Apparently, Angelina Jolie is not as much of an anomaly as we had all thought.
According to the London Daily Telegraph, researchers from Oklahoma State University have discovered that women prefer attached over unattached men. 90% of women were attracted to men they were told were attached, while only 59% were drawn to men they knew were unattached.
This research suggests that sexual attraction is not merely something that happens to people while they are not paying attention. It involves conscious decision-making.
But why would women choose to be more attracted to unavailable men? The psychoanalytically-correct interpretation would have it that this proves that people have an Oedipus complex, thus, that they are more attracted to the forbidden than to the available.
Of course, this interpretation demeans women, suggesting that they are drawn to futile exercises or are unconsciously involved in self-sabotage.
The fact that an interpretation casts aspersions on someone's character or intelligence does not make it true.
I should mention in passing that once this issue moves out of the laboratory and into the world, things become more complicated. We know that there are attached men and women who are also available, and that there are unattached men and women who are thoroughly unavailable. There is no necessary correlation between attached and unavailable.
Happily, the researchers at Oklahoma State University did not fall back on the psychoanalytically-correct conclusion. They note correctly that when a woman knows a man is attached she also knows that he is capable of being in a relationship, and that he has effectively been "pre-screened."
This is not foolproof. It simply reduces the risk of falling for Mr. Wrong.
A second reason might be this. As happened in the case of Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, when a woman gets involved with an attached man, the relationship will develop slowly and deliberately, without there being any immediate demands for sexual favors. Many women have a decided preference for such a gradualist approach to romance.
Why do women today need to have men pre-screened?
In the past when people lived in small communities where everyone knew everyone else, everyone knew who was a good prospective mate and who was not. Reputation was a known quantity and could be relied on when choosing a mate.
In a small community a woman would have access to extensive information about a young man, his habits, his predilections, his family, his friends, his accomplishments, and so on.
Nowadays, in the great cosmopolitan metropolis or on your average university campus women seeking mates do not have the benefit of this pre-screening. A man might be good looking or hot, but if he comes from an entirely different culture, he is effectively a cipher.
Young women are more vulnerable, at greater risk, and have more invested in the mating process, so they are quicker to adapt to these new circumstances. They do so by choosing to be attracted to men who have been vetted and vouched for by other women. It may not be good news, but it makes good sense.