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Yvain comments on Rational Romantic Relationships, Part 1: Relationship Styles and Attraction Basics - Less Wrong

48 Post author: lukeprog 05 November 2011 11:06AM

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Comment author: Yvain 08 November 2011 07:07:36PM *  24 points [-]

After talking to a couple of people about this, I should qualify/partially-retract the original comment.

Some people have suggested to me that the best metaphor a man can use to understand how women think about "nice guys" isn't an ugly duckling woman who gets turned down by the men she likes, but a grossly obese woman who never showers or shaves her legs, and who goes around complaining loudly to everyone she knows that men are all vapid pigs who are only interested in looks.

I would find this person annoying, and although I hope I would be kind enough not to lash out against her in quite the terms I mentioned above, I would understand the motivations of someone who did, instead of having to classify him as having some sort of weird Martian brain design that makes him a moral monster.

The obesity metaphor is especially relevant. Since there are people out there who think becoming skinny is as easy as "just eat less food", I can imagine people who think becoming socially assertive really is as easy as "just talk to people and be more confident".

For people who honestly believe those things, and there seem to be a lot of them, the obese woman and the socially awkward man would reduce to the case of the woman who never showered but constantly complained about how superficial men were to reject her over her smell - annoying and without any redeeming value.

Comment author: wedrifid 09 November 2011 08:56:16AM 24 points [-]

Some people have suggested to me that the best metaphor a man can use to understand how women think about "nice guys" isn't an ugly duckling woman who gets turned down by the men she likes, but a grossly obese woman who never showers or shaves her legs, and who goes around complaining loudly to everyone she knows that men are all vapid pigs who are only interested in looks.

That would seem to apply better if at least some (but not all) of the significant elements of gross obesity and bad hygiene were rewarded with approval and reinforced with verbal exhortations for a significant proportion of the woman's lives. So basically the metaphor is a crock. Mind you the insult would quite possibly do the recipient good to hear anyway unless they happen to be the kind of person who will reject advice that is clearly wrong without first reconstructing what the advice should have been, minus the part that is obviously nonsense.

Comment author: Oligopsony 11 November 2011 04:48:40PM 9 points [-]

This is taking the unfortunate/entitled/nice/beta/shibboleth-of-your-choice males' complaint too far at face value - i.e., that they are sexually unsuccessful on account of being kind and prosocial.

People are really bad at measuring their own levels of altruism, which is hardly surprising. Those in this cluster of peoplespace are worse than average at reading social cues and others' assessments of them, and are apt to interpret "nice" and its congnates as "particularly kind and proscial," instead of what it usually means, which is "boring, but not actively offensive enough to merit an explicitly negative description." (Consider what it usually means when you describe your mother's watercolors or the like as "nice," sans any emphatic phrasing.) Likewise, we halo bad predicates onto those whom we resent - "jerk" is the male equivalent of "slut," in this sense.

What's creepy about this group is precisely the entitled attitude on display - that they deserve to enjoy sexual relations with those on whom they crush merely for being around them and not actively offending, or indeed in some cases for doing what in other contexts would be rightly considered kind and prosocial. This transactional model of sex is, well, creepy, and quite evident if you're specifically doing {actions that would otherwise be kind and prosocial} for unrequited loves and not people in general. The complaint is accurate in that yes, their being inoffensive and helpful isn't getting them laid, but the conclusion - that if they were jerks they would get laid - reveals a fundamental confusion. (I also think the PUA types are 100% right when they say displaying confidence is key, but that it's a bit confused to treat it as relating to dominance or women's preferences specifically - if you think you suck, others will assume you're right; this is the key to all sales work, and I've known a number of decent-looking women and gay men who aren't getting laid due to a lack of self-confidence as well.)

I have sympathy for these young men in that having poor native social skills and low self-confidence sucks, and, hey, I've been there. But they're not getting any approval for this, except when they meet up for affective death-spirals.

Comment author: HughRistik 13 November 2011 10:28:04AM *  8 points [-]

This is taking the unfortunate/entitled/nice/beta/shibboleth-of-your-choice males' complaint too far at face value - i.e., that they are sexually unsuccessful on account of being kind and prosocial.

