Chapter 20: You can’t judge people by appearance, nor measure the ocean in pints

Don't judge a book by its cover

人不可貌相,海水不可斗量
rén bù kě mào xiàng, hǎi shuǐ bù kě dǒu liáng

The discussion in the previous chapters revolved around the traits that people desire the most in a mate. Given the importance of sex in the whole question of partner selection, empha­sis was laid on physical aspects. Yet as most couples or parents know, relationship is not only about carnal knowledge. Since love marriage[1],[2] is increasingly common in many parts of the world, the rules of engagement in the mating game are now much diffe­rent than in the past. For many men, youth and physical attractiveness are not enough any­more. Inner beauty, which includes psychological factors such as kindness, compassion, elegance, cour­tesy, intel­li­gence, wittiness, honesty, etc. have become much more important. Admit­tedly, the proverb mentioned here may appear inappropriate in a context of love and partner selec­tion, but considering its essence (namely, that “appearance is deceiving” or that one should not prejudge the worth of something or someone by its outward appearance alone), it reminds us that (physical) beauty should not be equated with virtue and that it does not gua­ran­tee happiness in marriage, at least not in the long term.[3],[4]

Various works and philosophers across the centuries uttered similar words of advice, albeit in different terms:

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting

Torah, Bible – Old Testament (New International Version), Proverbs 31:30

Beauty is indeed a good gift of God; but that the good may not think it a great good, God dispenses it even to the wicked.

Saint Augustine, City of God

Beauty pleases the eyes only;

Sweetness of disposition charms the soul.[5]

Voltaire

One sees clearly only with the heart;

What is essential is invisible to the eye.[6]

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

 

One of the most obvious reasons why men (and also women) should not choose their part­ner based on physical aspects only, is that beauty, more often than not, fades away with age. That means that after a few years into the relationship, the aesthetic or reproductive value of the spouse will gradually decline anyway.[7] In addition, physical chemistry itself is rather short-lived.[8] After a few rounds of fleshly pleasures, the attraction quickly vanishes if it is not supplemented with chemistry in the mind, heart, and soul. Only if physical affinity origin­ates in and is nurtured by emotional, intellectual or spiritual chemistry can it last or grow in time. When a man senses sexual chemistry with a woman, he feels interested in her, he likes her, he thinks he knows her… This may lead him into believing that he loves her. However, as relationship counsellor John Gray remarks, “the real test is whether he still likes and loves her after he gets to know her.” [9],[10]

 


Notes

[1] Love marriage refers to the union of two people based on mutual love, or else attraction, fondness, commitment, etc. It is opposed to the phenomenon of forced or arranged marriages, where one or both families fix up the matri­mony for the individuals involved. The term has only limited distinct meaning in Western societies, where love is commonly considered as a prerequisite for marriage. This may not be the case in South Asia and the Middle East, which have strong traditional arranged marriage systems. However, it shall be noted that even in the West, love mar­riage is a relatively young concept. So is the thought that affection, rather than duty (defined by wealth or social sta­tus) should be at the base of a shared life, which was first expressed in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s 1761 novel Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse. It was not until the emergence of the feminist movement at the beginning of the 20th century that this new way of choosing one’s spouse finally became standard. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_marriage)

[2]    See chapter 10 “A melon forced off its vine is not sweet”.

[3]    See chapter 34 “Marriage is the tomb of love”.

[4]   The proverb is a quote from the novel Journey to the West (西游记, xī yóu jì, chapter 62) by Ming dynasty poet Wú Chéng’ēn’s (吴承恩). Widely known as Monkey in English-speaking countries (after Arthur Waley’s popular abridged translation), the work is one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature (see also chapter 1 “Men are like mud, women are like water”).

[5]    Original: “La beauté plait aux yeux, la douceur charme l’âme.”

[6]    Original: “On ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.”

[7]    See chapter 5 “Old cows like tender grass”.

[8]    See chapter 11 “A lover’s eye only sees his love’s beauty”.

[9]    Gray (2009), pp. 17-18

[10]  See chapters 3 “Men like, women love” and 11 “A lover’s eye only sees his love’s beauty”.

Chapter 19: If you plant melons, you get melons; if you plant beans, you get beans

As a man sows, so shall he reap

种瓜得瓜,种豆得豆
zhòng guā de guā, zhòng dòu de dòu

Several chapters in the book discuss the importance of a woman’s bodily appearance in sexual selection. Although many women or feminists may not be happy about this, it is none­­theless widely accepted that men do insist a lot on beauty and on other “external” aspects when choosing a potential mate. But what about women? Do visual aspects also influence them in their choices? The purpose of the present section is to find out how rele­vant physical appearance is in a woman’s emotional or sexual attraction to a particular man, and, if at all, to describe which traits have the biggest impact on her desires. One element in the line of thought will play a key role, that of the so-called sexy son hypothesis, which predicts that women secretly wish to copulate with sexy males in the hope to bear sexy sons them­selves. Quite analogous to the logic of the proverb mentioned here, the objective is to employ a certain type of seed (in this case, the seed of handsome, high-quality, men) to sow a fertile field (her own body) and grow and harvest new crop (i.e., male children) that are expec­ted to have the same positive properties as the original seed itself. Admittedly, there is a certain gap between the message delivered here and the intended meaning of the expres­sion, which simply reminds people to be kind and to work hard.[1] So like for other pro­verbs pre­sented in this book, readers will also have to a little be creative, and look beyond its face value.[2] For that matter, it shall be reminded that messages similar to “as a man sows, so shall he reap” can be found in the bible[3], but are most certainly not related to human inse­­mination.

