Romantic attraction in humans is a mystery wrapped within an enigma – a complex interplay of seemingly endless ironic twists whose ravages have been documented in sonnets and love songs through the ages. But for all its potential to cobble together the most unlikely pairings of people with nothing apparently in common, there is actually a crystal clear logic that underlies the workings of attraction. Nature’s main goal is to pair off genetically strong individuals as often as possible in order to keep the overall population strong and healthy. Attraction as it translates from instinct to human thought is really all about the personal search for this genetically healthy individual among an available member of the opposite sex, using some strategy to advertise your own genetic advantages as best that you possibly can.
Both men and women perform this task in similar ways by looking for markers in members of the other sex. Markers are visual and other clues about people that produce a sort of readout of their genetic vitality. At some point all five senses are engaged from visual and auditory (language), through touch and even smell. Of course, by the time you get around to taste, the fun has already begun 😉
The primary sense we use is vision, of course – the first impression we get of anyone happens when we see them from a short distance away. I’m sure you’ve heard that men are intrigued by women sporting the good old zero point seven (0.7) hips-to-waist ratio that signals for an “easy breeder” – a woman whose body framework has been shown to produce successful deliveries and fewer miscarriages. So a quick glance produces a marker for one important reproductive signal that we as men need to know about.
Men themselves are typically “spread breeders”, which means that their greatest reproductive success comes from spreading their seed far and wide among a variety of different women, something which society has come to frown upon for a variety of different reasons that have mostly to do with creating a practical social order. Women on the other hand are “husband breeders”, which means their reproductive success is enhanced by cuckolding one particular male and being regularly inseminated by just him until she becomes pregnant.
This is important because human females do not know exactly when they go into estrus (heat), and so to improve their odds of having babies they need to have fairly regular sex all through their menstrual cycle. They also need resources from the male to help raise the offspring of course, as human young are born very helpless compared to most animals and need many years of protection before they can survive on their own. This is why they have an eye on our status in order to get a sense of our value as providers. Of course, status only reveals our potential to provide resources, not necessarily our willingness. That’s why a woman needs to do further tests of trust and loyalty before she can decide if she’s really into to us for the long haul. In any event, society applauds and supports this arrangement via marriage laws.
So it appears that as men we need only to see the 0.7 thing and we’re “game on”! But it gets more complex than that in the real world where we seek a more refined sense of each other before we can decide to pair off for reproductive purposes (the only purpose Nature has for us, incidentally – it has no interest in our desire to enjoy sex as a form of play.) This means that the search for markers continues beyond these initial visual assessments for both sexes.
One of the principle markers that both men and women seek out and consider “attractive” is facial symmetry. Imagine a line drawn vertically straight down a face splitting it right down the center of the nose. The closer each “face- half” matches up to the other in terms of all the various curves and shapes mirroring each other closely, the more eye-catching and attractive that person’s face is considered to be. A face that is misshapen asymmetrically or droops along one side, even ever-so-slightly, is considered less attractive, plain-looking or even ugly.
You might be wondering why symmetry is considered attractive across both genders and throughout most cultures? Because in a strictly genetics & manufacturing sense symmetry is a tough characteristic to achieve in a living organism, human or otherwise. It takes a near perfect set of genes with no “code bugs” in them to generate a lifeform with beautiful symmetry. It’s a work of organic art! Whenever we encounter exceptional facial symmetry in someone, we instantly recognize a marker for strong, healthy genes (good stock) and we find ourselves attracted to them… “Ah, ha… now there’s someone who will likely produce strong and beautiful offspring for me if I can get my genes co-mingled with his or hers somehow…” See how this calculus works? We can’t help ourselves, we’re like peacocks displaying our feathers… and the more impressive the display of symmetry, the more valuable the genes being boldly advertised!
People who display good symmetry are considered beautiful or handsome and they tend to do well in terms of sexual satisfaction, money-making ability, higher education, career recognition-advancement and all those other good things that have their roots in widespread social acceptance and normalization. Individuals with poor symmetry who are considered unattractive experience less acceptance even from an early age, and as a result the accumulated negative emotional burden can lead to criminal or self-destructive behaviors. Prisons are filled with asymmetrical faces.
Another thing we look for in the face are signs of hormonal action in our bodies that indicate sexual maturity. In men this would be things like facial hair, a squared jawline and maybe even a small scar or a bump in the nose that signals previous fights (to negotiate status?) with other males. Things that show off toughness and maturity are a sign that the testosterone is pumping well in that guy. In women we seek fuller lips and cheeks, soul-piercing eyes and other signals that estrogen has matured the female to a level where’s she’s ready to breed. These usual signs are picked up unconsciously and within split seconds, much like the recognition of symmetry.