I used to believe this, but after doing some research, and further experience, I changed my mind.

First, the available research doesn't show a disadvantage of altruism, agreeableness, and prosocial tendencies for men.

I used to experience agreeableness and altruism as disadvantages. Now I experience agreeableness as sometimes a big advantage, and sometimes a moderate disadvantage. Altruism is neutral, as long as I can suppress it to normal population levels (I have excessive altruistic tendencies).

Hypotheses that reconcile this data and anecdata:

  • Prosocial tendencies are orthogonal to attractiveness
  • Prosocial tendencies have a non-linear relationships to attractiveness (e.g. it's good to be average, or maybe even a bit above average, but any higher or lower is a disadvantage
  • The relationship between prosocial tendencies and attractiveness is moderated by another variable. For instance, perhaps prosocial tendencies are an advantage for extraverted men, but a disadvantage for introverts

What's creepy about this group is precisely the entitled attitude on display - that they deserve to enjoy sexual relations with those on whom they crush merely for being around them and not actively offending, or indeed in some cases for doing what in other contexts would be rightly considered kind and prosocial.

While some people who believe they are sexually unsuccessful on account of being kind and prosocial have this attitude of entitlement, ascribing an entitlement mentality to that entire class of people is a hasty generalization. It is likely that people who believe they are sexually unsuccessful on account of being kind and prosocial with a genuine entitlement attitude are very visible (far more visible than people in that class without that attitude), and this visibility may distort estimates of their prevalence due to the availability heuristic.

Furthermore, in this context perhaps you would agree that "entitlement" is political buzzword that has not been appropriately operationalized. In some hands, it is used as expansively and unrigorously as "nice" and "jerk."

Comment author: John_D 11 October 2013 03:26:15PM 2 points [-]

I suspect that while dark triad traits are desirable to women, they aren't the only desirable traits. As you said, research shows that agreeableness and altruism also tend to be attractive, and conscientious and agreeable men tend to be better dancers, and thus more attractive. (quick google search) I suspect that there are multiple types of attractive men, or you can still possess all these traits.

Then again, it is important to know how the dark triad is measured to begin with. I am not sure if this is the actual test, but it looks legitimate. While saying disagree to all or most of the questions that measured lying and callousness, I still managed to score high on Machiavellianism and above average in Narcissism. (low on psychopathy) This also calls into question how "dark" some of these traits are, since outside of psychopathy, the other questions were related to self-esteem and a desire for influence, which isn't inherently evil, and can still coincide with agreeable and prosocial personalities.
http://www.okcupid.com/tests/the-dark-triad-test-1

Comment author: lessdazed 13 November 2011 10:39:44AM *  2 points [-]

Now I experience agreeableness as sometimes a big advantage, and sometimes a moderate disadvantage...

Hypotheses that reconcile this data and anecdata:

...The relationship between prosocial tendencies and attractiveness is moderated by another variable.

I said, which was given some implicit endorsement (I think):

That deeper truth is that it is behaviors indicating high status that are attractive. Usually these are "selfish and aggressive", not showing concern with others' standards, but conspicuous vulnerability/non high-status behavior also shows high status by ignoring opportunities to display high status with selfishness and aggression. See e.g. John Mayer.

Comment author: wedrifid 11 November 2011 06:15:37PM *  3 points [-]

This is taking the unfortunate/entitled/nice/beta/shibboleth-of-your-choice males' complaint too far at face value - i.e., that they are sexually unsuccessful on account of being kind and prosocial.

It is doing no such thing. Make no mistake - I don't conflate altruism with approval seeking niceness and I recommend "quit being a pussy" as a far more practical bite of self talk for people in the category you describe to use than the "women only like jerks" message; I'm clearly not rejecting the analogy because I'm supporting a sob story. No, what I am doing is rejecting one soldier that happens to be on the opposite extreme to the one above. Because it is a false analogy.

