in: People, Podcast, Relationships

• Last updated: September 28, 2021

Podcast #142: The Science of Dating and Mating

In today’s episode I talk to evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller, who co-authored the book Mate: Become the Man Women Want with Tucker Max. You probably know Max from things like I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, but these days, he’s married and has a kid, and was actually concerned that young men were using his “fratire” material as an honest-to-goodness guide to dating. He wanted to write a book that would offer sound, research-backed advice for interacting with women instead, and so teamed up with Miller to execute the idea.

In this podcast, Geoffrey and I discuss some myths of dating, the traits women find attractive in men, and concrete steps men can take to increase their dating value, and have more success with women. Whether you’re married or single, this is a fascinating podcast you won’t want to miss.

Show Highlights

  • How an evolutionary psychologist ended up writing a book with Tucker Max
  • Why we don’t really teach people about relationships even though it’s one of the most important things in life
  • How to build dating confidence
  • What you need to understand about how women view dating in order to be successful at it
  • The traits women find attractive in men
  • How to signal your value to women in an authentic and honest way
  • Do women really just go for guys with a lot of money?
  • Why you need to become a “tender defender” to attract a woman
  • How “mating markets” affect your dating success or failure (and the best places for a man to live in order to succeed in the dating market)
  • Do men still have to make the first move even in our gender equal society?
  • How understanding the science of dating can help married men improve their marriage
  • And much more!


Mate, book cover by tucker max geoffrey miller.

Mate is a humorous, irreverent, but highly insightful book packed with researched-backed tips on how to improve your dating life. I laughed out loud several times while reading it, while also finding a lot of it quite fascinating. But the interesting thing with Mate is that while the book is marketed as a how-to guide for dating, it’s really a book about how to become the best man you can be. Even if dating isn’t your top goal in life right now, you can still get a lot out of reading Mate. Pick up a copy today and be sure to visit Geoffrey’s and Tucker’s site The Mating Grounds for more free information.

Tell Geoffrey Miller “Thanks!” for being on the podcast!

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Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness Podcast. A big part of our lives are relationships particularly relationships in the context of dating and mating can really have a big influence on what happiness and love mean but despite being such a big part of our lives, no one ever really sits you down and says, “Here’s what you need to do to have a successful dating life,” or, “Here’s what you need to do to have a successful marriage once you found the one.” We’re expected to figure this stuff out on our own.

My guest today on the podcast argues that’s actually we’re setting a lot of people up for unhappiness and failure by not giving them a bit of advice on how they can have a successful dating and relationship life. His name is Geoffrey Miller. He’s an evolutionary psychologist. He’s written several books on the topic of how evolutionary psychology influences our mating choices as well as consumer choices. He teamed up with Tucker Max. I just probably know Tucker from books like I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell and all that fratire stuff. They teamed up to write a book called Mate, all about the science of mating and dating. It’s packed with research-backed tips on what guys can do to make themselves more attractive to women, the traits they can develop, authentic traits that will make them attractive and the traits that will help them have a happy, long lasting relationship, really interesting book. It’s fun to read.

Today on the podcast, Geoffrey Miller and I talk about some of the research, talk about what you do to become more confident. We talk about the traits that women look for in men. We talk about what you should look for in a woman depending on your relationship goals. We talk about how even the place you live can affect your dating chances and some things you can do to change that. If you’re a single guy, a lot of great information for you. Even if you’re married, Geoffrey and I talk about how this research about the psychology of relationships can help you improve your marriage as well. Without further ado, Geoffrey Miller and Mate. Geoffrey Miller, welcome to the show.

Geoffrey Miller: It’s great to be here. Thanks, Brett.

Brett McKay: Your book is Mate. It’s about the science of dating and mating and relating and all that jazz. You’re a evolutionary psychologist that’s written several books published in leading journals but you ended up partnering with Tucker Max on this book. I’m sure a lot of our listeners know him for his I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell. How did that partnership happen?

