Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles

Singletude is a positive, supportive singles blog about life choices for the new single majority. It's about dating and relationships, yes, but it's also about the other 90% of your life--family, friends, career, hobbies--and flying solo and sane in this crazy, coupled world. Singletude isn't about denying loneliness. It's about realizing that whether you're single by choice or by circumstance, this single life is your life to live.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

"She Says vs. He Says: Do Girls Really Like Dating Jerks?": A Singletude Response

The above debate between Christine Hassler and Jason Ryan Dorsey was featured on Yahoo! Personals and made waves across the Web. In truth, this question stirs up trouble wherever it goes but seldom incites a response more definitive than venomous diatribes from the ladies who've been screwed over by jerks and the nice guys who wish they'd done the screwing.

Okay, ouch. That hit a sore spot. Free band-aids for all.

Joking aside, the reason I'm rehashing this tired debate is because I think Hassler hits it right on the nose, finally:

Here's how the jerk spell works: we meet the jerk and in some twisted way are seduced by his confidence, charm, and passion. We don't see these as the disguises they are: confidence is really arrogance, charm comes from him being a player, and his passion is being the center of his own universe.

The jerk sniffs out our insecurities and uses them to reel us in with compliments that eventually turn into criticisms.

Unfortunately, her argument peters out in the same dried-up pool of murky excuses about women who like "a challenge" or "a little danger." Dorsey continues riffing on this theme without adding much beyond a welcome admonition to decent, humane men to forgo the jerk act for ethical reasons.

As someone who’s cried with numerous women (and men) who’ve been victims of a jerk (the female version is often called a more derogatory name, which I’m not a fan of, so I’ll just use the generic “jerk”), I can tell you that, with the exception of a small group of drama addicts, most people don't want a relationship that plays out like a Neil LaBute movie. They get caught in this kind of relationship for many reasons, but masochism is not one of them.

Let's return for a minute to the quote above from Hassler. To paraphrase, what women like about jerks are their positive traits--"confidence," "charm," "passion"--not their repugnant characteristics, which usually only appear after the woman's heart is hooked on his eloquent lines. In other words, what women like in a man is dominance. They want a guy who is in control of himself and his environment, who is, in essence, master of his domain. From an evolutionary standpoint, that guy has the goods to lead the pack and protect the home.

But women also want a man who is prosocial, which means that he cares about the home community and acts in its best interest. In contemporary relationship speak, he's sensitive.

Hang on, I know what you're thinking: Elsie, Elsie, Elsie. {hopeless shake of the head} What planet do you live on? Not the same one that brought us Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler and Steve Carell, right? In this here galaxy, the nice guy don't get the purdy lady, see?

Two words (well, names actually): Clark Kent and Superman.

As he goes about his business rescuing kittens and brats who need to get in Niagara Falls to get a better look at it, Superman is a prosocial guy. So is Clark Kent.

The Man of Steel is also a dominant guy. Clark Kent isn't.

Superman sets Lois Lane's heart aflutter every time he whooshes by. Clark Kent? Not so much.

The difference between Superman and Clark Kent is dominance, but they're both "good guys." The plethora of myths, legends, and DC comics with a virile hero at their center should be ample evidence that damsels in distress really do prefer the hero, right?

No? Well, then let's look at some research, brought to you by the leading academics in the country:

Graziano, W.G., Jensen-Campbell, L.A., Todd, M., & Finch, J.F. (1997). Interpersonal
attraction from an evolutionary psychology perspective: Women’s reactions to
dominant and prosocial men. In J.A. Simpson & D.T. Kenrick (Eds.),
Evolutionary social psychology
(pp. 141-167). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Jensen-Campbell, L.A., Graziano, W.G., & West, S.G. (1995). Dominance, prosocial
orientation, and preferences: Do nice guys really finish last? Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology
, 68,

Rainville, R.E. & Gallagher, J.G. (1990). Vulnerability and heterosexual attraction. Sex
, 23,

Sadalla, E.K., Kenrick, D.T., & Vershure, B. (1987). Dominance and heterosexual
attraction. British Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 13, 22-26.

Touhey, J.C. (1974). Effects of dominance and competence on heterosexual attraction.
British Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 13,

The above studies examine female attraction to dominant males, differentiating the prosocial variety from the aggressive variety, better known as jerks. Studies of this type usually present stories or reenactments with characters who exemplify the prosocial dominant and aggressive dominant male. The female participants are then asked to rate the men on a number of factors, including whether they would be attractive dates, sexual partners, marital partners, fathers, etc. Overwhelmingly, the research demonstrates that women prefer a prosocial dominant male to an aggressive dominant one.

But here's the twist: women also prefer dominant men to nondominant men, period. So if they can't find Superman, Lex Luthor will probably win out over Clark Kent. That is, if there's no prosocial dominant guy available, a girl will pick an aggressive dominant male before a nondominant one. However, this doesn't mean that she's attracted to his aggression (i.e. his "jerky-ness"); she's attracted to his dominance. I'd even venture to say that most women who choose a jerk aren't aware that he's a dominant male of the aggressive variety. After all, when was the last time you saw a woman swoon for a guy who cursed out the bouncer or forced his hand down her shirt? They just perceive his dominance signals--confidence, poise, status, charm, command--and make their selection based on that. In the early stages of dating, when a male suitor struts around with his best foot forward, there probably aren't any other criteria available to dissuade the female from her choice. Once the aggressive male's repulsive characteristics emerge, the girl's heart is already entangled in his lines, and she's left twisting and writhing in distress.

