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How long is too long to stay in the dating game? The primary reason for the psychological unease and emotional instability of so many modern women and to a different extent modern men resides in the irresolvable tension between our ancient biological inheritance and the relatively recent emergence of the high-tech rootless world of unparalleled mate choice we now inhabit.
It would shock most people if they were to be transported back in time to when humans lived in small tribes to see young girls having babies at 14 and again at 14 years and 9.5 months. There are subsistence cultures that behave this way today. The bulk of our pre-history was spent in conditions like this so it is no wonder that our brains are having trouble coping with a radically different environment where childbirth is routinely put off until the mid-30s, if at all, and rejection by a woman no longer means banishment to the icy wastelands of celibate metadeath when a man need merely walk to the other side of a bar to try again.
One consequence of this new paradigm is the absurd number of years spent in the dating circuit.
Women are designed by nature to begin the next generation not much older than age 25. Her risk of miscarriage or fetal abnormalities increases each year after that and exponentially so after 35. Her body begins to wear down which affects how much energy she can devote to raising small children. If she has not found a suitable mate by her late 20s she will begin to notice that those powerful feelings of infatuation she felt for crushes when she was younger, perfectly created by evolution to bring a man and woman together to make babies, now seem muted and foggy. This in turn will sap the dating experience of the best things it has going for it – namely, the spontaneity, the euphoria, the intense drive to connect – and leave behind a desiccated simulacra of dating that more closely resembles haggling over a business deal or suffering through a job interview. Overthinking replaces lust.
It is an embittering realization.
Men, too, have had to adjust under the new system. Anthropologically-speaking, it wasn’t so long ago that a man (or his immediate kin) blew his entire wad of hard-earned social and material capital wooing one or two women over the course of his natural lifespan. In a pre-birth control age when the first deflowering blast inside a woman often meant conception followed by years of fatherhood there were limits on just how many female sex partners the average man could accumulate in a lifetime. The rigorous experience of winning over and keeping the best quality woman he could afford and then providing for their kids soon thereafter meant that serial dating was not a typical feature of life. Dating 40 or 50 different women in a year and jumping haphazardly in and out of 3-month mini-relationships is a peculiarity of modern life for which men are not optimized. The energy requirement is enormous. Men have adapted to this stressful cycle of meet-attract-close-keep by either settling and marrying the first girl that would have them (usually high school sweethearts who have not lived enough to acquire unrealistically picky standards) or by hardening themselves against the judgment of women and learning to play the numbers game.
The game begat the player.
In the gigantic atomized urban tribe of any big city playing the numbers is not the high risk strategy it once was for our distant male ancestors who were often locked out of any future matings when a pickup attempt went awry and the target or cockblock would run and tell the whole tribe what a loser he is. Today, the proximity of exes has very little impact on potential future conquests. For men, this has bought them virtually unlimited opportunity to get laid. For women, this has robbed them of one of their most potent weapons in ensuring that only the fittest males get access to their vaginas — the withering ostracization of their sexual rejection.
On the flipside, men have lost confidence in the fidelity of their chosen partners while women have gained unstigmatized sexual freedom allowing them to play the field until the perfect man finally arrives to sweep them off their feet.
I do not think the current reality of endless dating can last. Something must give. Either humans will evolve into different social animals capable of withstanding decades of hookups and fragmentary relationships without turning to the comforts of cats and internet porn, or those people who serially date and delay childbirth will not have enough kids and natural selection will remove them from the gene pool as a failed experiment. Either way, change is in the air.