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

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.


[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:

[5]    Pines (2005), p. 63

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

Good wine needs no bush

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.


[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

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]


[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



[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:


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.


[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

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]


[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.


[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:


chóng yáng mèi wài

To worship and have blind faith in foreign things.



[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
wù yĭ lèi jù, rén yĭ qún fēn

Opposites attract
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.


[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.




[5]    Pines (2005), pp. 48/49

Chapter 10: A melon forced off its vine is not sweet – Part 4

While understandable, the inclination of women to wait until they have found an eligible part­ner within their own occupational and income bracket comes with the non-negligible peril to be left with no man at all. Therefore, hypergyny is always a bit of a gamble where the bachelorette expects (or hopes) to get a better mate than the ones she had met before. For her, the biggest risk is that of becoming so picky that she wastes time that she could other­wise be spending in procreation. She will probably prefer to date a wealthy man, even if the possibility of marriage is fairly dim. She wants that Prince Charming “who is gene­rous and sweet and faithful but who also drives a Maserati”[1], and might wait for him for quite a while. She expects the perfect partner to come along, but all she gets is older. Assu­ming that men seek fertility more than anything else, her chance of finding what she wants is getting slimmer and slimmer with every day passing, the availability of cosmetics and plastic surgery notwithstanding. Many males nowadays still follow their instincts of setting youth and beauty as their top criteria for partner selection. This may not be politi­cally cor­rect, but it is more often than not the only right thing to do in the survival game. Thus, for every man she lets slip, she loses a valuable reproductive opportunity. This is a choice that may not affect her while she is young, but it could haunt again her later, potentially at a time when her health and physical capabilities have passed their zenith.

So what happens if she turns thirtysomething, is financially independent, but has no child? Is she going to stay single or rather drop her standards and go for a poor, possibly ugly man who is a sure thing? Since males themselves are relatively unconcerned about their target’s socio-economic condition when choosing mates, high-status men can make their pick from a large pool of candidates consisting of both low and high-status women. This spurs an intense rivalry among the members of both groups.[2] Setbacks or disappointments, such as a series of rejections or an insufficient number of opportunities, may prompt fears of being squeezed out of the marriage market, triggering thoughts and reactions similar to those described in the Kübler-Ross’ model of Five Stages of Grief:[3],[4]

  • Denial: “This cannot be happening, not to me”; “There is no way that a high-quality woman like me cannot find her Mr. Right”;
  • Anger: “That pizza face will get married next month, and I am still single? Something is wrong here!”; “How could this ever happen to me?”;
  • Bargaining: “I look so old now; if I only could just do something to turn back the hands of time…”; “Ok, it was I who dumped him, but I’ll do anything to get him back”; “Mark was a jerk at that time, but I really should have accepted when he proposed to me”;
  • Depression: “I’m already old, why bother with anything?”; “Nobody wants me anyway so what’s the point… What’s the point?”; “I miss my ex, and now he is happily married to another woman… Why did I not fight more for our love? Why?”;
  • Acceptance: “Even if I have to stay single for my whole life, everything is going to be okay.”; “I can’t force any guy to like me anyway it, so why bother”; “I don’t need a man, I am independent, have a great job, lots of friends, a fantastic niece, two cute puppies… And now I am going to have some ice cream to compensate!”

While choosiness undeniably has positive effects, it also has the power to set off a vicious cycle of endless frustration, to which not even the prettiest and most achieving woman remains unaffected. While the first defeats are easily swallowed, the second and third ones may lead to doubt about her own worth. Angst kicks in, while her self-esteem takes the next blow. At that moment, she may face the temptation to lower her baseline. If she does and chooses a suboptimal can­didate, she confronts the risk to be unhappily married. If inversely, she prefers to persist on her quest, the spiral may go on and on, ending in what some parents consider the worst scenario of all for their children (at least for some women): Eternal singledom.


Related proverbs and citations:


níng kĕ gāo ào dì fă méi, bù qù bēi wēi dì liàn ài

It’s better to rot with dignity than to love in shame.



huā yŏu chóng kāi rì, rén wú zài shào nián

Flowers may bloom again, but a person never has the chance to be young again.



suì yuè bù liú rén

Time and tide wait for no man.

No one is so powerful that they can stop the march of time.



suì yuè bù ráo rén

Age and time have mercy on no man.

Equivalent to “Time and tide wait for no man”.



jī bù zé shí

The starving can’t choose their meals.

Beggars can’t be choosers.

If you request something to be given you should not question what you are given.



huáng dì bù jí tài jiān jí méi yòng

The Emperor taking his time is just as useless as a eunuch rushing things.

