Are you ‘muggable’? How to not be exploited

In 1981, Betty Grayson of Hofstra University and Morris Stein of NYU did an experiment.  The researchers videotaped 60 people as they walked down the same city block in New York City.  They then showed the videotape to 53 prison inmates convicted of violent assault.

What they found was fascinating: the inmates showed a strong consensus for the kind of individual they would choose as a victim.  Those chosen as potential victims tended to have poor coordination, with a stride either too short or too long for their height.

Nonvictims, in contrast, displayed a more coordinated walk and a normal stride.  Basically, the muggable victims telegraphed nonverbal cues that indicated ease of victimization — as if wearing a sign on their back saying ‘mug me’.

Another study by two Japanese researchers looked at cues for choosing victims for inappropriate groping in public places (apparently this happens a lot on the super-crowded Japanese subways).  They consulted a group of men from Tokyo University to comment on short video clips of women walking.

Once again, the men showed agreed on which women they would choose to grope.  Body language of prospective victims included walking slowly and having a short stride length.  In their personality inventory, these women also tended to score high on neuroticism, low on extraversion, and high on shyness.

There’s more to these studies than that.  For now, this is what I want you to consider: If you’ve found yourself exploited in relationships before, how much were you responsible for it?  Because apparently there is such a thing as wearing an ‘exploit me’ sign on your back.

David Buss, the author of The Evolution of Desire, wrote a fascinating paper in 2008 with his colleague Joshua Duntley entitled ‘Adaptations for Exploitation’.

One of the points Buss makes in the paper is that there’s a lot of exploitation going on out there in the romantic realm, both by men and women.  And certain people are more exploitable than others.

So if you’ve repeatedly been burned in relationships — honey, buddy, I hate to break it to you, but you were partially responsible for it.  You have been complicit in your suffering.

Let me give you an example from poker.  Contrary to popular belief, I did not start out as a world-class poker player from Day 1.  In fact, I was pretty terrible.  And when I would sit down at a new table, the better players would notice immediately: “That guy is pretty terrible.  We’re going to take all his money.”

You know why I know that?  Because now I’m that guy who takes the money (sometimes anyway), and within minutes of a new player’s sitting at a table, I know whom I’m dealing with,what his weaknesses are and how to exploit them — by cunning, intimidation, trapping, bluffing and outright bullying.  If poker is a zero-sum game, then that’s how you win it.

You must also recognize that people like this exist in the romantic realm.  Even though love is the ultimate nonzero-sum game, a potential win for all involved, some people choose to be jerks in the realm of love.  Although there are both men and women who fit this category, the exploitative men probably outnumber the women, since they have more to gain from a short-term sexual interaction.  Also, more testosterone tends to make people behave more antisocially — go figure.

So how do you stop wearing the ‘use me’ sign?  The first step is recognition.  Straight out of Prof Buss’s article, here are some traits he believes make you more exploitable:

  • Cheatable: Gullible, trusting, lack of allies to aid with retaliation
  • Free-ridable: Relative anonymity within larger group
  • Muggable: Uncoordinated gait, hesitant manner
  • Sexually assaultable: Shy, low self-confidence, lack of “bodyguards” in group
  • Sexually deceivable: Seems “ditzy” or “airheaded”
  • Abusable: Lacking kin in close proximity
  • Cuckoldable: Relaxation of mate guarding by partner
  • Stalkable: High on agreeableness and extraversion

If you want to stop being used, here are some suggestions, some courtesy of Captain Obvious (that would be me), and some from the article.

For both men and women:

Cultivate a reputation as being nonexploitable. As Buss puts it, “refusing to accept unfair exchanges and seeking vengeance after one has been exploited are two means by which individuals cultivate a reputation as nonexploitable.”  So refuse to accept a raw deal — you always have the option to walk.  And if you do get a raw deal, get mad!  Get righteously indignant!  Out the punk so the world knows that you will not be punked.

Expect and demand some degree of reciprocity. If you’re constantly being the giver in the relationship, the other partner will soon figure out that he or she can be a free rider.  You’re not being nice by giving all the time — you’re being naїve and, frankly, a little stupid.  You’re a human, not a charity.