Geoffrey Miller: Granted it sounds like a bizarre match at first glance but actually, Tucker’s a really bright guy, knows a lot of the science already. What happened was I read an interview with Tucker by a friend of mine that had happened back in 2011. Tucker clearly, he explicitly mentioned my first book, The Mating Mind, by name and said it had a big impact on him. He clearly knew a lot about evolutionary psychology, my field and about sexual selection and animal behavior. I e-mailed him 2012 and just expressed my interest and how was a leading popular author of fratire so knowledgeable about my field. We started corresponding. We got together for dinner actually within 2 weeks in Austin, Texas where Tucker lives, hit it off, had a lot of common interests and started lamenting the current state of dating advice to young men. That really dominated this first dinner conversation and was the seed that launched the whole Mate book.

Brett McKay: You guys started off with a website before the book which is jam-packed with great information there.

Geoffrey Miller: Yeah. We’ve been running this website called Mating Grounds for about the last 15 months. We have our own podcast series which includes mostly answering questions from guys and giving the best evidence-based advice that we can but also we’ve got interviews with experts. We’ve also got a case study of a young guy that Tucker knows, Joe, where we’ve been coaching him for 30 episodes through getting his life together and improving all his traits and proofs that are attractive to women and improving his whole dating life. There’s a lot of content there.

Brett McKay: You mentioned that there’s really not that much information out there about dating or if there is information out there, it’s not that great which is surprising because dating, relationships, mating, that’s a big part of life. Like what Freud said, it’s all the reason life is work and love.

Geoffrey Miller: Exactly.

Brett McKay: It’s like personal finance, right? No one ever really sits you down and talk about money even though money is the thing that we all spend most of our time doing. Why is that? Why don’t we spend more time on something that’s so important or teaching skills or insights that’s something that’s so important in our life?

Geoffrey Miller: That’s a really good question. Tucker and I actually wrote thousands of words about this that didn’t make it into the book just for reasons of space. There’s a whole back story about why has modern culture failed young men extremely and profoundly. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that anything to do with sex and dating and mating and marriage is very politically controversial. People have really different ideologies about it. A public high school can’t really teach a course on how to do dating and mating effectively because it would be seen as biased or partisan or inappropriate.

Also, parents feel like they just don’t understand the current mating situation. The technology of mating is moving so fast like texting and online dating and the way that dates happen. Grandparents and parents don’t feel like their expertise is that relevant to young people even though a lot of it actually is because human nature doesn’t change that much. Then, there’s people seeking to make a bunch of money off of insecure young men, basically scammers and slightly sociopathic pickup artists trying to sell their weekend programs. Not all of them are bad. Some of them have good insights but the economic model that they have is very different from what we’re doing in Mate. We’re just like, “We’re going to stick it all in one book. It’s fairly cheap. Boom. That’s what we know.” Other folks are more like, “How can we make thousands of dollars out of young men’s insecurity before we give away useful information.”

Brett McKay: Was there a time in our culture when we passed on this information about successful courtship and successful mating?

Geoffrey Miller: I think there have been cultures that had more effective initiation rites where once you hit puberty, if you’re a young boy or girl, the elders will take you off into the bush and teach you stuff. Normally, that stuff was considered sacred and secret. A lot of it had to do with hunting and gathering, not necessarily with mating but a lot of it was sexual wisdom. We don’t really know honestly what was taught in those context but at least, the elders of the tribe made an effort. They did have these ritualized settings and events that tried to teach young men what they needed to know.

Brett McKay: Got you. Let’s get into some of the meat of your book about research-backed tips at what men can do to improve their dating life, their love life. You started off talking about confidence. I thought it was really interesting because a lot of success in dating is based on confidence because you say a lot of success in life is based on confidence. How do you build confidence for dating? Is it something that if you get confident in one area of your life, it carries over to dating or is confidence domain specific?

Geoffrey Miller: We put a chapter on confidence right at the beginning of the book because it was the number 1 question that guys called in with to the podcast. They wanted to know, number 1, how do I get more confident, number 2, conversation, how do I talk to women. I think you can build your confidence. A lot of it is based on demonstrated performance. There’s a few tricks. There’s a few life hacks you can use to boost your confidence temporarily in a particular domain but in the mate book, we’re really about what are the sustainable long term ways that you can increase your confidence particularly around women.

Basically, that means you have to go out and have experience and interactions and build up the traits that you know will be attractive to women. It’s very hard to feel confident if you don’t understand what women really want and if you know you haven’t cultivated the traits that they really want because then, you get this impostor syndrome where you feel like, “Okay, maybe I can talk a good line. Maybe I’ve got a good approach,” but it feels like a house of cards. I think you have to do some deep inner work and get the rest of your life together before you can really approach a woman with confidence. Most of the Mate book is really about doing all that work ahead of time even before a date. It’s not that hard but it’s something a lot of guys neglect to do.

