Male-Order Brides

Mate: Become the Man Women Want BY Tucker Max, Geoffrey Miller. Little, Brown and Company. Hardcover, 384 pages. $27.

The cover of Mate: Become the Man Women Want

Some books serve a clear purpose. Other books serve no purpose at all. Still other books serve a clear purpose but not the one indicated in the book’s title. Because Tucker Max’s first book, I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, was a compendium of comedic anecdotes about blind-drunk sex and repugnant hijinks that inadvertently became a kind of how-to lifestyle manual for aggressively unlikable douche bags everywhere, it follows that the author would come to pen an actual how-to lifestyle manual for aggressively unlikable douche bags that seems inadvertently poised to take the comedy world by storm.

Mate: Become the Man Women Want (Little, Brown, $27) might be marketed as a super-helpful guide to getting laid on the regular, but its real strength lies in its lushly detailed depictions of the inner struggles of certain men, which apparently resemble a confused Cro-Magnon trying to shake a Snickers bar out of a vending machine without getting crushed underneath it. In fact, a more accurate subtitle for the book might be: Baby Man No Understand Woman But Want Sex-Candy Now!

At least Max and his coauthor, evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller, seem to have a clear grasp of their target demographic. Their notions about who will be reading the book and why haunt every page, slowly forming a spooky portrait of testosterone-addled beasts with clumsy paws like baseball mitts, pouring beers down their gullets until their restless loins signal that it’s Lady Maulin’ Time. The authors know that these urban yetis need very clear, simple instructions: “After she tells you her name, repeat her name to yourself until you remember it.” Next, focus on her unique qualities, but tread carefully! “Caution: If she has huge boobs, saying you especially love her boobs doesn’t make you stand out, because most guys love boobs.” Whoa! one can imagine Tucker Max’s loyal fans thinking about now. Tucker Max sees right through me!

And even though Tucker Max has apparently lied, cheated, and vomited his way into hundreds of pairs of lady pants—an allegation that the author himself has repeated countless times—he still warns against lying to women, presumably because lying is really hard when you aren’t that smart and have very little long-term memory. Plus, telling the truth will get you laid more often, because “honesty is sexy to women.” But don’t be too honest, guys! “By saying, ‘I’m looking to have fun and meet new people,’ you’re NOT saying, ‘I just want to slay as much pussy as possible.’” So don’t say that out loud by accident, dudes—maybe tie a red ribbon on your finger so you don’t forget.

Much of Mate falls into these kinds of semantic traps. Attracting and seducing high-quality ladies depends on demonstrating your high “mate value,” in part by being assertive, but also by showing genuine interest. (“Be legitimately curious about the women you interact with,” Max writes, as if legitimate curiosity could arise from mere urging.) Display your intelligence, but also be solicitous: Take care of children, animals, and old people, because “nothing quickens a woman’s pulse like seeing you help save someone with a weak pulse.” And instead of mansplaining to infinity and beyond, “validate . . . her right to have an opinion.”

If you’re already catching a whiff of toxic subtext implying that man awards and revokes all rights and woman is eternally grateful for his generous permission to assume a role ever so slightly above subhuman half-person, well, rest assured that this subtext is in fact the thrust of the whole book. “Your primal brain expected to find itself in a sexual culture with fun mating rituals and a decent chance of finding a girlfriend after puberty. As it should have,” Max and Miller explain on the book’s first page. “That kind of sexual culture had been the hunter-gatherer norm for hundreds of thousands of years. Unfortunately, you never got any of that good stuff your ancestors got.”

Unfortunate for nostalgic cavemen, perhaps, but more than a little fortunate for the cavewomen they clubbed over the head and dragged back to lives of indentured servitude, nightly rape, etc. But then, to be clear, Max is a man who once described a love interest as “short and Vietnamese but with just enough of the French rapist heritage coursing through her veins that she had that hybrid-vigor hotness that you really only see in mixed races.”

Isn’t it nice that dim-witted humans in search of elaborate rationalizations for their vilest, most violently sociopathic selves can always find an evolutionary psychologist unintelligent enough to back their play? Forget that practitioners of this field of study have an unfortunate habit of analyzing a relative millisecond or two of modern human behavior as if it’d been slowly evolving over hundreds of thousands of years. No, just suspend your disbelief, and evolutionary psychology can explain every anecdotal observation that’s ever tumbled through your thrashing gray matter! Apparently Miller himself can explain “why women love self-deprecating humor, why they value intelligence as a ‘good genes’ trait, and how lap dancers’ ovulatory cycles influence their tip earnings.” Presumably there’s also a gene linked to excessive cell-phone use at the dinner table, an addiction to social media, and a preference for Candy Crush—and beware, bros, because those scary, mysterious, modern cavewomen are selecting mates who don’t have it.

