Flush to Judgment At my boyfriend’s recent high school alumni gathering, it came to light that he had bullied a student (holding his head in the toilet, etc.) We’ve been together for almost two years and have discussed marriage. However, I’m truly unsettled that he was capable of committing such awful acts. It makes me feel that I no longer truly know who he is. He claims he’s an entirely different person and could never do such a thing today. How much weight should I give this? — Disturbed Comforting sayings like, “The meek will inherit the earth,” (as in, “Someday, you’ll be Elon Musk!”) are of little comfort while the meek are being given swirlies in the girls’ bathroom. You’re wondering whom you’re with: the good man you were considering marrying or the aging version of a teenage tyrant who made the little guy his personal kickball. Figuring that out starts with diving into the psychology of a bully. Unfortunately, our current understanding of bullying is based on flawed and incomplete research, which is likely why many bullying interventions fail and sometimes even make things worse for the bullied. Psychologist Dan Olweus’ widely used (but problematically incomplete) definition of bullying is: “aggressive … intentional ‘harm-doing’” in an interpersonal situation where there’s “an imbalance of power,” meaning a stronger person goes after a weaker person. This definition leaves a vitally...Read More
Category: Advice Goddess
Gawking Tall I really appreciate the science you laid out showing that men instinctively look at women, even if they really love the woman they’re with. Maybe I should stop feeling a tad bad about looking at beautiful women and enjoying beauty? After all, my wife and I have been married 26 years, and I’ve never even kissed anyone else during that time. Admittedly, I’ve sometimes wanted to, and I’ve had opportunities. Thanks for a perspective that brings in science and isn’t the usual man-bashing that’s out there. — Male Reader Your eyes probably go many places without your body robotically following suit — like at a buffet when you ogle the chocolate cake and baby doughnuts while dutifully piling a plate with raw broccoli and fat-free dip. Fortunately, broccoli rarely retaliates by sobbing, calling you a pig, and making you sleep in your car for three days. Evolutionary psychologist David Buss tells a story about a married guy who emailed him after reading his book “The Evolution of Desire,” which lays out scientific evidence supporting evolutionary theories about human mating psychology. Buss gets heat for the book from those whose beliefs it upends — those who cling to the idea that men and women are largely identical in basic sexual psychology — and he admits, “Some of what I discovered about human mating is not nice.” The man...Read More
Stalk of Shame I’m a 34-year-old woman seeking a relationship. Last week, I went to dinner with a man. We had an instantaneous connection and ended up having sex. I haven’t heard from him since. I’ve always believed sex on a first date doesn’t matter if there’s a connection. Now I’m worried I moved too quickly. I’m tempted to call him. Any advice on what to say? — Disappointed Chasing a man into wanting you is usually about as successful as trying to split atoms with small household tools. You may believe sex on the first date “doesn’t matter,” but our genes (the source of our psychology) have not heard of the women’s movement and do not drink out of an “ovaries before brovaries!” coffee mug. Women and men are more alike than different, physically and psychologically, but the physical differences we do have (like how only women get pregnant) led to the evolution of psychological sex differences. For example, evolutionary psychologists Martie Haselton and David Buss find that heterosexual men and women having sex with someone for the first time experience differing “affective shifts” — shifts in feelings — afterward. In the afterglow, women felt more emotionally attached and more attracted to their partner (a “positive affective shift”). These commitment-fostering feelings align with how, for a woman, sex “signals the possibility of pregnancy” (and Daddy shoes in need of filling). On...Read More
Spite Girl In my romantic relationships, conflicts bring out a side of me that I don’t like. I fly into a rage and end up making ugly comments I later regret. In the moment, it’s like I can’t stop. I’m shocked by the level of anger I have and I’m afraid to enter relationships as a result. –Exploding Woman There are obvious shortcuts in anger management, such as: “Never go to bed angry. Smother the unreasonable idiot next to you so you can get some sleep.” Anger gets knocked as a toxic emotion, but when somebody’s disrespecting or fleecing us, our blowing up suggests this won’t end well for them – in a way our being all, “Hey, no prob, bro,” does not. Research by evolutionary psychologist Aaron Sell suggests anger evolved as a “bargaining” tool to help the angry person resolve conflicts of interest in their favor. Sell observes that anger is one of a few emotions (like sadness) that “regulates” others’ behavior as well as our own. Anger rises in us when we perceive someone is treating us unfairly – not putting enough value on our well-being – and motivates us to get them to mend their ways. It motivates the person we’re angry at through two means: the prospect that we’ll “withdraw benefits” (like by shutting off the sex spigot or the perks of friendship) or...Read More
Smear Pressure I’m a college sophomore and my boyfriend is a senior. He’s a football player and other girls have crushes on him. Recently, he was with his guy friends at a party. A girl came over and said I’d slapped her across the face. I’ve never even met her! Why would she do this? — Mystified Women are seen as the kinder, gentler sex because they tend not to leave a trail of bloody noses and broken barstools. But women go plenty aggressive on other women, just in ways they can’t patch up at urgent care – like when some mean girl dislocates your reputation and fractures your psyche in 36 places. In short, while men have Fight Club, women have Underhanded Snipe Club. Researchers find that women almost always use “indirect aggression” against other women – nasty gossip, ostracism, and “just trying to help!” shaming remarks – to vie for mates and jobs. Psychologist Kaj Bjorkqvist explains that this covert “social manipulation” maximizes the harm to the victim while minimizing the risk of counterattack on the perpetrator, who often remains anonymous –leaving the victim unable to trace how her social status ended up in the morgue. Women’s mate competition can be a beauty contest – hotting up one’s appearance to yank male eyeballs away from female rivals – or an ugly contest: using “competitor derogation” (disparaging the...Read More
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