Brett McKay: You talked about what women find attractive, what your second chapter is about. You need to understand what it’s like to be a woman to have a successful love life. What is that men need to understand about women that they might not understand about women?

Geoffrey Miller: Another really common theme in the questions we got for the Mating Grounds Podcast was guys would call in with a question that could be easily answered if they just take in a few minutes to put themselves in women’s shoes and ask, “What is it like to be a woman? Why is she reacting this way?” We go step by step through the things about female life and experience that a lot of young guys don’t understand.

For example, what are women’s fears, concerns and anxieties? Women have a lot more fear about their physical safety, their sexual safety like fear of sexual harassment and rape. Most guys don’t get that. Women fear about their sexual reputation. They’re very worried about slut-shaming even today. They don’t want to put themselves in situations where their sexual reputation is vulnerable to being mocked or belittled or criticized by their female friends. Women are very safety conscious. A guy’s number 1 task in approaching a woman or presenting himself on a first date is not necessarily to impress the woman but simply to make her feel relaxed and safe in your presence.

Brett McKay: That sort of goes counter to what a lot of the dating advice you’d see online where you need to show dominance right away. You make them feel safe.

Geoffrey Miller: Exactly. If you read all the stuff about you got to be an alpha male and show dominance, dominance is great for intimidating other men so you scare them away but when you show dominance upfront to a woman and you don’t really know how to use it in an attractive way, it codes as danger in a woman’s brain. It activates their amygdala. It provokes anxiety. The woman thinks, “Why is this guy acting belligerent and assertive and even hostile to me? I don’t feel physically safe. I don’t feel sexually safe.” There can be a little bit of an erotic thrill to that with just the basis of those romance novels but if you don’t know what you’re doing with dominance, it can drive a lot of women away.

Brett McKay: Let’s talk about what the research says about what women find attractive in men, what traits they should be working on to develop. What are the traits that women find attractive in men from an evolutionary perspective?

Geoffrey Miller: There’s a lot of traits but we boil them down to just 5 partly for the sake of simplicity and partly because these are the 5 that we know how to improve based on the current evidence, physical health, mental health, intelligence, will power and what we call the tender defender trait. Then, there’s another 4 things that are what are your proofs that you have those 5 traits. We think there’s really good evidence that those 5 basic traits are attractive.

Physical health plays out in terms of how your body looks, how you move, how healthy you seem, how much energy you have. The big leverage points for improving physical health are basically get enough sleep which most young guys don’t do and it really handicaps them. Eat right. By right, we don’t mean pay attention to the FDA nutrition guidelines. We basically mean eat Paleo and I can go into that if you want, and exercise and know how to do exercise that’s really efficient and effective. You don’t need to do cardio for an hour 3 times a week. There’s much more efficient ways to do exercise. Then, for the other 4 traits, we go through analogous interventions that you can do in life that are maximally efficient and effective and don’t take that much time but they really bring results.

Brett McKay: Going back to physical health, do you have to be super fit like Brad Pitt, Fight Club six-pack abs? What’s the minimum required fitness? I think there’s a perception out there that you have to be shredded in order to attract a woman.

Geoffrey Miller: Shredded is actually bad. If you’re below 10% body fat, that’s actually not as healthy as having a little more fat in terms of how your immune system works fighting off colds and infections and diseases and all of that. It’s fine to have a little bit of fat. You don’t need to be super bulked up and have massive muscles. Women like muscles and they appreciate them but if you look at hunter-gatherer guys, the guys who are good at going out and hunting and killing game and dragging it back to camp, they do not look like body builders.

They look more like MMA fighters or Olympic decathlon guys or just guys who are generally in good shape from doing a combination of some aerobic work and also some body weight exercises or kettlebells or stuff like that. You don’t have to be in perfect shape. Women just don’t want to be sexually repulsed by your body basically. There’s a lot of young guys who are sexually repulsive in terms of what they look like. They’re not taking care of themselves and it’s sad.

