That’s probably thanks to mate-choice copying, a biological process that exists across species, in which females are more attracted to males based on the endorsement of a third party. Now, this effect is less about home-wrecking and more about sharing notes, according to most studies. Regardless, there certainly seem to be biological advantages to being pre-approved. Here are a few:
Mate-Choice Copying in Humans May Be Specific to Women
While there’s plenty of evidence that mate-copying takes place in both sexes among animals, there’s preliminary evidence that the effects are more distinct in human women. One study published in PLOS One found that women considered coupled men more attractive and spent significantly more time looking at pictures of potential suitors when they were depicted as married or in a relationship. The effect did not extend to men looking at paired women—so mate-choice copying does not explain the whole MILF thing.
Not Just Some Women—Most Women
One recent study presented a photograph of a man to college women, and found that 90 percent of them were attracted to the man even after they were told that he was in a relationship. But when the women were told that he was single, only about 59 percent were interested. “The single women really, really liked the guy when he was taken,” coauthor Melissa Burkley of Oklahoma State University, told the New Scientist
But They Typically Grow out of It
Younger and likely less experienced women are more likely to be attracted to married men, according to at least one study. The research, published in the journal Human Nature, supports the prevailing theory among evolutionary biologists that mate-choice copying has something to do with another woman cosigning a man as “safe”. Conversely, mature, experienced women may have developed more sophisticated ways of assessing potential mates. Interestingly, the same study reveals that the influence of mate-choice copying appears to have its limits, and when men were depicted as having five past relationships, even inexperienced women knew enough to tap out. A man on his first marriage is far more attractive than a man on his fifth.
It All Depends On How Good-Looking Your Spouse Is
The stock of a taken man seems to be boosted not by his own good looks, but by the appeal of his partner, research shows. The study found that, when people were coupled with a more attractive mate, the mate-choice copying effect grew stronger. So the good news is that you married out of your league. The bad news is that this makes single women wonder if they missed something when they gave you the once-over.
They Ultimately Still Respect the Ring
Unlike other experiments that assessed attractiveness based on pictures and written scenarios, one study had women interact with men who were wearing wedding rings, and then interact with men who were not. When researchers asked a series of questions afterward, women reported that men without wedding bands were more attractive than married men. And when they were asked who they’d rather have dinner with, have sex with, start a relationship with, or invite home, ringless men won out across all four domains.
Subsequent studies have bolstered the claim that women are attracted to married men in theory, but less so in practice. This is one scientifically-backed reason single women may be more attracted to you, but have no interested in pursuing that attraction (besides the challenge and taboo of stealing someone else’s mate). And keep in mind—even if you were flattered into infidelity, you’d lose your evolutionary edge by being disloyal.
Perhaps that’s the ultimate irony of mate-choice copying. Being partnered makes you more attractive but, the moment you cash in on that boost, you become significantly less safe and less attractive. So take the sudden post-marital female attention for what it is—a confidence boost for your dad bod. Nothing more.