The Relationship PyramidNot all women are created equal in a man’s eyes. And despite what most women think, we’re actually more complex than the simple binary of “I’d fuck her/I wouldn’t fuck her.” No, men evaluate women they’re interested in a hierarchy or a pyramid, each level presenting specific standards and qualifications, and if a woman meets those standards and qualifications, then the relationship between him and her evolves to a higher (or deeper) level and his willingness to commit increases proportionately.

The first threshold or level of the pyramid is a purely physical one. But a man’s qualifications for a woman progresses from there to determine whether she is “dating material” followed by “girlfriend material” and finally “wife material.” The major difference between men and women in this regard is that women are typically unable to separate these strata. For instance, if she’s willing to sleep with a guy, she generally needs to feel like there’s potential for the relationship to reach a higher level. Whereas men, if she’s good enough for sex, but not good enough to date, we don’t mind.

Level 1: One Night Stand Sex Qualification — Physical Looks (Bare Minimum) – There’s a certain threshold of physical beauty that a woman must meet for a man to be willing to have sex with her even once. The threshold for one night stand sex is obviously going to be lower than it would be for any sort of relationship consideration, and studies have shown widely that men have an uncanny ability to lower their standards for one night and one night only given the proper circumstances.

We’ve all been there. And I imagine most of us even underestimate how far we’re willing to lower the bar given the right situation. You’re drunk. She’s buying you drinks. You haven’t had sex in a month. Your ex just started dating some douche bag. Suddenly sex with the small cow flirting with you doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.

Obviously this threshold is not only going to vary widely from guy to guy (we all have that friend who will take home just about anything), but will also vary depending on where you are in your life and how desperate (or drunk) you are at the time. But regardless, when it comes to the bare minimum qualifications for a one-time-only deal, they’re always going to be lower than they would be otherwise.

Level 2: Casual Sex Qualification — Physical Looks (Standard) – The next level of the pyramid basically eliminates any female other than the ones you find attractive enough to have sex with repeatedly. If you glance at women’s magazines, it continues to boggle my mind how they continue to peddle the crap advice that explains the reasons a guy doesn’t call a girl back is because she wasn’t assertive enough, or because she called him first, or because she didn’t give him a good enough hand job. Sorry ladies, but you probably need to lose 10 pounds. It’s sad but true. I have gone out with quite a number of very cool, very fun and very smart girls, slept with them, and then never called them back because they did not meet the Level 2 criteria for me. Sorry. I’m a guy. It may seem shallow, but we’re all wired that way. Unless you’re hot, we’re not even considering anything else. You could be a French chef, curing cancer and give the world’s best full-body massages… but if your ass is as big as a SmartCar, then it’s a no-go. It’s the harsh truth, and any honest man will agree.

The girls who meet the Level 2 Qualification qualify as any girl who we’ll repeatedly sleep with. So this is where fuck buddy status, or friends with benefits comes into play (more on that on the next level). It’s great to have these girls around (sex!) but if we lose a Level 2 girl, we never lose any sleep over it. It’s just back to the old gym sock.

Note about Looks: Once a girl meets Level 2 qualification, the higher levels of the pyramid revolve around traits other than physical looks. But it should be noted that the better a woman’s physical looks, the lower the thresholds for Levels 3-5 will be. A girl who is just on the cusp of qualifying for Level 2 looks-wise will have to really ace the Levels 3-5 to get a guy to commit (especially for a long period of time). Sadly, if a girl is smoking hot, guys will be less stringent about the higher qualifications and larger personality or emotional flaws will be tolerated. Obviously, again, this is sad and shallow, but it’s true. Some guys will put up with more bullshit than others, but I truly believe that a girl’s beauty unconsciously affects our willingness to compromise in the mental and emotional realms. We can’t help it. We love beautiful women. And our perspective and objectivity goes out the window a bit when they’re around. Obviously, the less experienced and less confident confident a guy is, the more he’ll be affected by this. But no man is 100% immune. Once again, it comes back to the unfortunate truth that the best thing a woman can do to improve her love life is to increase her looks.

