My husband is hanging out with some friends, and an extremely attractive young woman walks in. She’s very blonde, very sexy, and very uninterested in giving him the time of day.
Until she overhears talk of how he’s married.
The woman’s eyes light up a bit, she introduces herself, and so it begins: The reliable flirting dance of the single woman and the married guy.
I’ve seen it a million times, and when I was single, I played a part in the dance myself.
“I’m curious,” I finally ask my husband, “why is it that you think you get hit on more now that you have that ring on your finger? Is the commitment itself just like catnip? I really don’t get it.”
He considers it for a few minutes and responds.
“I think a happily married guy projects something like stability,” he responds, “and stability’s attractive.”
“Mate poaching” or the less judge-y sounding “mate-choice copying” is when a mammal expresses preference for the male who’s been seen with other females or even mated with them. As Miike Snow sings it, “I change shapes just to hide in this place but I’m still/ I’m still an animal.”
The freaking wedding-industrial complex, man.
A guy with a ring has proved he can take the leap. That’s appealing, especially to a woman who is sick of flakes, Peter Pans, and perpetual bachelors.
Women dig a happily married guy who dotes on his wife.
Cue the line “Why are all the good ones taken?”
These are so easy to fall into, and so dangerous. A married guy talking to single women about all his marital woes is going to lead to a bunch of hurt feelings, and potentially physical affairs.
It’s comforting to deal with a married guy who in theory isn’t trying to close.
That’s pretty appealing, right? All that sexual and romantic heat, but with the deniability of the wedding ring.
Marriage is Adulting 101, and nothing makes a lady wetter than legally-binding patriarchal institutions of oppression.
Also: Think about the man-child epidemic of the last few decades. Anything that even remotely spells out “this man is an actual grownup” is so completely attractive.
If your single girlfriend sees that you are satisfied with your husband, she may envy that.
They think, “Wow, that guy must be amazing.”
And ultimately the single woman-married man dynamic comes down to pure science.
A 2009 study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that “mate poaching” does skew more toward women than men. Single women presented with a man who was described as unattached registered interest at 59 percent. Once the man was described as being in a committed relationship? Interest skyrocketed to 90 percent.
“[M]ost women who engage in mate poaching do not think the attached status of the target played a role in their poaching decision, but our study shows this belief to be false,” the study’s authors wrote.
Apparently, the married man demonstrates two key “yes” factors: There is “social proof” (he has the positive validation of having been chosen by a wife) and the “scarcity” (we want the unattainable).
Psychology Today offers a number of fairly sympathetic articles on how women are even engaging in unconscious repetitions of trauma when they flirt with married men — often trying to close their “attachment theory” issues on physically and emotionally unavailable men.
Oftentimes, the married man getting hit on is not even providing any breadcrumbs of interest. I’ve seen my husband around hundreds of different kinds of women, and it’s always interesting to watch the ones who get nothing back from him, then try all that much harder.
“I think women know when you’re trying to fuck them,” he responds, “so obviously they detect when you’re not trying to fuck them at all. Maybe a married guy who seems to be walking the walk can pose a challenge that some women will explore in a fleeting moment of boredom.”
It’s not just an internal challenge — there’s even societal encouragement for it. Take YourTango, which ran the listicle of how to “Bat an eye at a married guy without becoming a homewrecker.”
Among the more charming reasons to get your flirt on with a man wearing a ring: It will “make you feel good about yourself” and then “if he makes an unwitting move, you can always say, ‘You’re married! I didn’t think this was going anywhere!’” And, “Entrapment. Save his wife the trouble of finding out later in life that he’s a scoundrel. (Again, only for altruistic souls.)”
I find the whole phenomenon so depressing that sometimes I wonder what hope there is for anyone in the entire dysfunctional dance.
After 32 million users’ identities revealed in the Ashley Madison hack, sometimes I think about how the majority of those guys are still out there, skulking around, lapping up, encouraging and living for this kind of attention. In other words: This “trend” of single women’s interest in married men, if you want to call it that, probably isn’t going away — ever.
But maybe I shouldn’t care. Because while I do notice more flirting being thrown my husband’s way since he first put that ring on in November, I am also really impressed with how my husband conducts himself.
I try to tell myself that the sexy lady who had been chatting him up the other day is not actually a viable threat. And when I ask him for reassurance, he provides it.
“You really think you can resist all the women?” I ask. “Even when they seem to come along in endless supply, forever blonder and sexier than the last?”
“There’s nothing blonder or sexier,” he says. “You are the last.”
I see his appeal with an outsider’s eyes. And I sympathize with it, in a way. There really is nothing more attractive than loyalty.