To get straight to the point, women do pay a lot of attention to a man’s physical appearance – irrespective of their plans with him (dating, one-night stand, romance, marriage, etc.). If asked directly, many of them may down­play its weight. After all, applying such a superficial criterion as beauty would trivialise the importance of their feelings and emotions and represent a degradation to the same level of shallowness as males’.[4] Although physical aspects matter less than personality and status, they still remain, consciously or uncons­ciously, a non-negligible factor in a woman’s decision making process.[5] In fact, men’s appea­­rance exerts a stronger influence on women than they are generally willing to admit, whereas, surprisingly enough, men are less affected by women’s appearance than they usu­ally claim.[6] As soon as lie detectors are involved, however, women seem to open up and confess that “physical appearance plays a big role in their feelings of initial attrac­tion.”[7] In this connection, a survey among women revealed that “the person had a desirable body” ranked sixteenth on the list of the most cited motives for having sex.[8] Another noteworthy finding here is that there seems to be a difference between men and women in terms of the emphasis they lay on physical attractiveness, depending on the time horizon of the relation­ship. When considering long-term partnerships, the discrepancy between both genders is quite large, men tending to value physical attractiveness and women prioritising social sta­tus. For short-term relationships, conversely, men and women seem to be much more simi­lar to one another, both sexes placing a relatively high emphasis on physical characte­ris­tics.[9],[10],[11],[12]

Sexual attraction is the key concept to explain why women can be drawn to handsome men without any other ground. The term refers to any form of affinity, allurement, or drawing power on the basis of sexual desire, or to the ability to generate such magnetism. Sex appeal, in turn, is defined as the capacity of a person to entice another individual or else to raise his or her erotic interest. Such sexual attractiveness, which constitutes a crucial factor in mate choice, can, but does not have to, be inspired by looks. Other qualities (including a person’s smell[13], eye expression, voice[14], personality traits[15], etc.), as well as genetic, psy­chological or even cultural aspects[16] may also play a role.[17] One main form of attractors are the so-called secondary sexual characteristics. As opposed to the primary sex characte­ristics (or sex organs), they have no direct function in the reproductive system. Yet they can still be considered as “sexual” in the sense that they represent attributes that help identify or tell apart males and females, and that they emerge during puberty, respectively at sexual matu­rity. Familiar examples include the long colourful feathers of male peacocks, the manes of male lions, or the tusks of male narwhals. In humans, one could cite the wide hips and pelvis, and the enlarged breasts of females, as well as the Adam’s apple, deep voice, square face, the growth of facial, abdominal, or chest hair on males.


Notes

[1]   Both the Chinese saying and its English translation can also be interpreted as “sow much, reap much; sow little, reap little”. It acts as a warning that there is always a consequence for everything someone does or says, and that the effort a person puts into something is likely to pay off sooner or later.

[2]    The locution is quoted from Chapter 45 in Water Margin, a novel attributed to Yuan dynasty (1271–1368 AD) writer Shī Nài’ān (施耐庵). Also translated as Outlaws of the Marsh, Tale of the Marshes, All Men Are Brothers, Men of the Marshes, or The Marshes of Mount Liang, the book belongs to the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature (see also chapter 1 “Men are like mud, women are like water”).

[3]    For example “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (Corinthians, 9:6, New International Version)

[4]    See chapter 3 “Men like, women love”.

[5]    Ridley (1993), p. 297

[6]    Pines (2005), p. 85

[7]    Fisher (2010), p. 149

[8]    Meston / Buss (2009), p. 10

[9]    Feingold (1990)

[10]  Li / Kenrick (2006)

[11]  Eastwick / Finkel (2008)

[12]  Li / Valentine / Patel (2011)

[13]  See chapter 16 “When you have musk, you will automatically have fragrance”.

[14]  See chapter 23 “A smile will gain you ten more years of life”.

[15]  See chapter 20 “You can’t judge people by appearance, nor measure the ocean in pints”.

[16]  See chapter 13 “Like attracts like”.

[17]  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_attraction

Chapter 18: A man of determination will surely succeed

Where there's a will, there's a way

有志者事竟成
yǒu zhì zhě shì jìng chéng

The previous chapter explained why pragmatic, material and financial aspects are so impor­tant for women when selecting a partner. As people tend to get married when they are young, women need clues to identify those specimens with the highest chances to get rich or to become good fathers. The problem, however, is that a man’s wealth and rank are not writ­ten on his fore­head and often cannot be observed directly. External signs of riches, such as fashio­nable clothes, a gold watch, a fancy sports car, a prestigious residential address, a sump­tuous lifestyle, etc. do suggest that someone has enough resources and would, therefore, qualify as a good provider. But what if a young man got these goods from his parents or other relatives? Is this financial condition sustainable? Truly successful men who are young and earned their opulence (e.g., entrepreneurs, actors, singers, professional athletes, etc.) are very rare and experience shows that some of them lose their property as quickly as they attai­ned it. Bearing in mind the adage that “wealth does not pass three generations” (富不过三代, fù bù guò sān dài), such ostensible ornamentation can be treacherous and does not neces­­sarily constitute the best piece of evidence to determine a mate’s future resource hol­dings.[1]

