Here’s the stereotypical trope about dating: Men, the indiscriminate pursuer, will go for anyone with a heartbeat. Women are aloof selectors—the romantic gatekeepers who thrive on saying “no.” This stereotypical behavior carries over to the online dating world, too: men blast out messages, while women are told to sit back, to pick-and-choose their perfect mate.
Evolutionary psychologists will tell you that this is all just part of our natural heritage: eggs are expensive, sperm is not, so it makes sense for girls to be more picky than guys. These built-in limits create a lop-sided dating game.
But two researchers, psychologists Eli Finkel and Paul Eastwick, have shown that guys’ scattershot approach to dating has a lot less to do with evolutionary pressures and more to do with socially defined gender roles. In a study, they found that women take the same approach to dating as men traditionally do—eschewing selectivity and remaining open to a wider range of romantic possibilities—when they are the ones who have to make the first move.
The scientists showed the breakdown of gender roles in a relatively simple way: They held a series of speed dating event, where a few hundred men and women mingled. In half of their speed dating trials, the women stayed seated while the men rotated from table to table, mimicking the “normal” approach to dating where men pursue women. In the other half, the women did the rotating.
Here’s the interesting part: whoever was doing the rotating was less particular than the people being approached—the rotators ended up being interested in more of the people they had met than the stationary participants. That held true for men and for women. Writing for The Conversation, psychologist Gary Lewandowski Jr explains what this means for all of you romantics out there:
These findings show how a widely assumed gender difference – women are picky about who they date, men aren’t – could largely be an artifact of social situations. Men may be less picky not because they are men, but because societal norms require them to do the majority of the approaching in dating scenarios. Women’s selectivity, meanwhile, might arise from their essentially arbitrary role as “selectors”. In other words, when lots of potential suitors are approaching you, it makes sense to be picky.
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