The onlooker is more anxious than the player.



nǚ rén èr shí duō suì xiàng zú qiú, sān shí duō suì xiàng lán qiú, sì shí duō suì xiàng pīng pāng qiú, wŭ shí duō suì xiàng gāo ĕr fū qiú

A popular joke in which women in their 20s are compared to a football (because more than a dozen guys are running after it), in their 30s to a basketball (still chased after but by a reduced number of players), in their 40s to a ping-pong ball (only two men are left), and in their 50s to a golf ball (the further you hit it, the better).



[1]    Cited in: Townsend (1998), p. 124

[2]    Townsend (1998), p. 84

[3]    Kübler-Ross (1969)


Chapter 9: The path to a woman’s heart passes through her vagina – Part 3

Furthermore, women are inclined to avoid the term “having sex”, which they consider as an unworthy, unmerited, and loveless deed. In lieu thereof, they prefer using the word “making love” to express the simultaneous merger of two bodies and minds. The truth is that women like to see love and sex as an event causing the unification of what is otherwise separated. For them, love creates an emotional bond between two people, while sex is the physical bridge to one another. Together, love and sex have the power to combine the best parts of two individuals and amalgamate them into a new, comprehensive whole, just like two rivers join to become at their confluence. Through love and sex, something original is cre­ated, some­thing that is much larger and more powerful than the two individuals taken sepa­rately.

Hence, for women, sex is a truly affective act and a manifestation of how they feel about their partner. Although it would be naïve from anyone to expect a man to return such fond­ness and share similar motives when sleeping with a woman (at least for the first time), one should be aware that females are very thin-skinned about any kind of sex practice, but in particular about those involving penetration. Such sensitiveness that is absolutely appre­hen­sible and legitimate in view of the position of submission they are in during copulation. Let’s picture it: Typically, they have to lie on their back, spreading their legs wide open, and let a long, hard, alien object into their body. Indeed, even if she likes the guy, the vision of his peter introducing her fanny can be quite appalling. Nevertheless, it is not so much the fear of somatic pain that scares a woman as the apprehension to be left distressed and un­happy by someone who views her as a casual shag or as an instrument for physical release. For females, not many things are more upsetting than the impression to have been used and the absence of meaningful tenderness by the man she just had in her.

Different details play a role when a woman selects a man to sleep with, respectively decides whether or not to make that step with a prospective mating partner. The most important one is certainly trust. Given the inequality in physical strength between the genders, it is critical for her to know that she can feel safe with him. It is only under these conditions of fami­liarity, closeness, and overall well-being that her brain can release the right combi­na­tion of hor­mones that will ultimately let her open up to a man. That being said, their desire will not only depend on their own affinity to the counterpart. What is even more crucial for her to establish that emotional link is the confidence that she really means something to him, that he really cares about her. Notice that, in this context, the word “caring” goes beyond the sig­ni­ficance of “liking” or “being fond of”; it also refers to the open exhibition of com­pas­sion for her or to the active display of attention.

One of the reasons women evolved with a lower sex drive than men is that they needed to take time out from procreating to care for their young. If they constantly had sex, they would be pregnant all the time, which would necessarily lead to the risk of disregarding and neglecting her current children. Such a modus vivendi would be damaging to their own health and that of their progeny. No serious mating partner or husband would want that. Furthermore, while males can spread their seed as widely as they want, the time window (in terms of age) within which human females are fertile is quite limited. In theory, men can father hundreds of heirs every year, whereas even the most prolific women can only bear a maxi­mum of about 40 children in their lives.[1]

Given that men themselves are naturally adverse to the idea of sharing their partner(s), it then becomes, from an evolutionary and survival perspective, one of the key challenges in a woman’s existence to identify the right mate. The goal is not only to find a strong man with good genes but also to retain him after sex so that he can provide and look after her and their offspring. It is, therefore, no wonder that, over time, females have developed very sophisticated selection mechanisms to make out (with) the right guy. They are programmed to single out and cream off the most eligible bachelor after numerous tests. During the pro­cess, she sets out on a mental quest for answers to questions such as “Does he love me?”, “Am I the only one?”, “Do we match?”, “What kind of relationship with me is he looking for?”, and so on. For inexperienced men, this may sound quite bothersome or challenging. But displaying involvement is not that difficult after all. Most women nowadays do not expect real commitment, let alone a diamond ring, to share deeply intimate moments with a man. Some of them do not even want a lasting relationship. What a woman needs to be tur­ned on sexually is some kind of fervour for her (and only for her) and the hope for at least some sensibility. The bare promise of physical comfort, multiple orgasms or other sen­sual delights, is just not enough to stir her up. All she seeks before sex is the prospect of bon­ding instead of bondage; the vision that her man will penetrate her with emotional meaning rather than with his penis; the foretaste of him planting a seed in her heart, not his seed onto her breasts, etc. Once she has sensed that affective connection from the man, she might well be into all the other stuff as well…

Related proverbs and citations:


cǐ dì wú yín sān bǎi liǎng

“No 300 taels of silver buried here”.

A guilty person gives himself away by conspicuously protesting his innocence.