But they're not getting any approval for this

I don't give any approval for this either, but I don't do it out of judgement or blame. I don't give approval or sympathy because that would be counterproductive to their own goals.

Comment author: wedrifid 09 November 2011 08:46:34AM 6 points [-]

I can imagine people who think becoming socially assertive really is as easy as "just talk to people and be more confident.

And it is that easy. Just like becoming an engineer is as easy as "getting a degree and being better at math".

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 08 November 2011 08:50:42PM 8 points [-]

For what it's worth, my reflex before reading a bunch of stuff here was closer to hearing "socially awkward man who can't manage to attract women" was closer to thinking of various annoying men who have hung around me, who I find unattractive (sometimes at the skin-crawling level [1]), but who never cross a line to the point where I feel justified in telling them to go away. This can go on for years. It is no fun.

After reading these discussions, I conclude that my preconception was a case of availability bias (possibly amplified by a desire to not know how painful things are), and so I use a more abstract category.

[1] To repeat something from a previous discussion, this isn't about being physically afraid. If I were, I'd be handling things differently. It also turned out to my surprise, that at least some men have never had the experience of that sort of revulsion. It seems to me that it's not quite the same as not wanting to be around someone who just about everyone would think was overtly ugly, though women frequently agree (independently, I think) about some men being uncomfortable to be around.

It wouldn't surprise me if there are specific elements of body language or facial expression which cause that sort of revulsion, but I don't know what they are.

Comment author: wedrifid 08 November 2011 09:01:37PM 7 points [-]

but who never cross a line to the point where I feel justified in telling them to go away. This can go on for years. It is no fun.

The obvious conclusion from these premises: If you had the belief that "This could go on for years and is no fun" is a valid justification for telling someone to go away then your life would contain less 'no fun'.

Comment author: dlthomas 08 November 2011 09:08:53PM 0 points [-]

That works for the future. You have to somehow acquire that belief in the first place, and it seems like something that would be hard to learn any way but experience.

Comment author: wedrifid 08 November 2011 09:15:19PM *  6 points [-]

That works for the future.

If you find something that works for the past please let me know. That would be awesome. Kind of like timer-turner hack for relationships. You wouldn't have to guess which relationships would work, you would just automatically select a relationship that would work by virtue of all the counterfactual bad relationships being pre-empted by the techniques that work for the past!

You have to somehow acquire that belief in the first place, and it seems like something that would be hard to learn any way but experience.

Or, like with many life lessons, by having good friends, role models and mentors. They help you notice that you're making a silly mistake when you've been making it for an order of weeks not an order of years!

Comment author: dlthomas 08 November 2011 09:21:10PM 1 point [-]

Amusing, and yes, my phrasing was imprecise - I wasn't intending tautology.

My objection was that 1) she probably has already made this transition herself, and 2) telling people that this transition needs to be made is not providing much information unless they understand how to recognize such relationships, and learning to distinguish what kinds of things suck for years from those that suck right now but get awesome later is necessarily going to take years unless we convey much additional information (assuming it is sufficiently stable between people to allow communication of that information to be meaningful).

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 13 November 2011 03:01:56AM 2 points [-]

I haven't made the transition in all cases. wedrifid's advice might be useful.

I probably need to figure out where I want the line to be. It's also a complicating factor when I'm thinking "I'd enjoy this person's company if there were less of it and I wasn't feeling pressured".

Comment author: wedrifid 08 November 2011 09:27:03PM 1 point [-]

telling people that this transition needs to be made is not providing much information

I hope not. I was trying to get as close as possible to a pure deduction from the quote so as to be almost entirely impersonal.

Comment author: dlthomas 08 November 2011 09:33:18PM *  0 points [-]

Understood. It wasn't so much a complaint directed at you, as at anyone who wanted to add more details.

Edited to clarify: That is to say, the negativity of the complaint, such as it was, was directed at the situation; the communicative content of the complaint was directed at anyone, including you.

Comment author: wedrifid 08 November 2011 09:08:01PM 16 points [-]

To repeat something from a previous discussion, this isn't about being physically afraid.

