Returned to original title, for the good reasons given here
There was a recent post in Discussion which at time of this writing held staggering 454 commentaries, which inclined me to write an evolutionary psychology and social endocrinology derived post on courtship, and Mating Intelligence, to share some readings on recent discussions and evidence coming from those areas. I've been meaning to do this for a while, and a much longer version could have been written, with more specific case studies and citations and an academic outlook, yet I find this abridged personal version more adequate for Lesswrong. In no area more disclaimers are desirable than when speaking about evolutionary drives for mating. It touches emotions, gender issues, morality, societal standards, and it speaks of topics that make people shy, embarrassed, angry and happy on a weekly basis, so I'll begin with a few paragraphs of disclaimers.
I'll try to avoid saying anything that I can remember having read in a Pick Up Artist book, and focus on using less known mating biases to help straight women and men find what they look for in different contexts. This post won't work well for same-gender seduction. If you object irrevocably to evolutionary psychology, just so stories, etc... I suggest you refrain from commenting, and also reading, why bother?
Words of caution on reading people (me included) talking about evolutionary psychology, specially when applied to current people: Suspicious about whether there is good evidence for it? Read this first, then if you want Eliezer on the evolutionary-cognitive difference, and this if your feminist taste buds activate negatively. If you never heard of Evolutionary Psychology (which includes 8 different bodies of data to draw from), check also an Introduction with Dawkins and Buss.
When I say "A guy does D when G happens" please read: "There are statistically significant, or theoretically significant reasons from social endocrinology, or social and evolutionary psychology to believe that under circumstances broadly similar to G, human males, on average, will be inclined towards behaving in manners broadly similar to the D way. Also, most tests are made with western human males, tests are less than 40 years old, subject to publication bias, and sometimes done by people who don't understand math well enough to do their statistics homework, they have not been replicated several times, and they are less homogenous than physics, because psychology is more complex than physics."
If you couldn't care less for theory, and just want the advice, go to the Advice Session.
Thusfar in Evolutionary Psychology it seems that our genes come equipped with two designs that become activated through environmental cues to think about mating.
Knowing this is becoming mainstream. The state of the art term is Mating Intelligence, and it has these two canonical modes that can be activated, depending on factors as diverse as being informed that X is leaving town in two days, and detecting X's level of testosterone, accounting for his height and status, and calculating whether his genes are worth more or less than his future company. If you choose to read the linked books, then you'll delve in this much deeper than I have, so stop reading this, and write a post of your own afterwards.
I'll list some main misconceptions, then suggest how to use either the misconceptions, or the theory mentioned while explaining them to optimize for whatever you want from the opposite gender individuals at a particular moment.
Misconception 1: Guys do Short-term, Girls do Long-term, unless they don't have this option.
This is false. Guys are very frequently pair bonded, most times even before women are, both have oxytocin levels going up after sex, and both have high levels of oxytocin during relationships. Girls only have less frequent causal intercourse because it is hard to find males worthy of the 2 year raising a baby period, or in the case in which they are pair-bonded already, because of the risk of the cuckolded "father" leaving, fighting her, or recognizing the baby ain't his. Obviously, no one's brain has managed to completely catch up with condoms and open relationships yet.
Misconception 2: Women go for the bad guys (if I remember my American Pie's correctly, also called jocks in US) and good guys, nerds, and conventionals are left last.
'Bad guys' is a popular name for high testosterone, risk taking, little routine individuals. And indeed when a woman's short-term mating intelligence program is activated, which happens particularly when she is ovulating and young (even when she's close married/relationshiped) she does exhibit a preference for such types. When optimizing for long-term partners, the reverse is true.
Misconception 3: Guys just go for looks, Girls just go for status.
Toned down reality: Guys in short-term mating mode go for looks, Girls in long-term mating mode care substantially for the difference between lower than average status and average status, then marginal utility decreases and more status is defeated by other desirable traits.
Women in short-term mode do not optimize for status, they'll take a bus-boy who shows through size, melanin, symmetry and chin that he survived local pathogens despite his high testoterone, she's after resistant genes, not resources. Men in long term mode still optimize for looks, but not that much, kindness and emotional stability take over when marginal returns for more beauty start subsiziding.
Misconception 4: When genders optimize for Status, Status=Money.
