Sunday, January 6, 2008

Are you attractive enough to find and keep a mate?

Every woman and man dreads to hear these words: "I love you, but I’m not in love with you." We all worry about keeping our partner interested in us and concerned that they might stray. This isn’t a new concern. Men and women have been cheating on each other since we first came down from the trees. And men and women have always tried to understand their partner’s attraction to others so they could prevent them from straying. However, it has only been in recent years that there has been scientific study that can help us truly understand what men crave in a woman and what women go ga ga for in a man.
What Do Women Really Want?
The top three qualities that women look for in men are exactly the same as those things that men look for in women: Intelligence, kindness, and love. But then, what women want diverges from what men want.
World-wide, women seek men who are strong and tall. Even women who are quite capable of taking care of themselves are attracted to men of size and strength. Women, as a group, judge short men to be less desirable than tall men. In personal ads in the U.S. where women mention height, 80% want a man 6 ft. or taller. Fortunately, not all women follow the trend. If there were not individual differences all men my (height 5 feet, five inches), would be celibate loners.
Women are also drawn to men with good earning capacity. This is true world-wide and doesn’t seem to depend on whether the women themselves are well off. Women doctors, for instance, are drawn to even higher paid male doctors, rather than to male nurses.
World-wide, women are drawn to men who are older than they are, which is not surprising since in most cultures older men have higher status and earn more money. In the U.S. 30 year old males make, on average, $14,000 more a year than 20 year olds and $7,000 a year less than the average 40 year old male. Finally, women want men who will commit their resources to the care and support of the woman and her children.
These desires are often not conscious. Women usually don’t say to themselves, "I like that guy because he is willing to commit his resources to me and my children, if I decide to have children." She just says, "I like that guy. I can count on him." She doesn’t say, "I want a tall strong man who can protect me from wild animals." She just says, "He turns me on. The chemistry feels right."
What Do Men Really Want?
Like women, men seek love, intelligence, and kindness in a mate. But then a man is drawn to youth and beauty. This interest is not just a modern desire driven by advertising and a male desire to control women. According to evolutionary psychologist Dr. David Buss, it is a universal desire based on evolutionary pressures for reproductive success.
Men who mated with women who were incapable of bearing children left no ancestors. Every man alive today is descended from men who did not make that mistake. "Ancestral men," says Buss, "solved the problem of finding reproductively valuable women in part by preferring those who are young and healthy." Buss’ studies show that world-wide, men are drawn to younger women.
Since women’s ability to conceive and bear children decreases with age, youth is a direct indicator of reproductive capacity. In most cultures throughout the world, men’s attraction to youth has been understood and honored. In our modern societies, men who feel this natural attraction are condemned and shamed. They are called "dirty old men" or worse.
Buss found that men throughout the world were attracted to beautiful women. "Full lips, clear and smooth skin, clear eyes, lustrous hair, nice figure, and good muscle tone," he says, "are universally sought after." But isn’t this just our sexist culture trying to sell women huge numbers of beauty products in order to make large profits? Certainly the beauty industry is a big one. In the United States more money is spent on beauty than on education or social services. 1500 tubes of lipstick and 2,000 jars of skin care products are sold every minute.
However, attraction to beauty seems to be built into our biological makeup, according to psychologist Judith Langlois and her colleagues. In one study, adults evaluated color slides of white and black female faces for their attractiveness. Then infants of two or three months of age were shown pairs of these faces that differed in their degree of attractiveness. The infants looked longer at the more attractive faces.
So What Is One To Do?
There’s no way we can keep from getting older, though many try. The interest in "anti-aging medicine" continues to expand and those who have the money will continue to pay big bucks to keep the appearance of youth and beauty into their 60s, 70s, and 80s. But what about the average person?
Are older women doomed to watch their husbands leave them for younger, more attractive models? Do you have to spend your life-savings in an attempt to be forever young? Do you say, "to hell with it" and get rid of him before he gets rid of you? My answer is "no!, no!," and "no!.