Brett McKay: That was interesting that you mentioned will power. We’ve written about that on the site but I didn’t think that it’s something as a trait, a sexual trait that women would find attractive. What is it about will power that makes a man attractive to a woman?

Geoffrey Miller: Will power is closely related to a personality trait called conscientiousness which has been really well studied. That’s basically your ability to take charge of your life, have some priorities, exercise, self-restraint, avoid temptations, pursue long term goals and develop a set of habits and a regime of self-improvement. They require some effort but that demonstrates to women that you have ambition and that you care about making yourself the best guy that you can. Women read even basic cues like do you have a decent haircut, do you shave or if you have a beard, do you take care of it, do you dress well. These are signals of will power at a certain level. You don’t think will power requires that I work 60 hours a week. No, it can just be ordinary life habits that demonstrate you’re making an effort.

Brett McKay: Someone probably wouldn’t want to be married to a guy who works 60 hours a week, right?

Geoffrey Miller: Yeah. You can go too far in the conscientiousness direction which shapes over into obsessive compulsive disorder or workaholism or other kinds of behavioral addictions that are real turnoffs to women.

Brett McKay: I love this thing also. You have this tender defender because it’s an alternative to the alpha male dominance theory that’s put out there on the websites. Can you explain what the tender defender trait is?

Geoffrey Miller: Yeah. Tender defender is the way that we talk about striking the right balance between agreeableness and warmth and love and tenderness towards a woman and towards her friends and potential future kids you can have with them where you’re really taking care of them. You show you have those good boyfriend and good dad traits. The defender is if there’s an external threat, a challenge, a predator, a natural disaster, a criminal or more abstract threat, a social or financial threat, that you can rise to the occasion and deal with it, take care of it and protect the woman and her kids. Women instinctively tune in to who’s going to be a good tender defender and have the right mix of traits. Women are turned off by psychopaths on one hand because they’re not tender enough but they’re turned off by the wimpy Mr. Nice guys because they’re not good at being good defenders.

Brett McKay: Got you. I think I’ve read a research where women are attracted to dominance but only whenever that dominance is displayed to I guess “enemies,” people that aren’t part of the tribe, so to speak.

Geoffrey Miller: Yeah. A girlfriend doesn’t want you to show dominance to her mom or her nieces or nephews or her female friends. Dominance is there for male versus male competition. If there’s a threat from another male who’s sexually harassing your girlfriend, she wants you to stand up and be dominant and get that guy out of her life. Dominance can also be very useful in bed during sex. A lot of women want guys to take charge in bed but the rest of the time, if there’s not an immediate threat and if you’re not actually doing foreplay or sex, then dominance is just a pain in the ass and it’s not even relevant to a woman’s interests.

Brett McKay: Got you. You mentioned signaling. What is signaling theory in a nutshell?

Geoffrey Miller: Signaling theory is the idea that animals including humans are motivated to display attractive traits to other animals including mates but also to rivals to intimidate them or towards predators to say, “You can’t catch me. Don’t even bother trying.” The key thing in the biology it signals is the signal has to be credible and reliable and hard to fake in order for the other animal or the other human to pay any attention to it.

If you go around sending signals that are easy to fake no matter how good you are at doing something, then the other animal has no incentive to pay any attention to that. It’s called cheap talk. It’s not a reliable signal. In the mating domain with humans, what you want is to display all these attractive traits in a way that a less attractive guy couldn’t do. That’s a reliable signal. That leads us from the traits that are attractive into these, what we call proofs, social proof, material proof, aesthetic proof. These are ways of signaling that I’ve got these attractive traits in a reliable and unfakeable manner.

Brett McKay: Got you. Let’s just talk about material proof because on the web, you often read about hypergamy, that women are only attracted to guys who have lots of money. Is that true?

Geoffrey Miller: It’s true for some women, no doubt. Some women are gold diggers and they’re financially ambitious. That’s fine. That’s a valid life decision as long as they’re upfront about it. The thing to remember about what we call material proof is that money didn’t really exist until the last few thousand years. During the whole course of prehistory when women were evolving their mate preferences and what they find attractive in men, there wasn’t money. There weren’t bank accounts. There weren’t regular paychecks. The women would pay attention to things like who’s a good hunter, who’s got high status and prestige in my clan or my tribe but you couldn’t stockpile resources. Even the best hunters would sometimes come home empty-handed and have to beg vegetables from their girlfriends.