As humans we seem to judge the overall attractiveness of a possible mate with a hierarchy of factors, some of which are available to us instantly, while others take an investment of time and investigation to fully determine. In descending order of importance, here are what men and women are generally looking for:
1 – Healthy genetics
2 – Stable personality
3 – Positive deep memory match
We’ve discussed the genetics already, which is purely physical and primal, but humans are thinkers and that means there’s more that goes into the equation. The next one is personality stability or perhaps character is a better way to describe it. Why do we care about this? Well, mainly because human babies need years of care and rearing to survive – we don’t just drop them on the ground and walk away reassured that they’ll do just fine. Baby sharks do just fine right out of the uterus and can hunt and feed for themselves… not so much baby Michael (waaa…). Character in men is especially important since they are not bound by nature to the rearing of children as the females are, they have to be coerced somehow to stay around and contribute their time and resources. Society has aided the woman’s cause by creating a legal structure of marriage laws and other psychological pressures which compel the man’s behavior towards pair bonding, but we all know that in reality men have many different avenues through which they can cheat and abandon their commitments.
So the woman must gather a sense of a man’s character and fit it into her decision-making process before she can consider mating with him. One of those things she looks for are markers of intelligence. As a general rule, intelligent people tend to be less prone to violent behavior, make more money and are more satisfying to hang around with because their curiosity drives them to seek unique experiences in life. Then again, there’s the likelihood of passing these genes for intelligence along to her offspring, which gives them greater competitive advantage in a modern technological world. Another plus.
I like to think that quick-witted humor, the so-called “sense of humor” that women seem to prize when describing a quality of their ideal man, is an obvious and immediately accessible marker of intelligence for them. That’s why it’s useful to display some sense of humor as soon as you can possibly work it into your earliest conversations with her. You don’t need to put on a stupid stage act, just a flash of humor is enough to show her the marker she needs to see – that easily recognized marker for your intelligence.
Women also prize loyalty and kindness in males, but these qualities take more time to evaluate. This is what dating is really all about, it’s an investigation to gain a sense of such subtle characteristics. Loyalty is sometimes determined by things such as a “roving eye” for instance, so be careful about keeping your focus only on her when you’re out and about on a date, resist ogling the passing tail. This can be a serious deal breaker with some women – especially those who’ve been burned by guys who exhibited similar behaviors and then turned out to be big time cheaters.
Your capacity for kindness is also evident by taking note of your web of existing social connections with friends and family, how you interact with kids, and maybe even how you treat your mom. It may take a few family picnics and holiday get togethers for her to observe you in action, and so this kind of read comes even deeper into the relationship for her. Be aware that she will be observing you closely as these sorts of things unfold.
So it’s this combination of instantaneous things (first impressions) along with those that take some time to smoke out that all get plugged into the equations that go on in her little chickie brain. Everything begins with some degree of immediate attraction, looks, chemistry and charm, and – if she’s intrigued – then expands into these other more metaphysical aspects of character developed over the time the two of you spend together.
One final element is something that’s impossible to predict or control but very powerful I believe, and that’s a deep memory match. Our memory libraries are each distinct and highly unique, formed by the random trajectories of our lives and the people that have passed through them. They are also unconscious to a large degree. I’m sure you’ve experienced people of either sex who, at a glance, you either felt an intense like or dislike for immediately. This sense is completely irrational and has nothing to do with their behavior. A new guy you just met at work could seem like a really good dude, but for “some reason” you just don’t like him. He hasn’t done anything wrong, the guy just rubs you the wrong way and you try to avoid him whenever possible.
Well, I think that this “some reason” could be a deep memory pattern match with someone from your past who you came to despise for some reason. Maybe he resembles the schoolyard bully who used to push you around in first grade? Or perhaps some distant uncle who tried to grab your nuts at a family picnic back when you were 8 years old, or whatever.
Here’s the thing: you may not even consciously remember these people any more or even think about them, but the deep memory lies buried in your unconscious mind somewhere and it is still associated with all those bad feelings that you had for that person. This can also work the other way too and you can have an irrational attraction for someone for the very same reason, despite the fact that they may be “all wrong” for you. This is how ugly guys end up scoring chicks that seem way out of their league, and vice-versa. The mysteries of the human mind run deep, and this is the gameboard upon which we have chosen to play. So steel yourself for the sometimes highly illogical results.
The bottom line on attraction is this: there will always be factors over which you have no control and which are impossible to overcome with behavior alone no matter how hard you try. You can do everything textbook perfect and lay the smoothest charm on some chick, but if you happen to make a deep memory match with some scary creep from her past then there will always be “just something about you” that turns her off. X-factors abound in the game of attraction which can never be completely accounted for or even completely understood. That’s why this will always remain a numbers game right to the bitter end. Success will require a substantial reserve of stamina for the search, determination to press on in the face of ofttimes crushing heartache – and above all a streak of idealism to keep you focused on that one special woman who you just know is out there waiting for you somewhere.