However, various personality traits may serve as markers for such “husband material” fit­ness. This section introduces three of these characteristics as related to a man’s potential ability to gather resources: Dominance, confidence, and ambition. Even if he is poor, a male who displays these qualities has a good chance of attracting at least one partner. Considering the number of challenges and difficulties faced on the path to success and conquest, getting ready for the contest requires a good load of drive and determination – thus the proverb chosen.[2] Admittedly, the phrase may be considered as irrelevant or inappropriate in the pre­sent context of sexual selection per se. But with a pinch of creativity, its fundamental mes­sage seems to apply when it comes to positioning oneself as a liable husband or lover. Here some examples: “A man who has a settled purpose will surely succeed” (in getting a wife), “every­thing comes to he who wants” (including women), “nothing is impossible to a willing mind” (or body), “strong-willed people get results” (and laid), etc.

In Napoleon Bonaparte’s own words, “success is the most convincing talker in the world.”[3] Women must have been aware of this a long time ago, when they learned that successful men offered the best survival chances. For the most part of history, the mightiest and most domi­nant males have also been the most prolific. While success is not measured on the hun­ting ground and the battlefield anymore, status cues such as prestige, power, position, finan­cial prospects, etc. heavily affect women’s assessment of attractiveness.[4] In order to be impres­sed, a woman has to be able to relate to and to respect a man’s merits and the activities he shines at. His excellence and achievements consti­tute key criteria by which she judges his quality.[5] Yet as success or exploits are not always obvious or demonstrable on a daily basis, women are seeking other clues for someone’s qualification as a provider. Domi­nance repre­sents an ideal proxy for excellence since it signals “a man’s ability to win the respect of his peers, meet life’s challenges, and defend himself and his loved ones against their ene­mies”[6], which is exactly what females are looking for in a partner. By mating a domi­nant man, a woman is likely to gain both short and long-term benefits. These range from a better access to resources for herself and her offspring (thus paving the way for a brighter future for the latter) to the breeding of children who themselves carry such dearly sought-after traits of dominance (which in turn naturally blesses them with advantages when competing for status and resources).[7]


Notes

[1]   See chapter 20 “You can’t judge people by appearance, nor measure the ocean in pints”.

[2]   The saying is derived from a story told in Book of the Later Han (后汉书, hòu hàn shū), a Chinese court document compiled by Liu Song dynasty (420–479 AD) historian and politician Fàn Yè (范晔) and covering the history of the Han dynasty from 6 to 189 AD. Volume 19 of the book chronicles the life of gěng Yǎn (耿弇), a general who served Emperor Guangwu of Han (汉光武帝刘秀, hàn guāng wǔ dì liú xiù). According to the legend, gěng Yǎn was hit by an arrow during a battle. Instead of waiting for reinforcement, he decided to continue and fought until his army had defeated the enemy. The emperor praised his bravery and persistence with words that can be translated as follows: “Generals proposed such strategies in Nanyang in the past; I often thought that these were impracticable and difficult to accomplish. It now seems, however, that people with a strong sense of purpose can achieve success in the long run.” (将军前在南阳,建此大策,常以为落落难合,有志者事竟成也, jiāng jūn qián zài nán yáng jiàn cǐ dà cè cháng yǐ wéi luò luò nán hé yǒu zhì zhě shì jìng chéng).

[3]    Original: “Le grand orateur du monde, c’est le succès.”

[4]    Pease / Pease (2009), p. 55

[5]    Townsend (1998), p. 62

[6]    Ibid., p. 164

[7]    Ibid., p. 157

Chapter 17: Finding a good job is nothing compared to finding a good husband

做得好不如嫁得好
zuò de hăo bù rú jià de hăo

When close friends or family members of a young man are not convinced about the good faith or uprightness of his girlfriend or fiancée, they will utter all kinds of words of caution to him, for instance “she is only after your money”. When googling this very locution (inclu­ding the quotation marks), the search yields around 318,000 results.[1] This shows how common this piece of advice is, and along the way, how scared people are to be used by women in that fashion. Whether males are only slaves of this apprehension or whether their fear is gene­rally justified cannot be established definitively. The very existence of this pro­verb nevertheless indicates that the phenome­non of women choosing a good (in the sense of rich) husband over a good (in terms of well-paid) job is real – at least in China. What the phrase does not account for, however, are the reasons behind such predilection. As is about to be explained, the desire to find and marry a mate with enough resources has nothing to do with female laziness, rapa­city or parasitism, but is only the natural desire to feel safe and protected in exchange for the tremendous costs women bring upon themselves in the wake of sex, pregnancy, and childbirth.