The idea that women evolved this fetish for wealth just can’t be accurate in terms of the anthropology. Instead, we think wealth is really attractive to women mostly because it indicates deeper underlying traits that tend to lead to wealth in modern societies, things like intelligence and will power, social skills, passion, dedication, ambition, all that stuff. I think when women see a financially attractive guy, most of them find that interesting because they know he had to do a whole bunch of stuff to succeed in his career whatever it was. It’s the ability to do all that stuff rather than the money itself that’s primally attractive.

Brett McKay: If you’re in a position like you’re a broke college student, it’s not that you don’t have money that women are … You should develop the traits that women will find attractive and say, “He has the, I don’t know, the capability of acquiring resources in a future date.”

Geoffrey Miller: Yeah. For 25 years in evolutionary psychology, we know that young men actually value your future earning potential more than your current wealth level. Women are very good at projecting into the future what is this guy’s likely path. Is he doing well in organic chemistry and he’s pre-med and he’s going to become a doctor at a high likelihood or is he a sophomore who’s got no idea what he’s going to do, no major, no ambition, bad grades. Even if he’s cute and charming, they’ll project forward financially and go, “He doesn’t have all the traits that are going to be required to succeed in modern America.”

Brett McKay: Having money was something required to get married. I got married with I was 22. I had piles of debt but my wife still found me attractive for some reason. I’m guessing she saw my pluck that I might have had.

Geoffrey Miller: The sad thing is most guys spend so much more time and energy chasing the money rather than educating themselves about how to become a more attractive guy. That is such a roundabout and indirect way to achieve your mating goals.

Brett McKay: Got you. Let’s talk about other social proof. One of those is sociability, that you have lots of friends. Why is displaying or signaling that you have friends or a large social network attractive to women?

Geoffrey Miller: Showing that you’ve got a lot of friends is a great form of social proof because it shows you’ve got the social intelligence and the emotional intelligence to sustain long term relationships. A lot of the same traits and skills that it takes for a guy to keep his male friends around are going to be relevant to entertaining and pleasing a girlfriend. It doesn’t really matter which sex your relationships are. Those skills transfer. Also, bear in mind that back in prehistory, women often transferred from their home tribe where they grew up to another tribe where some attractive guy was who they wanted to have a relationship with.

Now, if there’s a lone guy just out in the forest with no friend, no clan, no woman’s going to leave a safe home tribe to go out with that solo guy. They’re going to be tiger meat pretty soon. That’s not a sustainable situation. A guy’s got to be surrounded by friends and relatives for a woman to feel safe at a fundamental level. If you don’t have that social proof, it’s really important to get it.

Brett McKay: Get out there. Try to make friends. Join clubs, things like that.

Geoffrey Miller: Yeah. Meet-up groups happen in every city in America. A lot of guys lose touch with friends from high school and college. They don’t need to. There’s a video Skype. Guys don’t invest the effort in their friendships. They get really lazy about it. That’s stupid because friends can provide an enormous amount of vicarious attractiveness. They can vouch for you. They can reveal to a woman things about you that you wouldn’t feel comfortable bragging about yourself. They can try to do a lot of the courtship on your behalf.

Brett McKay: What I thought was interesting throughout this book was yes, it’s about when you do these things, you’re going to attract women but in the process, you’re becoming a better person. Even if you don’t get a date right away, your happiness will probably increase significantly if you just do some of these things that you guys lay out in your book.

Geoffrey Miller: That’s right. At one level, the book is framed and sold as dating advice but Tucker and I also had a cohort mission, almost a Trojan horse that we just wanted young guys to get their lives in general together better. We knew that sex was a huge motivator. If you just start lecturing guys about you need to get in shape, they’ll go, “Yeah, yeah. Someday.” If you go, “Women will have sex with you if you get in shape,” then guys will go, “Yeah, okay. I’ll get in shape.” Then, they get all the benefits of that in the rest of their social life, their careers. We also know being in shape improves your mental health and your mood and your happiness level. There’s a hidden agenda that we want guys to create excellence in their lives more generally. Because they’re so focused on mating, that’s a kind of a path forward that can tap into that motivation pretty easily.