The same phenomenon can be observed among men who fall for a female jerk. Although her magnetic power might not be recognized or described as dominant, that's what it is. She dominates her female competition through her own irresistible blend of beauty, sensuality, charisma, flattery, charm. But as with men, women who are the cream of the crop can also be prosocial (kind, compassionate, generous, forgiving, understanding, etc.), or they can be aggressive (cold, hateful, selfish, envious, demanding...), and men are as prone to be deluded as women are.

So, no, women don't like jerks any more than guys like...well, you know. While everyone likes a little mystery in the beginning of a relationship, no one wants to wonder indefinitely whether they're loved or not. The fact that both sexes get mired in the game of jerks who play dirty is a testament to how very much we long for the exemplary qualities that jerks mimic.

(By the way, my Fun Link of the Day has no problem using that word I don't like, so check out the link if in doubt! :))

Have you ever dated a male or female jerk? Do you think women and/or men like jerks better than "nice guys/girls"? Why or why not?

Fun Link of the Day


bobbyboy said...

Interesting response Elsie!

Quite an interesting perspective on the "Jerk factor" as I call it. I think it all goes back to knowing and liking ourselves and being honest about it. Unfortunately, sometimes this goes out the window because of the longing for a relationship and the need to be loved.

You know what may be even more interesting about the jerk factor? Possibly it's created or at least reinforced by those of us that get caught up in it.

I can't tell you how many times I have been out with friends and seen the jerk factor in action. "So Bobby, what do you think about him?" My reply is usually something a long the lines of, "I'm not sure because I don't know him well enough yet. What do you think about him?" Nine out of ten times there will be a clear indication that she sees the jerk factor in him, but for whatever reason, will continue on. I can see that the guy is a jerk, but to my fault, I don't usually give that opinion. This goes for my guy friends as well when they ask me about a lady that I see as a jerk.

Part of the problem could also be that we might, and have from time to time, mis-judged someone as a jerk incorrectly. This, along with not liking ourselves enough or yearning for the relationship, gives the jerk more time to play the game.

As for the "fun link of the day", personally, I believe that he/she (Not sure who wrote it)has some interesting points, but seems to qualify, "Why "Nice Guys" are often such LOSERS" as though "Why "Nice Guys" are ALWAYS such LOSERS." I think this is a mind set that fuels the fire.

Interestingly enough, most of the nice guys that I know and have known, weren't anymore insecure on average than anyone else. This is just my observation and I know it goes against the grain.

I'm not sure what the answers are, but I do know we tend to run into trouble when we:

1. Don't know who we are and what we want and actually like ourselves.

2. Label people as an across the board type certainty.

The quest goes on....

Victoria Gothic said...

Well, I have to hand it to you Elsie, yet another sure hit. You know, it would probably be better off if you and I disagreed on something from time to time to give those other readers another view or some such nonsense, but the fact of the matter is I just agree with you. And off all the aspects that attract women to the ‘jerk’ is the confidence. Someone who will step out and act. This is, as far as I see, the natural pairing of relationships. Someone who will be more passive and someone who will be more active. Passive isn’t always bad; it allows for more thinking, better planning, and a perceived better ending, but when time is of the essence, passive people like me fall short. That’s where you need someone who will act. And that’s what dominance is all about. Its kind of like, in a deep relationship, your looking for that person who fits a really cheap and corny movie line, “you complete me.” But the fact of the matter is that it has some relevance. You’re looking for someone who does what you don’t for a few reasons. First, capability. That’s why a tank (Don’t ask my why I thought of a tank first; perhaps it alludes to my thoughts on relationships) has a driver and a gunner. Two drivers would be of no good, as would two gunners. Second, so there’s better compatibility. Two active people would clash often and two passive people would never be able to decide upon anything. So, I would say you pretty much got it.

Now then, Elsie, I have a really huge favor to ask. If you don’t have the time, or if you just don’t want to, then don’t do it, its that simple, I promise! I won’t take it personally! I have a new work updated on my blog, and it would be really great if you could read it and leave me a comment about what you think of it. Now, as I said, you don’t have to! There’s no obligation, I was just trying to get some input; it’s a new way of writing I’ve never really tried before. Its more than realism, its reality. Thanks Love! Always looking forward to more writing from you!

Clever Elsie said...

Bobby: I do think you're right that a poor sense of self-worth is sometimes to blame for tolerating a jerk, but also, as you suggested, most of us are good-hearted and try to give others the benefit of the doubt. And, as you acknowledged, we want to believe that we've found a great girl or guy this time, so we move forward and hope we're right. In most cases, I think it's natural to consider one's dating partner innocent until proven guilty, and I'm not sure there's a good way to work around that without becoming unduly suspicious. That's why I shy away from a "blame the victim" mentality and place responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the jerks and jerkettes who perpetuate these games for the fun of it, regardless of who they hurt.

I should probably include one of those disclaimers stating that the views and opinions expressed in the Fun Link of the Day don't necessarily reflect those of Singletude or its creator. ;) I try to choose for my featured link a web page, site, or blog that is relevant to the topic and is either provocative, entertaining, humorous, or useful. I agree with you that the author was a bit harsh toward "the nice guy," but I read it a little differently than you did. I don't think she was talking about men who are merely decent, kind-hearted people but about a certain type of guy who turns women off because he's clingy and needy, then assumes he's been rejected because he's a "nice guy." I think there are lots of men who are both nice and confident and/or comfortable with themselves, the "prosocial dominant" guys that feature so prominently in the research. I've met them, too, and I don't think you're offbase about that at all.

Victoria: Good point! While I was thinking more of the evolutionary advantages of dominance when I wrote the post, of course you're right that there's also a dialectic of dominance/passivity in every relationship. That has much to do with relational needs, I think.

As for your blog, I'd be glad to stop by tonight or tomorrow and give you some feedback. It's great that you're writing new stuff! :)