Whoever dreams about long term relationships devoid of any material considerations should be set straight about such a naïve belief. In most cases, this ideal is doomed to remain a chi­maera. Pragmatic aspects have always been central to the definition of interpersonal rela­tions, inclu­ding romantic ones. In fact, they are so fundamental, that the sociologist John Lee iden­tified “pragma” as one of six basic love styles. According to his model, some types of couples are marked by at least one of the lovers rationally and realistically reflec­ting about her expectations in a partner. The costs and benefits of a relationship are thoroughly weighed, including the contingency of marriage and children, which are seen as potential liabilities as well as assets. When questing for a mate, the pragmatic lover uses practical cri­teria to select the right person, comparing qualities and ticking the items off her shopping list. She will carefully assess her “market value” and is likely to employ phrases such as “out of my league”. Like in a personal advertisement, the attributes sought after cannot be recog­nised on sight, but rather they reflect the target’s demographic background (religion, social class, etc.) or personality (hobbies, sports activities, artistic preferences, etc.).[2] In his book Love is a Story, Robert Sternberg describes a scenario that fits very well into the pragma scheme, illustrating the motivations of the partners:

In the business story, a relationship is run much like a business. An indivi­dual is attracted to a mate as a potential ‘business partner,’ who is evaluated largely in terms of his or her suitability in this role. Thus, a careful weighing of economic considerations, social status, and business sense may play more of a role in the formation of this kind of relationship than they would in the for­mation of other kinds of relationships. Indeed, to them, a relationship is a business, and the story of love is a story about successfully running a busi­ness.[3]

Researchers have tried to explicate the question of who marries (or appeals to) whom with psychological and economic models of human behaviour. Employing concepts such as social exchange theory,[4] it then becomes possible to elucidate the idea about the utility of romantic attractions. According to this perspective, amorous choices are the result of the desire to close the best possible deal in terms of the most benefits or rewards (for example, sex, love, support, etc.) at the lowest cost or price (namely, doing what one does not want to do). Mathematically, affinity is then defined by the equilibrium point of “exchange value”, i.e., where the personal assets and liabilities that each spouse brings to the relationship is dee­­med the fairest (or the best) by both. After that, the calculation is simple: The more of a win-win the partnership turns out to be, the more fulfilling it is and the longer it lasts.[5] And in the event of divorce or the breakup of relationship, there are always prenuptial agree­ments (also an immediate corollary of viewing of love as a business arrangement) to regu­late issues such as the division of property or spousal support.


Notes

[1]    Search performed on the 24th April 2017.

[2]    Lee (1998), p. 38

[3]    Sternberg (1998), p. 152

[4]    “Social exchange theory is a social psychological and sociological perspective that explains social change and stability as a process of negotiated exchanges between parties. Social exchange theory posits that all human relationships are formed by the use of a subjective cost-benefit analysis and the comparison of alternatives.” (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_exchange_theory)

[5]    Pines (2005), p. 63

Chapter 16: When you have musk, you will automatically have fragrance

Good wine needs no bush

有麝自然香
yǒu shè zìrán xiāng

After a few chapters describing sexual selection in men, we shall now devote our attention to the sexual psychology of females. In particular, the object of the following section is to illustrate how women’s mating desire (and therefore the distinguishing features they find appealing in men) is the result of an evolutionary process driven by their ancestral mothers to make judicious choices concerning their short- and long-term mates.

In this regard, it shall be noticed that such psychological adaptations are not only about bio­lo­gical procedures such as reproduction, but also affect aspects such as patterns of sexual attraction, mate preferences, sexual desires, the development of emotions (including affec­tion or love), and others. In fact, evolved psychological mechanisms are the mere mani­fes­tation of a solution to an adaptive problem faced by our ancestors. Accordingly, each major element of a female’s sexual psychology can be interpreted as a device contemporary women inherited as a gift and meant to support them, for example in the assessment of a potential partner’s health, the detection of deceptive behaviour by non-committed fellows, or the elaboration of plans to counter the moves of other females trying to seduce or “steal” their mates. Nonetheless, it would be wrong to view these human psychological adaptations as fixed, automatic or as overly mechanical instincts triggered in behaviour irrespective of the environment or the prevailing conditions. On the contrary, each response is only activated in specific situations, remaining highly flexible and excee­dingly sensi­tive to circumstance.[1]

One may ask what musk and fragrance have to do with all this.[2] Interestingly, it has been shown that women perceive odours significantly better than men do and that they subcons­ciously use these olfactory perceptions to evaluate the value of men, for example in terms of quality of their immune system or their genetic fit. Consequently, a male only has to smell “good”, or at least suitably, in order to be attractive and taken into consideration as a valid prospect for marriage (or coitus). Hence, the candidate has nothing to do but to be himself, in line with the adage that “good stuff need not be advertised, they advertise themselves”. In addition, the connection to wine is also quickly established, as, over the years, women have obviously become seasoned connoisseurs of male sweat.