Brett McKay: It’s pretty sneaky of you guys there. One thing you mentioned in your book too was this idea of assortative mating. How does understanding assortative mating help men in the dating world?

Geoffrey Miller: Assortative mating is just a concept that like attracts like, that men with a certain set of traits tend to attract women who have similar traits. The idea that opposites attract is complete nonsense. We’ve had 50 years of research in psychology showing that hardly ever works. Men tend to attract women but beyond that, people tend to pair up based on their overall mate value, overall how attractive are they. This isn’t just like the 0 to 10 scale of physical attractiveness. This is, are they physically attractive, socially attractive, intelligent, socially successful? Add up all of that. That’s your mate value. People tend to assortatively mate for overall mate value.

Also, at a more micro level, people tend to match on specific traits. Married couples correlate pretty highly for IQ, general intelligence. They correlate very strongly for political and religious values. They correlate pretty strongly for personality traits. A lot of online dating sites like OkCupid with their match percentage recognize this. Your match percentage is basically saying if you want to be happy, do assortative mating. We’ve asked these thousands of questions you can answer on OkCupid specifically so you can do assortative mating. That tends to lead to happier dates.

Brett McKay: That was really interesting because there’s a trope online where women are only attracted to rich guys. You can be old and if you have lots of money, then you can attract a young attractive woman. It doesn’t matter your looks. Then, guys just go for looks in women but whenever I’m out and about like I’m at Target or I’m at Panera Bread and I look around at the couples, these people look pretty much the same. Kind of overweight people are with the overweight people, attractive people with attractive people, medium looking people are with medium looking people. It seems like everyone knows where they stand like you said in the mate market.

Geoffrey Miller: Yeah, absolutely. Then, if you get to talking to those couples and one is conspicuously a lot smarter than the other, there’s a jarring sensation like, “Wait. How are they together?” You worry this isn’t going to last because the intelligent one’s going to get bored and frustrated and leave. If people are really mismatched on things like fundamental religious or political values and they’re always arguing about Bernie and Trump and Obama or whatever or which religion should we raise our kids in, that’s not going to last very long.

Brett McKay: We’ve talked about what women find attractive in men but in order to have a successful dating life, you need to think about the type of woman you want to date and relate with in order to have a successful dating life. What should men look for in a woman depending on their dating goals?

Geoffrey Miller: All guys are instinctively pretty good at paying attention to a woman’s physical attractiveness. That tends to drive a lot of decisions about who do you swipe right on Tinder for and who do you message on or whatever. We don’t really need to worry about guys paying attention to that. It’s mostly about what are a woman’s mental and moral and personality traits that are worth paying attention to. If it’s a short term hookup, one night stand, casual sex, the main mental and moral traits to worry about are the red flags that create a lot of trouble.

If a woman shows conspicuous signs of personality disorders like borderline personality disorder, narcissism or psychopathy, those can be bad because you can end up in a situation of lies and deception and danger and stalking and recriminations and disasters. It’s important to learn about those traits, we talk about some of them in Mate, even if you plan to only spend 3 hours with a woman. She might not be planning to spend only 3 hours with you. If there’s any longer term relationship potential like girlfriend or even wife, then all of the same traits that women pay attention to in you should become relevant for you selecting women for a lot of the same reasons.

Intelligence plays out in all kinds of ways that are hard to anticipate when you’re young in terms of career success and money management and managing and social relationships, resolving conflict, all of that stuff. Getting the brightest woman you can attract is important. Getting the most emotionally stable woman you can attract, the most agreeable and kind woman. A lot of guys learn this stuff through bitter experience with girlfriends who don’t have these desirable traits. In the Mate book, we try to give guys a preview of here’s how things will play out if you don’t pay attention to these traits other than just physical beauty.

Brett McKay: I thought it was interesting too how, I guess Buss has done this cross cultural studies about what men and women find attractive. People just tend to focus on the differences. Men put a premium on physical attractiveness and women put a premium on resources and wealth and things like that but what often these websites that report on this often fail to report is that above those traits, things like kindness, respect, that’s what both men and women put a premium on in a partner.