My understanding is that it is an instinct intended to protect you from threats to your reproductive success, not threats to your survival. ie. I expect it to tend to encourage behaviors that will prevent pregnancy to losers more so than behaviors that prevent losers from killing you.

Comment author: cousin_it 08 November 2011 09:19:35PM 2 points [-]

Thanks a lot! Your comment made something click for me.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 08 November 2011 10:05:57PM 2 points [-]

I don't think people are highly optimized. Evolution aims for good enough, rather than best hypothetically possible, and when I say hypothetically possible, I mean hypotheses generated by people from a time when no one knows the limits of what's evolutionarily possible.

I've had the skin crawl effect from men of varying status, though I admit the average status is on the low side.

Comment author: wedrifid 09 November 2011 03:25:18AM *  12 points [-]

I don't think people are highly optimized.

Having a 'repulsion/creepiness' response to supplement an 'attraction' response seems like something to expect as an early, basic optimization. Something that would begin to be optimized before even bothering with things like human level intelligence.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 09 November 2011 08:37:59AM 4 points [-]

Has anything like the repulsion response been seen in animals?

Something I don't think I've seen discussed is that the men who set off the repulsion response seem to be pretty rare. I haven't heard of the response being studied scientifically.

If PUA helps, it might not distinguish between men who have been ignored and men who have been actively avoided.

Comment author: wedrifid 09 November 2011 09:22:30AM *  10 points [-]

If PUA helps, it might not distinguish between men who have been ignored and men who have been actively avoided.

From what I understand of the philosophy a personal development program based on PUA would be expected and intended to reduce the amount that the guy is placed in the 'ignored' category while actually increasing the 'actively avoided' category. Because being ignored is useless (and 'no fun') while being actively avoided actually just saves time. Bell curves and blue and red charts apply.

There tends to be some lessons on how to reduce 'creepiness' in general because obviously being creepy in general is going to be a hindrance to the intended goals.

Comment author: wedrifid 09 November 2011 09:28:49AM 7 points [-]

I haven't heard of the response being studied scientifically.

My brief searching for 'creepiness research' didn't turn up much either. But to be honest I don't really know where to look. :)

Comment author: Vaniver 08 November 2011 09:03:43PM 0 points [-]

It also turned out to my surprise, that at least some men have never had the experience of that sort of revulsion.

I haven't experienced revulsion I would describe as 'skin-crawling', but I have experienced my scrotum shriveling up. This might be an idiom / physiological experience issue rather than a difference in life experience.

Comment author: [deleted] 25 March 2012 11:20:34AM 2 points [-]

Since there are people out there who think becoming skinny is as easy as "just eat less food"

Becoming skinny is as easy as "just eat less food" -- as someone once pointed out, were there many plump fellows among the Auschwitz inmates liberated by the Allies? The problem is that for some people just eating less food is itself not terribly easy.

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 25 March 2012 04:12:47PM 0 points [-]

There's also the thing that while thermodynamics says you can't stay fat and maintain a body temperature while taking in sufficiently few calories, there isn't a law of physics that says your body must start losing fat in that situation instead of just getting very sick and eventually dying. The skinny people who walked out of Auschwitz didn't include the people who had died of sickness during internment.

Comment author: [deleted] 25 March 2012 08:43:08PM 0 points [-]

“there isn't a law of physics” all right, but for evolutionary reasons I'd expect that for all except a non-sizeable fraction of people, the minimum weight below which they would die from starvation (or even the minimum weight below which they would stop being fertile) would be way below the maximum weight above which their obesity would turn potential sexual partners off. (And if this isn't the case, that would mean that today's fucked-up beauty standards --mostly due to the preponderance of very skinny models in the media IMO-- are by far even more fucked up than I thought.)

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 09 November 2011 06:08:46AM 4 points [-]

I can imagine people who think becoming socially assertive really is as easy as "just talk to people and be more confident".

There's a community of men how are in fact to find effective ways to be socially assertive in a way that's attractive to women, it's called PUA.