According to research, the human body produces a personal “odour print” that differs from person to the other. It is just as distinctive as our iris, our voice, or fingerprint. For instance, new-borns use it to spot and tell apart their mothers. As briefly mentioned above, a study carried out at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia showed that women have a significantly superior sense of smell compared to men, which impacts not only on their daily but also on their love life. Indeed, another research investigated whether the fragrance of a man had any positive influence on their attractiveness, appeal or sympathetic aura as perceived by women. The results were unequivocal: If she likes his smell, she will automatically assume him as more confident, sensing a positive nature in him.[3] At the same time, olfactory sensations convey all kinds of psychological associations – from the fra­grance of a drink reminding someone of a specific place or point in time to the sniff of a lover’s habitual perfume triggering romantic images and tender memories in one’s brain. Together with women’s sharp sense of smell, this intense link between scents and emotions, memory, and sexual behaviour[4], turns odours into one of the strongest ingredients in sex appeal. Many women seem to be aware of the importance of the olfaction anyway. Accor­ding to research conducted at Brown University, how someone smells is the most critical of the senses for women selecting a partner, ahead of sight, sound and touch. In other words, it is more important how her lover smells than how he (or she) looks! For men, on the other hand, the scent of a woman is far less fundamental when it comes to what turns them on (except perhaps for blind men). The reasons for this discrepancy are quite straightforward. Not only have males inherited a weaker sense of smell from their forefathers than women; what arguably matters even more is the overwhelming weight of visual cues (i.e., what men can see) in their sexual stimulation.[5],[6] Likewise, what is true for good body odours, applies to bad ones as well, namely that any form of human stench is a lethal love killer, spoi­ling both emotional attraction and sexual arousal. This phenomenon may explain the exis­tence of the locution “he really gets up my nose” (signifying “he really annoys me”)[7], which provides additional evidence of the subliminal influence the sense of smell exerts in our lives.


Notes

[1]    Meston / Buss (2009), p. xvii

[2]    Notice that this proverb is typically used to describe a person’s qualities and talent, implying that gifted people tend to be discovered sooner or later. Although its source remains unclear, the original expression (有麝自然香,何必当风立, yǒu shè zì rán xiāng hé bì dāng fēng lì) is mentioned in Ming dynasty gù Qǐyuán’s (顾起元) The Story of Jingling (客座赘语, kè zuò zhuì yǔ), as well as in Traditional Chinese Ballads and Proverbs (古谣谚, gǔ yáo yàn) a collection of ballads and proverbs compiled and annotated by Qing dynasty’s dù Wénlán’s (杜文澜).

[3]    Both studies cited in: Fischer (2008), p. 38

[4]    Brizendine (2006), p. 86

[5]    Meston / Buss (2009), p. 6

[6]    See chapters 3 “Men like, women love” and 14 “Fair lady is what gentleman seeks”.

[7]    Similar expressions are also found in French (“Je ne peux pas le sentir”) and German (“Ich kann ihn nicht riechen”), both signifying “I cannot stand him” or “I hate his guts”.

Chapter 15: Flowers look different through different eyes

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

各花入各眼
gè huā rù gè yǎn

The previous chapter explained the importance of physical attractiveness in mate selec­tion.[1] It argued that men were seeking beauty for purely reproductive reasons, as it consti­tutes the strongest and most obvious visual markers of fecundity. Hence, the male brain is pro­gram­med to recognise and pick out the healthiest and most fertile mates, those most like­ly to produce the fittest children. As such, this preference for pretty women is the result of thou­sands of years of evolution and therefore should be considered as innate to all humans. According to this explanation, shapes, faces, smells, and ages of the mates people choose are apparently influenced by patterns set millennia ago, which makes them much more pre­dicta­ble than one would think.[2] Now, this represents quite a contradiction to the truism that beauty is an entirely subjective concept. Thus, the purpose of this chapter is to question the common view that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and to introduce the notion that beauty is not as arbitrary as it seems. It also explores whether there might be some objective criteria with which beauty can be measured, or least made explicit. Stated differently, the next few pages will attempt to elucidate why we find some physical charac­teristics graceful and others ugly.

When looking at the idea of “physical attractiveness”, one notices that it also includes a strong sexual component, i.e., that it is a lot about oomph and desirability. For Allan and Barbara Pease, beauty and sex appeal are basically the same, with the word beautiful signifying “sexually stimulating”. Beauty has the simple purpose of ensuring that people (possibly of opposite sexes) are attracted to one another so that they can procreate. So if somebody finds a person pretty, it means nothing else than that he wants to have sex with her, of course only from a biological perspective. A man will then consider a woman as attractive if she displays a number of qualities indicating that she will help him to success­fully pass his chromosomes to the next generation. Similarly, a man will be deemed attractive to a woman if his looks suggest that he can provide food and safety for herself and her chil­dren.[3] By the way, this does not only apply to animals but also to other living organisms. In particular, flowers are beautiful because they have to stand out in the meadow. Through their appearance, they communicate information about themselves to insects and animals around them, disclosing their growth stage and what kind of nutrition they can offer.[4]

One would be tempted to think that uniquely beautiful people have more chances to be cho­sen as mates because their extraordinary, or rare, features make them more attractive. Preci­sely not. When sexual creatures are looking for a partner, they actually prefer that mate not to sport any unusual, peculiar or otherwise deviant attributes, for fear that these could be due to mutations – thereby proving that humans are not the only ones to be scared of X-Men or of X-Beings in general. In fact, they are rather drawn to those individuals possessing predominantly com­mon or conventional features.[5] This strategy, called “koinophilia” (a com­bi­nation of the Greek terms koinos, i.e., “the usual” or “common”, and philos, i.e., “fondness” or “love”), allows organisms to ensure that their offspring will inherit a set of exhaustively tried and tested characteristics, and will, therefore, be right more often than it will be wrong. “Averageness” as an indicator of physical of beauty was originally disco­vered by Francis Galton in the 1870s, a half-cousin of Charles Darwin, who while trying to generate a prototypical criminal face, came across the idea to overlay photographic images of several faces. He then found out that the composite portrait became increasingly attrac­tive with the addition of each new face, getting closer and closer to the “ideal” image. More than 100 years later, Judith Langlois and her colleagues came to the same conclusion using computer generated face averaging tests: Not only is the average of two human faces rated more favourably than either of the individual faces involved; the more faces (of the same gender and age) are included in the averaging process, the more appealing the resulting average face is perceived.[6] It is also this insight that inspired famed psychologist Robert Sternberg to exquisitely describe attractiveness as “a kind of golden mean of the faces we have seen”.[7]


Notes

[1]    See chapter 14 “Fair lady is what gentleman seeks”.