Unlike all known primate and cetacean species, Humans daily deal with being high, low, and medium status in different hierarchical situations. This should be as obvious as not to be worth mentioning, but sadly there are strong media incentives, and for some reason I don't understand well strong reasons within English and American culture to pretend that women go for status, status=money, therefore women go for money, and men should make more money. It may be a selection effect, the societies that financially took over the world believed that being financially powerful was the best way to get laid, or marry. It may just be that marketing these things together (using sexy women to sell cars) created a long-term pavlovian association. Fact is that it unfortunately happened, and people believe it, despite it being false. Women who begin believing it sometimes force themselves into doing it even more.
Status has no universal measure. If you met someone in Basketball team, status will be how good that person is plus their game attitude. If in a class at university, maybe it will be how well spoken the person is in the relevant topic. Status can be how much food the person usually shares with groups, or how much they can ask for others without being very apologetic. It can be how many women sleep with a man, or how many he can afford to reject. It can be how many purses a woman has, or how she can show thrift and a sense of belonging to a community that identifies as anti-consumerist. Some minds assign status based on location of birth, race, hair color etc... (In my city, Japanese women, all the 400.000, are commonly assumed to be high status). Finally, men do optimize for the trait people think as status, explained below, in long-term mates.
Even in the case where status plays the largest role, women when activating long-term reasoning, status is only one factor out of four multiplicants that are important for the same reason, and detected, in a prospective male mate:
Kindness*Dependability*(Ambition-Age)*Status = How many resources a man is expected to share with you and your hypothetical kids.
And this does not even begin to account for any physical trait, nor intelligence, humour, energy levels etc... If you take one thing out of this text, take this: Make your beliefs about what status is pay rent. Test if status is what people think it is, or something that only roughly correlates with that. Sophisticate your status modules, they may have been corrupted.
Misconception 5: Once you learn what your mind is doing when it selects mates, you should make it get better at that.
Let's begin by reaffirming the obvious: We live in a world that has nothing to do with savannahs where our minds spent a long time. We can access thousands, if not millions of people, during a lifetime. We have condoms and contraceptives. We live in an era of abundance compared to any other time in history, and in societies so large, that the moral norms constraining what "everyone will know" do not apply anymore.
So the last thing you want to do is to make your mind really sharp and accurate when judging a potential mate through its natural algorithms. What you want to do, to the extent that it is possible, is to override your algorithms with something that is better, and better is one of these two things:
1) Increasing your likelihood of mating with the individual (or class of individuals) you want to mate with in a matched time-horizon (long if you want long, for instance).
2) Enlarging the scope of individuals you want to mate with to include more people you actually do, will or can get to know.
To give better advice, I'll first mention general advice anyone can use, and then specific advice for the four quadrants. For those who will say this is the Dark Arts, I say it would be if we lived in a Savannah without condoms, heating, medicine, houses or internets. Now it looks to me more like causing one-self, and one's beloved, to be more epistemically rational.
Women, be confident: If you are a woman, be more confident, way more confident, when approaching a guy, don't be aggressive, just safe, you mind is tuned with who knows how many trigger devices that may make you afraid of a no, of being thought of as slutty, of losing face, and of the guy not raising your kids. Discount for all that, twice. Don't do it if everyone really will know, or if you actually want kids from that guy.
Use your best horizon features: If you have a trait that the other gender optimizes for more in short-term, lure them by acting short-term, even if later you'll attempt to raise their oxytocin to the long-term point. If you have goods and ills on both time horizons, switch back and forth until you grasp what they want.
Discount for population size: There are two ways of doing that, one is to reason to yourself "I may not be as attractive as Natalie Portman or Brad Pitt, but our minds are tuned to trying to get the best few achievable mates out of a group of 100-1000, not of hundreds of millions, so I do stand a very good chance" The other is nearly opposite: "I may think that I should only marry a prince, or sleep with Iron Man, but in fact my world is much smaller than this, and my mind will be totally okay to mate with Adam, that cool guy."
Be hedonistic: For men and women alike, the main way evolution got us into intercourse was by making it fun. The reasons it got us out are related to unlikelihood of leaving great-grandchildren, energy waste, disease, and lowered status. Of those, only a subset of lowered status is still significant in a world full of condoms. Other than women when aiming at long-term only, everyone is completely under-calibrated for sex, since we substantially reduced the risks without reducing the hedonic benefits nearly as much.
Use fetishes and peculiarities: There are things each particular person is attracted to more than everyone else (for me that's freckles, red/orange/blue/purple hair, upper back, and short women). Use that in your favour, less competition, as simple as that.
