There are few questions more frustrating than “What’s he got that I ain’t got?”
It’s a long-running complaint amongst some men that only “certain” guys get all the women1 – the so-called “alpha males” who are tall, dark and handsome assholes with lantern jaws, fast cars, a six-pack and seven figure salary. All other men are just shit out of luck and may as well jump off a cliff; they’re evolutionary dead-ends, forever doomed to be unable to spread their seed and carry on their genetic lineage.
Women, others insist, are interested only in hypergamy; only men who offer some means of rising socially or economically are the ones getting all the sexing. Others will say that geeks are shut out because of a prejudice against brains or the socially awkward. Still others have equally arcane ideas of what women – apparently a monolithic entity of vast and unimaginable social power – want.
The common denominator in all these ideas boils down to “something other than me”. The rest of it tends to be a mishmash of theories on what women want (or actually want, rather than what they say they do..) that explains why someone who isn’t them is getting all the sexing. I can relate; God knows I spent enough time in my youth believing that there were two types of dudes in the world: the ones who women found attractive and everybody else. And I was very firmly in the latter category.
Of course, this begs the question of “if only a certain percentage of men get the majority of the women, why haven’t we died out as a species?”
Wait: wrong question. The question is: “How do you know that this is what women find attractive?” The answer is usually a variation of “this is what the media tells me” or “this is what I see all around me every day.”
The problem with this is that, frankly, the plural of “anecdote” isn’t “data”. People are prone to blind spots when it comes to a deeply held beliefs, an intellectual fallacy known as “confirmation bias”; that is, we’re only seeing the things that back up what we already believe and dismissing (or simply not seeing) everything else.
So rather than going on about Studly Good-Night at the club with his Maserati and $4,000 suit is the only one women like, I wanted to get down to what women really find attractive. So I asked them.
Flipping The Attraction Switches
Over on the Dr. NerdLove Facebook page and Twitter feed, I put out the call for women to weigh in on what they found attractive in men – not just in looks but in personality, behavior and lifestyle. Now while I’ll be the first to say that this was not by any stretch of the imagination a scientific study or formal poll, the results are, I think, fairly indicative of what women – predominantly 18-34 and cutting across many ethnic and religious demographics – like.
Now obviously there was a fairly wide variety in what people liked; after all, aside from some baseline factors built in that encourage survival of the species – facial symmetry, outward signs of physical health and ability to sire/bear offspring – what we find attractive tends to change based on cultural and emotional influences.
But there were certain areas – call them attraction switches – that came up over and over again. The men who successfully hit these switches are the ones who are most often seen as “attractive”.
Women are drawn to men with passion in their lives. Too many people are content to simply exist, following a routine of “wake up, eat, work, eat, sleep, repeat” day in and day out, living out Thoroeu’s “lives of quiet desperation”. People with passion in their lives are driven. They don’t just meander or float through life, they have purpose. They have something they live for, something they care about with an intensity that you just don’t see often. There’s a part of their life that brings them fulfilment, that pushes them on and inspires them.
People who have passion are interesting. They have a certainty and assuredness about them because they love what they’re passionate about whole-heartedly and don’t worry about “maybe I shouldn’t get this excited over my favorite bands” or “maybe I should act my age instead of waxing rhapsodic about the power that books have over me”
Even if it’s not a passion that they both share, when someone is passionate about something and knows how to express that passion in a clear and attractive manner, it’s very hard not to get caught up in their enthusiasm and carried along by it.
OK, we’ll get it out of the way now: confidence is the #2 cliché of what women find attractive in men2. Even so, the fact that it’s included in the list almost reflexively does not in any way diminish the fact that confidence is a universally attractive trait. The problem is how many men seem to mistake arrogance or obliviousness for confidence. The so-called “alpha” behavior that men often mistake for confidence tends to be selfishness and a lack of respect for others, not the knowledge of one’s own abilities and value.
Confidence is, ultimately a belief in oneself; the knowing what you’re worth and what you’re capable of even in the face of people who belittle or demean you. It’s knowing that you are equal to the trial at hand and the correctness of one’s path. Someone who is confident is tempered by self-awareness and humility; it’s less of an the idea that you can’t fail but the knowledge that you can succeed if you work hard.
A confident person knows what he’s worth and is willing to work to get what he’s worth rather than to assume that he just deserves it by virtue of existing. A confident person doesn’t cringe or whine at the first sign of trouble; they grit their teeth and push through it. A confident person in a relationship doesn’t let his partner walk all over him or expect her to be a substitute mother, telling him what to do and how to do it.
True confidence – that feeling of certainty and potential that comes with knowing to your core who you are and what you’re worth – is magnetic.
Want to make an Internet’s worth of women’s hearts start racing? Post a Feminist Ryan Gosling Meme.
