To understand dating and intrasexual power dynamics, you need to have a good overview of the sexual marketplace.
Let’s start with a quick definition:
The sexual marketplace, or SMP, is the ensemble of people looking for sex or long-term pair bonding.
In the SMP players offer their sexual market value, compete with other members of the same gender, and assess the sexual market value of potential mates from the opposite gender (demand-side).
While this is more theory of dating, it’s theory that will also help you date more effectively.
By understanding the forces, needs and drives that govern the sexual marketplace, you will increase your dating IQ.
And a higher dating IQ will help you not only to dater better and find a better partner, but also to make you a better leader of relationships.
So let’s start:
Sexual Marketplace 101
The root causes of the major gender differences in dating come down to three biological facts:
- Anisogamy: the female sex cell is larger, more costly, and more “precious” than the male one, which instead is easy and abundant
- Internal gestation: its’s women who grow the fetus, within them, taking time (9 months) and lots of effort. As a consequence, women invest far more on each child and can produce far fewer offspring than men
- Breast-feeding: even after the child is born, the mother still invests more. Babies need mothers to feed them to survive, but not fathers (fathers are a “nice to have”, mother are a “must have”)
All three facts point to this simple conclusion: women invest in offspring far more than men do, both quantitatively in time and resources, and qualitatively from an emotional point of view.
- Each child means far more to a woman than to a man
- A reproductive mistake, such as picking the wrong partner, is far more costly to a woman, than to a man
That means that a man has less to lose and much to gain in having sex with a new woman and with as many women as possible.
A woman instead does not always gain by adding one more sex partner. Indeed, sex and a new sex partner has lots of downside potentials and carry some major risks for her.
Because of these biological differences, on average: men are always ready and willing to have sex, while women are more careful and pickier.
This is one of the most fundamental laws that govern the sexual marketplace and the power dynamics that follows.
Men Are the Offer, Women Pick (Women Have Power of Choosing)
On average, since men are more willing to have sex with a new partner, men are the offer: their sexual offer being plenty and abundant, while women are the demand: picky and, well, demanding.
Thus, women are the choosers.
Over the whole population, on average, women have more power in dating.
The comedian Bill Maher put it nicely in one of his stand-up jokes (I paraphrase):
For a man to walk into a bar and have his choice of any woman he wants, he would have to be the ruler of the world. A woman who wants the same power, does her hair and puts makeup.
In other words: when it comes to short-term dating, any reasonably attractive woman has more or less the same power as the (male) ruler of the world.
Female Beauty & SMP Power
Since women are better served pairing up with a high quality man than by sleeping around with lots of guys, more beautiful women tend to be more often in relationships than less beautiful ones.
Less attractive women might lower their standards and be more willing to engage in short-term sex because they have less power to tie down a high quality man.
For the same reason, less attractive women might also pursue a quantitative strategy, such as giving birth to more children with comparative less providing, rather than a qualitative one.
It’s rare indeed to see a very beautiful single mother, and single mothers seem to cluster in the lower rungs of society.
The Limits to Female Dating Power
So, women have power, men just parade and hope to get picked?
Here is another rule of the sexual marketplace: general rules are poor at explaining the dynamics of the sexual marketplace. The general rules most often apply to the middle of the bell curve for average men within normal distribution environments.
But where selection really gets interesting -and where there are most rewards to be reaped- is at the extremes.
Taking sexual market value as an example, and to simplify:
More exceptions and contingencies to the general rule of female power in the SMP:
- Dating is not only short-term, and men also get pickier for long-term
- Women don’t want any man, but truly crave higher quality men
- Female dating power is highly dependent on age and looks
Finally, the most powerful players in the sexual marketplace are the very top men.
Top Men Have Top Power
At the very top, men have so much power, status, and resources that they can attract and take care of many women -together with their children-, more than any other average men could.
The women know it, and they all queue up.
When those guys are also attractive or are overall high fitness, they are the complete package. And women queue up even more.
At the top of the pyramid power, status, and resources matter more than looks in terms of his power of sleeping with lots of new women, especially in the ancestral environment in which we developed.
But if you think about it, it’s also true today.
If it were a race for more casual sex, few male models could beat an average looking tycoon.
And that’s even more true with fame and celebrity status.
Remember the difference of reproductive effort that, on average, gave more power to women in dating?
Well, at the very top, since men don’t have to wait more than a year to reproduce again, as the power dynamics invert, and anisogamy gives power to men also from a genetical point of view.
The evolutionary proof that top men have more power than top women is in the babies.
Very powerful men tend to have more sons than daughters.
Why Women Seek Resources: The MPI Theory
Male parental investment is another crucial axiom to understand human dating.
Parental investment, first theorized by Robert Trivers, defines how much parents invest in their offspring, and male parental investment (MPI) defines how much the males of a particular species invest and care for their offspring.