For women who don’t want to be played by players:

Take your time in getting to know a man. Do not be taken in by early disclosures of affection.  A guy can’t possibly know enough about you to be in love with you within an hour of meeting you — or a week, or even a month.  If it sounds too good to be true, 99.8% of the time it is.  Delay your first sexual encounter with a guy until you trust him enough.  A good thing is worth waiting for, and you’re a good thing, so make him wait some before he gets some.

Date men within your social circle. Successful exploitation hinges upon getting away with it.  If a man is embedded within your social circle, he can’t get away with doing stupid things without damaging his reputation and trustworthiness, so he’s less likely to exploit.  So, as mentioned in The Tao of Dating for Women, date only men who are networked in.  Men you meet off the internet or in a bar can and will do exploitative things with much higher frequency.

Utilize your yang energy. In public places, walk briskly, with purpose, looking straight ahead.  Speak your mind.  Learn how to say ‘No’ emphatically.  Quit being pointlessly nice and polite to people who harass you, since they clearly don’t deserve it.

Go out with friends and have each other’s backs. Most women already know this (much to the chagrin of men in nightclubs), but it’s extra-important that the women (and men) in the group keep tabs on the girls, making sure no one is left behind.

For men who don’t want to be waylaid by gold-diggers, flakes and other party hazards:

Quit paying for everything. Let her pull her own weight every once in a while.  Is she into your company or the perks of your company?  See section on ‘reciprocity’ above.

Ask how she’s spending her time. If a romantic interest or current girlfriend suddenly starts to become a lot more scarce, start wondering if there’s another guy.  Ask point-blank: How many other men are you dating right now? That should get you useful information.

I really wish that the Tao were all about openness, beauty, love, gods and goddesses meeting on a moonlit shore with violins in the background, with no nitty-gritty in it at all.  But even in that scenario, you’ll get sand in your shoes which you’ll have to shake out later.

And that’s what I love about the Tao: it’s about life here, on this earth.  It’s real, it’s pragmatic, and it has your best interest in mind.  In the case of exploitative partners or suitors, it is in your enlightened self-interest to be strong and vigilant, using both yin and yang energy to protect yourself.  You use the directive and discriminating aspect of yang energy to identify and push away what’s harmful; you use the yielding aspect of yin energy to let go of what you no longer need.

Then you can use the yang again to find what’s good for you and the yin to let it into your life joyfully — it’s a constant, dynamic process.  Sometimes the tide ebbs; sometimes it flows.  But it never stops moving.

8 Comments on “Are you ‘muggable’? How to not be exploited”

  1. Chrissie

    Thanks for this article. I always look forward to what you have to say. There is a lot of useful information and common sense advice. Keep up the good work, Dr. Alex.

  2. Annabella

    I must have that “use me” sign. I stopped dating a guy after 3 months who was fine with seeing me once/twice weekly + texting, though he spent all his free time with co-workers and friends, not me. I had a break up talk & asked if he were aware of inequalities in our contributions to the relationship. he said yes! and that he just got spoiled or complacent, and that sometimes he felt guilty but then justified it by saying that sometimes he “called me on the phone.” The following weeks I ran into him at restaurants/bars and gave a polite “hello”. should I have been telling him “you’re a jerk, what you did is not cool, you’re a total opportunist and stop coming to my side of the city”?

    1. Ali Binazir MD MPhil Post author

      @Annabella: Yes. Especially in front of others. That would have been a public service.

  3. Linda

    I always look forward to reading your articles. They remind me of things I already knew and just seemed to lose track of. You really help me to stay on track! Thank you!

    1. Ali Binazir MD MPhil Post author

      @Linda: Thanks for that! Hope it helps to remind you of who you really are.

  4. Anonymous

    Dr. Binazir

    I found this article useful. I was a shy one when younger, and got harassed on the streets. Not any more. Maturity and accomplishments helped. Social research is so interesting.

    Thank you for everything