First Posted: 7/29/2013
A few weeks ago I became the target of extreme male posturing.
While out one Saturday evening, as I enjoyed Scranton’s nightlife with some friends, through a series of misunderstandings, a misguided, heavily intoxicated boyfriend accused me of hitting on his girl. This wasn’t the first time an overly sensitive boyfriend, who lacks any real confidence, has accused me of this, though, in most cases, I’m happy to say it just isn’t true, and it wasn’t true on this night either.
Admittedly, though, at less enlightened times of my life, I have been on both ends of this phenomenon, and, for the record, none of these experiences have had positive outcomes. In college, for example, I once tried to woo a girl into leaving her boyfriend to be with me. On Valentine’s Day one year, I had roses and a romantically-laced, poetic note delivered to a fellow classmate who I was infatuated with. Although, to her credit, she called and thanked me for the gesture, she never left her boyfriend, and I spent that holiday alone.
Although I didn’t get the girl, I unknowingly participated in a larger phenomenon, something that social scientists call “mate poaching” – attempting to attract someone who is already romantically involved and is unavailable. And, according to the numbers, I am far from alone.
My experience with the aforementioned guy, who accused me of trying to take his girlfriend, provoked me to think about mate poaching in a larger context, so I turned to science hoping to find some answers.
And I did.
In 2004, for example, a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology surveyed more than 16,000 men and women in 53 countries and discovered some unsettling facts about mate poaching.
Mate Poaching by the numbers:
• 15 percent of people currently in relationships report that their current relationship directly resulted from mate poaching.
• Physical attractiveness is highly desired by both men and women who poach.
• 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women admit to trying to poach someone else’s partner.
• Among those who have attempted to poach, they were successful 80 percent of the time.
• Nearly 70 percent of people report that someone has tried to poach them, and around 50 percent of those who have been tempted by a would-be mate poacher have succumbed.
• Infidelity rates range from 10 percent to 25 percent of people who have been unfaithful in the past year.
Although men are more likely than women to poach in general, interestingly, research indicates that single women are the most likely to pursue an “attached target,” more than any other demographic. What’s more, this is also true in the animal kingdom, where it has been documented among several birds and fish species that “female animals are more likely to choose a male that has already been chosen by other females.”
My own experience has confirmed this, too.
I’ve noticed over the years that when I’m in public alone, girls – in most cases – ignore me entirely. No matter how hard I try to make contact with them, I’m invisible. When female friends accompany me, however, it’s another story. My female counterpart and I will become subject to glances and stares, looks and gestures, and I often think, “Why can’t they seem this interested when I am unattached?”
But such is life, I suppose.
Finally, as the numbers indicate, most of us have been subject to, or participated in, some form of mate poaching.