Mate Poaching Is Yet Another Troubling Dating Trend

Cheating, infidelity, poaching, oh my! Almost like a trendy catchphrase, the act of being unfaithful has recently appeared in yet another dating trend that is quite troubling, to say the least. HuffPost reports that the most recent inspiration for a cheating-based dating trend has been instigated by dramatic events on the reality show "Vanderpump Rules" and has caused a ripple effect amongst fans and social media users who are wondering what lies behind the trend, what consequences it might have on relationships, and even how it can affect friendships. The dating trend in question is mate poaching, where a person intentionally tries to lure someone who is in a committed relationship and win their affection.

Mate poaching isn't a new dating habit, but the revival of discussion about it has brought up legitimate concerns for the many ramifications the actions within mate poaching can have on everyone involved. Being cheated on is never a healthy experience, and having a friend or someone you know intentionally try to poach, or steal, your partner takes cheating to another level. Even social media posts, trends, and music lyrics sometimes promote stealing another person's partner. According to Cambridge University Press, an estimated 15% of relationships may have originated through poaching. Personality traits, attachment styles, levels of self-esteem and self-worth, and many more factors play into this disconcerting and unhealthy dating trend. Here's what you should know about mate poaching, how it's so troubling, and why you should steer clear of it.

Motives behind mate poaching

Experts have been researching and exploring the motives and themes around mate poaching, sometimes referred to as human mate poaching, for quite a while. A 2022 publication by Cambridge University Press laid out two criteria that must be present for mate poaching to occur. The first is that the person who is the target of the poaching must be in a monogamous relationship, meaning that someone in an open relationship cannot be poached by the nature of how their relationship is defined. The second criterion is that the person conducting the poaching, also referred to as the poacher, must be able to identify that the person they are attempting to poach is in a committed, defined relationship and that they are intentionally trying to infiltrate that committed relationship. Essentially, mate poaching can be boiled down to the intentional pursuit of infidelity. The poacher is intentionally trying to break up an existing monogamous relationship so that they can win the affection of the person they've chosen to target. Interestingly, and perhaps contrary to what you might think, men have been found to be more successfully poached from committed relationships than women, even though more poaching attempts have been found to be made on women.

The reasons why mate poachers go after people in committed relationships vary, but are commonly linked to a quest for control, power, and an adrenaline-driven pursuit of achievement. Clinical sex addiction is another common reason, especially if pursuing sexual partners provides an exciting challenge.

Tactics used in mate poaching

Understanding how mate poaching occurs is just as important as knowing why it happens. Within modern social media, sliding into someone's DMs is perhaps the best-known way of mate poaching, wherein the secrecy of private messaging can conceal the poaching attempts from the other partner. Researchers of human mate poaching often refer to the dynamic amongst the three people involved in mate poaching as "the dark triad," indicating that unhealthy behavior is occurring between the poacher, the poaching target, and the partner from whom the target is being poached. Within the dark triad of mate poaching, various tactics can be used by the poacher to lure the attention and romantic interest of the target. Recent pop culture discussions about mate poaching have addressed the tactic of friendship infiltration, when a poacher befriends one or both people in a committed relationship with the intent of poaching the person who has captured their interest. Sometimes, friendship infiltration can occur when someone has already befriended a couple without foul intentions but then becomes interested in a poaching target over time. Regardless of origin, dynamics within poaching situations are never healthy.

Mate poachers may try to lure their targets using wealth, lavish gifts, charisma, or offers of luxury experiences. Some poachers may even adapt their behavior to mirror the personality of their target, or become a confidant to the target and use intimate secrets shared by the target to attempt to poach them from their current committed relationship.

Effects of mate poaching

Mate poaching can have social, emotional, and even psychological effects on the various people involved. For the person whose partner has been poached, they may experience feelings of self-doubt, sadness, lower self-esteem, and anxiety. Particularly if long-term or serious relationships are broken apart by poaching, it's likely that the poacher has exhibited significantly higher wealth and physical attractiveness than the target's current partner, thus leaving the partner of the poaching target with potential insecurities and hits to their self-esteem. Fear or distrust of future relationships is another side effect of mate poaching, which usually affects the poaching target and the person whose partner is targeted. Psychology Today reports that experiencing multiple instances of mate poaching, whether as the target or the partner of the target, the more insecurity they're likely to feel in future relationships. 

If an attempt at mate poaching is unsuccessful and the committed relationship continues, there may be resulting distrust, lower levels of interest, and emotional separation between the couple. A 2022 study published in the Journal of the International Association for Relationship Research studied couples who stayed together following attempts from mate poachers to poach one partner, with the results of the study determining that the lasting relationships experienced declining attraction for one another and a lesser desire to be together. Both romantic and sexual desire is likely to decrease in relationships that have suffered mate poaching attempts, with greater sensitivity to potential instances of flirtation with other people.

When a friend betrays you, too

Since mate poaching is often attempted through the tactic of friendship infiltration, the people involved in the dark triad of mate poaching are prone to develop insecurity and distrust of future friendships as well as romantic and sexual relationships. For the committed couple targeted by a mate poacher, the act of befriending one another first and building a trusting bond with the poacher can leave the people who have invested in the friendship feeling betrayed, confused, anxious, and let down. Mate poaching in its current promotion is extremely troubling because it highlights friendship infiltration and betrayal. Regardless of how close the friendship was prior to a mate poaching attempt, the emotional and psychological effects can still resonate. Even if a friendship is short-lived, having shared personal information or intimate secrets without realizing that the poacher had ulterior motives can create insecurities around trust, building bonds within future relationships, and general anxiety around relationships.

If friendship infiltration is the precipice for mate poaching, the added layer can make the fallout severely worse. To care for yourself in the aftermath of mate poaching, or attempted poaching, by means of friendship infiltration, consider therapeutic outlets such as speaking with a trained mental health professional, practicing mindfulness techniques, journaling and reflecting, and reaching out to other people in your support network, even if it feels vulnerable to connect with other friends.

How long poached relationships last

Poached relationships don't last as long as organically created relationships. Many relationships actually form by poaching, or otherwise through infidelity or cheating, but the satisfaction rates within the relationships are typically much lower than the relationships from which one partner was poached, according to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Research in Personality. Researchers determined that people who are in relationships which formed through mate poaching are likely to be less attracted to their partners, less sexually and romantically satisfied, and generally less trusting of the relationship's durability. Trust within poached relationships is typically fragile and partners are less likely to trust one another than partners in non-poached relationships. This is likely because the poacher is prone to experience lower self-esteem and pursue the target for the thrill of the chase and achievement, while the partner who was poached is likely to experience distrust given that the relationship originated due to infidelity in their previous relationship, from which they may carry guilt or remorse. The distrust within a poached relationship might be exacerbated if friendship infiltration was the tactic used to mate poach, thus leading to questions about how the poacher intentionally crafted an intimate friendship with the purpose of manipulating an existing committed relationship.

Even if social media or television makes it look acceptable, remember that mate poaching is a form of cheating and infidelity. Simply put, it isn't a kind action and doesn't serve anyone any sort of positive benefit.