She Is Worried About Her Social Status, and You’re a Big Part of That
Just like males compete against other males for resources that matter to males, females compete against other females for resources that matter to them. Typically, female-female competition in other animals is more about food, territory, or other resources required to reproduce.
But if you’re in a competitive mating market with a limited number of attractive, desirable males that all the women want, then women are going to compete against each other to get and keep those males. And they are going to use any tactics that work—seduction, manipulation, gossip, physical violence, verbal violence—anything that works to get those guys and make them stick around.
Science has started to delve into female-female competition in a serious way only in the last five years or so, and we still don’t understand its intricacies very well. For example, it might seem weird to men that female-female competition would ever involve something as arbitrary as the specific brands of high-heeled shoes or handbags that women wear and carry.
But think about guys bragging about which micro-brewed beer they like, which concealed-carry pistol they favor, or which car they drive. The red soles of Christian Louboutin heels and the stitching on Celine handbags don’t make that much difference to their function—but the same is true for the nuances of the Congress Street IPA, the Springfield XDs, and the Maserati Quattroporte. Both sexes are suckers for status-seeking through consumerism.
Guys know that some of our male-male competition tactics are stupid and ridiculous. Same with women. If you’re smart enough to be reading this, then the women who are smart enough to be good mates for you already understand most of the absurdities of female-female competition. They’re just as disgusted by stupid women as you are by stupid men. But just as you seek social approval from guys you don’t really respect, women seek social approval from women they don’t really respect—and they’re often appalled that they instinctively care so much about it.
This is where the similarities end, however. Women face much different social vulnerabilities. On average, they’re less anxious than men about being bad at athletics, fighting, or making money. But they worry a lot more about their sexual reputations among their acquaintances, coworkers, family, and neighbors. Specifically, they fret about the existential reputational threat posed by slut-shaming in modern society.
Women are vicious to each other about slut-shaming. A woman’s entire social life could be ruined by one mean sexual rumor that has been perpetuated through social media by people who barely know her. By the time a woman is out of college, she’s had years of hearing women rag on other women (in their class, in their dorm, in their sorority, at their work) for being sluts and whores. Imagine the anxiety that comes with an ill-timed one-night stand or an indiscreet friend with benefits. It can be paralyzing for some women.
As a guy or even just a functional member of society, it’s important to realize that female slut-shaming isn’t the product of some deep self-loathing or in-group hatred. Rather, it is as prevalent as it is because a promiscuous rival is a woman’s biggest threat to keeping a good boyfriend. “Sluts” aren’t derogated because women are uncomfortable with their sexuality; it’s because they’re experts at mate poaching, which is a very real threat to most women. So when women are thinking about short-term mating with you, they’re also thinking, “Who at school or work might find out about this?” and “How will I feel about this when I’m Skyping with my mom later this week?”
Female promiscuity also has a “tragedy of the commons” effect in the mating market. If one woman offers blowjobs on the second date, it’s harder for other women to keep them in reserve until the fourth date as their special treat. This creates a downward spiral of young women feeling like they have to offer more and more sex to more and more guys just to stay in the mating game. Thus, slut-shaming is a way of enforcing a more restrained sexual norm on other women so that not all women have to become more promiscuous than any of them would like.
The slut-shaming then seeps down into a woman’s emotional matrix, where it can fester and undermine her self-respect. That’s why women typically do not feel great about themselves the morning after a one-night stand unless they have a lot of self-confidence and sexual experience. There’s a reason they call the journey home the morning after a hookup the “walk of shame.”
Given the risk of slut-shaming, a typical female strategy is to pursue short-term mating quietly, with a lot of plausible deniability, adaptive self-deception, and circumstantial rationalization. Any credible excuse for casual sex can reduce the slut-shaming risk—“It was my birthday,” “I was drunk,” “It was spring break,” “It was Jamaica, after all,” “I’ve always admired his writing.”
These special-circumstance explanations help women create plausible deniability to other women that any given short-term sex was not representative of their usual longer-term mating strategy. Even the euphemisms that women use for sex (“hanging out,” “hooking up,” “partying,” “dating,” “going out together”) help obscure the key issue of whether intercourse actually happened.
Understanding all this is especially important if you meet a woman who’s with her friends. She knows they are watching and judging. If you talk to her for a few minutes and she’s charmed, maybe she’ll want to leave immediately to go have sex with you. Weirder things have happened. But she probably won’t do that, because she knows she will be accountable to her friends the next time they meet. They will ask about what happened. She’ll have to come up with a story about why fucking a guy within an hour of meeting him should not undermine her sexual reputation.
So guys in that situation should not try to steal a woman away from her friends as soon as possible. Instead, just get her number so you can text her about getting together later, in private. That way, she can make her own judgment about whether to tell her friends anything about the night, and she’s much better protected against the long-term effects of slut-shaming.
Her reputational concerns don’t just end with whether or not she had sex with you. If she starts dating you, that too will affect her status within her peer group, either positively or negatively. She can already anticipate how that will play out. Partly it depends on your qualities as a guy. Are you such an awesome guy that she’ll get an immediate status boost from you having chosen her? Or are you such an embarrassing mess that she’ll suffer a status loss—at least until she fixes you up and makes you presentable? Her friends will also judge her based on how you treat her. Are you sexually exploiting and emotionally neglecting her like that creep last year? That lowers her status. Or are you taking care of her like a potential Mr. Right would? That raises her status.
You can do everyone a huge favor before you even get to this stage by making an effort in that initial moment of contact to charm her friends—even the grumpy ones—so that they think you’re a cool, funny guy and give you the benefit of the doubt from the jump.
This is as much for you and her as it is for her friends, who face a harder job in evaluating you than she does. You were an unknown quantity after all, an uncertain bet. They need time to appreciate your strengths and accept your weaknesses. But while their jury is still out, your new girlfriend will suffer a temporary loss of status. Making a good impression right away speeds up their deliberation.