Level 3: Dating Qualification — Personality – So you’ve met a cute/hot girl. You’d totally bang her. And you’d not only bang her, but you’d bang her a lot. The next differentiation for men is personality. And this first non-physicality threshold is a pretty low one: i.e., is she fun/cool to hang out with and talk to. That’s it. Do we like to sit around and talk to her? Do we enjoy watching TV or a movie with her? If a girl is a pain in the ass, too dramatic, dumb and/or annoying, a total bore, a guy will put her on his “booty call list” more or less permanently and repel any and every attempt or hint she makes at taking the relationship further.

But if she is fun to hang out with and talk to, then she will qualify for “dating” status. The dating status is basically what it sounds like: that vague period in the first few months where two people are “seeing each other” but not “really serious” yet. You probably hang out once a week — and by hang out I mean actually hang out and do stuff instead of just get drunk and have sex — you enjoy each other’s company and may even sleep over with each other.

If she’s not cool or not fun to hang out with, the man’s tolerance will vary widely, depending on his personality, experience and confidence. A guy who lacks experience or confidence may get dragged along by the inertia of the sex and be afraid to turn down the girl’s advances for a relationship. Guys with more experience or guys who are even a bit jaded may get bored and even though the girl isn’t annoying or bad, just stop calling her after a month or two for no other reason than that she isn’t spectacularly interesting.

Level 4: Committed Relationship Qualification — Emotional Connection – Generally, girls who have met the “Dating” criteria, after 1-3 months will begin pushing for a committed relationship. Despite the genuineness about it, these pleas are probably more biological than personal. Women are wired to grow emotionally attached to men they sleep with consistently and to seek commitment from them.

Whether a man will commit or not depends on the level of emotional connection with the girl. The interesting thing that I’ve found over the years is that girls where there is a very strong emotional connection AT THE BEGINNING of the interaction, tend to fizzle out fairly quickly with the man moving onto other women. The women who usually end up making it as a girlfriend, the emotional connection slowly grows over the Dating Period of the first 1-3 months, and by the time the girl starts pushing for the commitment, the guy — whether he’s consciously looking for a girlfriend or not — will intuitively know, in his gut, whether he’s going to end up committing or not. Some guys fight it off and prolong the dating period as long as possible (ahem…), while others willing hop into a committed relationship with enthusiasm. If I could give another piece of advice to women, it would be to not push for commitment so early. For men, it must grow organically over a certain period of time. Sure, he may never come around and you will have wasted your time in the end. But the only men who are going to be willing to commit to a girl within a couple of weeks are going to be men you wouldn’t want to date anyway.

Regardless of how it emerges, the Level 4 girls are the girlfriends. Relatively few emerge throughout a man’s life, even if he’s well-experienced and been dating a long time. I’ve met maybe 10 girls who qualified for this level in my life and actually committed to four of them for any significant period of time (more than a few months). The signs of genuine emotional connection emerging can be read about here.

Again, lesser experienced guys will foster emotional attachment far easier than their more jaded and experienced brethren. Same goes once again for a lack of confidence. Sometimes emotional connections can emerge out of unhealthy interactions and two people with pathologies or serious self-esteem issues. Two people who start seeing each other and immediately erupt in all sorts of unnecessary drama can often create a synthetic emotional connection that is actually not very healthy or genuine. It’s a connection built on psychological weaknesses, not emotional strengths. This is, again, why working on oneself and self-improvement is often the best thing you can do for your future relationships, man or woman.

Level 5: Long-Term Commitment Qualification — Lifestyle Compatibility – Oh, logistics, how you always rear your ugly head. Although compatibility is slightly different than straight logistics, they’re surprisingly similar. Around the 2-3 year point of a relationship, two people begin to seriously consider the plausible long-term possibilities with one another. What used to be minor factors may suddenly become more important. For instance, her family situation, your career aspirations, lifestyle preferences, the fact that you travel twice a month for work — stuff like that. Factors that in the first year of the relationship seem like nuisances or petty frustrations, in the face of analyzing multi-year or multi-decade potential for the relationship, can morph into make-or-break propositions.