Human males are relatively high in parental investment compared to most other species in the animal kingdom.
But they are probably around the middle of an imaginary scale of 0 to 100% when compared to women.
Such as: men don’t invest in their children nearly as much as women do, but they invest quite a bit.
So, how does male parental investment affect sexual dynamics?
Here is how:
In nature, females of species who cannot expect any help from the male counterparts (ie.: no male parental investment) only mate based on genes (ie.: looks, physique, dancing prowess, and any other fitness indicator).
Meaning: when women cannot get any help to raise offspring, they mate based on genes, driven by their attraction.
Conversely, when she can get resources, she will screen for resources as well.
As you probably might have guessed by now: since women can get resources most of the times, women always screen for resources and resource availability in long-term dating.
This is especially true for high-quality women.
Since high-quality women are the ones who can most easily pick and choose among many men who are willing to share that burden with her (in exchange for her genes, mating value, and social boost, of course).
Plenty of data confirms that high quality women seek the “complete package”, and tend marry men in the upper income brackets.
Short-term dating is a bit different, as we shall see.
But keep in mind that since a minority of sexual intercourses lead to pregnancy, long-term dating is where most of the selection really happens (evolutionary speaking, long-term affairs also count as long-term dating, of course).
She Seeks Commitment to Ensure Future Access to his Resources
Sure, the man having resources is good and nice.
But it’s not enough.
The question all our female ancestors had to answer was: will he commit those resources to me?
And that’s why women don’t just seek resources, but women also seek signs that he will make those resources available to her.
How does she do it?
Commitment is one way.
In part, commitment is the measure to which a man promises to make his resources available to her.
And of course, she wants to see “proofs” that the commitment is true and not just verbal.
Enter gifts, dinners, wining and dining, picking her up, investing time in her, etc. etc.
We can speculate that women don’t like men whose lives revolve around them because those men are less likely to climb dominance hierarchies and amass resources (ie.: too focused on them means less focused on other life endeavors which are likely to yield resources).
In vernacular terms, the woman is communicating something like: “stop adoring me and being always around me: be a man, go out, and bring back some resources”.
We can also speculate that women evolved a set of tools and behaviors apt at controlling their relationships so that they could more easily control men, together with their support and resources.
Check out this article for that:
Sexual Market Place Power Dynamics
Alright, let’s get into some proper power-dynamics talk now.
We will quickly review a typical date progression and analyze where the power lies:
#1. Before Sex, She Has More Power
Sex is a huge milestone in any budding relationship.
Be it short-term or long-term, before sex, women have power.
If he spending time with her outsside of obvious friendships and professional partenrships, it’s almost a given he would like sex with her.
This holds true, on average, even in the case of high quality couples.
Sure the woman is excited around him might really want him, including sexually. But she still has the power of denying and is still holding the most important card: sex.
Which is why men must always be careful, and smooth, in the lead up to sex, no matter their SMV. Indeed, a botched up escalation is proof of a much lower SMV.
How the man acts to being rebuffed is also important
See here an example of smooth handling of a rejection:
“No problem”, perfect tonality to handle rejections like a boss
#2. After Sex, He Has More Power (& She Needs to Chase Commitment)
As we have seen, human males are often happy and willing to “nest up” and stick around.
But still, not all men commit and stick around.
And when they don’t, it could be disastrous for her.
That’s why while men seek sex, it’s usually women who care more about commitment.
Especially after sex.
Because when sex beings, the woman is more and more at risk of getting pregnant. And if she hasn’t secured his commitment by then, that could be a costly mistake for her.
Of course, some men do chase for commitment.
And they chase for commitment after sex, they communicate that the sex they got was a fluke for them, a lucky shot. And that they really have no options with a woman of her SMV.
When men enter a relationship after chasing for commitment, they lose all their power and enter the relationship as the needier party.
#3. After Commitment, She Has More Power
After commitment it should hopefully be more about teamwork than power.
But still, we are analyzing power dynamics here, and the question of “how has more power after commitment” has a definite answer: she sees a power resurgence.
Think about it: who gains more with commitment?
Sure, he also gains much with commitment, including exclusive access to her reproductive system. But while a man maximizes his potential with lots of casual sex, a woman is better served to raise children with the help of a committed partner.
And that’s why commitment is more of a win for the woman.
The woman has no higher upside potential than commitment with a high quality man. But a man has much higher potential outside commitment.
That’s why, with commitment, the man is giving more and the woman is taking more.
In some cases, men communicate with commitment that is she is worth more than him and commitment serves to make up the difference.
Purely from a mathematical point of view, as we saw, she is worth than him because his reproductive contribution is cheap, while hers is high-maintenance.
Still, a man might still be better served by letting her go after the commitment.
#4. After Children, He Has More Power
After the children is born, the man has more power.
