Monday, February 12, 2007

What Do Women Want? I’m So Glad You Asked, Dr. Freud

Protein Wisdom linked to a study in the UK on what women find attractive in men. It’s not a rigorous accounting by any means, but it certainly shows the intuitive mating selection process for women.

High-flying men are not as attractive to women looking for love as those with an average job, scientists say.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the University of Central Lancashire research found the 186 female students asked preferred good-looking men.

But within that group, those without top careers were deemed most suitable, the Personality and Individual Differences journal reported.

The team said women seemed to feel high-flyers would not be good fathers.


“We suggest that females see physically attractive, high status males as being more likely to pursue a mating strategy rather than a parenting strategy.”

There is more information at the site, with looks being weighed against men’s professions.

When I first saw this at post at Protein Wisdom and read the comments, I noticed there were only men on the thread. So I had to put my two cents in. And as I thought about it, I remembered the many groups I’d facilitated with battered women as they struggled to figure out how they’d ended up being in a nightmare relationship. Was there a way to gauge which men were safe and if there was some way to tell ahead of time, what was it? So often they’d say sadly, “but he was so nice

Over the course of several years, with the input of hundreds - if not thousands - of women, we came up with some basic guidelines. I was surprised, as I commented on PW’s post, that I remembered most of the criteria for “safe” men. But then, we did work on this subject for several years, and it was a pressing one for each member of the group. Obviously, I internalized their ideas.

What follows is not necessarily in order of importance. In fact, I don’t recall that we ever ordered the criteria that way. It seemed more important to simply understand the details that went into making a safe choice where men were concerned.

It’s important to remember that this is after-the-fact reasoning. Each woman was bringing to the conversation what she needed and what had been sorely missing in her relationship with the man she’d trusted, the man who ended up beating her.

“Scientific” it’s not. But heart-felt is definitely the foundation of this list. Such sadness and loss went into describing a safe man - but also great hope.

The study that Protein Wisdom linked to discussed whether wealthy men would be considered most attractive. That was one issue we talked about since some of the women came from upper class backgrounds. And physical attractiveness was another. Some physically abusive men are quite handsome…

Here’s my comment at Protein Wisdom, with some editing for this post:

When I used to do crisis counseling with battered women the idea of a “safe” man was a recurrent theme, hashed over again and again as women struggled to figure out why they hadn’t seen it coming...

Handsome isn’t necessarily safe — very often, having gotten by on his looks since he was two, Handsome may tend toward narcissism. tend — obviously they’re not all like that, except for those in Hollywood. Narcissism flourishes there.

Very wealthy men are of two categories: inherited and earned. The former do tend to make strategic alliances, though some of these partnerships are disastrous. See Ethel Kennedy’s family tree.

The latter, with their earned wealth, have a different sense of entitlement. Usually they’re looking for drop-dead beautiful as a further proof of their success. Again, just a tendency, not an absolute. There is a high rate of divorce in this category due to the driven nature of many high earners. Just ask any bitter ex-wife of some doctor. She ended up raising the children by herself only to have him trade her in after thirty years for a newer model. Strangely, the new one often looks like the old one, just twenty or thirty years younger.

Anyway, that said, here’s the “safe” list my battered women evolved over the years:

1. He gets on well with his family, particularly his mother or sisters. Family members don’t do dramas or cut off relationships —e.g., his momma gets on with her own family and her in-laws (as best she can).

2. He works steadily at a job he really likes. Never leaves one job without having lined up another. Isn’t a work-a-holic.

3. He has an avocation that really engages him — fishing, reading, motorcycles...whatever. But not so absorbing he’s never home or unavailable for extended periods.

4. He has some interest in the larger world and gives some of his time to a community group or someone in need. Like maybe he mows the yard for the old people next door.

5. His moods are reliable. Not happy-sappy, just predictable— e.g., you know for certain how he feels and what he will say and how loud he’ll say it if — again — you borrow his tools and don’t put them back. A corollary: the person he is in public is the same person he is at home. No Jekylls/Hydes need apply.

6. His times and routines are predictable. He’s never three days late for dinner.

7. He has a sense of humor and thinks you’re funny, too. You share secret jokes.

8. He’s sensible about money and reasonable. You don’t have to account for every penny, nor do you have to worry he’ll buy a $500.00 whats-is instead of paying the rent or the mortgage or the children’s dental bills.

