Austin’s only certified professional matchmaker Julia McCurley is on the scene to share relationship advice this month. Her focus is that some think that it seems that all the good ones are taken. Until you find yours who is not. 

Like a moth to a flame, single women are drawn to a man in a relationship, and are sometimes successful in poaching someone else’s mate. Mate poaching is a term coined by David Buss in his book entitled Evolution of Desire and it describes the behavior of men and women who purposely seek out others who are already in committed relationships. A recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that of the single women in the study who were told their “match” was currently in a romantic relationship, 90 percent said they would pursue the man knowing he was not single.

Although the practice of mate poaching is commonly depicted in movies, television shows and tabloids, this study provides the first empirical confirmation that most single women actually do or would engage in mate poaching. The practice of mate poaching appears to be prevalent worldwide, with one study suggesting that as many as one in five long-term relationships began when one or both partners was already in a relationship with someone else. As a professional matchmaker, I often get to work with clients who are living with the aftermath of a mate poaching scenario, sometimes as the poacher, sometimes as the “poachee”. In either case, the psychological and emotional impacts are real, have often caused significant pain, and rarely live up to the expectations of the persons involved.

So why are single women more interested in men who are attached? There are probably several reasons why single women engage in mate poaching. Some possible reasons include: a taken man may be seen as more of a challenge, women may be socialized to compete with other women for men’s attentions and this chase for a taken man’s attention is thrilling. Or, they may see themselves as “saving” the man from an unhappy relationship. Plus, taken men have already proven they have resources and are willing to commit. Here are some other possible reasons:

Women want what is off limits. In the Garden of Eden, as legend has it, Eve sinks her teeth into the one piece of fruit that God instructed her to avoid, beginning a long line of women who wanted, oh so badly, what they could not have. We see the same trend continue today with women staring longingly at designer shoes, fawning over limited-edition jewelry and above all, chasing after already spoken-for men. Be it human or handbag, the more tantalizingly out of reach it is, the more appealing it becomes.

Power and Control. Some women will say they mate poach because they like being the “one in control” of the relationship… that they can “leave it anytime they want” and there are no “strings attached”. The truth is that when a person must feel like they are in “control” of a relationship, it is usually because they have a fear of abandonment or commitment. They may have a need to feel safe because they have been abused or hurt in the past and so they think if they “control” a man, they feel safe. In reality, the woman engaging in mate poaching is controlled by the desires of the married man. He is the one who chooses when to see her, if he will leave his wife, and is usually the one who ends the affair.

Low Self Esteem. For women who base their self-esteem on their appearance, they may use mate poaching as an attempt to protect and restore self-esteem. A woman who successfully lures a man away from his partner may use this “success” to convince herself that she is more attractive, more desirable or just generally better than his current partner and it may be that these feelings of superiority provide a boost to her self-esteem.

Women want an ego boost. Man or woman, the ultimate ego boost is the knowledge that you’re not just hot, but irresistibly hot. Consider this: if a man risks his entire relationship, commitment be damned, for one exceptionally steamy night with another woman, that other woman will go home feeling like she has one-upped Helen of Troy. A shot of confidence like that could make up for a long dry spell of celibacy or jump-start a love life. Plus, if she’s unable to win him over, there’s a net to catch her, and she thinks,  “Of course he’s not interested in me. He’s in a relationship.”

Women see taken men as having desirable qualities. To help you further understand how women perceive the dating pool, think of men like parking spaces surrounding a popular restaurant on a Friday evening. The best ones, meaning the ones closest to the restaurant, will be occupied almost solidly until closing. But as one gets farther from the front door, the parking spots aren’t as good, so they open up with greater regularity or, in some cases, remain open permanently. In short, women believe that men who are single are single for a reason. As backwards as it may sound, the ones who are not available may feel like they are the ones worth going for.

Women can be ultra-competitive with other women. Then there are those women who simply have it out for their own gender. In grade school, they pulled pigtails; now that they’re older, they pull boyfriends. Some are out for revenge, others make a sport of seeing if they “can get him,” whatever the emotional cost. Women size up their competition and somehow rationalize that her boyfriend is begging to be with a real woman. Remember, too, that women are not always down with waiting patiently for a taken man to free up. They want results, and they want them yesterday.

Regardless of the reason, mate poaching can lead to emotional, physical, mental and spiritual pain and/or harm for the women engaging in the behavior as well as the taken man and his family. While this study gives some credibility to the idea that it happens in real life like we see on TV, it does not make it right. As I often counsel my clients, you should first be the kind of person you are looking for. If you value honesty and integrity, you should be honest and behave with integrity. And if you keep that in mind, mate poaching will stay where it belongs… on the Lifetime move of the week.