Science Advice Goddess: Leaping Sickness
I thought I was happily married. Recently, I found a cherry Chapstick in my husband's coat pocket -- a kind he'd never buy. He claimed he randomly grabbed it at the drugstore checkout. Last week, he said he'd be visiting his mother at the nursing home, but I later learned he never showed. I asked him about it, and he said work ran over. Additionally, our sex life has picked up, and he's been extra thoughtful lately. Doesn't all of this, put together, scream that he's cheating? How do I confront him?
You don't expect marrying the man of your dreams to turn your actual dream content into all-night notifications of impending disaster: dozens of inch-high coal miners in tiny hardhats and goggles scaling you and repeatedly jabbing you with cupcake toothpicks topped with little red flags.
Are you right to pile these infobits into the verdict your husband's cheating? Maybe -- but maybe not. Evolutionary psychologist Martie Haselton explains that we evolved to be protectively wrong: to err on the safe side, meaning make the least evolutionarily costly error. Suspecting cheating where none actually exists is less genetically costly than shrugging off signs that seem to point to it -- and then possibly losing your man and/or having him funnel his resources away from your kids to those he'd make with some hussypants he's seeing on the side.
Confronting your husband -- accusing him of cheating -- is a risky tactic. If he is cheating, he's likely to deny it. If he isn't, your accusation could destroy your relationship. A possibly less risky tactic is evoking his empathy: telling him that, collectively, these infobits triggered fears of losing him. The subject becomes your seeking reassurance (which, P.S., may or may not be truth-backed). If he has been straying, he might be inspired to reevaluate and stop. Might.
Over the next few months, observe your husband's behavior -- including that which suggests he loves you and is faithful. Your observations are likely to be inconclusive (compared with finding him in bed with somebody), but if you amass enough information over time, it should begin to point you to some sort of understanding.
I personally make peace with the freakouts of life that way; for example, a new mole that (apologies to Judy Blume) seemed to scream: "Are You There, Alkon? It's Me, Malignant Melanoma." One dermatologist visit later: "Hello, drama queen. I'd like to introduce you to your spider bite."
Do men even read online dating profiles? Mine says I'm a "sober divorced writer." Inevitably, guys message me: "What do you do? Ever been married? Wanna go for a drink?" Um, hello? I'm flattered I apparently get picked on looks alone, but even men who aren't into hookups do this.
There's a case to be made for a guy being a rushed or generally careless reader and sliding right past "sober divorced writer." However, men are likely to blow past an even more standout description, such as: "I enjoy fine dining, walks on the beach, and dismembering my date and feeding bits of him to the squirrels."
Though men seem more likely to hit on hot women on their pictures alone, they probably do this even when women are, shall we say, lukewarm or even room temperature. Because birth control used to be "Cross your legs, honey!" women evolved to be "the choosier sex," wary about getting it on with a man until they vet him for his willingness and ability to "provide" for any resulting kids. Because men don't get pregnant, it's evolutionarily optimal for them -- best for passing on Ye Old Genes -- to have vastly lower standards. (Vastly. Like: "So...she has a pulse?")
This sex difference makes a strong showing on dating apps. Computational social scientist Taha Yasseri, with three students, analyzed piles of data from online dating studies. "Men are much less selective in who they communicate with," they report. In fact, it's "optimal for men to use the 'shotgun method'": blasting out "likes" like buckshot from some backwoods Cletus' hunting rifle. The strategy is not finding a really great match (true love with a woman much like them -- or a man if they're gay) but messaging "a large number of people, irrespective of their potentially low fit" and hoping some of them bite.
Basically, many men on dating apps are like 2-year-olds. They only look at the pictures. Take it super slowly with any guy you meet via app, meaning keep him on secret probation until you see ample evidence you might be well-matched (and that "Conor" is not long for "Con"). If you're awakened one lazy Saturday morning by the man in your bed, the part of your body he's most interested in should not be your thumb -- which he got a little clumsy with while trying to unlock your banking app.
Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave., #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or email AdviceAmy@aol.com (www.advicegoddess.com). Follow her on Twitter @amyalkon. Order her latest "science-help" book, "Unf*ckology: A Field Guide to Living with Guts and Confidence."