Men as Success Objects: Or, why a man’s job is to have a (good) job

Dear Duana: 

I met Dave in 2002 in our 20’s, and we broke up two years later.  I dated around later, but he never did, and I couldn’t quit thinking about him.  Although we’re back together, an issue from our break-up remains:  He works for his mom and does not seemed inspired to do more.  I love him in many ways, but I wonder:  Will this always bother me?


Dear Janie, 

ITE (In This Economy), there are plenty of folks who are un- or under-employed through no fault of their own.  And if you were partnered with such a man, my advice would be to note his strident efforts to attain full employment, and to be supportive of those. 

But there’s no sugar-coating this:  No matter how wonderful Dave is, if he can’t show more get-up-and-go, a mountain of science shows you might get-up-and-leave…or stay and find yourself perpetually annoyed, worried, losing respect and having affairs.  And the better-looking *you* are, the more true that is. 

In fact, as exposed by mating psychology super-sleuth and Evolution Of Desire author David M. Buss, male lack of ambition is a huge, universal and global female turn-off.   But why that is so, and whether it has to ruin your relationship with Dave, are separate issues. 

As it happens, our shallow-seeming desires are as heritable as Great Grandpa’s brown eyes or Grandma’s china.  At the dawn of pre-history, when life was tougher than a mastodon’s hide, some men and women managed to solve the very large problems of survival and reproduction.   They, and only they, became our ancestors—passing down not just their appearance, but the psychological mating preferences that had ensured their success.  So, for instance, men who desired older, infertile, unhealthy women may have lived happy lives—but nobody called them Dad.  Instead, men who lusted after youthful, beautiful (read: fertile) partners prevailed, leaving male offspring who desired likewise.  Their shallow desires reflected a deep genetic need that exists even now.  

Women, on the other hand, had little use for The Young And The Restless, since men of almost every age could procreate.  In fact, it often served women’s needs to marry up in age…and a lot of other ways.  This inherited mating psychology is clearly visible even today as women on every continent reject suitors in too little possession of What Women Want: An ambitious, hard-working, resource-wielding, commitment-making Provider and Protector.  

In one experiment, young women were shown a photo of a young man in a business suit, *or* the same young man in a fast-food uniform.  Not surprisingly, women who saw Mr. Up-And-Coming were more impressed and more interested in a date than the women exposed to Mr. Want Fries With That.  But it was the same guy, just with a different implied career!  Other recent research on remarriage rates shows that even older men, now widowed, can marry much more easily if they are in possession of resources such as a good income, a home, and other signs of economic success. 

Why women’s shallow emphasis on ka-ching?  Because, just as men’s beauty bias is actually deep, so is women’s demand for resources.  Our ancestral mothers who preferred and won a Committed Provider and Protector secured survival and success for themselves and their children.  Women who failed in this task—women whose man gave the resources to other women or to drinking or to gambling, wouldn’t commit, wouldn’t provide, left them alone with nursing infants and no hunter, or actively abused them and their families—tended not to thrive and pass their genes forward to surviving or successful  children.  This remains true even today, even in the United States.  Men aren’t just pleasant accessories to the core business of life, and never were. 

Although it may feel affirming for men to know that they’re Needed, men don’t necessarily enjoy being viewed as success objects, any more than women like being regarded as sex objects.  It can be tough to reside in a world seemingly populated by gold-diggers.  But there you have it.  Operating below the conscious radar, our genes don’t necessarily want us to do what makes everyone happy—they want us to do what gets them passed forward. 

But, Janie, does Dave’s lack of great ambition have to be a problem for your relationship?  Unless you do something, it will be.  That’s because our genes have no “off” switch; they don’t reach a point of satisfaction and then let us feel safe.  For instance, wealthy women have been found to prefer a mate who is even wealthier than themselves—even though these women are in no danger whatsoever of failing to survive or reproduce based on material goods.  Just as we women seldom feel young and pretty enough, we tend to think our partners should earn more and more money.  Maybe these preferences serve us to a point, but once our survival is taken care of, they just make us and our mates unhappy, and that’s the rub. 

So, what to do?  Your preferences arise from unconsciously motivated desires, so see if you can use your conscious mind to override those.  Ask yourself:  Does Dave make enough to carry his share of the load in life—and in your view, is he likely to continue that?  Would he step up to support you entirely if you could not work, or if you needed and wanted to nurture young children or aging parents?  Is he more devoted to you than to his mother’s every whim?  Is he willing and able to make an enthusiastic commitment to you?  Is he emotionally stable and loving and kind?   And—this is important—are you so much better-looking than Dave that you’re often approached by wealthier and/or better-looking men? 