For a man, consciously or not, I believe he begins to look at his girlfriend’s traits that would make her a good/bad mother or wife. If she communicates poorly, handles conflict poorly, is irresponsible at times, lives unhealthily or behaves negligently at times, these stop being cute idiosyncrasies that her boyfriend laughs at and become potential deal-breakers which worry him. Throw on the fact that she fancies herself a communist, you want to join the Marine Corps and her mother hates you, and the long-term implications are getting messier.

What this really comes down to though are two things: aligned values, and aligned life goals. The values are important because despite whatever fights, disagreements, or arguments you have down the road (and you will have many), you need a bedrock of shared moral values and worldview to fall back upon. I don’t mean superficial stuff like “she believes in wealth redistribution and I believe in deregulation.” I mean stuff like self-improvement, charity, social beliefs, social responsibility, etc. If you’re both nihilist punk rockers who smoke pot every day and don’t care if the other gets fired from their job, awesome; go for it. But if you believe strongly in charity and social responsibility, and she’s more interested in being rich and buying a nice car with money she doesn’t have, then you have a deep schism in personal values that may not be possible to reconcile.

Shared life goals means two life paths that are compatible with one another. If her life’s passion is to be an artist and she needs to live in certain environments and locales to accomplish that — meanwhile, you’re climbing the corporate ladder at your local paper mill and you love it. That may present itself as a legitimate divergence in life goals. Cultural differences can come into play here as well. It can get complicated and drawn out. In fact, many heinous break-ups occur when two people have met Level 4 criteria, but one decides the other does not meet their Level 5 criteria. The love and emotion is there, but the practicality, feasibility and compatibility is not. And the fall-out can become incredibly painful, if not traumatizing.

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13 Responses to The Relationship Pyramid

  1. Kevin says:

    Totally agree about how some of the worst breakups can come from more ‘logical’ things like long term goals being misaligned.

    Day-to-day you like each other and get along fine, but down the road you know it can’t work out.

    Even if you’re the one breaking it off, you feel horrible and conflicted and guilty.

  2. Geert says:

    Lol, this is so true!

    There are some girls who I can think off who only made it to level 1, lol.

  3. Tim says:

    Hmm. Seems kind of like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I would say there are plenty of relationships out there where people sacrifice looks because of an emotional connection. Or are together because of logistics, and not because of a deep emotional connection. Overall it’s a solid way to look at relationships though, and visualizing it as a period is logical. You get off easy today Mark ;)

    BTW, just started reading Infinite Jest again (after I noticed my flatmate reading a collection of DFW short stories and also overheard a couple discussing him), and it’s much more enjoyable this time around. 100 pages in and I’m getting hooked. I’m taking those two incidents as a sign.

    • Mark says:

      I think looks is more of a coefficient for the other stages. It makes passing/failing easier/harder. Obviously there are going to be exceptions and the reality is far more complicated, but this is how I see it in my head.

      Good luck with IJ. It’s definitely one of those books that I appreciate more and more in hindsight. I’m pretty sure I’ll re-read it down the road as it’s so incredibly dense, it probably makes a lot more sense the second time through.

  4. Stephen says:

    I couldn’t agree more with what you wrote for level 5. I had a 3 year relationship with my college girlfriend end because of issues that arose in this area (she was moving on the graduate school, I was testing the post-college job market.) Everything else was there, but in the end, we both knew it wasn’t meant to be. I feel exactly as you feel about this, but have never quite been able to articulate it into words like you have. Great post Mark.

  5. michael says:

    it seems to be quite accurate. my question then becomes, do we just continue to take on a trial and error approach towards finding someone passes all of the male’s 5 levels since most puas and guys involved understand that pickup and successing with women is a numbers game?

    wouldn’t then finding our best choice in life be also a numbers game? and should you also take into consideration that not everyone, if not most people, never find someone who passes all 5 levels, if even the 2nd level?

    do you believe that you will be one of the small minority of guys who will eventually find a girl who pass all 5 levels since you have more “experience” and sort of “teach this stuff” to other men to beecome better with women?

    david deangelo is over 40 years old, was last single the last i heard, and keeps on talking about “the total 10″ in all his programs which focus on inner game. maybe his total 10 will not appear in time, and he will end up alone when he gets older. will you? will i?

    what i am trying to say is, because of our limited time and because we will eventually grow older and may not find that right person, should we settle once we realize we can’t get who we really want since we may no longer have the resources anymore?

