“To wait or not to wait that is the question.” In Part I of this dating advice series we showed that men can discriminate between women & their intentions based on the gifts they give. For one thing, they can eliminate gold diggers. But women can also understand men’s intentions over time using other signals. For example, if you want a partner who will be a good father, game theory offers real answers. In a follow-up to their 2005 study[i], the mathematicians, Robert Seymour & Peter Sozou, researchers at the University College London, & The London School of Economics used game theory to understand the benefits & costs of waiting to have sex during courtship. The dating game had three possible & independent outcomes:
According to this fascinating study, the duration of the man’s effort represents the strength of his courtship signal. And it’s that signal that a woman should focus on. Males who are more available for lasting & true love relationships were willing to wait & delay having sex & hung in there longer. The authors consider these subjects to be “good men” from the women’s point of view, with “goodness” defined as willingness to care for their young after mating. “Bad men,” according to these male scholars, try to mate right away & then quit the dating/courtship process right after sex.
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Now back to the task at hand. To all men, the courtship/dating/sex game is a kind of war of attrition, with the opportunity to have sex with the woman the real benefit for which they wait. According to the findings, which required rejuvenating the statistician in me, a “good” male has a higher ratio of benefit to cost per unit time of courting/dating than a “bad” male. In other words, “bad” men see waiting to have sex as paying too high a price. A “good” male, on the other hand, values mating with the female & having a lasting relationship relative to the costs of courtship, more highly than a “bad” male does. In other words, according to game theory, they can wait to have sex longer.
Game (theory) theorists, evolutionary biologists[ii] & psychologists like me, share the view that a woman faces a fundamental dilemma with courtship/dating/sex: how to discriminate and make decisions in the face of great uncertainty & not enough information about her prospective partner. (Of course, men face a similar but not exactly the same dilemma.) The game theory based answer offered here is that it’s best to wait & see how the prospects shake themselves out by dating without having sex for awhile. According to game theory, if a man is really interested in a relationship, he’ll continue dating for awhile before sex; if not, he’ll drop out.
In Part III, also based on game theory, we will look in greater detail at what biology & interpersonal psychology tell us about the benefits & costs of waiting to have sex not just for those who want to have kids but for all of us.
So the takeaway here is, that game theory reinforces us to discriminate by taking your time to have sex. As the song goes, “The Waiting is the Hardest Part,” but, according to game theory, waiting to have sex is also more likely to result in a love that lasts.
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