9. He enjoys children to some extent, especially his own. He sees them as people.

10. He’s trustworthy. Keeps his word.

It’s been a few years, so that’s the list as I remember it —though maybe there were twelve qualities, not ten. I think one was “no substance abuse of any kind” since that was a frequent problem, and physical abuse is often accompanied by substance abuse. However, battering a woman when you’re stone cold sober is far more frightening an indicator that you’re a dangerous person. Those are the women I preferred to send out of town to another shelter.

And I believe they decided that a “loner” was a danger signal since it meant you couldn’t have friends, either. It also meant he didn’t have good people skills, another warning signal.

By the way, this phenomenon really does cut across socio-economic lines — and political ones, too. Though politics didn’t enter the equation much if the abuse was severe. No room to think about who’s running for office when you’re busy running from someone who swears they love you.

That was then. I wonder what it’s like now for Muslim women here in the US. That problem never came up on my innocent pre-9/11 horizon.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

James Higham has another survey here, this one from Canada. He’d like to know if you agree.


At 1:44 PM, Blogger Wally Ballou said...

Yeah, but the problem is, all these women weren't looking for "safe" until they had wisdom beaten into them. A lot of them were looking for "exciting" or even "bad". There is obvious evolutionary weight behind the preference for bad boys. Not too long ago, when life was nasty brutish and short (a blink of the eye in evolutionary time), he would have been the safe choice even with the beatings.

At 1:59 PM, Blogger El Jefe Maximo said...

Picking up on what Wally says, here's something else to consider. It's my observation that women appear to have different criteria for casual dating or "flings" than they do for settling down. I'm a guy, on the outside so to speak, looking in. . .but I have known all kinds of women who married somebody radically different rather than a persons similar to those whom they had previously dated.

At 2:51 PM, Blogger Mother Effingby said...

Gee, I never took this survey, yet I married just the kind of man every gal wants to marry! Who knew it was instinctive?

At 7:32 PM, Blogger Old Peculier said...

Good post.

To sum up, what a woman needs and wants is - a mensch. He doesn't need to be Jewish, but he does need to be a mensch.

At 11:34 PM, Blogger Jimbo said...

I have my own much shorter list.

1. Money (some is good, more is always better)

2. Looks (same progression scale as money)

3. Appear to be a better catch than her friends' boy friends
(you will know you are accepted by her friends when you can sleep with them - your ability to get away with this as a long term strategy is dependent on how well you are doing on items 1 & 2)

4. Pretend like you care, even when you don't; be a good fake listener

That's all!
Go ahead, throw rocks now

At 6:56 AM, Blogger Pastorius said...


I think this is an important post. As a member of a church, I see the effects of men who do not live up to their obligations, and who are genuinely abusive, on a constant basis.

This is very helpful and I think I will pass it around.

At 9:26 AM, Blogger Papa Bear said...

Wally: one attracting factor of the violent male is the idea that he will not permit anybody else to harass his woman. This can be important even today in certain urban environments. The "sensitive new-age male" may be harmless, but he's also useless when the excrement hits the ventilator

At 6:25 PM, Blogger drmiltown said...

I didn't re-marry for 25 years, so I have a lot of experience attracting women. I am of average looks, rather short, tradititonally under-employed, and I used alcohol and pot; But I was never without the company of attractive, intelligent women. It took me several years after my divorce to figure out how to do that. The answer is that women want confident, moderately aggresive men. None of the rest of it counts. Of course,if I wanted the relationship to perservere, basic respect was an absolute requirment. But that is a requirement in any human realionship.

At 6:43 PM, Blogger Zerosumgame said...


While each individual trait makes sense in itself, it would seem to be a very tall order for a man to meet all of those.

How many of those traits out of the whole list do you reasonably think a "good" man will meet?

At 7:35 PM, Blogger TheManTheMyth said...

zerosumgame---my thoughts exactly. Can I make my list of traits for a "safe" woman now? It could hardly be less realistic....

At 6:53 AM, Blogger Dymphna said...

Uh, Wally -- I was *not* looking for "exciting" when I married young. The guy was an Eagle Scout. He liked kids -- supposedly. He went to church with me...he was ambitious, but not unduly so. It was a mirage.

I was looking for the traits that the Baron had; it just took me a few bajillion years to find them. When he told me he had two cats, no TV, and his family was boring, it was a done deal. The only hard part for me is the rural living. I'd much rather be in a small city where I could walk to everything, rather than a place where the cows walk over to see me. But I'll settle for the country life if it has the Baron in it. Can't have everything.

