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Are Women Hard-Wired to Dump Cheaters?

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Every time another celebrity cheats, we go through the same cycle: We're shocked and appalled -- and then we lap up every detail.

sandra bullock and jesse james

Diana Landen: Our husbands ogle the pictures of the Other Women (a.k.a. tramps), then reassure us that Ashley Dupre -- or Michelle McGee -- isn't really pretty.

Experts give us advice on how to keep our men faithful. You would think that advice for our husbands would be more useful. (On the other hand, would men read "Comparing You to Gandhi is a Sign of Insanity, Not Love," or "How to Keep 13 Mistresses Happy and Quiet"?)

Eventually, we hear from the excuse-makers: "Everybody cheats," "Monogamy is unnatural," "Males need to spread their seed" and "It's just evolution."

Gentlemen, we have evolved, too. Women who accepted cheating died out a long time ago. The Other Woman is, quite simply, a threat to our children.

Sex makes babies. Babies need food, not to mention years of care. The last thing we want is for our man to make babies with somebody else -- somebody who might want her babies to survive instead of ours.

Jealous women make better mothers. Our pain and anger cause us to take action to stop the cheating -- action that can include things like chasing away the competition or calling in relatives to intimidate, or even (in some extreme criminal cases ) kill the Other Woman. (Killing her would be wrong, of course, but women like "Angry Betty" Broderick might argue it is natural. Kind of like cheating.)

Or, you can make yourself sweet and irresistible to your mate. Or show him your pain, and cry. Or talk about his children, who love him. Or get your friends to tell him to treat you better.

If all else fails, it's time to leave.

Leaving may sound crazy, but a woman may be able to find a new mate who will appreciate her and be faithful. Staying with a cheater just means having more babies with someone who's unreliable. Better to get away from him while you can still attract a better mate.

So there you have it: Somewhere back in the mists of time, pre-human males started falling in love with their mates. Our babies thrived because of their father's care for us. Eventually a woman who accepted a man cheating on her was just a bad mother.

So please, stop wondering why we aren't more open-minded about men who cheat. It's the way we're made. If you cheat on us, you will hurt us. When the pain is too much, we will leave.

We could, of course, use our human intelligence and empathy to control our behavior. So could the cheaters.


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10 comments so far | Post a comment now
About Time Women Showed for Self Respect March 20, 2010, 2:22 PM

Ironically if all women leave cheating men or better yet don’t get involved w/ them, there would be less of them. People do what feels good and they get rewarded for. If you get to cheat and keep your wife b/c she will eventually forgive you - why woudn’t you cheat? Notice how there are much less women cheaters and men who forgive women cheaters. That is more than a coincidence

adelaide dancing March 20, 2010, 5:36 PM

even if you’re not into monogamy, honesty is the best policy :)

K March 20, 2010, 6:43 PM

This theory (which is a human behavioral evolution or sociobiological theory) has quite a bit more behind it, if anyone is curious.

Women are LESS likely to dump a man for a “purely physical” affair - i.e., if she doesn’t believe or trusts that there was no emotion involved (and thus no chance of her and her offsprings’ resources, in the form of the pair-bonded male, disappearing to take up residence with the new female). It’s why a woman’s first question is always “Did you love her?”; it’s the emotional attachment and thus potential for permanent loss that represents a decrease in a woman’s reproductive success and thus which would spur a woman to leave. Reproductive success is, from an HBE perspective, always the ultimate explanation for any adaptive behavior, such as staying or leaving a philandering mate. Men, on the other hand, have a different reproductive motivation; because their paternity is never truly assured (well, not without modern-day paternity testing!), sexual infidelity, regardless of emotion, is a much larger threat to their reproductive success and thus it is far, far less common for a man to remain with a wife who has cheated on him. I know I’m long winded, but hopefully someone enjoyed learning a little bit more about the biological anthropologists’ hypotheses on the evolutionary roots of infidelity and single-mate pair bonding in humans. This is actually my projected thesis for graduate school so it’s great seeing an article on it in here!

James March 20, 2010, 7:30 PM

The flaw in the above argument is that Sandra Bullock doesn’t have any kids. It’s not clear what difference it makes about children cause it’s highly unlikely she was ever going to have any with James anyway. She may not want him to have children with anyone else, but in the grand biological scheme of things, doesn’t he have a natural need to spread his seed and procreate whereas Sandra doesn’t really help in this area whatsoever. Why then would it at all seem shocking that he would be out with other women?

