Where there's a will, there's a way

yǒu zhì zhě shì jìng chéng

The previous chapter explained why pragmatic, material and financial aspects are so impor­tant for women when selecting a partner. As people tend to get married when they are young, women need clues to identify those specimens with the highest chances to get rich or to become good fathers. The problem, however, is that a man’s wealth and rank are not writ­ten on his fore­head and often cannot be observed directly. External signs of riches, such as fashio­nable clothes, a gold watch, a fancy sports car, a prestigious residential address, a sump­tuous lifestyle, etc. do suggest that someone has enough resources and would, therefore, qualify as a good provider. But what if a young man got these goods from his parents or other relatives? Is this financial condition sustainable? Truly successful men who are young and earned their opulence (e.g., entrepreneurs, actors, singers, professional athletes, etc.) are very rare and experience shows that some of them lose their property as quickly as they attai­ned it. Bearing in mind the adage that “wealth does not pass three generations” (富不过三代, fù bù guò sān dài), such ostensible ornamentation can be treacherous and does not neces­­sarily constitute the best piece of evidence to determine a mate’s future resource hol­dings.[1]

However, various personality traits may serve as markers for such “husband material” fit­ness. This section introduces three of these characteristics as related to a man’s potential ability to gather resources: Dominance, confidence, and ambition. Even if he is poor, a male who displays these qualities has a good chance of attracting at least one partner. Considering the number of challenges and difficulties faced on the path to success and conquest, getting ready for the contest requires a good load of drive and determination – thus the proverb chosen.[2] Admittedly, the phrase may be considered as irrelevant or inappropriate in the pre­sent context of sexual selection per se. But with a pinch of creativity, its fundamental mes­sage seems to apply when it comes to positioning oneself as a liable husband or lover. Here some examples: “A man who has a settled purpose will surely succeed” (in getting a wife), “every­thing comes to he who wants” (including women), “nothing is impossible to a willing mind” (or body), “strong-willed people get results” (and laid), etc.

In Napoleon Bonaparte’s own words, “success is the most convincing talker in the world.”[3] Women must have been aware of this a long time ago, when they learned that successful men offered the best survival chances. For the most part of history, the mightiest and most domi­nant males have also been the most prolific. While success is not measured on the hun­ting ground and the battlefield anymore, status cues such as prestige, power, position, finan­cial prospects, etc. heavily affect women’s assessment of attractiveness.[4] In order to be impres­sed, a woman has to be able to relate to and to respect a man’s merits and the activities he shines at. His excellence and achievements consti­tute key criteria by which she judges his quality.[5] Yet as success or exploits are not always obvious or demonstrable on a daily basis, women are seeking other clues for someone’s qualification as a provider. Domi­nance repre­sents an ideal proxy for excellence since it signals “a man’s ability to win the respect of his peers, meet life’s challenges, and defend himself and his loved ones against their ene­mies”[6], which is exactly what females are looking for in a partner. By mating a domi­nant man, a woman is likely to gain both short and long-term benefits. These range from a better access to resources for herself and her offspring (thus paving the way for a brighter future for the latter) to the breeding of children who themselves carry such dearly sought-after traits of dominance (which in turn naturally blesses them with advantages when competing for status and resources).[7]


[1]   See chapter 20 “You can’t judge people by appearance, nor measure the ocean in pints”.

[2]   The saying is derived from a story told in Book of the Later Han (后汉书, hòu hàn shū), a Chinese court document compiled by Liu Song dynasty (420–479 AD) historian and politician Fàn Yè (范晔) and covering the history of the Han dynasty from 6 to 189 AD. Volume 19 of the book chronicles the life of gěng Yǎn (耿弇), a general who served Emperor Guangwu of Han (汉光武帝刘秀, hàn guāng wǔ dì liú xiù). According to the legend, gěng Yǎn was hit by an arrow during a battle. Instead of waiting for reinforcement, he decided to continue and fought until his army had defeated the enemy. The emperor praised his bravery and persistence with words that can be translated as follows: “Generals proposed such strategies in Nanyang in the past; I often thought that these were impracticable and difficult to accomplish. It now seems, however, that people with a strong sense of purpose can achieve success in the long run.” (将军前在南阳,建此大策,常以为落落难合,有志者事竟成也, jiāng jūn qián zài nán yáng jiàn cǐ dà cè cháng yǐ wéi luò luò nán hé yǒu zhì zhě shì jìng chéng).

[3]    Original: “Le grand orateur du monde, c’est le succès.”

[4]    Pease / Pease (2009), p. 55

[5]    Townsend (1998), p. 62

[6]    Ibid., p. 164

[7]    Ibid., p. 157

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