By: Stephanie Chen
Although you may not be familiar with the term, you have probably witnessed, or even experienced first-hand, a phenomenon called mate poaching – where an individual “steals” away someone who is already in a committed relationship. Perhaps you have consoled a friend who was dumped for another girl. Or maybe you have personally been seduced by someone who seemed more desirable, and attractive than your current partner.
We see it in TV shows, movies, and even in songs all the time – Alex enters into an affair with Dan Callagher in Fatal Attraction, knowing full well that he has a wife and children; Avril Lavigne shamelessly sings about how she wants to take the place of someone’s girlfriend. In fact, mate poaching is so common that approximately 20% of long-term relationships begin while one or both people are already committed to someone else. No wonder trust issues and infidelity are such prevalent topics in our media and culture.
Why Do People Mate Poach?
A lot of people think, “What kind of monster would go after someone knowing that they are already in a relationship?” Poachers specifically go for people who are already in a relationship. Perhaps it is true that some people always want what they can’t have. They might think only be interested in someone whose worth has already been validated by their current significant other. Perhaps they get a thrill or sense of satisfaction from being more desirable than their competition, or being the reason that a relationship falls apart.
Who Are Mate Poachers?
We often imagine stereotypes, or an extreme version of what a mate poacher is. Typically, we think of a mate poacher as a woman. She must be arrogant, malicious, and oozing with sexual hunger. She has no morals or empathy; she is overtly confident but suffers from underlying self-esteem issues that can only be resolved by the reassurance of a man leaving his girlfriend or wife for her. She is cruel. Merciless. Heartless. And the man who succumbs to her seduction – they’re equally brutal, equally inhuman.
It has been shown, however, that both men and women are equally likely to mate poach. Some people believe that mate poaching is a “sexual competition,” and statistically, poachers tend to be more adventurous, sexually attractive, and more open to the topic of sex. Poachers’ counterparts – namely the cheaters – are characterized as narcissistic, selfish, distrusting, and possess lower levels of commitment, and sexual morals. Do they feel guilty about violating the rules of committed relationships? Maybe, but not guilty enough to refrain from the affair. Do they believe that they are evil or terrible people? Usually not. There is always a justification. I did not intend to fall in love with someone who is already in a relationship, it just happened that way; He wouldn’t run into the arms of another woman if she could give satisfy him in their relationship.
Needless to say, most relationships that stem from successful mate poaching are going to be precarious and unstable.
While gender is not a predictor for poaching susceptibility, certain personality factors have a significant influence. Traits include lower agreeableness, lower conscientiousness, narcissism, avoidant attachment style, and low extraversion. As the saying goes, “Once a cheater, always a cheater.” If he could leave her for you, he could leave you for another woman, just as easily. And more often than not, that is what happens. These types of individuals are on the constant lookout for someone better. As for the poachers, their next object of interest will likely already be in a committed relationship – just like their last affair. And so the cycle continues.
Stephanie Chen received a scholarship to attend the University of Waterloo, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in psychology. Her focus was in courses pertaining to interpersonal relationships and the dark side of sexuality. She was also a research assistant for more than a year in the cognitive psychology department at her academic institution. Outside of academics, Stephanie also has many years of experience in the hospitality industry, from serving and bartending to events planning. She is working towards a full-time, established career in events planning.