Love Nest: Understanding fuckboy culture through evolutionary psychology

The last few weeks have been an awful time for anything to do with love, even by my standards. My best friend got cheated on by her partner of nearly two years, I got hoodwinked by a white boy and Pique cheated on Shakira.

Honestly, the last one is what really put the nail in love’s coffin, though. Like, if the epitome of beauty and truth (even her hips don’t lie!) could get cheated on by her partner of over ten years, then where’s the hope for us mere mortals? 

But, at the risk of sounding cliche, what if I told you that being ghosted/dumped/breadcrumbed/cheated on by a fuckboy could be explained by something greater than us? Wouldn’t it change the name of the game a little bit if at least some, if not all, fuckboy behaviours could be explained in some capacity? 

As a psychology student, I had my suspicion that evolution might’ve done us majorly dirty through my reading of parental investment theory (or the PIT, if you will). And as confirmed by Dr. Azim Shariff, a lecturer in the department of psychology and Canada 150 Research Chair, I was right. 

For the non-psych geeks reading this, the PIT (no, not the one in the Nest) essentially makes the case that mate preference is driven by the degrees to which parents invest in the carrying/rearing/upbringing of their offspring. For evolutionary psychologists, this means mate preferences rooted in the body’s most ancient machinery.

I took Shariff’s PSYC 358: Evolutionary Psychology a few semesters ago and found our discussions on the PIT to be very eye-opening for me as a young (mostly straight, mostly confused) woman in the dating scene. If anything can explain why men are the way they are, I’m here for it!

“Evolutionary psychology made its bones on talking about mating and sex in the 90s and early 00s. They put a lot of effort in doing cross-cultural research to see near universal patterns [of mate preference],” said Shariff. “They found that on average, [men] want more sexual partners, they are less discriminating [in choosing them] and are more interested in short-term mating.”

So does that mean men are essentially only here to “spread the seed,” and have no genuine interest in finding love?

According to Shariff, pair-bonding, just like short-term mating, is also adaptive to men… which is why humans are one of the only mammalian species where fathers demonstrate such high parental investment. 

“One thing to be heartened by is that men are also motivated by pair-bonding and finding long-term mates," said Shariff. He explained that many people — regardless of gender — look for the same qualities in their partners, however, short-term mating traditionally appeals more to men than women.

The university, then, becomes a field experiment for mating strategies to tip in favour of short-term dating — resulting in what’s known as ‘hookup culture.’

“There’s more women than men as undergrads, and that’s been true for forty years," said Shariff. "What you have is a sex ratio that favours men in this situation, because there’s fewer men that more women are competing for. As a result, that can tip things towards short-term mating [and] towards more fuckboys."

Shariff highlighted the importance of being honest to potential partners. “It’s obvious that people will have different motives, but what’s important is being honest about those motives. One complicating factor might be that most people aren’t consciously aware of what they want at the moment,” he said.

University might also be the best place to meet a romantic partner because of its community and culture. 

“In university, you can get to know somebody for a while before you date them. That becomes less the case when you move to the post-university world, where the only places [outside of work] people meet each other are low information situations (dating apps, bars),” said Shariff.

As he said towards the end of the interview, “I don’t imagine that men are fuckboys for their entire lives,” and one can only hope!

Love Nest is the Ubyssey blog's dating column. Have something specific you'd like to see covered? Email