Dating Psychology

How we Choose a Mate

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"How we Choose a Mate"
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Love and desire is a universal phenomenon that takes many forms. Although most people like to think that their love is unique, there have been studies within the scientific field of anthropology, psychology, and sociobiology that suggest that our desires are strikingly similar to the desires of others all over the world. Many different cultures do not share, however, the same view on age and beauty as some others. It seems that many couples are at odds when it comes to a relationship and although John Gray had it right in a lot of ways in his book "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus", there is something that is inherent in our nature as humans that runs much deeper. In David Buss's book "The Evolution of Desire", the studies and field work that Buss conducts explores the differences and similarities in human mating preferences. Buss, along with other researchers have done studies across 37 cultures to try and provide possible explanations for the characteristics of an ideal mate using examples from our indigenous ancestry. Buss begins by explaining about the things that women typically want in a mate, then contrasts with what men want in a mate. His findings suggest that Charles Darwin's Theory of evolution and concept of natural selection play a role in what we as humans find and consider "desirable". Buss explores what men want, what women want, how we attract partners, the role of casual sex, why the sexes are at odds, and how we somehow find harmony in each other in order to continue to provide for our offspring.

Buss starts his book off by introducing the ways in which women decide who will be best suited for the protection and success of her offspring.. He explains parental investment as the time and effort that a parent presents to produce successful offspring. He goes on to say that the female of the human species carries the greater parental investment because simply, her sex cell (the egg) is much larger than that of the male sex cell ( the sperm). Not so simply for the human female is the effort it takes to create and sustain the sex cell, go through a nine-month gestation period, then provide all of the things necessary to keep an infant, child, teen, and young adult alive and well for approximately 18 years. The human female indeed needs her counter part, the human male, to assist in the care of the offspring. Since the human male's parental investment is small, however, his needs and wants are somewhat different. Buss's main point in this argument is that since the human female offers the most parental investment, they can afford to be selective about whom they mate with and thus are the specific characteristics that the human female looks for in a mate. From this, Buss describes what he believes women want in a mate.

One of the characteristics that women look for in a man is economic stability. The study done by Douglass Kenrick explores the way that people place value on "different attributes in a marriage partner". His study found that women look for economic stability in men 30% more than men look for economic stability in a woman. (Kenrick, pg. 24-25) A relative study on personal ads has also confirmed this desire. Buss suggests that this is because our ancestor women needed resources in order for her and her children to survive. A man who comes back from the hunt with food in hand is much more valuable than a man who has no kill. This inclination has been passed down, and now women seek men who will be able to take care of them and their offspring. What is more interesting about this is that even women who are financially well off, prefer a man who is making just as much as or more money than she is. Buss also explains that women want men of high status. This goes hand in hand with economic stability because generally men with higher status make more money. Buss and David Schmitt conducted a study that shows evidence of this preference. In the study, they asked college students to tell them what they desire in a long-term and short-term mate and were asked to rate the characteristics' importance. Largely, they found that women most desire men who have higher status. Particularly in the United States, women place high value on men who have professional degrees. So, Buss points out, that the cliche that women like to marry doctors, lawyers, etc. holds true because these kind of jobs require higher education and hold higher status in our society. In order to get and sustain a higher paying job, men must have the education and intelligence in order to acquire them. This in turn is another key characteristic which women look for in a mate. (Buss, pg.25-27)

Over evolutionary history, those were not very intelligent didn't survive the harsh conditions of the society or their surroundings. Women needed a man who would be intelligent enough to not take risks that could potentially kill them. Intelligence is another indicator of higher status and economic stability. According to Buss, women do not seek out a brilliant mate, but a mate whose intelligence level is more like their own. Along with intelligence, women seek men who are emotionally stable and dependable. (Buss, pg. 34-35) Micheal Botwin, working along with Buss studied and found what people really thought emotionally stable and unstable behavior would be. They discovered that most people (of the people that they sampled) thought things such as having consideration for others, putting all energy into a task and not showing anxiety, and working steadily. Unstable behavior included extensive worrying about something that nothing could be done about, breaking down because of pressure, or getting angered and throwing a fit instead of working through a problem. Buss suggests that it is far to costly for a woman to choose a mate that is not dependable and emotionally unstable, and they place a high premium on this trait. However, there is more that the human female looks for when assessing a man and his work conduct.

