Picture a woman preparing for a date. She spends hours painting her nails, applying crimson lipstick, styling her hair and slipping into a tight dress and heels.
Finally, she’s ready to strike an alluring pose — or should I say, sales pitch? After all, she’s been crafting an image of seductiveness, she hopes says ‘pick me’
In these days of trainers and loungewear and our insistence on career and friendship coming first, such careful preparation to impress a man, or to take a ‘sexy selfie’, may seem old-fashioned.
Surely we dropped that notion years ago — along with the idea that men leave the cave to slay the woolly mammoth, while the little woman is left behind pondering how to cook the kill?
Psychology professor Martie Haselton (pictured), claims the impact of the pandemic will result in fewer ‘eligible male prospects’ for single women
But this date-night ritual isn’t a picture of the past, but what the future might hold for women.
As a professor of psychology at the University of California in Los Angeles, I’ve spent years studying evolution and sexuality, and my latest research suggests Covid-19 will have a seismic effect on our love lives.
We’ve already heard that women are shouldering the burden of lockdown — spending, for example, more time looking after the children than male partners.
In medicine and other sciences, female scholars are publishing less research than a year ago, while men are doing more. A survey in April found a quarter of women are suffering severe anxiety, compared to only 11 per cent of men.
So, with a team of experts, I looked at what impact these changes would have on how we all live — and love.
We reviewed 90 studies and found that due to the virus, and the resultant job losses and mental health crisis, there will be fewer ‘eligible male prospects’.
Competition, as a result, will intensify between women. It’s exaggerating an existing trend. In 2017, research found there was an ‘oversupply’ of successful, educated women searching in vain for a suitable partner.
This situation has parallels in history. In Britain, the Great War robbed two million women of the men they would have married, causing huge social change.
Martie explained women may feel a huge pressure to go along with having casual sex, as the option to play ‘hard to get’ could be lost (file image)
What will happen this time around? I fear women will feel they have to ‘play by men’s rules’ in order to find a partner.
What would that look like? Well, it could shift us towards promiscuity. If a man wants casual sex, a woman may feel huge pressure to go along with it — even if it goes against her principles. The option to play ‘hard to get’, or take the time to decide, could be lost. This may be particularly difficult for middle-aged women, who face being thrown into a competition with younger rivals. There are already seven million singles aged over 50 signed up to UK dating sites. In hard times, it is more apparent how relationships are driven by supply and demand. If there are fewer desirable males around — men who are handsome, well-balanced and have a decent income despite the pandemic — then they have the power to make the rules.
But what about all the financially independent women? They may have previously cared less about how much a man earns — but a report by Exeter University found women are almost twice as likely as men to have lost their jobs.
Researchers found seven per cent of women have been made redundant in lockdown, compared to just four per cent of men. This means that many women will be forced to rely more heavily on support from a partner.
Dr Khandis Blake at the University of New South Wales in Australia, claims women are more likely to post selfies online if they live in places where economic inequality is rising (file image)
This scenario sounds like a nightmare to me. But it isn’t something that has happened overnight.
Think about all the young girls who post sexy selfies on Instagram. Have you ever wondered why? Research by my colleague Dr Khandis Blake at the University of New South Wales in Australia, found women are more likely to post the selfies online if they live in places where economic inequality is rising. They are out to improve their financial lot in life.
Not everyone is willing to play by these rules. I imagine some women will simply throw in the towel and embrace single life.
And, of course, we mustn’t assume all women are interested in competing for a man. Sexuality, lack of desire for children, and a choice not to settle down may dictate otherwise.
But for those who do want a partner, the near-future may make them behave in new ways.
Even Zoom dating will, my research predicts, create big challenges. We like to think we can get a lot of information about someone on screen but a real-life meeting is so important. It’s how you find if there is ‘chemistry’.
Research suggests men also value humour, personality, sensitivity and an ability to listen, therefore women may not have submit to promiscuity (file image)
A man’s scent can contain coded information about his hormone levels, fertility and even his genetic compatibility to you.
When that information is lost in cyberspace, we are left trying to find a mate without the aid of tactics developed by evolution. But this means that when a physical meeting does happen, huge disappointment can follow.
Or women could opt for a relationship with someone who, in different times, they would have ditched in the hope of someone better coming along — leading to heartbreak in the long run when they find they’re not compatible
You might feel this is a bleak picture, and if it’s true there is great cause for concern. But women can learn an awful lot from our research.
There’s no rulebook for the new romantic competition we are about to enter. But realising how Covid is tipping the scales can help you to make clever choices.
You don’t have to play by the rules — and I mean this non-judgmentally — by putting on lipstick, flashing more flesh or submitting to promiscuity.
Research has shown there are many other qualities men value, such as humour, personality, sensitivity and an ability to listen. These can be your weapons in the coming battle.
Our Stone Age brains might nudge us to throw ourselves into the competition, but our higher selves can decide whether to act on the impulse. It’s up to you whether you follow the new rules. For some, the best way to win may be by not playing at all.