Mari Ruti

The Juicy Bits

Enough with Evolutionary Biology!

Human-love and animal-mating: like Shakespearean sonnets vs. chimp-language.

Posted May 06, 2011

Let me tell you what really kills the luster of life for me. It's the endless stream of evolutionary biological explanations for everything that happens between men and women! I was recently reading an article about the so-called "cougar" phenomenon: older women dating, and sometimes even marrying, younger men. In the course of an otherwise reasonable argument, the author casually refers to the fact that scientists have determined that older women have higher sex drives than younger ones because they are desperate to take advantage of their waning reproductive years. In other words, even this phenomenon - which I had always assumed to be the result of social progress and greater gender equality - comes down to wanting to have babies!

Is there no escape from this? How exactly do "scientists" determine these things? And why are we, as a society, so ready to buy evolutionary biological explanations for human romantic behavior? It's telling that when it comes to understanding the intricacies of the government, the economy, the arts, human intellectual and scientific achievement, or our capacity to make ice cream, we rarely turn to chimps, bluebirds, codfish, or spiders for insight. But when it comes to modern men and women, suddenly were are supposed to believe that we are just a couple of short steps from chimps - that evolutionary biology explains everything about human sexuality.

I like chimps as much as the next person. But they're not where I would go for kernels of romantic wisdom. If a chimp society ever produces a Galileo, an Einstein, a Marie Curie, or even a working elevator, I might be willing to sit down for a chat. But until then, I'm going to assume that they don't hold the key to human relationships. The distance between chimp language and Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Emily Dickinson, T. S. Eliot, Maya Angelou, and Pablo Neruda is not insignificant. Why, then, insist that the truth about men and women can be found on the Animal Channel?

I can think of a dozen reasons besides reproduction for wanting to date younger guys. For one thing, younger men are not stuck on outdated gender stereotypes. They usually don't expect you to fulfill some archaic ideal of femininity. And they're not afraid to be human beings first, men second. Best of all, they're not threatened by your achievements. In fact, they're likely to admire you for them, which is sweet on the ego. And they don't think twice about cooking a meal, doing the dishes, or vacuuming the living room. What's more, when it comes to sex, they are not focused on having babies. I suspect that a lot of older women prefer younger men in part precisely because they have no interest in reproduction. Either they're done with it, or it has never been a priority.

Older men dating younger women has been the norm for centuries. That women are now turning the tables is due to the fact that some of them finally have enough money, power, and independence to pull it off. And if we are going to turn to evolutionary biology for explanations, I'm not sure that equating the higher sex drive of older women with the evolutionary imperative to have children really holds. Given that older women have riskier pregnancies, wouldn't the logical evolutionary step be to reduce their sex drives so as to make sure that they don't waste scarce resources on failed attempts to have children? What, exactly, is so hard about the idea that older women like to have sex just because they like sex? And as to why some older women opt for younger lovers, how big a mystery can that really be?