Buss and Liisa Kyl-Haku asked a sample of people to identify what they observed others doing in order to get ahead in their jobs and or to get promoted. Of the twenty-six observations, Buss and Kyl-Haku noted education, deception, social networking, sexual favors, and industriousness. By comparing information on how individuals claimed they got a head and their actual promotions, they found that sheer hard work and effort proved to be the most and best way to get ahead. (Haku, pg. 30-31) Buss again suggests that women favor men who are ambitious over men who are lazy and not goal oriented. This is no surprise since those who are ambitious get promoted and therefore make more money and gain higher status. This favorability is not cultural; in fact many of the 37 cultures studied reveal that most women prefer hard working men. To ancestral women, ambition was an important gauge of the likelihood of continuous supply of resources.

In order to have a healthy relationship, the sexes cannot be constantly engaging in conflict. Those who do run a high risk of divorce and if the relationship is violent, the female's life and the lives of her children are at stake. This is why compatibility is an important characteristic to look for in a male. To test the importance of the characteristic, Zick Ruben observed a sample of couples. He found that the couples who broke up were mismatched in the ways that they viewed values, religion, etc., compared to the couples who stayed together. In fact, women tend to choose mates who are more similar to themselves in many ways. This reveals the gauge that women use in order to asses who they can commit to, and who in turn will commit to them. (Ruben, pg. 36) Buss explains that love is very important to women, and a way that men show their love, is to commit, by marriage or by monogamous commitment to use their resources for the preservation and survival of their offspring. Love is a universal emotion, as William Jankowiak has set out to prove. He found that over 168 cultures, 90% of them showed similar characteristics of love. But to understand the manifestations of love, Buss attempts to find out what these manifestations are exactly. (Jankowiak, pg. 32-33) Buss asked college aged students what they thought showed the action of love, and atop both men's and women's lists, was commitment. He then concludes that commitment is central to love. Because the human female assesses the longevity of a relationship based on compatibility and love, she also looks for kindness. It is not in a woman's best interest to seek out a mate who is stingy with resources, or who is mean to others. This cue would invariably lead to a mate who is not willing to share his resources and care for children. Buss found, through his research that the top things that women who are at a college age level look for in a potential husband is that he be loving, kind, and sincere. He also concludes that in the 37 culture study, the sexes are identical in valuing kindness in 32 of those cultures.

This all seems pretty typical in what women want. The cliche's that are presented make sense as to what women typically say that the look for in a potential mate. What Buss does, is provide explanations for the characteristics that women look for. However, while women want economic stability, kindness, love, compatibility etc., men look for things entirely different, because, their evolutionary and biological goals are different.

Buss starts his chapter on what men want by stating that it is a mystery why men marry at all. He supports this theory by arguing that since men have a low parental investment, they have no reason to commit to one mate or her children. Since all he has to do reproduce is to get a woman pregnant, uncommitted sex would suffice for him. Even in sexual fantasies, males typically envision many women, and focus on body parts. Where as women focus on a particular person, and on emotions. (Bruce Ellis, pg. 82) Buss talks about what is known as the Coolidge Effect. It explains the reason that men are continually turned on by and seek "novel females". For example, when a bull has mated with a particular cow, and she is taken away then reintroduced to him, he does not want to have anything to do with her. When an entirely different hefer is introduced to him, he will be more than willing to mate with her. This effect can give women a bleak outlook on commitment; however, there are limits to and a way for women to win back the affection. Studies have shown that when a female has the chance to reproduce with another male, the committed male will go back to her. When the first cow was put a pen with another bull, then reintroduced to the first bull, he took the first cow back. Although these studies show that males want to copulate with more than one female, there are reasons that it is in the human male's best interest to marry or commit to a single female. Depending on a man's economic security and dispensability, he can either afford to have only a few children, or many. Buss gives the example of Donald Trump. Since he is a high status and wealthy man in our society, he can afford to and has had many wives and many children. Since women demand exclusive economic security and commitment from men, men must give into these demands if he wants to reproduce. But in order to commit to a single woman, he needs to be 'persuaded'. In choosing a mate, men must choose what kind of traits that he wants for his children to have. One characteristic is beauty. Clelland Ford and Frank Beach discovered world wide recognizable cues that signify beauty. Things such as clear skin, poor complexion, and disfiguration top the list of the things found that are universally repulsive. Things that men find attractive in women are full lips, silky hair, and a clear complexion. Another thing looked for is youth. Youth and beauty usually go hand in hand, and here it is no exception. Youth is a universal trait that is looked for, but the actual age that is looked for varies across cultures. Generally in the U.S. men look for women who are 2-4 years younger than they are. (Ford, Beach, pg. 53) To test the standards of physical beauty, Judith Langlois, a psychologist, put pictures of women who vary in degree of attractiveness in front of infants to evaluate their reactions. She found that 12 month old babies interacted more with the attractive dolls significantly longer than the less attractive ones. There have been extensive studies suggesting that what humans view as beautiful is the symmetry of the face. Faces that have an eye higher or lower than the other are considered repulsive. (Langlois, pg. 54) Michael Cunningham asked people cross culturally to identify attractive persons by looking at pictures. The pictures of people who had the most symmetry of their faces were unanimously voted as being attractive. Computer imaging helps us figure out who is attractive also. Pictures were composited one over the other until the faces became more and more symmetrical. Participants in one study continued to choose the composite photos as attractive while normal, one faced images were considered less attractive. (Cunningham, pg. 54) One study on the symmetry of faces was conducted by Steve Gangestad. He and biologist Randy Thornhill studied the ways that injuries or parasites contribute to physical asymmetry. Since the asymmetry is considered not beautiful, it becomes a good sign of bad health. Health is important to the human male because of his long-term investment in her and his children. Human asymmetries also indicate age. This is yet another explanation for men's preference for youth. (Gangestad, Thornhill, pg. 55)