Go places: There are better and worse places to find mates. Short-terming males (a temporary condition in which any male may find himself, not a kind of male) abound in dancing clubs, military facilities and sports areas, not to mention OkCupid. Long-terming females (same) abound on courses and classes of yoga, dancing, cooking, languages, etc... Long-terming males usually have more of a routine, so are more frequent on saturdays and fridays than on a tuesday late evening, they'll be more frequent wherever no one naturally would go to find a one night stand, or in groups that are preselected for strong emotions (low thresholds for falling in love) Short-terming females may exist in dancing clubs, bars and other related areas, but are very high value due to comparative scarcity when in these areas, someone looking for them is better off in groups with a small majority of women, where social tension and hierarchies don't scale up in either gender.
Note: The advice is about things you should do in addition to what you naturally tend to do in those situations, you already have the algorithms, and should just improve calibration, unless when explicited, the suggestion is not to substitute what you naturally tend to do, or this would be a book all by itself explaining 4 kinds of human courtship.
For Long-terming Men: Stop freaking out about financial status. Find a place where you are among the great ones in something, specially kindness, dependability, physical constitution, and symmetry which guys think of less frequently than Successful startups or Tennis worldchampions. If you are hot, use short-term, women are particularly more prone to switching from short to long-term. Get a dog, show you are able and willing to take care of something unspeakably cute and adorable. Be ambitious in your projects, show passion. While ambitious and passionate, also make sure she realizes (truly) that you notice things about her no one else does, find out her values, talk about shared ones, and be non aggressively curious about all of them. Show her kindness in small gestures that need not cost a lot, such as time consuming hand-made presents. Test OkCupid and see if it works for you. Memorize details about her personality, assure her you can be loving specifically to her. Postpone sex a little bit. May sound hard, but is a reliable indicator that you won't change her for the next that quickly. Rationally override any emotion you may have regarding her sexual behavior, show you are not agressive and jealous, thus making her "(be) (a)lieve unconsciously" that you will not kill her in an assault of hatred when she sleeps with hypothetical another man whose child will never exist and get some years of schooling from you. If you think you can tell the wheat from the chaff, separate the PUA stuff that works for long-term, if not, read softer confidence/influence/seduction material. Use oxytocin inducing media (TV series and romantic movies). Rest assured, there are more women looking for long-term men than the opposite, aid the odds by going places. Show sympathy, kindness (to others as well) and dependability whenever you can.
For Long-terming Women: If you've been convinced by financial status gospel, stop freaking out about it. If you just account for the 4 factors in the equation above, you'll be way ahead of everyone within the gospel trance, then there are still all the other things you look for in a guy, which by themselves are very important. Sure, a classic indicator is how much other women in your social group like him, and, good as it is, it is defined in terms of competition, try to discount this one, after all, it is partially just made of a conformity bias, a bad bias to have when looking for a long-term mate. Be very nice and kind, and almost silly near the guy. The kinds of guys who are Long-terming most of the time are those who won't approach you that frequently. Also, older guys obviously have less chaos on in their minds and lives, so are more likely to want to settle down for a few years. Postpone sex in proportion to how much you suspect the guy is Short-terming. The importance of this cannot be overstated. By postponing sex (and sex alone) you make sure Short-termers still have a good reason to be around you until suddenly there is a hormonal overload and they fall in love with you (not that romantic, but mildly accurate), love's trigger is activated by many factors, when they sum above a threshold. The most malleable of these factors is time investment, give a guy mixed short long signals, and you'll increase likelihood of surpassing the threshold. Also, give known guys a second chance, many times your algorithms friendzoned (sorry for the term) them for reasons as silly as "he didn't touch me the first time we met, and I didn't feel his smell, because the table was wide" or "That day I was in Short-term mode and this other guy had more easily detectable attractive features, leaving John on the omega mental slot". Forget romantic comedies and princess tales where your role is passive. A man's love is actively conquered by a woman, you are the one who will fight dragons - frequently RPG dragons - for the guy in the beggining, not the opposite, the opposite comes later as a prize.
For Short-terming Guys: Read Pick Up Artist books, actually do the exercises, as in don't find excuses for why you can't, do them. Don't do anything that disgusts you morally, which may be nearly all of it, but do all the rest. Other than that?... Some few things, very few indeed, were left out of those books. Optimize more than anything for your fetishes and specific desires to avoid competition. Use mildly tense situations which can be confounded with arousal (narrow bridges get you more dates than wide bridges). Woman's attractiveness peaks at approximately 1,73cm 5 feet 8 inches, shorter women are more likely to have had less home stability and developmental stability when young, which triggers more frequent short-terming, looking for testosterone indicators (square chin, prominent forehead, and specially having a ring-finger longer than index-finger) also helps, and it is fun because you can claim to read hands and actually make good predictions out of it.
