What An Earl Wants

This new guy I’ve been dating said he wants to keep things casual. I’m bummed because I’ve caught some pretty intense feelings for him. Is it possible he just needs to get to know me better and once he does, he’ll feel differently?

— Wishful

Pursuing a relationship with this guy is like sentencing yourself to live out the rest of your days stuck in that “distracted boyfriend” meme. 

Understanding your situation starts with a peek into book publishing. Unbeknownst to most people, the most profitable area in publishing is the romance and erotica genre. Most romance novels have pretty much the same theme: a high-status man, often wildly wealthy, who has shown he can’t be tamed but who, nevertheless, eventually is — by the irresistible beauty and specialness of one particular woman. This genre is literary catnip for the ladies, earning $1.5 billion in 2015, while the next best-earning book genre, mystery and crime, brought in a measly $730 million.

It turns out art reflects life — or rather, how women wish their romantic lives would play out. Evolutionary psychologist Catherine Salmon explains that, in romance novels, “in the end, the heroine is typically the one in control,” while the hero is “a slave to his passion/love for her.” She references romance novel bloggers Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan, who, hilariously, refer to the heroine’s hold over the hero as the power of the “magic hoo hoo.” Once the hero has this particular hoo, “he desires no other,” writes Salmon. Or, as some researchers put it, a “dad” is being molded out of the ashes of a confirmed “cad.”

Salmon explains that women’s longing to be irresistibly desired emerges from evolution’s effect on female emotions, pushing women — who, unlike men, can get pregnant from sex — to be commitment-centric. This “female desire to be irresistible” is ultimately a desire by a woman “to be secure in the belief that her choice of mate is the right one and that he will never stray.” As for the power and prevalence of this desire, Salmon notes previous research finds that more than half of female sexual fantasies revolve around “the desire to be sexually irresistible,” and this desire seems to be “at the heart of the bodice-ripper style of romance and fantasies of submission.”

Now, it’s within the realm of possibility that this guy only thinks he wants to keep it casual, and he’ll come around and become your Mr. One And Only. Research suggests men can sometimes be triggered into committing when they sense they have competition, like through your dating other guys. It’s likewise possible this wouldn’t change anything; he might simply be in the thick of his sexual safari years. So, applying the old 80/20 equation to your situation, 80 percent of success in love is showing up; however, the other 20 percent is making sure you aren’t showing up to hookup hell in a wedding dress. 

Ex To Grind

I’m seeing this new guy, but his ex-girlfriend is absolutely awful: rude, unfriendly, and less-than-intelligent. It makes me question his judgment. If he’s interested in a girl like that, I’m not sure I want to be with him. 

— Legitimate Fear?

Really good sex can keep a man from seeing the romantic hellshow he’s in, especially when the thinking cap he automatically reaches for comes from a small square package marked “Trojan.”

We assume someone’s romantic partners are a result of carefully reasoned choices. In fact, many people meet someone, have sex with them, want more sex, and end up in a relationship — totally bypassing any assessment of whether this might be a ruinous idea. Eventually, the initial hot-sex fog recedes a little, and their partner’s terrible qualities become increasingly apparent. Time to break up, right? Well, there’s a problem.  

Psychologist Daniel Kahneman explains that we tend to be “loss aversive”: deeply disturbed by potential losses (more than we’re excited by possible gains). We often succumb to the “sunk cost fallacy”: irrationally deciding to continue investing time, money, and/or energy in what we know is a losing gambit, based on the investment we’ve already made (that is, “sunk” into it in the past). However, that prior investment is gone. The rational approach is seeing whether future investment would pay off sufficiently and, if not, cutting our losses (perhaps while waving a forlorn goodbye to all the days, months, or — gulp! — years we wasted). 

To determine how active a role your man’s judgment played in his previous entanglement, ask him about what he values, in general and in a partner, and then ask what draws him to you. You should see whether he’s with you for reasons you respect or whether you’re just a random variation on the nasty, kitten-eating sexbots of what might be called “Cinder” (Tinder when a guy’s penis repeatedly picks emotional arsonists who’ll burn his mental wellness to the ground). 

(c)2020, Amy Alkon, all rights reserved. Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, #280, Santa Monica, CA  90405, or e-mail AdviceAmy@aol.com. @amyalkon on Twitter. Weekly podcast: blogtalkradio.com/amyalkon

 Order Amy Alkon’s new book, “Unf*ckology: A Field Guide to Living with Guts and Confidence,” (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2018).