Geoffrey Miller: Exactly, yeah. That was one of the most striking things from that Buss’s study back in 1989. It’s been replicated in even more culture since then, more than 50 cultures. Typically, the top 2 most desired traits are intelligence and kindness and then you often get things like exciting personality or a sense of humor or creativity or resourcefulness, adaptability, all that stuff, inner crisis, would this person be a useful ally or a handicap. No matter whether it’s contemporary America or rural Uganda, those same traits can be super useful for both sexes.

Brett McKay: You talked about something that I’ve just learned about recently and you’re hearing more about it. I think there’s a book that just came out about this. It said dating markets. Can you explain dating markets and the general gist of it and how they work and how they’ll affect your dating life?

Geoffrey Miller: Yeah. Mating markets is a concept I got really excited about. I spent 4 years in an economics department in London that did a lot of game theory. Game theory is about strategic interactions between players in a particular market. It analyzes things like what’s your bargaining power in terms of how many people desire things from you versus you desiring things from them. In mating markets, that plays out very heavily in terms of what’s the sex ratio, the proportion of women to men but it also plays out in terms of things like what’s the distribution of ages in the mating market or the distribution of physical attractiveness or intelligence or what are the social norms and expectations about dating.

If you’re trying to date in Salt Lake City, Utah where there’s a bunch of Mormons seeking husbands and wives, that’s really different from San Francisco where there’s a lot of polyamory and open relationships. Most guys don’t really think about what mating market they’re in and whether they should move to a better one which is crazy because young guys are willing to move to college hundreds of thousands of miles away. They’re willing to move for a job but they’re not willing to move to a different mating market that might make it 10 times easier to find a woman that they want.

Brett McKay: Where are some places where it’s tough for a guy? I’m guessing it’s places like New York City where there are a lot more, I don’t know, how would you say this, like driven women who have high paying jobs. Would that be a tough dating market?

Geoffrey Miller: New York is actually awesome for men. I spent 8 months there in 2013 and it’s terrific because the ratio of college educated women in Manhattan to college educated men, it’s about 1 in a half or in some places, even 2 to 1. The women are desperate and there’s a real shortage of good guys. By good guys, they don’t mean Wall Street bankers. They just mean guys who can dress and talk and at least buy them a coffee. The sex ratio in New York is hugely advantageous to guys. The really bad mating market is actually San Jose, California near Silicon Valley where there’s a lot more guys than women. The women who are there are in huge demand and they have their pick of entrepreneurs and tech millionaires. A lot of the guys end up just becoming workaholics because that’s all there is to do. They can’t find a woman.

Brett McKay: When there’s more men, women can get pickier. When there’s more women, men can get pickier.

Geoffrey Miller: Yeah. This also applies to colleges. I mean any college you’re thinking about applying to if you’re a high school guy, go to Wikipedia. Wikipedia lists sex ratio for almost every university in America and have a look. If that sex ratio is less than 60% women, you’re going to have trouble. If you want a higher sex ratio, Sarah Lawrence College is 70% women, 30% men. The guys should have a good sense to realize that, “Oh, Sarah Lawrence College accepts men now. It has done for 20 years.” Women fall all over them. It’s really easy.

Brett McKay: Here’s the question I have. I can see that being great. You go to a place where it’s great with women, you don’t really … They’ll be falling all over themselves for you but I feel like from a man’s perspective, say, you want to settle down. Having that many choices could … I could see it causing you to try to maximize to the utmost to the point where you don’t even make a choice because you’re always putting off. “Maybe, there’s someone better out there.”

Geoffrey Miller: Yeah. This is something that does happen to highly attractive guys on Tinder in Manhattan is there’s this wealth for choice that they treat women really badly and they know I can always find somebody for hookup tomorrow and so they never develop a long term relationship. That can bring in some emotional and social problems but for most guys and most mating markets, if you’re overwhelmed and spoiled with the amount of casual sex you’re having, you will eventually get tired of that and you probably will want a longer term girlfriend.

This is something we realized in the Mating Grounds Podcast. Most young men don’t just want a bunch of casual sex. They want a girlfriend. Even if you’re in a mating market where you could have a lot of casual sex, you can always opt to make it last longer and settle down with a good woman. As you point out, the key thing is don’t keep second guessing yourself and going, “Oh, I could find another woman who’s 3% prettier and 2% higher IQ.” Your life satisfaction in the relationship is mostly going to be, at that point, how you manage the relationship and not are you actually maximizing every single trait that the woman has.