Diana Landen March 21, 2010, 3:37 PM

Hi, K! Thanks for your comments.
I wonder if you could answer a few questions I’m curious about.
Despite all the talk about males spreading seed, it seems to me that human males are better off having sex with women they are attached to. We humans don’t go into heat, so to be sure you’re making a baby, it helps to stay around the same woman and have sex frequently (and keep others away). Also, because humans need so much more support to raise their babies, a man who has sex with an unattached woman and leaves might not produce kids who survive. So there seems to me to be a huge biological reason men should fall in love with the women they sleep with. Has anyone looked at this?

Has anyone looked at whether how many children a woman has with the man affects how likely she is to leave if he cheats? Does her age or status affect it?

Do men ever wait and see if a cheating woman is pregnant before leaving? Does the number of children he already has with her affect his behavior? What about his age and status?

K March 21, 2010, 7:42 PM

Hi, Diana :] I’ll try to answer as many of your questions as I can – I’m still at the very outset of my grad work! Firstly, while it certainly wouldn’t be called going “into heat”, it’s not entirely clear that females don’t have some form of estrus, though it maybe not be consciously visible. For example – they did a study on lap dancers recently, and dancers who were ovulating at the time of the study made around 1/3 more money in a single shift than a woman in the luteal phase of her cycle, and almost double what a menstruating dancer did! It sounds like a silly study, I know, but it does seem to lend some credence to the idea that there is some type of estrous cycling in human females. Also, it’s been documented in some studies that women are more likely to stray and cheat during ovulation. Food for thought, huh? Your point that human babies take a lot of care to raise is a good one, and is the main point in determining a woman’s mate choice and reproductive choices. However, the biggest reason that the “spread your seed” method of increasing reproductive fitness works for men is this as well – there is no biological force which forces a man to assist in raising his children at all, and his parental investment is drastically lower. While it takes a woman 10 months and high physical, biological effort to have a child, it takes a man what – 10 minutes? to potentially create one. From a purely biological standpoint, a man maximizes his potential reproductive success by impregnating as many women as possible. By doing so, he increases not only the number of children he may father, but also hedges his bets from a genetic standpoint – by having children by many different women, he fathers children with many different sets of genes and thus many different immunities. If all his children were with the same woman, they would have (largely) all of the same genetic strengths and weaknesses and be vulnerable to all of the same illnesses, etc. If he has children from different mothers, one bad fever will maybe fell 2-3 of his children, but other offspring may have had a more stable immune system and survive. You’re right, though – there absolutely IS a reason why men do tend to fall into largely pair-bonded relationships (although, of course, history shows us this doesn’t stop extra-pair copulation!). The issue is PATERNITY ASSURANCE. Prior to modern medical technology, which allows for paternity testing, a man could never truly be sure whether a child a women bore was his or not. We all know if a woman has a baby, it’s hers, obviously. Not so for men – there’s no true evidence it’s really his (and surveys estimate that even today, 1/10 children are being raised by a ‘father’ that isn’t theirs biologically), unless he is in a relationship that he knows is monogamous and that the woman hasn’t been with anyone else. That’s the true root of monogamy in our society, and helps to explain why pair-bonds in humans form the way they do. (It also explains why babies are more likely to look like their fathers as newborns/infants – men who think their babies look like them are far less likely to dispute paternity, even with cause!) As for the rest of your questions: they’re really, really interesting, but I don’t know the answers to them at the moment. They’re definitely questions that have piqued my interest for my research project, so I’d love to look into them – thank you for suggesting them! If there’s any way I can contact you, I could forward you any studies I might find on the topic.

K March 21, 2010, 7:45 PM

into largely pair-bonded relationships (although, of course, history shows us this doesn’t stop extra-pair copulation!). The issue is PATERNITY ASSURANCE. Prior to modern medical technology, which allows for paternity testing, a man could never truly be sure whether a child a women bore was his or not. We all know if a woman has a baby, it’s hers, obviously. Not so for men – there’s no true evidence it’s really his (and surveys estimate that even today, 1/10 children are being raised by a ‘father’ that isn’t theirs biologically), unless he is in a relationship that he knows is monogamous and that the woman hasn’t been with anyone else. That’s the true root of monogamy in our society, and helps to explain why pair-bonds in humans form the way they do. (It also explains why babies are more likely to look like their fathers as newborns/infants – men who think their babies look like them are far less likely to dispute paternity, even with cause!) As for the rest of your questions: they’re really, really interesting, but I don’t know the answers to them at the moment. They’re definitely questions that have piqued my interest for my research project, so I’d love to look into them – thank you for suggesting them! If there’s any way I can contact you, I could forward you any studies I might find on the topic.

Diana Landen March 22, 2010, 3:38 AM

K - I’d rather not post my e-mail, but I am a member of MomLogic Community. You can send me a message there.
Diana Landen

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