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How Manipulative Lovers Exploit Their Partners

Foodie calls, coerced sexts, and more.

Key points

  • Highly Machiavellian women may initiate "foodie calls" by dating men to whom they aren’t attracted for a free meal.
  • Highly Machiavellian men may coerce a partner into a sexual relationship by sending unsolicited naked pictures.
  • Highly Machiavellian partners report seeking sex for selfish reasons rather than for love or commitment.

If love is a game, are you being played? People who score high in the personality trait of Machiavellianism are masters of manipulation. They tend to be cunning, sly, and deceptive, and use others as a means to an end. Someone who thinks they should only tell other people the truth when it's useful for them to do so, for instance, may have a Machiavellian personality.

Romantic relationships tend to be a favorite playground for manipulative people. Those high in Machiavellianism seem to know exactly how to exploit a romantic partner, whether for a free meal or a one-night stand, and they’re quick to take advantage of those who’ve fallen in love with them.

How Machiavellian Partners Exploit Dating

Some Machiavellian women, in particular, may exploit their dates for free food: The dating phenomenon known as the “foodie call” refers to when a heterosexual woman agrees to date a man to whom she is not attracted nor interested in a relationship with because she believes he will cover the cost of a meal when they go on a date.

To test whether Machiavellian women, in particular, are drawn to foodie calls, my colleagues and I surveyed women who live in the United States and measured their Machiavellian personality traits. We also asked whether they had ever engaged in a foodie call and how often they did so. We found that 33% of women had engaged in a foodie call at least once. Nearly 25% of women said they did so frequently or very frequently. Most importantly, we found that foodie calls were especially prevalent among women with highly Machiavellian personalities. The higher their Machiavellian traits, the more foodie calls they reported on average.

But Machiavellianism is not limited to women. Men who score higher in Machiavellianism, for instance, are more likely to coerce a romantic partner into a potentially sexual relationship, or at least an awkward conversation, by sending unsolicited, naked pictures of themselves (i.e., “nudes”).

How Machiavellian Partners Exploit Sex

To further explore how people high in Machiavellianism might use sex to exploit romantic partners for their own self-interest, psychologists Gayle Brewer and Loren Abell surveyed people about their sexual motivations. Previous research shows that the reasons people choose to have sex can vary widely. Some have sex for self-serving motives, such as physical pleasure (e.g., desire, stress reduction) or goal attainment (e.g., gaining status or resources from their partner), while other people have sex for emotional motives (e.g., expressing love and commitment) or insecure motives (e.g., to build their self-esteem). After asking about peoples’ sexual motivations, the researchers then measured their Machiavellian personality traits.

Findings revealed that Machiavellianism was linked to a greater reporting of sexual motives overall. That is, the more men and women reported high levels of Machiavellianism, the more reasons they said they strategically used sex in their relationship. Interestingly, people who scored highest in Machiavellianism were the most likely to use sex for selfish motives, such as physical pleasure and goal attainment, as well as insecure motives. Machiavellianism was unrelated to emotional motives for sex, such as expressing love and commitment to one’s partner.

Machiavellian lovers might lie to their partners and suggest their sexual motives stem from love and commitment. But in reality, their sexual motives may reflect the Machiavellian tendency to selfishly and deceptively use others, including romantic partners.

It is important to note that there are many different situations in which people with highly Machiavellian personalities might exploit others. Yet research on Machiavellianism frequently focuses on manipulation within dating and relationship contexts. This may be because dating and relationships often require vulnerability, intimacy, and trust, thus making them a potentially lucrative area for Machiavellian partners to exploit.

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Brewer, G. & Abell, L. (2015). Machiavellianism and sexual behavior: Motivations, deception and infidelity. Personality and Individual Differences, 74, 186-191.

Collisson, B., Howell, J. L., & Harig, T. (2020). Foodie calls: When women date men for a free meal (rather than a relationship). Social Psychological and Personality Science, 11(3), 425-432.

March, E. & Wagstaff, D. L. (2017). Sending nudes: Sex, self-rated mate value, and trait Machiavellianism predict sending unsolicited explicit images. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 1-6.

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