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The missing wink

I'm a 34-year-old woman, worried I'm giving 1950s dating advice to my teenage niece by telling her I wouldn't ask a man out. When she wanted me to explain, the best I could come up with was that I want a guy who has the guts and initiative to do the asking. What's your take? Single White Aunt

Men are most attracted to what's slightly out of reach, not what's throwing itself in their laps, crushing their yarbles. Sure, they'll say they love it when women ask them out. They also love women who'll have sex with them 20 minutes after meeting them in a bar, but they aren't going to make them their girlfriends. In the unlikely event they ask for a second date, it probably won't be "Can I take you to a movie?" but "Meet me in Section P3 of the parking garage."

The question is, do you want to be politically correct or romantically successful? There are those who insist men and women are exactly the same perhaps prompted by all the good ol' boys they see breast-feeding babies at Denny's, or by the proliferation of NFL-logo-imprinted Kotex. Data does show that men and women are cognitively very similar. Additionally, notes evolutionary psychologist David Buss, both sexes get skin-protecting calluses, have taste preferences for fat, sugar and salt, and developed sweat glands for bodily cooling. Where men and women diverge, writes Buss in a 1998 analysis of sex differences, is in domains in which they've faced "different adaptive problems over human evolutionary history."

Few people truly understand how far we haven't come. While it's only a matter of time before you can nag your robo-vacuum via e-mail, psychologically, you're still the cavegirl next door. Back in the Pleistocene era, when birth control meant being a fast runner, having sex could yank a woman off the mating market for nine-plus months, then stick her with a hungry kid long before readily available frozen pizza replaced readily digable crawly grubs. A man, on the other hand, merely gave up a few minutes of his time and a teaspoon or so of sperm.

Now, there are a lot of really bad places to be a single mother, but probably one of the worst ever was 1.8 million years ago on the savannah. The ancestral women who successfully passed their genes on to us were those who were choosy about whom they went under a bush with, weeding out the dads from the cads. Men had a different genetic imperative to avoid bringing home the bison for kids who weren't theirs and evolved to regard girls who give it up too easily as too high-risk for anything beyond a roll on the rock pile.

Sure, these days, you can slap a medicated sticker on your back and run around having lots of pregnancy-free fun. Unfortunately, as evolutionary psychologist Don Symons writes in The Adapted Mind, "Natural selection takes hundreds or thousands of generations," so don't count on our genes getting the message to upgrade to Cave 2.0 anytime soon. Forget worrying about what's equal or unequal, and stick to what works: A woman targets the guy she wants and flirts to let him know he's got a shot. If he doesn't ask her out, he's either a weenie or not interested. Either way, if she tries to force a relationship, it's unlikely to end well. As for accusations that your "old-fashioned" approach is a form of "disempowerment" practiced by women who secretly hate women if anything, it's the disempowerment of women who secretly hate women who have dates.

Yelling it like it is

I'm a paralegal interested in an attorney at my firm. We're both gay and single. We've exchanged quips, and I've caught him staring at me, and he didn't look away when I smiled. I want to be done with the "not knowing if he likes me" feeling, but popping into his office and asking him out might cross some professional line. Should I just send him a card letting him know how I feel? Legally Noticed

It doesn't take much to be done with the "not knowing if he likes me" feeling. Go ahead and send him the card "Dear Stranger, I can't live without you ..." and watch him scurry out the service entrance whenever he spots you in the lobby. A less seventh-grade approach would be waiting until you bump into him at the coffee machine, then asking him to join you for an after-work beer. This isn't a date, but what could become a date or be written off as drinks with some guy from the office. Keep in mind that seduction is a dance; ideally, more of a tango than the kind where you're jumping up and down on somebody's feet to a lot of guitar feedback.

Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, No. 280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail AdviceAmy@aol.com (advicegoddess.com).

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