In short, are you two otherwise well-matched, and is he good mate-material—just perhaps a bit less ambitious than you are, or want him to be?   

If not, move on now; Dave won’t satisfy you, and an unhappy you won’t satisfy him, either. 

But if Dave gets the green light on all the queries above, he sounds like a great man and a wonderful catch, and I’d advise focusing on his good qualities, rather than on ambitions that are only so-so.  You’ve loved him for years, and he’s loved you single-mindedly.  He could be The One.  Look more closely and see.



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 All material copyrighted by Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., 2010

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Reader Comments (5)

In my dating experience which is sparse, I have found that men want the woman to be thin, beautiful and wealthy. They meet me, thin, beautiful, healthy, sexy, intelligent, joyous, talented and kind but when it comes to my pocketbook, having been required to live at poverty level to qualify for my son's extensive medical care and now that my son has passed, cleaning up the debt from expenses that ensued during his last couple of years, they head for the hills. All I can do is to say, "Oh well" and enjoy my own sweet company and that of my friends. I may someday be dating material when I have fuller pockets. I wonder if I will care any more by then.

February 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

Karen, I am sorry for the pain you've experienced about your son and about your dating experience after he passed. You've made a sad but good point about the finances of dating. Because men have been selected for having resources, economics can play out as follows:
--Men with abundant resources usually trade them for a woman who is much younger, unless they themselves are already very young;
--And if you're at mid-life, men with less-abundant resources sometimes try not to spend/commit them unless they feel like they are already in love with you.

This may mean that your best bet will be with men you meet in social groups such as volunteer organizations, church/synagogue, etc. A guy who gets to know The Real and Really Wonderful You without dating you first has a chance to fall in love...if he asks you out, he's already decided you're Important to him.

Men commit their money where they have already committed their hearts, a reality discovered in studies the world, gaining the heart is the key to getting a mate who is more concerned with what he can give you, than in what you might cost him.

One of my friends refers to dating as a blood sport. If you find yourself nodding in agreement, that can signal that you're pretty worn from the dating experience, and may get a lot from taking a break as you're doing. I hope you emerge from it rested and raring to go.

February 3, 2010 | Registered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.

Awesome Duana! Thank you so much for the great article.

February 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBarbara

I completely understand a woman's desire for a potent provider and protector. While some may call that gold-digging, I say fair is fair. If the guys expect us girls to be young and hot, then we can expect them to be ambitious and rich. So there. At least the guys have some control over their end.

But in the final analysis, can't we all just realize we NEED each other at a core level because we COMPLEMENT each other. You know, the ying/yang, alpha/omega whatever you want to call it thing. It works. And in my opinion, that's where some of the die-hard feminists have gone awry when they say they don't want/ don't need a man. And then they become man-ish themselves, trying to do it all and be it all. Well, if we all behave like men, it throws the whole thing out of kilter.

What society needs, in my opinion, is for women to be women and men to be men. Sure, women can have careers and men can raise children and there can be a balance of the two, but at their core, the traditional roles do work. We need women AND we need men. As the article points out:

"Men aren’t just pleasant accessories to the core business of life, and never were."

In other words, men are important. They have a job to do in this world. And if that means getting a shot in the arm of ambition (or losing the lady), then so be it. As for us girls, we have no choice but to get old. But we will try to keep ourselves up, and the *right* guy *will* recognize our many attributes (not just physical) when the right time comes along.

*End of soapbox"

February 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoan

Barbara, most welcome--thanks for the kudos.
Hi, Joan, I think the next article will address some of the abundant frustrations we women feel at an aging process which is, if not inevitable, then better than the alternative ;). For now, let me agree that both sexes have always been important, and the post-60's idea that men are superfluous has been contradicted by every study I've reviewed.

That said, what seems most vital from the standpoint of happiness and survival is not actually the gender or sex of the pair, but that there are Two. Humans who are committed to one another for life--regardless of their sex or sexual orientation--are on average a lot healthier, wealthier, and happier than people who are by themselves. Children similarly benefit from having two people who are together and committed to one another and to raising those kids--regardless of the gender or sexual orientation of those parents.

It appears that one main reason that Two Are Better Than One arises from a natural division of labor that couples work out, not to mention the companionship and emotional support they offer each other in the storms of life. In most couples--again, regardless of gender or orientation--one person takes on the primary breadwinner responsibilities, the other the primary homemaker responsibilities. In our culture, these roles are often shared, but rarely are they shared evenly. It is still the case among straight couples that the roles tend to shake out along semi-traditional lines. But whoever does whatever--as long as the jobs get done, and the hands get held, and the backs get patted, Life Feels Better.

Thanks for a thought-provoking contribution.

February 6, 2010 | Registered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.
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