Yeah...and when I told people what I wanted in a man, I was told I was unrealistic. Then along came the Baron.
Old P --

"Mensch" is definitely it, which is why I seemed to be attracted to Jewish men and even considered converting once...believe it or not, the future Baron had an ROTC instructor named Captain Mensch. I asked the fB if he lived up to his name and he said definitely!

A mensch is both strong and compassionate -- it's easy to be one or the other, but the combination is rare.

No need to throw rocks. You have my deepest sympathy (and I'm not being sarcastic). That is the saddest list I can imagine.


When a man or woman isn't carrying their share of a mutually assumed load, it's awful. We had a real nice couple who came to church sometimes. He was the son of one of our neighbors. She developed a bad coke habit, took off and left him to raise three children. The kids are doing fine, but there is an infinite sadness about the oldest one. OTOH, I truly expect him to be running for governor one day. When I say that to him, he always blushes and says, "nah, I just want to be on the Board of Supervisors." Which he will be, no doubt, before he's 25.
Papa Bear--

You're right. Especially when a woman is very young and has been abused or neglected in her family of origin. She thinks a bully will protect her. Sad...

To your "confident, moderately aggressive" list I would also add compassion. Otherwise, there's too much of a divide.
zerosumgame --

Actually, that list describes the Baron. Our deal was he would paint and if he made a living at it, great. And if he didn't then we'd have to figure out something. Fortunately, when we got to the "have to figure out something" a friend came to the rescue with a great job. Horrible commute, but great work. And he went on from there until the commute wore *me* out and I was relieved when he quit.

Most people would hate our life -- too limited and boring -- but we like always living within our means, no matter how slim the means are. We drive old cars, take incredibly cheap vacations (if at all), and were the Frugal Twosome before it was "in." No mortgage, no credit card debt, etc. If everyone lived like we do, the economy would collapse.

What's unrealistic about the list? None of the women I talked to wanted wealthy or handsome or Prince Charming -- just a reliable person who had his own interests, went to work everyday and came home on a regular basis and got on reasonably well with his family. What's so incredible about that?

I would imagine a similar list for a woman would reflect those same qualities -- strength, compassion, and reliability. IOW, a normal person.

No one is perfect. The Baron collects stuff...I find his interest in old animal skulls not to my taste, but he and the fB think they're cool. In fact, he saves stuff and I throw away stuff...causes a bit of friction. I had to learn not to touch his "stuff." Even now, it's sooo tempting...he's right not to trust me.

And I drive him crazy because the borders I make around the flower beds are impossible to mow near enough.

We both complain about the fact the other can never be on time.

He likes vacations more than I do. I'm a homegrown tomato; he likes to drive...

We interrupt each other and complain about it.

But notice that none of those is on the list of basics. Nor would they be -- they're features, not bugs. Being three days late for dinner is *not* a feature; it's a scary bug.

NOTE: For some strange reason, all the Baron's friends fit this description, too. I mean the ones that got married. Some of the singles are a bit eccentric...maybe that's why they're single.

At 11:22 AM, Blogger Kafir_Kelbeh said...

I also married one like the list, dymphna, so you're not alone.

When I met the FH at 27, I seriously grilled him about his previous life, studied closely his relationship with his family, and observed how he worked within my familial system & friendship circles. It was a great match, even with the normal kinks, so I made the decision he was the one.

Granted, I don't want to make it sound like it was so objective and cold: I fell in love within 2 months, we had fights & potential breakups, and we laughed (alot).

My point is that with the rollercoaster I was experiencing, I never failed to pull myself back to analyze what I was doing and to ensure I compromised without sacrificing myself on the alter of love.

Call it what you want: defense mechanism, cold-hearted, etc. The fact remains is we have been together 11 years (married 7), and he is one of my best friends and my rock.

I've had the hardest year of my life last year - the loss of my idol (my father) and the recent murder of my brother (in-law, but really a brother to me). He has not left me, but has held me up when nobody else could...I don't know what I'd do without him.

At 3:49 PM, Blogger Wally Ballou said...

Dymphna - I honestly wasn't talking about you (although another relative of yours did cross my mind brielfly when I was thinking of "bad boys"). I was thinking of the girls who preferred thuggish clods to me in my younger years.

At 11:33 PM, Blogger mts said...

I got to this article via Gates of Vienna. I've kept from pushing the comment button for five days, but it's Saturday, and I'm back from the bar...