Comment author: MixedNuts 11 November 2011 07:07:28AM *  0 points [-]

The obvious strategy for this woman seems to be to look specifically for men who don't care much about looks and hygiene. (Also, you're a bad person for saying a woman who doesn't shave her legs is gross.) Melissa McEwan is fat and doesn't shave her legs (though as far as I know she has good hygiene), and that works out just fine because the people she's interested in prefer, or at least don't strongly disprefer, that.

On the other hand, those compassionate betas (at least those we hear complaining) seem to only pursue the (admittedly common) type of women who care strongly about status. There are obvious reasons for that (it correlates with being conventionally attractive), but it does seem like they're shooting themselves in the foot. If people who prefer your type have to throw themselves at you before you notice them, you're doing it wrong.

Edit: I don't understand the downvotes. wedrifid's objection is true, but it wasn't my main point. Is it because I'm telling people to hit on people who aren't their first choice? Or is it the "how dare you want the same characteristics everyone wants" undertones? Or did I just plain miss Yvain's point?

Comment author: Yvain 11 November 2011 04:28:45PM *  9 points [-]

I voted you down for saying "Also, you're a bad person for saying a woman who doesn't shave her legs is gross" when I never said anything of the sort. Maybe you misunderstood the term "grossly obese" (which uses 'gross' in the sense of 'large')? I don't know.

Even if I had said that, there would have to be a nicer way to correct it.

Comment author: MixedNuts 11 November 2011 04:39:39PM 0 points [-]

No, just the description that is intended to make people go "Ew, undateable" (obesity, poor hygiene), as opposed to "Aw, poor girl, those guys are so shallow" (ugly duckling).

But... but... how come I don't get to say that, when you get to say "This is a terrible debate and you should all feel bad for having it."? (Because you're freaking Yvain. Also because you have some concept of tact.)

Comment author: Yvain 11 November 2011 05:07:36PM 8 points [-]

Again, where did I say that it was "gross"?

I said it would make it harder for the woman to get dates with men, but is that really in doubt? Do you need me to find statistics showing that (American) men in general rate women who don't shave their legs as less attractive? And I was using it as an example of something that shouldn't matter, but does.

You don't get to say that because 90% of people who used it in the context you did would be using it seriously, and because accusing someone of being a bad person for being sexist is more of a trigger point than accusing someone of having a bad debate.

Comment author: dlthomas 11 November 2011 05:18:38PM *  7 points [-]

When you give a list of three attributes, people tend assume the salient features are common for all three or different for all three. The attributes you gave were obese, poor hygiene, and unshaved. Two of these, obese and poor hygiene, are problematic for reasons other than simple lack of social acceptance, and people thus feel more confident calling them "gross" - for which they were also primed by your use of the term in it's other sense.

As I see it: no, you didn't say it, but I completely understand why they heard it.

Comment author: MixedNuts 11 November 2011 05:23:34PM 2 points [-]

90% of people who used it in the context you did would be using it seriously

Uh. Okay. I guess I far underestimated the proportion of people who would seriously call you a bad person on LW. My bad.

Comment author: wedrifid 11 November 2011 06:27:47PM *  3 points [-]

For what it is worth I appreciated the tongue in cheek nature of your call and only object to the 'being wrong about what what Yvain said' part, not the 'bad' part. I can't help you in finding an explanation on how you managed to get to -4. Perhaps you could edit that one part out and see if you get back up to 0? People often seem to approve of retraction-edits.

Comment author: Yvain 12 November 2011 02:35:37AM 0 points [-]

Oh, fine. Maybe I'm just oversensitive. Downvote revoked.

Comment author: Oligopsony 11 November 2011 04:51:15PM 2 points [-]

Because this is a terrible debate, and we should all feel bad for having it. (I say this, like Yvain did originally, as a moth who knows it is drawn to the flame.)

Comment author: Desrtopa 11 November 2011 01:55:06PM *  7 points [-]

Edit: I don't understand the downvotes. wedrifid's objection is true, but it wasn't my main point. Is it because I'm telling people to hit on people who aren't their first choice? Or is it the "how dare you want the same characteristics everyone wants" undertones? Or did I just plain miss Yvain's point?