For Short-terming Girls: I'll start with easy stuff, and escalate quickly to extremely high probability even in tough cases, such as he's not on the mood, tired, really shy, or (you think) not excited. Quite likely the main obstacle is inside your mind, not your clothes, either fear of rejection, or fear of reputational cost or something else. Be confident. Few guys will reject a subtle, feminine, discrete and firm sex "offer" (notice how language itself puts it). Look at him, smile, touch him while you speak, look intensely at his mouth while slowly approaching, make sure to try do this where he is unlikely to be paying some reputational cost (not on his aunt's marriage). If feeling clumsy, mention you do. When short-terming, men really do optimize for looks, so decrease light levels, and avoid available-female company, like asking him out to check a bookstore, or to see a movie. Sit near him while touching him, cut the conversation at some point, kiss him (remember to do that where neither of you may get embarrassed with anyone else). Before, talk about sexuality naturally and imagetically, say how it is important to you to be embraced, desired, enticed, penetrated, transformed inside, and arise re-energized the next day to go back to your life. If you are sure he is short-terming, make yourself scarce by mentioning time constraints. Carry condoms and pick them up while making up if he is still hesitant whether you want sex or not. But be cozy and reassure him "It's okay" if it feels like he nervous. If you are confortable with that, use the web, there are tons of Short-terming guys, and if you feel embarassed to meet a man who would reject you, you are safeguarded by being filtered beforehand through your pictures and description or by the bang with friends app. On the web, be upfront about your intentions, and assure them you are not a scam/bot/adv. When almost there, if he is not excited, it is not because you are not attractive to him, don't be passive, slowly touch and rub his genital, quite likely he's just nervous and you are disputing against his sympathetic system, when you and the parasympathetic win, he'll be excited and relaxed, and the party is on. If you live in a large urban area, go to swing places alone or with acquaintances, not friends - nowhere else there will be that many guys willing to have sex right there, right now, and the necessary infrastructure for it, in a safe environment with security guards, other high-class women etc... to make sure you are not getting into trouble - In short, guarantee situations in which neither him nor you pay reputational costs, be active yet reassuring, lower light levels, avoid competition and make sure there is infrastructure for the act.
The saying goes that you can't achieve happiness by trying to be happy (thought you can if you optimize for happiness, i.e. by reading positive psychology and acting on it). To some extent, it is also true that a lot of what goes on during courtship does not take place while actively and consciously focusing on courtship. It is one thing to keep those misconceptions and advices in mind, and a whole different thing to be obsessed about them and use them as cognitive canonical maxims for behaving, the point of writing this is to help, if it stops being helpful, stop using it.
Edit: Scrambled sources:
Buss Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology 2004
Pinker - Family Values and Love chapters on How The Mind Works
Mating Intelligence, the one from 2007 and the 2011 ones, many authors (including Helen Fisher) both linked above.
Robert Trivers theory of parental investment, conflict etc... - 197x
Lots of conversations with dozens to a hundred friends about their current sex lives.
PUA - Mistery Method - Rules of The Game - The Layguide (assumption: the older ones had less economic incentive to create vocabulary and new complexity out of the blue, therefore are more accurate and less Bullshitty)
Helen Fisher (presentations, vidoes, some articles)
Lots of conversations with a friend who read lots of evopsych and would spend the pomodoro intervals explaining the article he just read to me.
The Eternal Child, Clive Broomhall
The Mind in the Cave - forgot author
MIT The Cognitive Neurosciences III (2004)
Primate sexuality (1999)
This video is also great, Why do Women Have Sex? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KA0sqg3EHm8
Edit: This was originally posted to main and downgraded to Discussion by Eliezer claiming that it didn't have many upvotes. It did have lots of downvotes (37%), as I'd expect from any controversial topic, but also had more than 50 upvotes at the time. I submit a proposal that controversial topics should not be downgraded, and that total number of votes be a relevant factor, not only difference between ups and downs, to avoid death spirals, and conformity bias. If policy changes, notice this DOES NOT benefit me in any way, since I don't plan on writing for about a semester, and this text will be long gone.
It is hard to unscramble it all to give specific citations, but that is a list of stuff I've read that deals with related issues that come to mind.