    • Mark says:

      David D is happily married last I heard.

      I think most people find a girl who pass all five levels. After all, the vast majority of the population ends up married at some point. For two reasons:

      1) People with lower experience and fewer options have lower standards and a lower threshold for each level.

      2) People who don’t actively seek out partners like we do in pick up will naturally attract very few, but highly compatible partners.

      As far as your final question, that’s something I think about a lot. I think eventually we all must “settle” at some point, as we’ll never find someone who fits our ideal perfectly. Humans are flawed and a large part of successful relationships is looking those flaws in the face and accepting them.

  6. Gully says:

    For me, it seems as I get older, the gets harder. My late teen years seemed like a doddle compared to this. Now early 20′s it seems like less and less girls are actually exciting prospects to me.

    I find myself sociable with most girls I meet, yet truly compatible/interested with very few girls it seems. Likewise, I don’t tend to develop crushes as much these days either.

    I think I just find college game hard. Its either one night stands or nothing at all for me at the moment.

    Mark one particular question I have is that – I agree on the premise that we need (at least most of us) to have that physical attraction for a woman before other elements are found. But the problem is – what if we ourselves aren’t particularly attractive, or if we only are turned on by girls who are a few notches more physically attractive then us ? what happens when we get older and lose our looks to an extent? Do we have to accept that we have to opt for lower par women ?

    Obviously it gets harder right? Or do our own standards for what we find attractive slip as we ourselves slip?

    • Mark says:

      Studies show that men’s physical attractiveness peaks in the early 30′s. So you still have some time (in fact, you’re probably getting even better looking!). To bridge that attractiveness gap, you have to have something else going for you: i.e., solid game or some sort of lifestyle advantage. The good news is, women are far more attracted to things in us outside of our looks. They don’t have that luxury.

      As far as the standards increasing as you get older and more experienced, that’s absolutely normal and will probably continue.

  7. RoyTS says:

    Mark,

    how applicable is this to women and where would you see the differences? In my experience there actually is no big difference, because once a guy passes the criteria of looks to a certain degree (i mean really good looking) there often seems to be no need for game anymore, just a necessity to NOT totally screw it up.

    • Mark says:

      I disagree. I think it’s quite a bit different for women. You rarely see a woman with a boyfriend for no other reason than he’s good-looking. In fact, you never see it. But you see men with girlfriends for no other reason than that they’re good-looking all the time.

      It’s true that if you’re good-looking, you generally have to “game less” or not try as hard. But the major difference for women is that they usually need to feel like you have potential to more, whereas men don’t. Men will date a woman knowing that they would never marry her in a million years. Women don’t seem to do that. They need to always feel like there’s potential for things to get more serious.

      The exception here is drunk one night stands… but then again, we’re talking about the “relationship” pyramid and not the “drunk one night stand” pyramid here.

  8. Tyler says:

    Ha! I about spat my coffee out when I read the second paragraph in Category 5. It was a joke example, yet dead on the money (almost) with the situation I am in now. Boy meets girl, sparks fly, both are thrilled that the “type” of person they had almost given up hope for actually exists, Big character traits align with similar priorities, and BOOM. A year and a half goes by, you live in Wisconsin now because that’s where her dream career field brought her, you actually realize that her drive and nonstop childish enthusiasm are actually somewhat invading, and her mother is a cold Long Islander that has nothing in her fridge but empty tupperware and a bottle of ketchup from 2008 (true story).

    Now things get really hard, because the last paragraph of Category 5 might turn out to be the most truthful of all…She moves wherever the next level up in her broadcasting career takes her, and I begin training for my lifelong mission this summer in Coronado, CA. Tick Tock, Tick Tock….

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