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How to find Mr Right in midlife

A biologist’s approach to dating shows that embracing our power and shunning alpha males will get us what we want

I’m struggling through the undergrowth with my binoculars and dictaphone as Pica stealthily scampers along the branches above me, leaping easily from one tree to the next.

Where on earth is she going? We’re at least a kilometre away from the rest of her troop.

This is the mid-90s in the thick dune forest of KwaZulu Natal in South Africa and I’m studying the mating strategies of wild samango monkeys. I’m confused by Pica’s behaviour because usually females cluster near to the one adult male in the troop who defends his harem aggressively against intruders, but now I’m pretty sure Pica’s troop male has no idea where she is.

But then… I spot a sleek, fit-looking, samango male stranger who’s watching from the shadows in the crook of a milkwood tree. Pica approaches him cautiously, pouts her lips and vigorously shakes her head, which in samango-ese means “take me now” and she proffers her backside.

Ahhh…. now I see what’s going on.

How the females used their influence

Over the following few weeks, this sort of scenario kept playing out, involving not only Pica and her new beau, but many of her female troop-mates with new conquests. Through exercising their power of choice, the female samangos attracted new males to the troop, initiated a troop takeover and took control of who their main man was going to be.

As female primates, we women have the same power – clearly not everywhere, sadly, but at least in the relatively liberal parts of the world – so we can choose a partner on the basis of the qualities we know we want and need.

And, just like samango females, we can influence the behaviour of males of our species through our choices too. That’s because straight men, just like male monkeys, do things in the ways they do ultimately to get the girls.

As the eminent evolutionary anthropologist Sarah Hrdy famously quipped:

“Men are one long breeding experiment run by women”.

So how are we women using our power of choice then?

What happened to our power of choice?

Sad to say, we often let our gut instinct get in the way of good decision-making. As I’ve detailed in a previous Noon article, these instincts evolved back in the Stone Age when we needed different things from our men, so many of us find ourselves going for guys who have relatively high status, who are dominant and competitive and confident. These are the men who would have been able to provide us with food and protection back in the day. And they’ve proved pretty handy in some ways in more recent times too.

Inconveniently though, we can’t get everything we want in one man. It turns out that these desirable qualities tend to be found in men with low scores in the personality factor “Agreeableness”. That means they’re ruthless, they don’t really worry what other people think, and they don’t have much empathy or consideration for others.

Doesn’t sound like a recipe for a happy relationship does it?

And if we’re in the habit of going for these guys who are in charge; the competitive, low-empathy types, then that has some pretty serious implications for what men are going to aspire to be.

Let’s rethink what we need in our partners

But the crazy thing is, women in midlife don’t even need these “alpha-male” qualities in a partner. We don’t need protection and provisioning for kids since as midlife women, we ain’t going to have any (more) babies. We’re independent, and usually financially self-sufficient, but the research data show that wealthy alpha-women are even more prone than others to desire men who are also at the top of their game.

We’d be so much better off if we make a change, and consciously update those “gut instincts” to go for a guy who’s considerate, reliable, a man who wants to make us happy every day and inspires us to reciprocate. Nice guys aren’t losers, they just have different values and priorities; ones that are more aligned with treating you well and actually having a happy relationship.

Do nice guys finish last?

I’m guessing you might be thinking, “Yeah, I know I need a nice guy – but they just don’t do it for me…”

I used to think that too, and I ended up having relationships with sexy but self-obsessed types that had me on an emotional rollercoaster and just left me very unhappy.

But then, as a biologist pushing 50, I had a eureka moment. The answers lie in science.

Why we need to use science to date

I turned to the biological research on attraction, mate choice and relationships and I worked out how to identify good men and, crucially, how to let the desire grow gradually and powerfully instead of relying on immediate chemistry.

I met the man who’s now my husband, and to be brutally honest, if I’d been following my old ways of looking for men I’d never have given him a chance.

But I’m delighted to say, my new scientific strategy worked. I’ve found the love of my life and I’ve never been happier. My mission now is to help other midlife women do the same.

