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Love & War: Does the Mate-Switching Hypothesis Explain Female Infidelity?

Evolutionary theory says men stray to increase offspring, but what motivates women? Enter the mate-switching hypothesis.

David Buss is professor of psychology at University of Texas, Austin. His work has been published widely in journals and he is the author of several books, including The Evolution of Desire: Strategies in Human Mating (new edition, 2016). Edited by Pam Weintraub

writes: Scientists now know much about human mating. The menu includes at a minimum: brief sexual flings, long-term pair-bonding, some infidelity, some polygyny (one man, multiple wives), rare polyandry (one woman, multiple husbands), occasional polyamory, some divorce, and frequent serial mating. These strategies are not well-captured by single labels such as ‘monogamous’ or ‘polygamous’. And we know with reasonable certainty that lifelong monogamy does not describe the primary pattern.

Divorce rates in the United States have hovered just below 50 per cent, and are variable but comparable across cultures around the globe. Among married couples, infidelity is far from a trivial occurrence. In 1952, the sexologist Alfred Kinsey estimated it at 26 per cent for women and 50 per cent for men, although other studies put rates lower or higher. We know that infidelity is the leading cause of divorce worldwide, from the Inuit in Alaska to the !Kung San of Botswana. And we know that most adults in the modern world, including roughly 85 per cent in the US, have experienced at least one romantic break-up.

But there has always been one missing piece of the puzzle when it comes to understanding mating strategies, especially among women. Why do women have so many affairs when these do not increase the number of offspring they can produce?

From an evolutionary perspective, male infidelity is fairly straightforward. Men have evolved a strong desire for sexual variety, stronger than women’s on average, due to the large asymmetries in parental investment. Men can reproduce with as little effort as it takes to inseminate a fertile woman. Women require a metabolically costly nine-month pregnancy to produce a single child. Stated differently, an ancestral married man with two children could have increased his reproductive output by 50 per cent by a single successful reproduction with an affair partner. Adding additional sex partners for women who already have one generally does not, and never could have, dramatically increased their reproductive success.

Yet women do have affairs, a phenomenon that, up until now, has been explained by the ‘good genes hypothesis’: the concept that women have evolved a dual mating strategy – securing investment from one man while mating on the side with men who have better genes than their regular partners.

But the good genes hypothesis fails to explain why, in the wake of infidelity, so many women literally stray, throwing over a current mate for the affair partner. My team’s new concept – the mate-switching hypothesis – fills the gap in scientific understanding, explaining what we observe in the real world. The mate-switching hypothesis posits that women have affairs to extricate themselves from a poor mateship and trade up to a better partner.

For both sexes, the hypothesis explains what we commonly observe: a year after publicly declaring her marriage vows, a woman finds herself sexually attracted to her co-worker. After changing his child’s fifth diaper of the day, a man wonders whether he made a terrible mistake and fantasises about his high-school sweetheart that got away. After six years of marriage, a woman finds that she’s the primary breadwinner and her husband’s laziness has eroded her confidence in their union; she notices that her co-worker lingers longer in the doorway of her office than strictly needed. After years of living a life of quiet desperation, a man starts a passionate affair with his next-door neighbour. A woman confesses to her best friend that she’s in love with another man and surreptitiously lays the groundwork for leaving her husband – a separate bank account and a deposit on an apartment.

These diverse scenarios stem from a common cause – humans have evolved strategic adaptations for mate-switching, a phenomenon that is widespread across species. The simplest such adaptation is the ‘walk-away’ strategy, in which organisms simply physically separate themselves from costly cooperative partners. The mate-switching hypothesis proposes a version of the walk-away strategy underpinned by human psychological adaptations designed to detect and abandon costly mates in favour of more beneficial ones.

Many in modern cultures grow up believing a myth about lifelong love. We are told about falling for the one and only. We learn that the path to fulfilment is paved with a single glorious union. But the plots of fictional love stories often come to a close upon the discovery of that one and only, and rarely examine the aftermath. The story of Cinderella ends with her getting the prince. After overcoming countless obstacles, a union is finally consummated. Few romantic fantasies follow the storyline of committed mating – the gradual inattentiveness to each other’s needs, the steady decline in sexual satisfaction, the exciting lure of infidelity, the wonder about whether the humdrum greyness of married life is really all life has to offer.

In fact, we come from a long and unbroken line of ancestors who went through mating crises – ancestors who monitored mate value, tracked satisfaction with their current unions, cultivated back-ups, appraised alternatives, and switched mates when conditions proved propitious. To understand why, we must turn our gaze to those ancestors and uncover the mating challenges that they confronted. Read the rest of this entry »

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‘My Wife Was Addicted to Ashley Madison’

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Matthew is a successful, 48-year-old tech executive living outside of San Francisco. Over the course of five months from 2013 to 2014, his wife — we’ll call her “S” — cheated on him with countless men on the Ashley Madison website. Last week, hackers exposed the site’s 32 million users. Here, Matthew, who asked that his last name not be used in order to protect their two sons, tells The Post’s Dana Schuster his story.

When I heard about the Ashley Madison security breach last week, the first thing I did was check out everyone who signed up in my neighborhood. I’m a computer guy, so it was easy to create database commands to say, “Show me everything in the ZIP code.”

I recognized six names right off the bat. There was a business associate, a handful of family friends and even a dad of my kid’s schoolmate. I always thought he was a decent guy, and here I see he spent $5,000 on the site.

August 24, 2015-A man, initials MH whose wife used the site Ashley Madison, and had an affair, poses for a photograph while shaded to protect his identity at his apartment building in San Bruno, CA. The names of millions of people who used the site were recently published by internet hackers. Photo by David Butow/Redux for the New York Post.

