In The Evolution of Desire, (BasicBooks, 1994), David Buss presents us with the results of a study involving over 10,000 people from 37 cultures and uses evolutionary theory to explain the psychological mechanisms behind how and why people choose, keep, and discard their mates. The result is a mixture of common sense and science, although certainly other perspectives could be invoked to explain his findings.
Mating, according to Buss, is not a sentimental activity: it is, rather, as competitive and manipulative on the human level as it is among the insects. To provide for themselves and their offspring, women seek good providers -û men with money, power, maturity, ambition, stability, commitment, health, and cooperative natures. Men, for similar reasons, invest their time, resources, and sperm in young, beautiful, and fertile women who will give them heirs and status. At the same time they retain a primitive ability for casual sex as well -û a sexual mechanism that is less selective and can be satisfied in more primitive ways such as fantasy, homosexuality, and incest. The capacity for multiple partners, casual sex, jealousy (a series of protective responses), and divorce are all adaptive mechanisms to help people -û though mostly men û- achieve their reproductive potential.
Buss gives us detailed analysis of various forms of mating rituals considered in broad anthropological and biological contexts to explain adaptive techniques for attracting and keeping mates and what happens when they get out of hand, such as when ancestral instincts becoming destructive (in the cases of abuse and rape). While scientifically rigorous, the study, on a
human level, often seems overly abstract and buried in statistical (75 societies reported infertility as a cause of conjugal dissolution); the most compelling details are found in the descriptions of non-human animals, as in a lurid but admittedly fascinating scene of mating between scorpi...