Once, I walked into my local bar to find the place unusually packed. I squeezed into the one open seat at the bar next to what looked like an older married couple. After accidentally knocking the guy’s shoulder with my purse, I remarked that it was never usually this busy here by way of apology. “Excuse me, I’m talking to my husband!” the woman barked at me. I looked over and realized she thought I was hitting on him. I wanted to snark back, but her ridiculously outsize reaction and his deep mortification reminded me that this is totally a thing: People actually think having a wedding band on results in women throwing themselves at you.
You’ve seen it in movies, or heard guys crack jokes about it from the other side, too: Put on a fake wedding band and head to a bar, and watch a regular dude transform into a pussy magnet. The reason? Women, it’s said, dig a man who’s already taken. It demonstrates he’s been vetted by another woman as valid and worthy of commitment, as good as a pre-qualified loan.
But is it true? Let’s investigate.
Recently, a Reddit thread posed a question that’s been circulating in the lore for ages:
It’s often said that when men wear a wedding ring they get more attention from women. Do you think they are actually flirting or perhaps they now consider you “safe” and can be friendly/friends without worrying about being hit on themselves?
In our own newsroom, opinions were mixed. Three married men on staff insisted they don’t get hit on more since tying the knot. Critic Tim Grierson notes that he’d heard such things were true, but “the guys who told me I’d get hit on more after I got married were not, themselves, married.” Another guy on staff says one of his female friends is “very into dads and and put-together married dudes. It’s, like, her type.”
So what’s going on? Like many stereotypes, there’s at least some sliver of truth in this notion, but a lot of misinterpretation. Here are some of those slivers.
Okay, Sometimes It’s Actually True
We know from life and science that mate poaching is real, and that men and women do it, but women may do it more often than men. Lots of people meet their future partner when they’re with someone else. One study found that when women rated their interest in a man, the number of people who found him extremely appealing jumped from 59 percent to 90 percent when they were told that man was spoken for. The reason? Researchers said, “This may be because an attached man has demonstrated his ability to commit, and in some ways his qualities have already been ‘pre-screened’ by another woman.”
This doesn’t mean women are constantly on the prowl to Jolene you right out from under your lady. But it does suggest that when commitment is on the mind, we look for commitment-oriented candidates. Someone having already committed to some woman, somewhere, at some time, feels like a good elimination process to save you the wasted years of throwing in with a guy who’s never going to lock it down with you.
Other explorations of this phenomenon suggest that when a man is committed, he seems content and kind and decent and confident, all things women want in a partner, particularly if she’s had a history with emotionally unavailable men who won’t commit.
There’s a far less benign version of this, too. Anecdotally, some women admit that it’s a particular kind of badge to be able to lure an otherwise seemingly happily committed man to her shores, even if it’s just out of sheer boredom. While it’s a reductive caricature to accuse all women as guilty of being homewreckers-in-waiting (like that lady in the bar did to me), it’s just as shitty to accuse all men of being unfaithful cheaters. But sure, it’s possible some women do have a competitive sensibility about attraction and find it an even more satisfying challenge to snare a man from another woman. Men are like this too, though — many men admit they find women more attractive when they seem uninterested. Gross, but it happens.
Men Are Afraid Getting Married Is a Death Sentence
For many men, getting married is wonderful but terrifying: You’re stuck with the same lay for the rest of your life, never again to experience the thrill of the chase. The idea that being married will somehow make a man even more attractive is wishful thinking, the hope that there’s an upside to getting hitched that doesn’t take you out of the running for the admiring gaze of a woman who wants to do you. Wouldn’t it be great if your sex appeal increased a thousandfold simply because you decided to make it legal with another person? The downside, of course, is that unless you’re a sleaze bag, you can’t do anything about it.
But Mostly, It’s a Myth — With a Totally Different Explanation
When I put the question to men on Facebook, most of them tell me it never happened to them. “God, I wish,” one man says. “If anything, the opposite,” says another. But many of them offer a pretty insightful explanation for what might be behind this myth.
“The ring could sometimes be a magic force field enabling me to have harmless, unthreatening conversations with any woman, where if I wasn’t wearing one they’d be afraid they’re getting hit on,” one man says.
Others agree. “It’s a myth as far as I’m concerned,” one says. “There may be a phenomenon when women feel more comfortable engaging in normal, benign conversation with a married guy under the assumption that the chances are less he will creep out on them.”
In my experience, that’s the actual explanation for what’s going on here. [Married editor’s note: Yes. I hope.] If you’re at a bar, party or work function, it’s the key reason a married guy might be more appealing to chat with, flirt with or joke with. You just want to be able to have a safe conversation with a dude — a chat that doesn’t have to go anywhere!
It’s not that it’s a conscious choice, it’s just that the fact of his being married that takes the pressure off to converse, because presumably no one will make a move or even be thinking on that level. That’s actually refreshing, which is why it’s often easier to have friendships with men when you’re married and they’re married, or when you’re both taken. You don’t have to parse every word or tone or look. You can just talk to them like they’re an actual… person. Novel, right?
Of course, there’s a downside to that, too, which may explain the most of the myth’s enduring appeal. Some of those married men actually do think you’re hitting on them. Those married men’s wives do too. Neither of them can imagine that there’s any other purpose to you talking to their husband other than to plot their eventual demise.
One woman, responding to my Facebook query, agrees that this is the inherent risk to chatting up a married guy. Sometimes he “still takes her making conversation as though she’s interested, hence creating/perpetuating the myth,” she says. Maybe it’s confusing to married men to suddenly have such friendly attention from women, and they can only process it as sexual attraction.
In other words, my judgment is this: Men don’t get hit on more with a ring on. They get talked to more. Not the same thing. That fundamental misread is just as gross as any other of the retrograde ideas expressed around this myth. It’s also just as true.
So for men thinking about putting a fake wedding band on to get laid, consider this: Not only does it perpetuate a tired, reductive myth, but in reality, the only thing it might get you is a quicker route to friendship.
Which, by the way, is awesome! For many married guys, it’s a dream scenario: They can be friendly without having to awkwardly bring up the girlfriend just in case. But for others, the friend zone isn’t what they had in mind.