The appeal of the meme is more than the randomness of excerpting feminist theory and juxtaposing it with the pick-up artist from Crazy Stupid Love; it’s the combination of a physically appealing man and the idea that he gets it. He understands what it’s like to be a woman, the struggle for full equality and independence and the myriad ways that women are still told today that they are second-class citizens. Feminist Ryan Gosling is the fantasy of a man who understands women, empathizes with them and – most importantly – respects them. Really respects them, not just knows the right phrases to mouth in order to get into her panties.
A lack of respect for women tends to manifest itself in any number of ways; the man in question may refuse to respect her boundaries or dismiss or diminish her concerns as “unimportant” or “being too sensitive”. They tend to assume that women come from a position of inferiority or inexperience. They presume that women are somehow the Other, rather than just being people with different sets of genitalia.
By showing a lack of respect for women, they’re sending the message of “I don’t see you as an equal,” – a critical flaw in a relationship.
After thousands of generations, we’re starting to creep our way ever so slowly towards social equality and the social resistance to that change still endures. It can be intimidating to men; after all, the default definition of masculinity has been the patriarch, so what does it mean to be a man if suddenly we’re not the ones in charge of everything any more? A man who truly respects women is someone secure enough in his masculinity to realize that equality isn’t a zero-sum game and is looking for a partner through life, not a subordinate.
It’s hard to believe in a world that brings us the Jersey Shore and Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo, but women like a man with a well hung brain. Too many men seem to believe that learning ends as soon as you’re handed a degree (if not sooner) while others seem to prefer to passively absorb whatever information comes their way.
Men who kindle their intellect, people who indulge a love of learning for learning’s sake on the other hand… they have passion. They take an active role in their own lives, seeking out new experiences and trying to improve themselves and their understanding of the world. These tend to be people with drive and ambition, rather than being someone who’s content to let the world pass them by while they kill time playing Call of Duty: None More Black Ops. A person who wants to cultivate their intellectual curiosity is someone who pays attention to the world around them and wants to engage in it, rather than being spoon-fed.
A Sense of Humor
Ask any woman what she’s looking for in a romantic partner and you will inevitably hear “a sense of humor” or “someone who can make me laugh”. A sense of humor is perhaps the number one most desirable trait a man can have when it comes to meeting women.
Humor is incredibly important when it comes to building rapport with people. Being able to make each other laugh is like a relationship shortcut; when your sense of humor matches up with somebody else’s, they feel closer to you almost instantly. Everyone I know who is good with women is able to make them laugh – a genuine, “Oh God, please, I’m about to hurt something” laugh, not the strained “Oh god how long do I have to tolerate this person before the social contract say I can leave” titter through clenched teeth. The more highly a woman appreciates a man’s sense of humor, the greater the likelihood that she will be romantically interested in him. A good sense of humor – a compatible one at that, as many of the respondents on the Facebook page noted – makes men seem much more desirable as a partner.
Why? Well, to start with, men with good senses of humor are seen as being more socially intelligent and experienced; after all, knowing how to make someone laugh without making them uncomfortable is a skill that takes practice and experience. But, importantly, laughter also affects us on a chemical level; it helps promote the production seratonin, which decreases stress toxins in the blood. It hyper-oxygenates the blood, helping the brain to function more efficiently. In other words: laughter makes us feel better physically. Being able to make a woman laugh means you’re to make her feel good.
But… What About Looks?
Now, nobody is saying that looks aren’t an important part of attraction. But at the same time, they’re not the end-all, be-all either – despite what men often tell themselves. While men gripe and moan about how only men with washboard abs and rock-hard pecs can get the ladies, the responses to my informal poll were about as scattershot as one could get. Some women adore bald men, others get weak in the knees for long hair and others will only date men with short hair. Some want their men clean shaven, others love facial hair with the passion of a thousand suns. Some women loved big burly men while others like skinny nerd-boys who look like the kid they could’ve met at Hebrew school.
Hairy, hairless, brunette, blonde, brown-eyed, blue-eyed… for every five women, you’d get six responses. Most women who mentioned looks preferred someone who cared about their appearance – someone who took the time to make themselves look nice rather than giving the impression that they had been attacked by a sentient pile of dirty laundry after having not shaved for four days. Same with body types; women cared more that guys took care of themselves than that they looked like an Abercrombie and Fitch model.
The only feature that most women seemed to universally desire were nice shoulders. Shoulders seem to be the one thing women could agree on. Go figure.
But while you’re working on your lat raises and upright rows, think on this: women respond far more to drive and behavior than to looks. Spending a little more time brushing up on your feminist theory, building your confidence and cultivating your love for British television will go further to finding you the partner of your dreams.
- and by women they mostly mean “sex”, although there are some who will claim that only alphas get the girlfriends too [↩]
- just after “a sense of humor” [↩]