August 24, 2015-A man, initials MH whose wife used the site Ashley Madison, and had an affair, poses for a photograph while shaded to protect his identity at his apartment building in San Bruno, CA. The names of millions of people who used the site were recently published by internet hackers. Photo by David Butow/Redux for the New York Post.

And then there was my wife of 19 years. Or soon-to-be ex-wife, I should say.

I first learned that S was using Ashley Madison on Christmas Eve 2013. I call it D-Day, cuckold-speak for “Discovery Day.”

The breach — which exposed credit card names associated with accounts, profiles, email addresses and more — brought all of that pain back like a sledgehammer.

“My wife was a cold fish in bed … so it was devastating to see her explicit fantasies laid out there.”

— Matthew on his wife’s online profile

Not only was I reminded of the torture of discovering that my life partner, now 48, was cheating on a site that flat-out condoned extramarital

Matthew was able to read his wife’s deleted Ashley Madison profile (adapted, above) after the site was hacked last week.Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

affairs, but suddenly I could read the profiles my wife, who used the pseudonym Sophia, created during her two stints on Ashley Madison. She paid $20 to have each permanently deleted, but clearly, the company did no such thing.

Her profile, “attached female seeking male,” read: “Not looking to blow up my life … I am looking to stretch my wings a bit and fly a bit farther.”

My wife, to put it bluntly, was a cold fish in bed throughout our nearly two decades of marriage, so it was devastating to see her explicit fantasies laid out there so unabashedly. When we were together, she wasn’t into oral stuff, she wasn’t into kinky stuff — but on the site, she checked all the boxes: “I like to give oral,” “I like to get oral.”

Had you asked me two years ago if I ever imagined S would cheat on me, no less on a site like Ashley Madison, the answer would have been a vehement no.

“So when I noticed a weird gift credit card peeking out from her wallet, I decided to look it up online. I saw that it was used for $80 at a boutique San Francisco hotel. No San Fran hotel is $80 a night! But after calling, I discovered it can be — if you’re only paying for a day rate.”

We first met at a party when I was at business school. She came as someone’s guest. It wasn’t love at first sight, but I was interested right away.

[Read the full story here, at the New York Post]

We were a vanilla family, which was fine with me. We had two beautiful boys, now 11 and 16, and had typical dinners out and vacations up and down the coast of California and to visit S’ family.

“I confronted her once more and she confessed that she was back on Ashley Madison, sleeping with married men.”

Not too long ago, after years of struggling financially, my software company, with a valuation in the billions, had its IPO. We did very well. We lived in a $1 million dream house on the beach just outside of San Francisco. She could do anything she wanted. The only thing S couldn’t do was betray me, but I guess I forgot to be clear about that. Read the rest of this entry »


Sacré Bleu! French Study Shows a Majority of Men and a Third of Women Cheat

The majority of French men and a third of French women cheat on their partners, a new poll has found  Photo: ALAMY

The majority of French men and a third of French women cheat on their partners, a new poll has found  Photo: ALAMY

Poll finds that 55 per cent of French men and 32 per cent of French women are unfaithful and that infidelity is on the rise but that the French are champions of forgiveness

From Paris, Henry Samuel reports:  A majority of French men and a third of French women cheat on their partners, a new poll, has found indicating that infidelity is on the rise in France among both sexes.

The study also found that Left-wing French are more likely to cheat on their partners than those who identify themselves as on the Right

In figures that could help explain why so many French are unfazed by the dalliances of their president, François Hollande, the Ifop study found that some 55 per cent of French men and 32 per cent of French women admit to cheating on their other halves.

Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] UPDATED with English Subtitles: Hong Kong Alpha-Woman Scolding, Trash-Talkin’, and Bitch-Slapping her Beta-Boyfriend in Public


UPDATED 10/14/2013: Discovered at another blog, Basti in China, here’s an updated version of the video with English translation. The subtitles are imperfect, that’s part of the charm. Finally, a chance to hear their interaction, learn more what their little street spat is about. His crime? Seems he took another girl to his apartment, contrary to the expectations of the girlfriend, seen here delivering street justice, Hong Kong-style. For his alleged indiscretion, he takes a whipping, in front of strangers. Until the cops (not seen here) come and arrest his female abuser. As the French say….Cherchez la femme…

More via [VIDEO] UPDATED with English Subtitles: pundit from another planet


[VIDEO] UPDATED with English Subtitles: Hong Kong Alpha-Woman Scolding, Trash-Talkin’, and Bitch-Slapping her Beta-Boyfriend in Public

UPDATE 10/14/2013: Discovered at another blog, Basti in China, here’s an updated version of the video with English translation. Finally, a chance to hear their interaction, learn more what their little street spat is about. His crime? Seems he took another girl to his apartment, contrary to the expectations of the girlfriend, seen here delivering street justice, Hong Kong style. For his alleged indiscretion, he takes a whipping, in front of strangers. Until the cops  (not seen here) come and arrest his female abuser. As the French say….Cherchez la femme.

James Griffiths reports: The above video has received over 200,000 views in the two days since it was uploaded. In the video, a Hong Kong woman repeatedly slaps her kneeling boyfriend on a public street.

The 20 year old woman was arrested for assaulting her 23 year old (hopefully now ex) boyfriend. The ugly altercation came about after the man allegedly cheated on the woman, Oriental Daily reports.

According to Hong Wrong:

His partner repeatedly shouts about him for ‘failing to treat her as a girlfriend’ while passers-by spoke out to the man, stating that the she “isn’t worth it”, calling for him to break up with her and disapproving of the beating. A female bystander engaged saying “stand up, ditch this ugly girl, you deserve better“, telling the woman that, whatever happened, “doesn’t warrant you slapping your boyfriend in the middle of the street“.

Read the rest of this entry »