“Why do you want this job?”
“I need a girlfriend.”
I’m at a crucial juncture in my life. I’ve just completed a Masters degree in a useless subject and now I need a job.
Laden with the luxury of postgraduate education, and impervious to an ailing labour market, I suppose I have career choices. But how to decide?
Interest in the field, work-life balance, whether one is expected to wear a suit or not; these are all factors to consider when deciding on a career. Note one glaring omission. Money.
Of course money is important; but, money for what? Money for bills, money for holidays, money to “buy shit we don’t need,” (to quote Tyler Durden from Fight Club).
After 28 years of singledom*, I need money for girls. And I don’t mean the direct purchase of girls as it occurs in prostitution or some other systemised, unethical enslavement of females. After all, I like my women how I like my coffee…procured legally, in an adequately regulated free market.
No, I mean I require a job that will earn me enough money to buy the shit I don’t need, which in turn may attract females. Alas, that’s all bollocks, isn’t it? And sexist bollocks at that.
“Girls don’t like boys, girls like cars and money.”
In addition to being glibly stereotyped and extremely annoying, the aforementioned lyrics from pop-rock band Good Charlotte are also false, right? Well, not entirely.
Empirical studies show that, at least for some people, showy spending, or conspicuous consumption, is attractive. I’ll elaborate upon these studies in a moment. Historically and across several cultures, wealthy men have bought luxury objects and edifices to flaunt their wealth. Pharaohs had their pyramids, Indian Maharajahs had their palaces, and apparently men with small penises have their supercars.
There is certainly an evolutionary rationale behind these examples. By showing off your wealth, you are signalling your suitability as a mating partner. Just as a peacock may expend resources on cultivating colourful plumage to compete for sexual access to a peahen, men may squander their salary on Luis Vuitton suits or some other overpriced junk to get a chance with a woman.
The bottom line is that, by lavishly spending resources, these men communicate to females that they have lots of resources to cope with future adversity. This, in turn, connotes the presence of desirable traits such as intelligence, aggression and social dominance. Such desirable traits are subserved by good genes, which are essentially what organisms are ‘seeking’ in a sexual partner.
This evolutionary hypothesis has intuitive appeal, but what do empirical studies show? Sundie et al (2011) split subjects into two groups and showed individuals in one group (the romantically primed group), pictures of attractive members of the opposite sex. The other group had to make do with pictures of houses – which are pretty hard to be sexually aroused by, unless you’re a homeless person with architectural paraphilia.
Both groups were then asked the following question:
“Imagine you have just won $2,000 worth of products and services because a friend entered you into a drawing without your knowledge. You have only today to spend the entire $2,000 and can only spend it on the products and services listed below. If you don’t spend all the money today, you will lose it.”
Men in the mating group opted to buy more showy, “ooh-lah-de-da” products – Ralph Lauren shirts, Tag Heuer watches, Revo sunglasses.
But that’s not the whole story. Spending money ostentatiously was only associated with men adopting a short-term mating strategy. Short-term mating strategies involve the pursuit of multiple sexual partners, for non-monogamous partnerships. They are characterised by little to no investment – in future fatherhood, defending one’s mate and offspring and having to provide food and other resources. By contrast, long-term mating strategies involve seeking a monogamous relationship and making large investments for child rearing, food acquisition etc. Compare the ‘player,’ purely looking to wet his beak/other part of the anatomy (*wink wink*), to the old-fashioned romantic; his eyes on marriage. You get the idea.
The researchers assessed people’s mating strategy by the Sociosexual Orientation Inventory – a questionnaire designed to evaluate preferences for short flings or long, romantic relationships. The study found that blowing cash on pricey crap was only adopted by those with a preference for short-term flings.
Furthermore, such conspicuous consumption was specifically induced in situations where a short-term mate was desired. For example, conspicuous consumption was selectively induced in subjects after they were asked to envisage hooking-up with a partner on the last day of an island vacation, never to see each other again. Imagining oneself in a long-term relationship with a partner did not elicit showy spending.
That’s all very well, but spaffing cash on stuff is only effective if women are actually receptive to this behaviour. If peahens remained unaroused by a peacock’s brilliant feathers, growing such plumage would be a waste of resources. The researchers tested this by describing the various characteristics of a hypothetical man to women. Importantly, one characteristic was whether this man had recently purchased a Porsche Boxster or Honda Civic. Women then ranked whether this hypothetical man was desirable for a short-term “date” or long-term “marriage”.
Girls did apparently like cars (and money): specifically the more expensive car. Women ranked ‘men’ who had bought a flashy car as more desirable for a short-term relationship. As before, however, conspicuous consumption had no effect on women’s ranking of men for long-term relationships e.g. marriage.
Interestingly, the reverse gender dynamic was not observed. Men do not rate conspicuous consumption by women as attractive. This may be because men tend to evaluate women for short-term mating based heavily on physical features.
So, how does any of this bear on my job quandary? Clearly, the answer depends on my mating strategy. Should I become an investment banker, purely in order to splash on flash cars and attract women for a series of short-term flings?
To be honest, while sex is enjoyable and sleeping with many ephemeral partners has its appeal, I think I’m after a long-term girlfriend. Someone to hold and cherish. Someone who I can ask, “How was your day?” and actually mean it. Someone with whom I can gaze lovingly, our tortured souls entwined in a dance of mutual tranquility.
But, let’s face it; no job will ever gain me that. I wonder if there is demand for an overly educated rent-boy?
* Bar one relationship of two months – a topic for another blog postReferences Sundie, J. M., Kenrick, D. T., Griskevicius, V., Tybur, J. M., Vohs, K. D., & Beal, D. J. (2011). Peacocks, Porsches, and Thorstein Veblen: conspicuous consumption as a sexual signaling system. Journal of personality and social psychology, 100(4), 664.