A clumsy denial resulting in self-exposure.


[1]    Assuming 30 years of fertility (between the age of 15 and 45) and 40 weeks of pregnancy – not taking into consideration the time the female body needs to recover from giving birth, or the occurrence of twins, triplets, etc.

Chapter 7: The most vicious is woman’s heart

zuì dú fù rén xīn

The previous two chapters already set a rather foul flavour on how men view and treat women. Alas, this section is not going to bring about any betterment. On the contrary, this locution[1] is in all likelihood one of the most misogynistic in the entire collection. It is regu­larly brought as a catch-all phrase for everything truly evil males see in the opposite sex, inclu­ding malice, malignancy, malevolence, maleficence, and so forth. An equivalent Chi­nese proverb casting a similar bad light on manhood specifically cannot be found, at least not any that carries such a degree of virulence. Some readers might be offended or at least will not agree with the idea verbalised here. Yet it has to be included in the develop­ment of the discourse, not only as a way to demonstrate how disdainful certain human beings, or even entire civilisations can be, but also because it contains a few valuable insights about the beha­viour and tactics used by women in the mating game.

Since the dawn of time, a lot of effort has been expended to make women look bad in one way or another.[2] In the Chinese language, for example, numerous words denoting sins and other forms of bad things, deeds or characteristics comprise the character for “female” or “woman” (女, nǚ) as radical. For instance, the adjectives “evil” or “bewitching” as well as their embodied forms “demon” or “goblin” are written as 妖 (yāo), an amalgamation of 女 and 夭 (ǎo). Similarly, “to flatter” (in both positive and negative senses), 媚 (mèi), is com­po­sed of 女 and 眉 (méi), while “to envy” or “to be jealous”, 嫉妒 (jí dù), combines 女 and 疾 (jí, which interestingly, means “disease” or “illness”) on one hand plus 女 and 户 (hù) on the other. The most extreme illustration is provided with the term for “wicked”, “trea­cherous”, “traitor” or “rape”, which in Traditional Chinese is graphically spelt like a “tri­ple female”, i.e., 姦 (jiān; 奸in Simplified Chinese).

In addition, countless quotes from philosophers and poets across epochs and cultures testify to a literary “woman-bashing” as it was popular among many scholars for several centuries. Here a few specimens:

What mighty woes

To thy imperial race from woman rose.

Homer, The Odyssey (Alexander Pope’s translation)

There is no worse evil than a bad woman; and nothing has ever been produced better than a good one.

Euripides, Melanippe

Let man fear woman when she hateth: for man in his innermost soul is merely evil; woman, however, is mean.[3]

Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

For the female of the species is more deadly than the male.

Rudyard Kipling, The Female of the Species

Fairy tales, plays, or novels also make use of the stereotypical evil woman. One only needs to recall that many famous bedtime stories – those children get to listen to the most often – depict females (queens, witches, stepmothers, sisters, etc.) as the main villain.[4] Likewise, some of the fiercest and darkest characters in classical literature are women, as for example William Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth. Not only does she incite her husband to commit regicide, but the methods she employs are particularly heinous and manipulative. Although she cannot be considered as the originator of the idea, she is the one to plot the crime, and then naggingly encourages Macbeth to execute the murder. However, it is not before she challenges his manhood (by instructing him that he will only be a man in her eyes if he kills King Duncan) that he finally does. Critics have argued that Lady Macbeth does nothing but suppress her own feminine traits and instincts (e.g., empathy, nurturance, and fragility) and trade them against masculine ones, such as ambition, mercilessness, and the resolute pursuit of power. Nevertheless, despite her repeated striving to adopt a male mentality, her uncons­cious, yet unmistakable, femininity bubbles to the surface at regular intervals.


[1] The expression itself is quoted from a tale in Líng Méngchū’s (凌濛初) collection of short stories Slapping the Table in Amazement, also known as Amazing Tales (Series II, Volume 10, in Chinese: 二刻拍案惊奇, èr kè pāi àn jīng qí, 卷十 赵五虎合计挑家衅 莫大郎立地散神奸, juàn shí, zhào wǔ hǔ hé jì tiǎo jiā xìn, mò dà láng lì dì sàn shén jiān). Written in vernacular Chinese and employing vivid, straightforward descriptions of characters, the plots typically revolve around women’s fate, their miserable existence, their daring pursuit of genuine love and happiness, or their implications in legal disputes. The phrase used here offers a testimony of what social relationships among women in a polygamous society may have looked like at that time.

[2]    Notice that this section does not mention any references from religious texts. This omission is deliberate.

[3]    Original: “Der Mann fürchte sich vor dem Weibe, wenn es hasst: denn der Mann ist im Grunde der Seele nur böse, das Weib aber ist dort schlecht.”

[4]    This is, for instance, the case in Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, Hansel & Gretel, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, The Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Little Mermaid, The Snow Queen, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, etc.