Here’s what I’d suggest:
1. Understand that genetic desire is not destiny.
Though men will always desire young, attractive females it does not mean that we will automatically act on those desires. Remember, men are genetically programmed to be aggressive, but it does not mean we are doomed to murder each other. There are many reasons why a man chooses to stay with a woman. Youth and beauty may be what attracts him, but companionship, friendship, shared interests, and other qualities can keep him interested.
2. Recognize that genetic desire is important.
Though there are other things that keep a man interest, youth and beauty, are built into his genetic makeup. Ignoring these basic male desires is not helpful. I know many women who pretend that these needs are trivial. They convince themselves that the man loves her for her mind and the family life they have created together (and he may well), and then are blindsided when he has an affair with his young secretary. Though there are other things that keep a man interest, youth and beauty, are built into his genetic makeup. Ignoring these basic male desires is not helpful. I know many women who pretend that these needs are trivial. They convince themselves that the man loves her for her mind and the family life they have created together (and he may well), and then are blindsided when he has an affair with his young secretary.
3. Accept that genetic attraction is important and talk about it.
Many women shame their men into "not looking." They think the way to hold on to him is to make him feel guilty if shows his interest in youth and beauty. The result is that he pretends disinterest when he is with her, then expresses his interest in private.
When he is drawn to a young, attractive female, it does not mean he is a jerk. It means he is a genetic male and has male desires. Talk about it. Live with it. You might even learn to share your attractions. (After all, you have them too). What would your relationship be like if you could both admit to your attractions, appreciate what the other was drawn to without feeling threatened, and discuss mutual attractions with some humor?
4. Keep yourself looking nice.
Some women pretend that beauty isn’t important or know it is and feel there is nothing they can really do to stay beautiful so they "let themselves go." Beauty has many qualities including self-confidence, youthful attitude, a small waist, lustrous hair, etc. I know many men who complain that their wives have put on a lot of weight as they’ve aged and don’t seem to want to do anything about it. "She just tells me I should love her the way she is. But the truth is I don’t find her attractive since she’s put on so much weight. I know she wouldn’t find me as attractive if I quit my job and sat at home and watched T.V. all day."
There’s much you can do to keep yourself in shape. Work with what you have and stay as attractive as you can. It does matter.
5. Let him know he needs to stay in shape as well.
I know many women who will do anything to keep her man. She goes out of her way to stay youthful in body and spirit. In the process she gives him the impression that she needs him so much, he can really do anything he wants and she’ll always want him.
As a result he takes her for granted and let’s his own attractiveness wane. Keeping attraction alive is a two way street. Let him know you love him, but that he’s not the only fish in the pond. You have your own attractions and he needs to keep himself in shape if he wants to keep you interested.
6. Work with your biology, don’t fight it.
Bottom line, beauty is important. We have all evolved from ancestors who paid a great deal of attention to finding a mate who would increase our reproductive success. In the world of evolution, a world we cannot escape, beauty matters big time.
As Dr. Nancy Etcoff reminds us in her book, Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty, "Madison Avenue cleverly exploits universal preferences but it does not create them, any more than Walt Disney created our fondness for creatures with big eyes and little limbs, or Coca Cola or McDonald’s created our cravings for sweet or fatty foods."
Like gravity and other forces of nature, beauty is a fact of life and we will do better if we seek to understand and deal with it rather than denying its power. "Appearance is the most public part of the self," says Dr. Etcoff. "It is our sacrament, the visible self that the world assumes to be a mirror of the invisible, inner self. This assumption may not be fair, and not how the best of all moral worlds would conduct itself. But that does not make it any less true. Beauty has consequences that we cannot erase by denial. Beauty will continue to operate—outside jurisdiction, in the lawless world of human attraction."
Where do you fit on the attraction scale? Are you a 10, a 5, or a 1? How about your mate? Do you talk about it or pretend it isn’t important? I’d like to hear from you. Here’s a place you can tell it like it is.

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