Oh Guardian Science, you make me feel like a critical mother. I’m licking my thumb to smear dirt off your cheek, I’m poking you between the shoulder blades to make you stand up straight, I’m suggesting that maybe your recital would have gone better if you had just practiced more like I told you.
I’m sorry. I love you. But I expect more.
I expect, in fact, at least two of the following: good science, good writing, good advice. Oh Guardian Science.
So this week the Evolutionary Agony Aunt offers us two bits of advice. In the first… well gosh, I think our Ms. Jahme must have had a bad experience with a boyslut, to write such a judgy column.
The question is why would a guy be repulsed by the idea of marriage and kids, and just want superficial sexual flings with mothers (insert “About a Boy” here)?
Her answer… I’ll leave alone the controversial but potentially interesting sciencey stuff about “activated behavioral strategies” or “males find short-term mating strategies more acceptable than do females.” I’ll skip over the half-hearted gesture toward tolerance for individual differences – “If you are happy and not making those single mums miserable with your cold repulsion” – and move right to attachment.
The most likely answer to why someone would prefer sluttiness to relationship-ness is attachment style – an avoidant attachment style would, I think, parsimoniously and comprehensively account for revulsion in response to marriage and kids and stuff. No grown up with an anxious or secure attachment style feels that way. If you’ve got an avoidant style, it’s in response to the way you were parented; it’s a sensible way to view the world if you learned early on that people aren’t reliable.
The crazy thing here is that in her next Q&A she actually cites a paper that shows me to be right about this! So let’s move on.
The second bit. Oh god. So you break up with someone because neither of you is over your ex and then you end up engaged to that person you broke up with, having messed around with said ex again?
Any student who’s heard me talk about relationships can identify this as the rubber band dynamic. And yes, it can work out fine; a relationship’s stability isn’t much related to attachment style – or it is, but not any straightforward way.
Anyway, Ms Jahme actually refers to attachment and cites a paper when she says “secure attachment is essential in primates.” Being me, of course, I went and read the paper and found that it finds “various attachment styles [to be] equally adaptive.” This falls short of being the precise opposite of what Ms Jahme says only insofar as both her claim and the paper’s assert that attachment of some kind or other is essential in humans. (Btdubs, the paper only concerns itself with humans and doesn’t discuss any other primate, so there’s that too.) Belsky is actually suggesting that all attachment styles, not just secure attachment, are adaptive.
Which (within the entertaining though dubious framework of applying population-level conclusions to individual lives) supports my thing about the avoidant guy above not being broken but just doing what makes sense given his life history. And why judge that? Duder’s just trying to be happy in a world where people suck a lot of the time.
If the evolutionary agony aunt weren’t in the Science section, would I be bothered about the sloppiness of her logic? Probably not.
But see, there has to be somewhere, somewhere, some interface between scientists and the general public, where technical but interesting science is translated into good, solid entertainment, without any loss of truth. I just insist that the Science section is a place that should happen.
The NYT manages it in its science section! (How’s that for critical mothering?)