So, sisters – let me give you a run down of how you too can fall for and fancy one of the good guys:

  1. Understand what you need in ‘Mr Right’

Don’t worry about whether he drives the right car, speaks with the right accent, has the same level of fanaticism about fitness as you – or whatever. The kind of man you need is one who’s naturally inclined to take care of your needs, one who has your back and makes you feel good about yourself, one who has aspirations for life aligned with yours. The other stuff can be negotiated or is unimportant in the long run.

  1. Know what you really need to avoid

There are some men out there who have the potential to make you very unhappy in a relationship, and I’m talking about those high in traits of the Dark Triad. Yes it’s as scary as it sounds, and the components of this personality combo are narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy.

Unfortunately these guys don’t have warning signs plastered across their foreheads. They’re often incredibly charming at the start, they say all the right things, they put you on a pedestal, but once they’ve got their feet under the table things can turn sour very quickly.

Rule of thumb: If things seem “too good to be true” at the start, be very, very sceptical.

  1. Take your time

The biggest challenge for men in finding a relationship tends to be right at the start – getting the approval of their chosen target, and often they’ll pull out all the stops, arrange great dates, and give you lots of lovely attention in the first few days or weeks. At this point, you might be thinking “Yes, this is it – my turn to be loved-up” and you happily cancel your other social events and stop seeing your friends to make time for him whenever he wants.

Stop right there. You don’t know yet if he’s serious about a relationship or if he’s one of the ones who’ll mysteriously “disappear” when he sees a new opportunity. You don’t know him yet. Don’t invest too much of your time or emotional energy in him until you do.

  1. Forget the “chemistry”

So many times I’ve heard women say after a first date something like, “Ach there was no spark – there’s no point in carrying on with this one”.

But this could be a mistake. Initial “chemistry” doesn’t have much impact on relationship success, ultimately. In fact it can just mess up your judgement. Better to take a step back and look at things objectively. Find men you’d like as friends, who you’re curious to know better. Research shows if we get to like a man’s personality, then physical desire gradually follows. This is how to fancy the nice guys.

  1. Find your nice guy’s zone of confidence

We women love a man who’s self-assured – and sometimes that leads us to go for super-confident guys of the Dark Triad variety mentioned above – not a good scenario.

The ones we usually pass right by – the good guys, the empathetic ones, often come across as less assertive and sure of themselves. They don’t exactly set us alight.

But wait just a minute. These nice, considerate blokes often have expertise and confidence in a particular area, and if we can see them “in their element” they become an altogether more attractive prospect.

When I first met my man I knew he was a good guy, but it wasn’t until I heard him sing and totally own the room that I really got turned on to his charms. For other men, it might be their ability to teach others, or to craft beautiful objects, or to give funny speeches – whatever. If we can find their zone, and crucially if we can see other people being impressed with them, it’s a game changer.

  1. Don’t forget – you are a selector

We women often get sucked into the idea that if we’re going to find a quality bloke we have to work at being attractive – to men in general. But we don’t want a “general” man, we want a specific one who will love us for who we are.

So when you meet an attractive guy, don’t be thinking “how can I make this man like me?”. Instead ask yourself, “Does this man have the qualities needed to build a happy relationship with me? Has he got what it takes?”

That’s how to find one of the good guys.

Embrace your dating power

Imagine how the world would look if women embraced their power of choice and more of us picked men on the basis of how considerate, cooperative and empathetic they were instead of going for the narcissistic charmers who ultimately can’t follow through.

I’m pretty sure we’d see some fairly swift cultural change!

Human behaviour isn’t set in stone. Men have evolved the capacity – although let’s face it, some more than others – for different ways of “doing” relationships. Which way they pick depends on what they see as the costs and benefits. It’s up to us to activate the behaviour we want.

Appreciate your value

Like the samango girls, you, as a female primate have massive value, and that means you have a lot more power and influence than you probably realise – on your own relationship outcomes and on society in general. Don’t wait for men to present themselves to you. Use your power and choose actively and wisely.

Men strive, consciously or unconsciously, to behave in ways that ultimately get them the girls. Do yourself and womankind a favour and encourage the nice guys!

And if you’d like my support in identifying, attracting, desiring, and finding one of the good guys, sign up for my FREE MASTERCLASS, and you can contact me or check out my other resources at datingevolved.com.

– Mairi Macleod

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