most severe reproductive penalties when the woman has the highest value.


Investment and Attention:

Conflict develops when one mate absorbs so much energy that the partner’s freedom is restricted. A common grievance of married men, far more than of married women, is that their spouse takes up too much of their time and energy.

Among their common complaints are that men do not spend enough time with them, fail to call when they say they will, show up late, and cancel arrangements at the last minute.

These gender differences in demands on time and attention reflect a continuing conflict about investment. Women try to sequester their mate’s investment. Some men resist monopolisation, striving to channel a portion of their effort toward other adaptive problems such as raising their status or acquiring additional mates.


Selfishness in relationships:

The core of selfishness centers on allocating resources to oneself at the expense of others, such as a spouse or children. Complaints about self-centeredness rise dramatically during the course of marriage.

Tactics signalling selflessness subside because their initial function of attracting a mate recedes. Each gender becomes freer to indulge the self and to channel less effort toward the partner. This is what long-term couples mean when they grumble that their partner takes them for granted.


Resources in relationships:

Interestingly, couples fight more about how the money they have is to be allocated than about how much money they have in their joint pool of resources. American men, far more often than women, complain that their spouse spends too much money on clothes.

Women select mates in part for their economic resources and, once married, complain more than men that those resources are not forthcoming or abundant enough.


You are always in the mating market:

Married women talk as well about which men are attractive, available, and high in status.

Men and women evaluate alternative mating possibilities even if they have no immediate intention to act on them. It pays to plan ahead.


Divorce and Ageing:

When men divorce, they almost invariably marry younger women. Rather, this change in perceptions reflects the universal psychological adaptations in men that equate cues to a woman’s youth with her value as a mate. From his individual perspective, the value of his second wife decreased precipitously when his children were grown, and the attractiveness of the younger woman as his third wife increased to accompany his new circumstances.

The woman who attracts a highly desirable husband at age twenty will typically attract a less desirable husband at age forty.