Brett McKay: We talked about selecting someone. Let’s get to the dating part. Is it still really up to the guy? What does the research say? Is it still up to the guy to make the first move when it comes to dating?

Geoffrey Miller: Yeah, it really is. It’s up to the guy to make the first move and ask the woman out. It’s also up to the guy to pay for it. The research on both of those is very clear. Now, women will give signals of interest, most of which are too subtle and young guys don’t pick up on and ignore. The woman can often feel like she’s the one making the first move but really, it’s up to the guy either when he’s approaching a woman in real life or when they’re messaging through an online dating app. It’s up to the guy to step up and go, “Okay, I’d like to meet you. Here’s my suggestion about where and when. Is that okay with you?” The woman will either go, “Yep, great. Looking forward to it,” or she’ll suggest an alternative or she’ll say, “Nope, don’t want to meet.” Then, you know where you stand.

Brett McKay: I’m sure you guys get this question a lot too on the podcast but how should guys handle rejection? I know for a lot of guys, being rejected by women is really, really hard. It causes a lot of anguish and anger. What can they do to just, I don’t know, handle that better?

Geoffrey Miller: There’s 2 things to do to step back from the focus on am I getting the date, am I getting sex. Step back from that and go, “Am I learning how to interact with women?” If you have that learning mindset that, hey, we’ve talked or we’ve messaged and I’ve been practicing my conversational skills or my verbal fluency, I’ve been practicing my storytelling and my sense of humor, then even if a woman says, “No, I don’t want to meet. I don’t want to date,” it’s still a win because you’re still getting experience in courtship. If you go in with the mindset that I want to improve my skills rather than I absolutely must have sex with this woman, then you don’t have to take the rejection that hard.

Secondly, in terms of rejection, framing it as a matter of feat rather than quality. Most women reject guys not because the guy is fundamentally inadequate and could never attract any woman. It’s just that particular woman, given her mate choice criteria, her preferences, what she’s looking for, what her mating goals are, they don’t align with yours. That’s okay. You don’t have to take it as a rejection of your whole being. It’s just we don’t happen to fit. It’s like going for a job interview and the company or you realizing we’re not a good fit in terms of employer-employee.

Brett McKay: I like that. I like that analogy. I’m curious, Geoffrey because I’m married. I’ve been married for 10 years. I know a lot of guys who are listening are married too. Can some of these principles help married men in their long term relationship with their wife?

Geoffrey Miller: Absolutely. I think a huge mistake that a lot of husbands make is thinking that courtship and attracting my wife is something I did before marriage. Now, we’re in some safe zone where I don’t have to make any mating effort anymore. That’s not how wives think about it. Wives expect continued mating effort and continued courtship and conversation and affection and attention throughout a marriage. Also, the same traits that attract women to men initially keep women interested in men sexually and emotionally within a marriage.

I think even married guys will get a lot out of the Mate book in terms of realizing, “Oh, man. I’ve been neglecting 3 out of 5 fundamental traits that my wife wanted me to keep cultivating,” or, “I’ve been neglecting my male friends,” or, “I’ve been neglecting my aesthetic proof which is how I dress and how we keep our home together,” or, “I’ve been neglecting my romantic proof which is how much attention I pay to my wife in terms of investing specifically in her and our relationship.” All the same lessons still apply in marriage because there’s really no finish line in terms of human sexuality.

Brett McKay: Awesome. Geoffrey, this has been a fascinating conversation. Where can people learn more about your work?

Geoffrey Miller: Probably the best place to go is just, the Mating Grounds website. It’s got a whole lot of materials, all of my academic papers, all 1,700 references and suggested readings for the Mate book, all 200 plus podcasts episodes and we’re going to keep adding material to Mating Grounds in the future as well.

Brett McKay: Awesome. Geoffrey Miller, thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.

Geoffrey Miller: Yeah, likewise. Take care, Brett.

Brett McKay: My guest today was Geoffrey Miller. He’s the co-author of the book, Mate. You can find it on and bookstores everywhere. Also check out Geoffrey and Tucker’s website, Mating Grounds. That’s You got to put the T-H in front of it, full of just awesome, free information about the research that went into this book. You got to check it out. Also, they have a podcast you can check out as well. That wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness Podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure you check out the Art of Manliness website at Until next time, this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.

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