Another part of physical attractiveness is the female body. Overweight women are seen as unattractive in some cultures because extra weight signifies impregnation, and a reason to stay away while in other cultures it signifies wealth and health. In countries where the majorities of women are starving, or have parasites, the ability to acquire or pay for food indicates a reason to be interested in a particular female. The studies on physical attractiveness done by Devandra Singh explore the things about a woman's body that men particularly seek out. She explains that before puberty, boys' and girls' bodies' fat distribution is about the same. Once a girl hits puberty, her body distributes the fat on the hips and thighs. This gives the pubescent girl a waist to hip ratio. She goes further to find that a healthy (healthy to reproduce) waist to hip ratio for women is between 0.67-0.80. Singh says that women with a higher ratio have a hard time getting pregnant. All of these cues show the human male that a particular woman is 'marriage material' and he is most likely to commit to a woman possessing these qualities. (Singh, pg. 56) Even though men seek these qualities in women, homosexual males seek many of the same attributes in other men.

William Jankowiak asked homosexual men and women to rate photographs of men and women of different ages on physical attractiveness. He found that homosexual and heterosexual men find youth to be particularly attractive. On the flip side, homosexual females did not show a significant preference for older or younger women. (Jankowiak, pg. 61) Another study done on homosexual mate preferences was done by Kay Deaux and Randle Hanna. This study focused on the personal ads of heterosexual and homosexual men and women. By using a coding system, they found that lesbians, much like other heterosexual women place little emphasis on physical attractiveness and youth. Homosexual men on the other hand were similar to heterosexual men in that they both placed high value on attractiveness and youth. (Deaux, Hanna, pg. 61) What's more, is that Phillip Blumstein and Pepper Schwartz looked at homosexual couples and found that even when in a committed relationship, gay men still prefer that their partners be attractive. Lesbian women still had no preference on beauty. (Blumstein, Shwartz, pg. 62)

Given all of this evidence, there is no wonder as to why men and women act the way that they do. Women want men who will protect and provide for them and their children. Men want women, and more women, but also want to be assured that his children are indeed his. The most common reasons that couples break up is infidelity and infertility. Because men are making a huge economic investment in order to provide for his children, the thought that he is also providing for another man's children really beats him down. It is not a females' best interest to be unfaithful, since she and her children both depend on the resources her husband provides. Down to the basics of evolution, all animals have the purpose of passing on their genes and sustain healthy offspring. When a man or woman is infertile, their reproductive value plummets. This can be a hard blow for both males and females however, in the majority of societies, women being infertile results in more divorces than men being infertile.

Sociologically, all of the studies in "The Evolution of Desire" contribute to the study of families and to gender studies. Since the Civil Rights Movement, women are still fighting for equal rights, equal pay, and equal status. Buss displays reasons for why women were dominated and why their fidelity is so important to men. Men needed power over women in order to ensure that their offspring were legitimate. Women needed men's resources in order to survive, so women invariably had submit to men's wishes. Although times are changing, it holds true that the studies in this book were recent, and that our biological and evolutionary make up has not changed that much, but what really has changed, in my opinion, is our ability to recognize our own strategies for choosing and living with a mate.


More about this author: Emily Luna