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Love triangles are surprisingly common


WASHINGTON - Researchers exploring relations between the sexes have come up with intriguing findings about the different ways men and women behave when they're entangled in love triangles.
Such situations - involving two males and one female, or two females and one male - are surprisingly common, according to psychologist David Buss, who described the results of these studies at a recent conference at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Nearly half of those in one survey of 1,242 Midwesterners, aged 20 to 65, claimed they had managed to steal - or borrow - someone else's wife, husband, girlfriend or boyfriend, reported Buss, a professor at the University of Texas, Austin.
About one-third of those interviewed confessed that rivals had filched partners from them, permanently or for a fling.
In a recent blizzard of reports in scientific journals, based on more than 12,000 interviews, researchers discussed the various tactics employed in these three-party affairs. Gay relationships weren't counted.
Two frequent behaviors are described as "mate poaching," an attempt to mess with an existing romantic relationship, and "mate guarding," a counterstrategy to ward off interlopers.
In one mate-poaching study by Buss and his associate, psychology professor David Schmitt of Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., 60 percent of the men and 53 percent of the women admitted they had "attempted to lure someone else's mate into a committed relationship." The researchers defined a committed relationship as marriage, living together or "steady" dating.
The same percentage of men, but only 38 percent of women, said they'd sought brief sexual flings with other people's mates on one or more occasions. Nearly half of these attempts succeeded, Schmitt reported.
Much higher percentages of both sexes said they'd been the targets of mate poachers: 93 percent of the men and 82 percent of the women said poachers had sought them for long-term relationships; 87 percent of the men and 94 percent of the women said the poachers wanted casual sex.
Although a majority of the people in the survey were college-age students, those who were older than 30 were more likely to have been either "poachers" or "poachees," presumably because they'd had more years to engage in such illicit activity.
"Given additional time, many of the young participants will eventually experience successful mate poaching," Buss said. "Mate poaching is clearly a common current mating strategy."
Notorious examples of poaching from prehistory involved Helen of Troy and the biblical King David. Helen was married to Menelaus, a fellow Greek, but ran off with Paris, a Trojan warrior. King David seduced Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, and arranged for Uriah's death in battle.
Buss cited other surveys showing that males and females disagree on what form of mate poaching upsets them the most. For men, it's sexual infidelity by a wife or girlfriend. For women, emotional disloyalty by their husbands or boyfriends is the hardest to bear.
Psychologists say the difference arises because men and women rank the qualities of a partner differently. Men prize female youth and beauty most highly, researchers say, while women typically value men more for their financial prospects than for their looks.
Neither sex wants to lose partners that are of "high mate value - that is young attractive wives and wealthier husbands," David Geary, the chairman of the psychology department at the University of Missouri, Columbia, explained in an e-mail.
"Emotional infidelity is an indication that the man may be giving, or in the future will give, resources to another woman," Geary said.
Men, however, are "relatively more upset by sexual infidelity than are women," Martie Haselton, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, said in an e-mail interview.
The reason is that women always know that babies are their own, but men can't be positive.
"It appears that men are deceived by their partner into raising the children of another man - that is, cuckolded - about 10 percent of the time," Geary reported. Sometimes the husband knows the child isn't his, but often he's ignorant.
The frequency of such illegitimate situations ranged from 1 to 20 percent, depending largely on the social status of the group surveyed, but the average in studies to which Geary referred was about 10 percent.
Buss wryly summed up this fundamental distinction between the sexes: "Mother's baby, Father's maybe."
"Mate guarding" is a defensive strategy to keep one's partner from being poached. Guarding behaviors range from "vigilance to violence," Buss said.
In extreme cases, murder eliminates the threat. Psychologists call this the "Othello syndrome," after the Shakespeare character who falsely accused his wife of sexual betrayal and strangled her.
Although both sexes jealously guard their mates, their tactics differ.
Todd Shackelford, a researcher at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, asked 107 newlywed couples how they reacted if they were suspicious of their spouses' fidelity:
- Men who harbored such suspicions said they would phone their partners at unexpected times, refuse to take them to parties or not let them out of their sight, yell at them for talking to other men, tell their partners they would die if they ever left them, slug guys who made passes at their partners.
- Women said they would stay close by their men at parties, make themselves extra attractive to maintain their partners' interest, tell their men they would change to please them, slap other woman who made passes at their partners, threaten to break up if their men cheated.
Statistics show that men kill unfaithful wives more often than women slay straying husbands. "Men, as a group, react more intensely and use more physical tactics to control the relationship," Geary said.

Full credit for this news article goes to: Washington Bureau, CA

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