[2]    Brizendine (2006), pp. 59, 63

[3]    See chapter 17 “Finding a good job is nothing compared to finding a good husband”.

[4]    Pease / Pease (2002). pp. 195-196

[5]    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Averageness

[6]    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koinophilia

[7]    Sternberg (1998), p. 107

Chapter 14: Fair lady is what gentleman seeks – Part 4

Women, conversely, rarely bring up physical appearance as paramount in their ideal partner, at least not explicitly. It may be desirable for them, but certainly not very important. That being said, it is worthwhile to remark that female attractiveness does not only matter in the context of sexual selection, but it is also becoming increasingly important as a way to assert oneself in society at large. For instance, it has been established that both men and women con­si­der good-looking people as smarter, friendly and competent, and are more likely to want to get to know them better than it is the case for less attractive people.[1] Likewise, attrac­tive people are automatically and unconsciously ascribed positive traits such as honesty, intelligence, kindness and talent. It might be politically correct to deny that attracti­veness affects our decisions, but, whether we like it or not, there is evidence that the brain is programmed to respond to the physical appearance of others. This can also have positive sides since it is relatively easy to alter (that is, improve) some of the factors influencing our looks.[2]

And this is precisely what millions of women are doing every day when they dress up, fix their hair, go on a diet, take aerobic or yoga classes, and so on. These rituals and habits reflect women’s motivation to do whatever is necessary to appear young, healthy, and fertile in order to attract men. As their reproductive value sharply declines over the years and given that they cannot falsify their age, they have evolved the mastery of all kinds of decep­tive tactics and visual aids to manipulate their appearance. So if an older woman wants to stay in the mating game, she needs to keep herself looking attractive, in particular by re-creating the markers of a younger, childbearing miss. The possibilities to get there are mani­fold, and may involve the use of make-up (for example, mascara to make eyes look wider, lipstick to enlarge the lips, shades of red to imitate blood flow in the cheeks, face powder to even out the skin, etc.), hair care products (namely shampoos and conditioners to achieve lus­trous hair, bleaching or dying to emulate higher oestrogen levels, etc.), plastic surgery (e.g., collagen injections to smooth and plump the skin, face lifting to eliminate lines and wrinkles, breast implants to enlarge their bosoms, liposuctions to recreate a cur­vaceous bust and hips, etc.), or clothing (for instance wearing dark colours or vertical stripes to appear thin­ner, padding to look more full-figured, high heels to fake tallness and lean­ness, etc.).[3],[4]

The reason these strategies often turn out successful is that they work on the preferences engra­ved into male brains. It does not necessarily mean that ladies enjoy taking care of them­­selves in such ways, which, after all, costs a lot of time, money and effort and may inflict a fair deal of physical suffering. In fact, they do not really have any choice but to fight this battle against physical and aesthetic decline. Con­sciously or subconsciously, women understand what the opposite sex is looking for, and are aware that whoever fails to fulfil these qualities of youthfulness and healthfulness loses her competitive edge.[5] Thus, when women claim that they do all these things “to feel better about themselves”, a lot of them actually mean that “they feel better about themselves because men are more attracted to them”, as they instinctively know that it increases the odds of getting what they want.[6]

Related proverbs and citations:

爱江山,更爱美人

ài jiāng shān gèng ài mĕi rén

Love nation, but love woman more.

Preferring beauty over power.

女房と畳は新しいほうがよい (Japanese)

nyōbō to tatami wa atarashii hō ga yoi

Wives and tatami mats are better when new.


Notes

[1]    Kramer / Dunaway (1990), p. 94

[2]    Pease / Pease (2002), p. 197

[3]    Pease / Pease (2009), pp. 92-93

[4]    Townsend (1998), p. 117

[5]    Buss (2003), pp. 110

[6]    Pease / Pease (2009), pp. 95, 229

Chapter 14: Fair lady is what gentleman seeks

窈窕淑女,君子好逑
yǎo tiǎo shū nǚ, jūn zǐ hào qiú

The following section deals with one of the most fundamental questions in the relationship between males and females, one that regularly causes arguments, frustration, and resentment on both sides – namely the question of why men insist so much on beauty and youth when selecting their girlfriend or wife. This chapter and the following few ones will focus on the des­cription of the characteristics and attributes that human beings expect from prospective mating partners, covering the perspectives of both men and women.[1] The discussion shall also provide justification for people’s behaviour in this regard, which sometimes may be interpreted as unfair, shallow or materialistic – in particular for those that cannot meet the criteria or otherwise feel rejected.

