Evolutionary psychologists are learning more about the curious behavior of mate poaching. Research tells us that mate poaching is widespread and found across the globe. It is a familiar interpersonal issue across most countries and cultures. According to a large survey of over 16,000 people worldwide, evolutionary psychologist David Schmitt believes that mate poaching impacts as many as 10 to 15 percent of all committed relationships.
Another evolutionary psychologist, David M. Buss, tells us that women have always competed against each other for the attention of Alpha males. Mate poaching is a common strategy. In societies where desirable men are hard to find, women will aggressively compete for them by poaching.
Forget notions of sisterhood. Another reason why mate poaching is so universal, is that it’s a relatively safe strategy for women with little danger to its downside. Men directly run the risk of violence in mate poaching. But lethal violence between female competitors is relatively rare.
Instead of violence, women typically employ the cultural expectation that women are more reliably faithful than men. “The Other woman” is often attacked as being a “home wrecker”, and a threat to community standards. However, some experts believe our views of marriage are changing.
Community standards are sometimes only the lies we pretend to abide by. Although it has been declining over the past few decades, the divorce is the U.S. is still robust enough to assume that a reasonable number of desirable men will become available again at some point in the future. And infidelity is not only as common as it ever was, it now reflects a level of emotional intensity by men toward their affair partners unseen in prior decades.
But “slut-shaming” isn’t the reliable defense it once was either. Relationships are complex and shift over time. The cultural expectation that marriage is a “forever commitment” is wobbly at best. Extra-marital liaisons are losing their capacity to shock and offend. In a recent magazine poll, 57 percent of women reported that they would respect a female friend less if they knew that that she was with a married man, and 77 percent of women would think less of a male friend involved in an affair. While these are somewhat high rates of discomfort, the absolute social norm condemning “adultery” a century ago has been seriously undermined.
The important take away is that while men are reporting a greater level of emotional involvement during the affair, research continues to indicate that after divorce, unions with affair partners are relatively rare and risky to the extreme. A recent poll of 4,126 male business executives discovered that only 3 percent of those divorced did so because they became committed to their affair partners. And 86 percent of male respondents to a recent magazine poll reported that they passed on their affair partner as their next life mate. if you are a member of the small group that does end up married to your affair partner, you still have not beaten the odds. The divorce rate for these couples within the first 5 years of marriage is 70%.
The math doesn’t lie. Post-divorce bliss with an affair partner is highly unlikely. Mate poaching as a reliable, long-term life partner-securing strategy for women in the 21st century is dicey at best.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. using EFT, Gottman Method, and the Developmental Model.