Because the woman is more invested in the child.
Because since women invest more in children and can have fewer children in their lifespan, a child is worth more to the mother. Furthermore, a child needs the mother to survive, but doesn’t need the father.
That means that the father could walk away and the mother would still have to take care of the child… On her own.
So right after the child is born, women need male help and providing more than the man needs the woman.
Ironically, it’s the mother’s greater commitment that allows the father to potentially neglect the children even more.
Breaking up with young children is the ultimate game of chicken, and it’s usually the woman who swerves first because, if she didn’t, the child would die.
A completely amoral man could abandon a woman when she needs him the most and seek another woman to impregnate, having his cake and eat it too -from a genetical point of view-.
Most modern nations have instituted laws and regulations to force men to at least provide financial support to children.
Bargaining in the Sexual Marketplace
The sexual marketplace, just like the social marketplace, can be seen as a big exchange.
And as we have seen in the sexual market value overview, there is a plethora of traits that people seek and exchange.
Especially for men, those traits are many and varied, often with only a tiny limited overlap among each others.
This means men need to master more areas of their lives to reaching their full potential.
But that also gives men more freedom and more potential for power because they can make up for one trait’s lack with another trait’s abundance.
Exchanging Value in the Sexual MarketPlace
People tend to pair up around the same overall value.
The self-assessment of one’s own sexual market value is a mix of self-esteem, confidence, sexual market place feedback, past sexual success (or lack thereof) and, of course, temporal and environmental variables (ie.: the competition and normal mood swings).
Of course the assessment varies somewhat but, overall, people tend to have a relatively good grasp of their value and an unconscious idea of what they can realistically “get”.
Porper value targeting and matching helps reducing rejection and wasting time on unobtainable mates. But it’s also important to the health of the relationships, and since the health of the relationship is also important to make and grow healthy children, it does make sense to target people who are going to be happy with us.
However, partnering up with the same overall value is not the same as “being similar”.
Most couples do end looking similar, that’s true, but most couples look similar only because most people are not excellent in any single traits.
Enter what I dubbed “assortative bartering”.
Assortative Bartering in The Sexual Marketplace
Because the sexual marketplace matches different intra-gender needs and wants, it’s very possible to end up with very different couples.
With assortative bartering.
The general rule is that the more value you have, the more you can ask back.
But since there are different traits that are being exchanged, a subset rule is that the more of a certain type of value you have, the less you can give in a different type of value.
Biologists for example report that in some species of birds more attractive males work less and care less about the children.
It’s because huge amount of value in one trait (physical appearance) allows those birds to give less -or nothing- in another trait (caring and support).
But the couple still forms because, she is still getting enough overall value.
Assortative Bartering in Humans
The same is true in humans.
Since the currencies that both sexes appreciate are different, you can get couples who look much different.
- The young woman who’s trading her looks and reproductive years for his resources
- An unattractive but powerful smart man pairing up with an attractive woman
- Handsome black man pairing up with the overweight white woman
These exchanges are perfectly valid because, albeit uneven on a specific currency, they still match up on the overall value.
Or so at least think people who enter those relationships.
The only ones who complain, of course, are more average people who are not very valuable in any specific currency.
So instead of looking at themselves –or, mind you, to the obvious fact that the couple was happy enough to enter into a relationship-, they prefer finger-pointing and acting “offended” and “scandalized”.
For anyone who wants to see, assortative bartering is everywhere.
Women demand higher income to date races they don’t like, billionaires marry young women (Pollet et. al., 2013) and psychopaths court older women to monopolize their finances (Brown, 2009).
Relationship Structures & Power Dynamics
In environments with scarce resources, for a woman, it’s better to be the 10th wife of a king than the only wife of a struggling peasant.
What does it all mean in terms of power and dating?
It means that polygyny is best for women in environments with scarce resources.
And it means that strict monogamy reduces the power of highly attractive and successful men.
Because that super top guy could otherwise freely and openly have his own harem.
Conversely, monogamy increases the power of attractive women because there will be lots of pressure on his highly successful male counterpart to commit to her (plus the legal system helps her in case of separation).
Monogamy is also good for average men, because average women will spend less time eyeing high-quality men who, on average, end up with high-quality women (instead of banging and providing for several women).
And for very poor-quality men?
Monogamy is better, but they fare poorly in almost any relationship system.
Keep in mind that many Western societies are not strictly monogamous anymore. Some authors defined Western society as “serial monogamy”, or “soft polygyny”.
There is also plenty of room for men living in big cities to be fully polygynous (whether that’s polyamorous, such as with the consent of all, or hidden).
The sexual marketplace follows many of the economic rules of supply and demand, with operators trying to get the best deal for themselves.
This post gave you a quick overview of some of the most fundamental rules that govern the sexual marketplace.