In their natural tendency to seek females who are younger than them and to place greater emphasis on physical beauty,[2] men do not behave any different than their ancestors. Like­wise, if women are more likely to favour older males with higher earning potential and higher status, they are following exactly the same pattern as their foremothers. In terms of sexual urges and drives, nothing has really changed over the last hundreds of thousands of years: Men are still drawn to young, pretty females, while women are still attracted to males with resources, i.e., goods, property, or money. However, this has nothing to do with super­ficiality, sex stereotyping or the skin-deep objectification of women, as many people, espe­cially feminists, often complain. Instead, “the reality is that men’s preferences evolved over hundreds of thousands of years, are hardwired into the brain, and have hardly changed. The fact that men’s preferences are based on physical beauty and youth has been necessary for the successful genetic advancement of the human race. […] To suppress their existence or deny that these preferences are real is like being angry at the weather because it’s raining or being upset that carnivorous animals prefer meat to a vegetarian diet.”[3]

By looking for youth, fertility, and health in a mate, men are doing nothing more than uncons­ciously discerning the signs that a woman could carry his genes forward. Such choi­ces are innate, as evolution has, generation after generation, favoured males who tend to select attractive mates on the one hand, and females who pick out partners with wealth, power and status on the other. Without the heritage received from our forebears who learned, over millions of years, how to propagate their genes, we would be unable to make out the fittest mates, those most likely to produce healthy offspring and those whose resour­ces and com­mit­ment can help our children survive.[4] Biologically speaking, a man consi­ders women as “vehicles that can transfer his genes into the next generation”, while for a woman, men are “sources of a vital substance (sperm) that can turn their eggs into embryos”. Seen from this perspective, the other gender is no more than a sought-after resource to be exploited.[5]


Notes

[1]  This proverb is extracted from the Classic of Poetry, also known as the Book of Songs, or the Book of Odes (诗经, shī jīng). Comprising more than 305 works dating from the 11th to 7th centuries BC, it constitutes the oldest existing collection of Chinese poetry. As one of the Five Classics (see also chapter 10, “A melon forced off its vine is not sweet”), it is said to have been compiled by Confucius himself. In the poem Guan Ju (section Lessons from the States, Odes Of Zhou And The South, 国风 周南 关雎, guó fēng zhōu nán guān jū), the first verses read:

关关雎鸠、在河之洲。(guān guān jū jiū, zài hé zhī zhōu)

窈窕淑女、君子好逑。(yǎo tiǎo shū nǚ, jūn zi hào qiú)

Guan-guan go the ospreys,

On the islet in the river.

The modest, retiring, virtuous, young lady,

For our prince a good mate she.

See: http://ctext.org/book-of-poetry/guan-ju/ens

[2]    See chapter 5 “Old cows like tender grass”.

[3]    Pease / Pease (2009), p. 75

[4]    Brizendine (2006), p. 59

[5]    Ridley (1993), p. 174

Chapter 13: Birds of a feather flock together – Part 4

Furthermore, based on the assumption or belief that “opposites attract”, some people appa­rently also seek dissimilarity in personality, as exemplified in the following statements:

We look like total opposites. He’s tall and dignified, and I’m short and hysterical. We are opposites in terms of the way we look and the way we act, but because we get along so well we balance each other out. Or maybe we get along so well because we are opposites.

Moreover, anecdotal and clinical evidence also indicates that, for instance, highly emotional women have the ability to make quite an impact on highly cerebral men, or that aggressive men exert some kind of attraction on conciliative women. Likewise, research found out that couples in complementary relationships, e.g., combining dominant people with submissive partners, reported higher satisfaction than do people who were with partners who resembled themselves.[1]

Various accounts may be employed to argue against the notion that “birds of a feather flock together” and to explain why, on the contrary, opposite personalities could attract one ano­ther very much in the same way as the extremes of a magnet. First of all, differences can be exciting and add spice to a relationship, both in the short and long terms. If the two part­ners are too similar, boredom may set in after a while, as their opinions or responses are too obvious or foreseeable. But if they are dissimilar, the process of discovering another per­son’s culture, views, beliefs or ideas can have galvanising effects on both, raising their inte­rest and passion for one another.[2] Not being familiar with or fully understanding some­body can be seen as a source of thrill or eroticism. The mystique of the unknown thus can con­tri­bute to the creation of sexual tension between the two opposites, resulting, in the best case, into an amorous relationship.

At the same time, interacting with someone who holds different mental positions offers the opportunity to learn something new and valuable, or to sharpen one’s own argumentation skills. At any rate, distinctiveness allows people to experience a wider spectrum of emo­tional or intellectual opportunities. Dating or being with someone who is different from one­self offers a person the chance to find out what he likes and dislikes in a mate. She can then force him to look deeper into himself by challenging his own convictions, thoughts or fee­lings, thus expanding his knowledge and life experience.[3] Furthermore, a woman’s aware­ness or insight that she is liked or loved by a man who disagrees with her on a number of points is particularly gratifying, as it shows her that her partner likes or loves her because of who she is and not simply because of her views. This is likely to make her feel unique and special, rather than just being like everyone else. Another explanation could be the existence of an innate defence mechanism that drives people into the arms of partners who are their complete opposite – like, for example, when a man used to suppress his feelings (as his own way to cope) finds himself attracted to women who dramatise their emotions.

