Dating and Mate Selection — 09 January 2005
‘Mate Poaching’ is an unacceptable way to meet a partner.

Couples are often asked: “How did you meet?” We are curious and intrigued by the partners’ good fortune for having found love. The more romantic, exotic or coincidental the first introduction of mates is, the more fascinating it is to the listener. We delight in the charm of fate creating lovers of prior strangers.

People may be alarmed to hear this answer: ”Oh, I lured her from my best friend, her former fiancé.” This occurrence, however, is more common than expected and has been termed “mate poaching”, romantically involving another person’s partner.

Dr. David Schmitt, a psychology professor and researcher at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois and a foremost authority on mate poaching reported that in a Midwestern college population more than 15% of relationships were the result of enticing partners from other mates and 3% of relationships resulted from both partners being poached.

Recent research done by polling 16,000 people in 53 countries as part of the International Sexuality Description Project supports this percentage across other age groups and among married, engaged or dating people. 18% of married men and 11% of married women studied said they lured their spouses from other partners.

Psychologically, one may assume that people who are comfortable and even proud to talk of their mate stealing are insecure and needy individuals. However, the studies found that those who attempt to poach another’s partner described themselves as “especially extraverted, disagreeable, un-conscientious, unfaithful, and erotophilic” as well as assertive and un-empathetic. They were open and easily conversant about their sexual feelings. This was true of both genders.

These study findings may suggest that the conduct of mate poaching stems from a failure of values, poor boundaries, low level of compassion and being self-centered.

Honoring one’s friends is basic to a civilized society. People who disregard this human law violate the essence of the golden rule: “Love thy neighbor as thyself”. To honor another person also means to support and protect their right to their exclusive love relationship. Just because one may be able to attract his or her friend’s mate, does not entitle one to do so.

For some people, mate poaching is justified by the fact that the poached person’s partner was a stranger and thus they did not violate a friend. Moral behavior is based on principles, not on the level of acquaintance. Mate poachers did not seem to consider this rule.

Boundaries, psychologically, apply to the invisible borders of one’s domain. Your realm includes your body, thoughts, feelings and actions. It also allows for anyone whom you include in your circle, who must be taboo for others. No one has the right to impose his will upon your ways or decide what is best for you or claim ownership of anything or anyone within your personal domain.

In physical boundaries it is clear that strangers may not tread without permission. Nor should they do so within your psychological boundaries, which include your intimate relationships. However, 60% of surveyed men and 40% of surveyed women across 10 world regions reported attempting poaching. Perhaps it is for some, a game of conquest and as such permits the abandonment of universal rules of conduct.

Compassion is the ability to experience another’s emotion. It is essential for connection between individuals. The capacity to feel another’s pain helps us avoid hurting others. People who score low on the compassion scale are more likely to inflict pain on others. In mate poaching, there is a disregard for the abandoned partner’s suffering. The joy of winning the love object seems to abdicate the consideration for the rejected lover.

Being accountable for our actions beyond the impulsive satisfaction of our hedonistic needs makes us responsible beings. Mate poaching individuals were found to be un-conscientious, unfaithful and narcissistic. The primary concern with their own pleasure may have blinded the mate poachers from personal introspection.

It is safe to assume that poached people may have reservations about the security and permanency in their new relationship. They may be dubious about the current mate’s commitment and future conduct. Since fidelity, commitment, trust and respect are the foundation of a healthy and secure relationship, a poached union may be unstable. Research is now in progress about the nature and quality of mate-poached relationships.

If you are interested in an attached person (dating, engaged, cohabiting or married), please consider the following:

• This love interest must be viewed as UNAVAILABLE, even if he or she may be lured away.
• The fact that his or her current relationship is reported to be unsatisfactory is not a sufficient reason to proceed with your pursuit.
• You are not helping the “unhappy” partner by listening, being supportive and appreciative, unless your full efforts are sincerely in support of the current relationship.
• Open sex talk with a partnered person is a form of infidelity.
• If you are in a relationship, your connection to other single or coupled people must be respectful and straight forward.
• The thrill of being sought after is short-lived and actually dangerous if both of you are not single.
• If you are unhappy in a current relationship, leave only after you have established that this is the right move for you, not because someone else is waiting on the sidelines.
• Mate poaching is immoral and hurts all the people involved including you.
• Above all, respect yourself, your boundaries, integrity, values and commitment. Living up to the higher standards best serves you and everyone else in the long run.

January 9, 2005

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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