Reassuringly, though, in spite of the irksome and inexorable inconveniences of “female choice” with regard to “mate value,” virtually every other choice belongs to you—Man!—definer of reality, decider of almost everything. And every step of the way, the end of finding a woman to have sex with justifies just about any means you can think of. Be curious, help people, get a dog—not because these are normal, humanlike choices that make people happy, but because as a result of them women might take their clothes off in your company. And every step of the way, the reader is assumed to be an arrogant, clumsy animal—one who doesn’t necessarily need to stop being an arrogant, clumsy animal so much as he needs to stop sounding and acting like one, if he wants to get laid.

Tucker Max, 2011.
Tucker Max, 2011.

Not surprisingly, the most jarring section of Max’s guide to acting humanlike concerns sex, because, yes, you guessed it, the hapless members of Max’s imagined Cro-Magnon demographic need sexual consent spelled out for them in the most explicit terms possible. “Just because a woman agrees to a date or a kiss doesn’t also mean she agrees to sex. She still has the right to evaluate every aspect of your mate-value, to say ‘No, stop!’ all the way through to the end of any sexual encounter, even if she’s agreed to play your little game of ‘just the tip.’” (Cue gag reflex.) “And if she rejects you before sex, you have no right to call her a ‘stuck-up cunt who needs to loosen up.’” You know, just for example.

The only thing creepier than the portrait Max paints of his male readers may be the portrait he paints of the women who would deign to date, have sex with, or marry them. “Women will often test your intelligence, knowledge, and confidence with a bit of verbal sparring about abstract topics like politics, religion, economics, or morals.” But don’t panic! “If you’re just getting to know each other, chances are she is far less interested in the actual topics than she is in learning about you.” Because even for intelligent women (whom the authors describe as “intimidating” to most men), man-mates will always eclipse silly stuff like economics or religion. That said, appearing a little vulnerable is good for men, because “it’s biology; she can’t help it. She will feel your pain, because she has it as well (albeit about something different).” Like all lady animals, she cares deeply about girl shit like dying kittens, popped helium balloons, and smeared mascara, because caring about that crap is adaptive for her, even in the wilds of Manhattan or the hinterlands of LA.

The crowning delusion of Mate, though, is that women prefer men like Tucker Max to, say, any other conceivable option available to them. The depth of Max’s delusion here is perhaps best encapsulated by the following passage: “Jason Statham and Johnny Depp walk into a party together where nobody knows them. Guess who’s more likely to go home with the hottest woman in the place? It’s probably going to be the Transporter, not Willy Wonka.”

Oh, Tucker Max. It’s like you’ve never been to the planet Earth before, let alone been legitimately curious about a woman in your entire life. We probably have no right to call Tucker Max the human embodiment of hundreds of years of clumsy, ignorant privilege and wrongheaded gendered assumptions so archaic and so dull that it’s hardly worth knocking them off their vainglorious man-baby pedestal. But after more than three hundred pages of self-mythologizing grandiosity, pseudoscientific idiocy, and unintentionally hilarious cultural commentary, it’s hard not to take a quick swat and be done with it.

And as difficult as it is not to feel real pity for the author—and for anyone who would take his sad, empty, man-version of The Rules seriously—the truth is that his view of masculinity is so soulless as to be downright dangerous. By reducing half the world’s population to a blind army of pussy slayers, Max runs the risk of robbing impressionable men of their own rich complexity, their deepest-felt passions, their very humanity. The stories our culture tells us about men and what makes them tick aren’t just reductive and brutish and unfair; they’re wrong, and they teach men, time and again, to reduce their own complicated desires and need to connect with other humans to something loosely resembling a hunger for hot wings and a pair of “epic tits” (to translate them into Maxian terms).

Men—all men—are more complex and more luminous, even in their most desperate, Hooters-happy-hour hours, than poor, damaged Max seems to recognize. Instead of emptily mimicking the puffery of easily threatened alpha males, men should be encouraged to honor and cultivate their richest potential. But for those Tucker Max clones who genuinely await instruction from their deeply insulting, callous leader, an even more accurate title might be Mate: Let’s Hope They Don’t.

Heather Havrilesky is the author of the memoir Disaster Preparedness (Riverhead, 2010).