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How Easy Is It to Steal Someone Else's Partner?

15 percent of relationships may be the result of mate poaching.

Key points

  • Mate poaching is an attempt to attract and entice a person away from a relationship they are in currently.
  • A poacher needs greater wealth and attractiveness relative to a person’s partner to be successful.
  • Those with partners of lower mate value to themselves may become dissatisfied in their current relationship.
Just Dance / Shutterstock
Man enticing woman
Just Dance / Shutterstock

“I don’t care too much for money – money can’t buy me love” is a line from a song released by The Beatles back in 1964. The line suggests that despite having the money to buy material goods, money can’t buy true joy happiness or even love. But is this really true in romantic relationships? Can we buy love?

To some extent, this question was addressed in a study looking at mate poaching carried out by researchers Alastair Davies and Todd Shackelford (Davies & Shackelford, 2017). Mate poaching can be defined as attempting to attract and entice a person (target) away from a relationship they are in currently. Even as far back in history as Vatsyayan’s Kama Sutra, one of the early texts dedicated to sex, love, and attraction, advice is given on how to seduce other men’s wives.

Whether or not a poacher is successful may be determined by how committed the target person is to their current relationship. It may also depend on the type of relationship to which the poacher is trying to entice the target (e.g., sexual affair, longer-term relationship, etc). Finally, it may depend on the level of enticement offered by the poacher, (e.g., how wealthy or attractive the poacher may be).

In their study, Davies and Shackelford asked people to think about being in the following types of relationship:

  • Dating
  • Long-term relationship
  • Cohabiting, but not married
  • Married

They then asked them to what extent a poacher would need to exceed their partner in wealth and physical attractiveness, (from very slightly more to vastly more) for them to leave their current relationship and enter into one of the following with the poacher:

  • Short-term sexual partner
  • Long-term sexual affair
  • Monogamous relationship

Can wealth and attractiveness buy love?

Overall, their study found that relationship type (married, cohabiting, long-term relationship, dating) influenced the amount of both wealth and physical attractiveness a poacher would have to possess in order to be successful in enticing people from their current relationship.

In other words, the greater relationship commitment of a person, the greater amount of wealth and attractiveness a poacher had to possess relative to a person’s current partner, in order for the poaching to be successful. There was however one exception in that there was no difference in the amount of enticement needed to poach someone from a cohabiting relationship and a long-term relationship. The researchers speculate that the lack of a difference between a long-term relationship and a cohabiting one may be explained by the fact that perhaps today most people see little difference between these relationship types. Finally, what a poacher would have to offer in order to entice someone into any of the three different types of relationships (i.e., short-term sexual partner, long-term sexual affair, monogamous relationship) did not really differ.

Is successful poaching determined by mate value?

The chances of a person abandoning a relationship in favour of a poacher may also be influenced by their perceived mate value (desirable characteristics, wealth, kindness physical attraction) in comparison to that of their current partner. Furthermore, it may also be affected by a partner’s mate value in comparison to a poacher’s mate value (Conroy-Beam, Goetz & Buss, 2016). These researchers found that people with partners of lower perceived mate value to themselves were more likely to become dissatisfied in their current relationship especially when the mate value of potential alternatives (poachers) was higher than the mate value of their current partner. Conversely, individuals with partners of a higher perceived mate value to themselves reported being satisfied in their relationship regardless of the mate value of their partner in comparison to a poacher. Therefore, successful mate poaching seems to depend on the mate value of the poacher in comparison to a target’s partner, only when the target person also has a higher mate value than their partner.

In summary, individuals with higher mate value than their partners are likely to be less satisfied with their relationship and may surrender to poachers of higher mate value than that of their partner. Those in relationships in which partners are of similar mate value are more likely to report relationship satisfaction and are less likely to succumb to poaching.

Davies and Shackelford note that their study assessed just wealth and attractiveness, whereas other factors such as kindness and sense of humour also contribute to mate value and may be pertinent in successful mate poaching. Furthermore, research has indicated that victims of poaching tend to score lower on agreeableness and conscientiousness and score higher on neuroticism, with a greater inclination to have extra-relationship sex.

The fact that some 10 to 15% of relationships are the result of mate poaching, coupled with the fact that wealth and attractiveness seem to be effective in enticing people out of their current relationships strongly indicates that maybe money can buy love.

Facebook image: Guryanov Andrey/Shutterstock


Conroy-Beam, D., Goetz, C. D., & Buss, D. M. (2016). What predicts romantic relationship satisfaction and mate retention intensity: Mate preference fulfilment or mate value discrepancies. Evolution and Human Behaviour. 37 (6), 440-448.

Davies. A. P. C., & Shackelford. T. K. (2017). Don't you wish your partner was hot like me?: The effectiveness of mate poaching across relationship types considering the relative mate-values of the poacher and the partner of the poached. Personality and Individual Differences. 106. 32-35.

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