Why Are Men Frustrated With Dating?
Is dating a punishing situation for men?
Posted Apr 03, 2012 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader
Welcome back to The Attraction Doctor.
Last week, I discussed why women can't find a "good" man. In that article, I explained my hypothesis that women are stuck in a double-bind between what they are told through modern social norms and their own biological motivation. This week, I will discuss how that double-bind for women may have resulted in a double-bind for men as well.
Today, men are given confusing and contradictory advice. Socially, they are expected to be "compliant" (i.e. cooperative) partners to women. However, they are also urged by women's sexual interest to maintain an "attractive personality" (i.e. assertive and ambitious). Unfortunately, men sometimes report that attempting to balance these notions does not result in satisfaction, happiness, or women's appreciation and respect.
The men that I speak with (and who commented on my last post) lament about being in a "no-win situation" in modern dating. If they follow what society tells them to do, they often end up "good guys" who are taken advantage of, mistreated, and disrespected. In contrast, if they follow more "assertive" biological imperatives, they are labeled "jerks" and "players"—who may get sexual gratification, but not love or respect from what they would consider a "good woman." Overall, they report that there is often little incentive for men to date and even less for them to consider long-term commitments.
Double-Binds and Insufficient Incentives
In a previous article, I put forward the notion that individuals were not "afraid" to date—rather they simply did not have sufficient incentive to do so (see here). We are all motivated to seek out rewards and avoid punishments (Skinner, 1974). When rewards outweigh punishment, people perform behaviors. When punishments weight more heavily, people avoid those same behaviors.
Essentially, many men report that they find modern dating a primarily punishing affair. Changing social norms has allowed few avenues by which they can be both acceptable as a relationship partner and attractive as a sex partner. As a result, at least half of their needs are unfulfilled, regardless of the decision they make.
If men choose to follow social norms and become compliant as "good guys," they may get a "relationship partner." However, due to women's social vs. biological double-bind, these compliant men may also not be "attractive" to those same relationship partners (Buss & Shackelford, 2008). As a result, they may be punished by their girlfriend's/wife's lack of sexual interest, being cheated on, or disrespected as a "pushover." These men may further be regarded as "just friends"—expected to pay for all of the costs of a relationship, without the physical and intimate benefits (see here).
In contrast, if men shun social pressures to be "nice" and follow what is biologically attractive, they have a higher likelihood of getting "sex partners." However, these men are often punished by being socially labeled as "jerks," "players," or even "creeps," unfit for socially-defined relationships. Furthermore, their tactics are often designated as "sexist" (Hall & Canterberry, 2011). Therefore, these men may get sex, but they often do not get love and respect.
Overall, men in either case report also having a difficult time finding what they label "attractive" women for longer-term relationships. Men often define these women along evolutionary psychology lines—women who are sexually-selective, faithful, physically attractive, and have a pleasant, respectful disposition (for more on these qualities, see Buss, 2003 and my own articles here and here). Unfortunately, these qualities are again part of women's double-bind, with social norms sometimes guiding them away from these biologically feminine characteristics.
So, until a new equilibrium is reached in these evolving social norms, men have difficult choices to make. Essentially, they seem to have to either appease social norms (for relationships and acceptance) or evolved standards of attractiveness (and get sexual fulfillment). Furthermore, they do so in a situation where women's own social instruction may reduce the very characteristics that many of these men desire. Given that, many men sit on the couch, plug in a video game, and opt out—just as Behaviorism and Skinner might predict.
What Some Men Do About It
Men have adapted and devised a number of strategies to make the best of these difficult options, including the following:
1) Becoming Attractive. One strategy adopted by some men is to become attractive, dominant, and sexually-forward. These are the guys who are often labeled "players," "macks," and "pick-up artists." With this strategy, men are often able to fulfill their short-term sexual needs—especially within the modern, socially-sanctioned climate of "hook-ups" and causal encounters. In fact, many of these men are former virgins and "nice guys" who previously could not get their physical needs addressed. Many of these tactics, however, primarily attract women who are focused on short-term flings with attractive men (see here). Therefore, the relationship needs of the men using this strategy may be less fulfilled in the long run.
2) Partnering Carefully. Another strategy adopted by some men is to adhere to social norms and become a "good guy" or even "domestic partner." These men often find relationships more easily. However, men who follow this strategy should pick their partner carefully. Men successful with this strategy attempt to find an honest and faithful partner, who respects their needs, and is grateful for their contributions (for more, see here, here, and here). Again though, men pursuing this strategy also report the need to stay vigilant for their partner's waning attraction, signs of cheating, and being taken for granted (much as women in "traditional" relationships do). With divorce a very real (and punishing) possibility, these men may also choose to think carefully before committing.
3) Holding High Standards. Yet other men continue to hold high standards for both themselves and their partners. They invest in their own attractiveness, value, and success. They also treat partners equitably according to their behavior, worth, and contributions to the relationship. These men further qualify and screen partners well, not selling themselves short for less than they deserve. This approach takes constant effort though—both in the man maintaining his own standards, and in his motivating and inspiring others to do so too. It also requires patience in searching for someone who can live up to those desired standards. However, these efforts are often met with a partner who is attracted to them, respectful, and attractive for them too. For more on that approach see here, here, here, and here.
4) Opting Out. Finally, some men choose opting out as the best option for them. This is sometimes known as the "men going their own way" (MGTOW) movement. Essentially, these are the guys who have been frustrated and punished to the point that they see no further incentive to relate. Rather than spending their efforts on material success to attract a partner, they focus on making themselves happy. Although these guys are often socially-shamed as "not growing up," in fact, they are arguably just reacting to the lack of outside motivation ... and taking care of themselves.
We are in a very difficult time in history right now. It is a social flux period, where many men (and women) are not satisfied socially and biologically. Outside of traditional and religious areas, or very progressive arrangements, the majority of men and women are struggling. They are caught between conflicting social demands and biological motivations. Until something changes, the best we can all do is adapt and find our own, unique way.
Overall, dating for men also involves costs and trade-offs. Double-binds and unknown frustrations, however, can be explained. The choices may not always be ideal, but some satisfaction can be obtained with a bit of knowledge. I wish you the best ... no matter what you choose. Just choose thoughtfully, what is right for you.
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Until next time...happy dating and relating!
© 2012 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.
Buss, D.M. (2003). The evolution of desire: Strategies of human mating. New York: Basic Books.
Buss, D.M.,& Shackelford, T.K. (2008). Attractive women want it all: Good genes, economic investment, parenting proclivities, and emotional commitment. Evolutionary Psychology, 6, 134-146.
Hall J.A., & Canterberry, M. (2011). Sexism and assertive courtship strategies. Sex Roles, 65, 840-853.
Skinner, B.F. (1974) About Behaviorism. New York: Knopf.