I would say you missed his point. The description was meant to be analogous to the sort of men who're held up as having entitlement complexes. If she doesn't meet many men's preferences, her dating prospects are going to be slim, and she can try to seek out men whose preferences she meets, or try to change aspects of herself which will allow her to meet more men's preferences, or, yes, she can complain about it and rail against men for having the preferences they have, but the last one is unproductive and insulting so it's no wonder if people take a dim view of it.

Since the woman is being rejected by people whose preferences she doesn't meet, and complaining about it, there is no "on the other hand" relative to the men who're complaining about their lack of success with women whose preferences they don't meet, they're behaving in the same way. You seem to be arguing that the men are more socially blameworthy (because they are shooting themselves in the foot) for not engaging in the behavior which you say the obese woman should be engaging in. But in the context of the analogy, she isn't doing those things.

Also, Yvain didn't even come up with the analogy, it was related to him by people who didn't think that his previous analogy (the ugly duckling woman being rejected by men) was appropriately descriptive. So saying something like "Also, you're a bad person for saying a woman who doesn't shave her legs is gross" sends a doubly negative signal, first for parsing his statement in a disingenuous way, and second for holding Yvain accountable for the opinions of other people he's relating to us. Unless you were obviously joking, I would have downvoted for that alone, even if as you say it isn't the main point, unless the rest of the comment was exceptional.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 13 November 2011 03:09:01AM 4 points [-]

I think part of the situation is that both the very fat woman and the shy man feel rightly that they're on the receiving end of a hostile conspiracy.

It isn't just that people are spontaneously unattracted to them, it's that there's a lot of public material which portrays people like them (and perhaps especially in the case of the very fat woman) anyone who's attracted to them as objects of mockery.

Thinking about the dominance thing.... there are heterosexual couples (actually, now that I think about it, the examples I know best are poly) where the woman is dominant.

If a man is temperamentally in the not-dominant to submissive range, would looking for a compatible dominant woman be a good strategy?

Comment author: [deleted] 13 November 2011 03:26:10AM 7 points [-]

If a man is temperamentally in the not-dominant to submissive range, would looking for a compatible dominant woman be a good strategy?

There are many more submissive men than there are dominant women. On top of that, in the poly community I seem to have noticed a pattern where dominant women end up primaries with even more dominant men (with both taking more submissive people as secondaries, etc).

So the prospects for a submissive male can be slim.

Comment author: MixedNuts 11 November 2011 02:08:08PM 2 points [-]

Thanks!

Comment author: wedrifid 11 November 2011 08:11:38AM *  3 points [-]

Also, you're a bad person for saying a woman who doesn't shave her legs is gross.

That meaning is very different to saying "grossly obese" in the same sentence as never showering or shaving her legs. At worst Yvain could be bad for saying that people who are very, very, overweight is gross - and even then it wouldn't be somewhat of a distortion.

Writing simply 'obese' would be an underspecification. For example the only time I have ever qualified as officially 'obese' was when I was body building aggressively - which is an entirely different thing.

Comment author: pwno 08 November 2011 08:47:46PM 1 point [-]

Right, but more specifically, the annoying parts are their denial of the problem and reluctance to improve. We'd all be a lot more sympathetic otherwise.

Comment author: wedrifid 09 November 2011 09:05:45AM 1 point [-]

Right, but more specifically, the annoying parts are their denial of the problem and reluctance to improve. We'd all be a lot more sympathetic otherwise.

On average people in that category get more than enough sympathy (mind you it probably varies a lot in degree and sincerity). More sympathy would tend to be a toxic influence from the perspective of trying to meet their unmet goals. Far better to empathize but show no sympathy whatsoever.

Comment author: pwno 27 November 2011 07:42:38PM 1 point [-]

I think that category of people are considered low status on average, and thus, not met with much sympathy. Maybe they have a small circle of people enabling their bad habits, but I suspect the strongest force is rationalization.