I don't know what to make of women. Really. I have enough female relatives, and have met enough women, who are pretty, intelligent, but still marry and have kids by dirtbags. Not bad boys who nonetheless love these women and do right by them. No, bums. I ask them what made them do it, and they give me this hair-twirling, sky gazing, wistful gee whiz little girl look and sigh "I dunno." I meet enough who have a couple of kids, where's the dad who knows, who when I bring up the fact that I'd like kids, they have a stroke and say they're done with that, these are it. So you spent your pretty years with Joe Punk, had his kids, had a hard life raising the kids alone and are losing your looks, and now look to the decent guy to put his shoulder to the rock you're pushing.

I got out of dating ten years ago since I got tired of the head games, and had no interest in becoming one of the wife beaters that I was losing out to. If you love someone, I can't fathom why you'd want to cause harm to her; the notion's repulsive and I'd have a hard time forgiving me, even if she did, but that's the protective defender side of me. I also got tired of, once a girl learned that she could yell at me and I'd not bounce her noggin off the wall like the last boyfriend even though I can bench 250 lbs., she thought that was carte blanche to walk on me. A good number of y'all are pretty mean, too, not just us guys.

Then for some reason, once I crossed 35, I learned that 35 + not married + drug free + no illegit kids = loser, while doper + 3 wrecked marriages + ? number of bastards = oh, honey baby.

White flag. I give. I say uncle.

At 1:12 AM, Blogger Dymphna said...


I sympathize with a number of your points. Yeah, there are a lot of "mean girls" out there. Reallly mean. And dumb. And they make stupid decisions.

In fact, I generally prefer the casual company of guys: they're more interesting to talk to, have less of a hidden agenda (a guy's agenda is usually right up there), and don't tend toward pettiness. But those are generalities, of course.

I know lots of women who haven't married "dirt bags" -- the ones I interviewed and worked with were in a shelter for battered women and they indeed had managed to find the dregs. That's a special population and they were intensely preoccupied with figuring out how they got there. Unlike, say, kafir_kelbeh, who was observant and careful before she committed herself to a relationship.

You began your comment by saying you were "back from the bar..." leaving aside the fact that this is where I met the Baron (he and his brother helped me with my car), I would generally say that's not the place to meet women you'd want to spend a whole, long time with.

Still, this mating business remains a lottery. One of my sons had given up ever finding *anyone* -- I mean truly surrendered to being single. And then he met the love of his life on line -- a chat room. I think, concerned with computer games, which they both like. They've been married 6 years, have two kids and a good life. She's very funny, smart, and energetic. Great mom. She has two teenagers from a previous marriage and they're good kids, too...because they have a strong, focused mom. I really admire my daughter-in-law.

Try some other venues besides bars. Church, if you have any leanings in that direction. Lots of single women there. And local politics has 'em. So do book clubs, and various community associations -- everything from garden clubs to music groups to birdwatching to cat or dog associations.

I have a friend who was unfortunately married to an alcoholic. It was complicated bec. they worked together, too. She eventually extricated herself and decided that it wasn't marriage she was soured on, just this particular relationship. She decided to go out as often as possible. If she was invited to a party, she went whether she felt like it or not. If there was a music event she wanted to see (she plays some string instruments), she went -- even stretched her boundaries there a bit re genres. In a few years she met a wonderful man -- a musician -- and is the proud stepmother of several grown children. She still feels like she won the prize.

One of the things that the women I interviewed mentioned was that a man who had a strong outside interest -- an avocation that was a passion -- was more likely to make a stable relationship than one who hadn't developed a passion in life. If it's a group-oriented avocation, you're more likely to find prospective "dates."

But I agree, the whole "dating" thing doesn't work very well anymore. Our culture has changed too much. So let's say one is likely to meet more friends that way, rather than dates. And friendships develop.

One of my favorite people is a retired Navy chief who moved here in his later years. He was long divorced with grown children. This is a rural environment, and you wouldn't have thought he'd have many opportunities. But the Chief was a busy man, and it wasn't long before he'd married a widow and settled down.

My favorite, though, is our 80+ neighbor. She and her husband were married 62 years when he died. We all worried about her -- she was a wonderful woman but had developed manic depression in her later years. Well, about two years after her husband died, she and a widower from another county got married on her front porch. It was a great wedding and everyone commented on how good "Doc" was to his new bride. Also in his 80's, he plays golf three times a week and makes sure Mildred gets out and about. She still has her "spells" but he's there to see her thru them.

It's never too late. 35? "Pshaw", Mildred would say.

Change your dark glasses for a more rose colored prescription, mts. Life is too short, but it can seem awfully long if all you meet are airheads with baggage.


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