One key aspect in this regard is complementarity. In fact, it is not necessarily the difference per se that enables or intensifies the attraction, but the compatibility between two indivi­duals, be it in terms of personalities, preferences, skills, etc. Accordingly, absolute dissimi­litude is neither necessary nor recommended. On the contrary, complementarity in one parti­cular, significant personality dimension seems to be enough to tip the scales – while simi­larity in general (e.g., in background, interests, intelligence, etc.) remains the main fac­tor for attraction.[4] Partners just need enough distinctness to make it interesting and to balance their own individualities, yet not so much that it would impede the development of their personalities or interfere with their lifestyles.[5]

 

Related proverbs and citations:

崇洋媚外

chóng yáng mèi wài

To worship and have blind faith in foreign things.

 


Notes

[1]    Cited in: Pines (2005), p. 58

[2]    Pease / Pease (1999), p. 268

[3]    Yoo (2012)

[4]    Pines (2005), pp. 58-59

[5]    Pease / Pease (1999), p. 268

Chapter 13: Birds of a feather flock together

Like attracts like
物以类聚,人以群分
wù yĭ lèi jù, rén yĭ qún fēn

Opposites attract
异性相吸
yì xìng xiāng xī

In physics, several theories have made it clear that like charges (or magnetic poles) repel each other, whereas unlike charges attract. When people are involved, however, the laws of attrac­tion are more ambiguous. Some research argues that people tend to marry partners from similar demographic classes (age, education, religion, socio-economic status, etc.), suggesting that Plato’s first law of affinity, i.e., “likes attract”, also holds for relationship life. Other studies, on the contrary, put forward the notion that “opposites attract”, reasoning that people are drawn to individuals whose needs match their own in a reverse way.[1] The object of this section is, therefore, to elaborate on these approaches, and to show that while both may be valid, seeking a balance between “like” and “unlike” arguably promises the most success when it comes to finding a (soul) mate.

The former idiom[2] can be expressed in English in various ways: “like attracts like”, “like begets like”, “that which is like unto itself is drawn”, etc. It was Plato who, building on the conception of philia (attractive force, as opposed to neikos, or repulsive force) originally established the first law of affinity that “likes tend toward likes”, for example, water to water or earth to earth.[3] But also for human beings, it is a rather natural and intuitive reaction to being drawn to people who are similar to oneself, who share similar features, tastes, habits, etc. They instinctively look for the same characteristics in others that they see in themselves. Alikeness creates a sense of comfort and security, which is very important to grow the trust and empathy required for love to happen.

One construct that attempts to explain this observation biologically is assortative mating, under which individuals with similar traits are said to mate more frequently than what would be expected randomly. The advantage of this strategy is that it increases genetic relatedness, which in turn may contribute to improved communication or selflessness bet­ween family members. In general, assortative mating occurs across geno­types and pheno­types with similar physiological characteristics (e.g., body size, morphology, bone structure, skin colour, etc.). For humans, however, many other dimensions, such as age, intelligence, socioeconomic status, religious beliefs, political ideology, etc. can play a role as well.[4]

Then, based on the premise that similarity is indeed a crucial determinant of interpersonal attraction, the main question is which aspects and forms of alikeness are required from an individual per­spective. Countless studies have addressed this issue. As it turns out, simi­la­rity is appreciated for a variety of personal attributes, for instance, family background, appea­­­rance, ways of thinking, goals and interests, or leisure activities. Similarity here is regarded as a positive factor that intensifies the initial attraction and eases the develop­ment of rela­tionships. Likewise, it has been established that the range of variables affecting the outcome of who falls in love with whom is equally broad. Features include “age, personality traits, appearance, height, weight, eye colour, and other physical characteristics, including physical defects, behavior patterns, professional success, attitudes, opinions, intelligence, cognitive complexity, verbal ability, education, social and economic class, family back­ground, number and sex of siblings, feelings toward the family of origin, the quality of the parents’ marriage, race and ethnic background, religious background, social and political affi­liations, acceptance of sex role stereotypes, physical and emotional health, emotional maturity, level of neuroticism, level of differentiation from the family of origin, moodiness, depressive tendencies, tendency to be a ‘lone wolf’ or a ‘social animal,’ tendency to lie and be inconsistent, as well as drinking and smoking habits.”[5] Among all these points playing a role in romantic attraction, three shall now be discussed in further detail: Physical appea­rance, personality and attitudes.


Notes

[1]   Hoffman / Weiner (2003)

[2]   The story behind this saying was brought to us by Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) scholar Liú Xiàng in his compilation Strategies of the Warring States (战国策, zhàn guó cè). The chapter about the Strategies of Qi (齐策, qí cè) mentions an episode in the life of Chúnyú Kūn (淳于髡), a philosopher and official during the Chinese Warring States period (481 – 221 BC). After the ruler of the time, King Wei of Qi (齊威王, Qí Wēi Wáng) had asked him to identify and gather a number of scholars able and willing to serve the country, Chúnyú Kūn immediately came up with a list of seven candidates. The king became sceptical, as he had believed that it would have taken one hundred years to find one smart person alone. Known for his wits and erudition himself, Chúnyú Kūn replied that similar things tend to associate with one another and that people with similar characteristics or interests will often choose to work or spend time together – just like birds of the same species who eat, sleep and fly together. “If I am a solon, a sage and a wise man, all my friends should have a noble character and an extraordinary intellect as well” – thus was the message that Chúnyú Kūn had brought across to his king.


Notes

[3]    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laws_of_attraction

[4]    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assortative_mating

[5]    Pines (2005), pp. 48/49