Swipe Right or Left? Personal Characteristics and the Mating Game

By Robert Dallas

Historically men tended to base their selection of potential partners on appearances while women attempted to clarify potential suitors that were intelligent, had good job prospects, and stability. Let’s explore this a little more fully.

Tinder aside, what do you look for when searching for a partner or simply a new friend? Maybe more importantly, how do you assume people are assessing you? How many of your interpersonal and intrapersonal assessments are subconscious versus conscious decisions based on logical analysis?

There are two categories of selection according to the people who research this kind of thing. The first is intrasexual—which is how we assess ourselves in relation to our own group. “How do I see myself in terms of measuring up to other males so I will win the selection game?” The other category is intersexual, which is how do we choose a potential mate? More explicitly, it is the evolutionary process in which selection is strongly related to the attractiveness of an individual’s phenotypic traits.

I know . . . if you haven’t completely glazed over by now, you’re asking phenowhat?! Phenotype is simply a word used to express the idea that we all possess physical characteristics that we associate with certain traits. For instance, some women might see a man with a strong jawline as ruggedly handsome, and subconsciously associate this with being a strong protector. With consideration, we may be able to list physical attributes we would prefer in a mate. Yet, we often don’t realize this could be a response to subconscious urges that override our conscious analysis.

A key point is that much of this has changed drastically in a fairly short time. Mate selection was largely based on the continuance of the species, as is true of all nature. In an overpopulated world, this is becoming less of a factor. Even given that some of these dynamics are still in play, they’ve shifted quite a bit.

Going back to my earlier example, throughout most of our history a “ruggedly handsome” man was desirable to many, if not most, women. The implication, both conscious and subconscious, being that he would be a good protector and strong provider. Now we have the new phenomena whereby geeky guys, that used to be the outcasts, are now the desirable group. Why is this? The supposition is that they are smart, and these days, thinking your way to success is typically more likely than punching your way there. Of course, this is very recent in the overall scope of things, so nerdiness hasn’t completely dethroned brawn as a dominatingly desirable characteristic.

Recent studies that reflect the main aspects of attraction patterns can currently be summarized by the following points. Facial symmetry has been one of the most consistently positive attributes over time for both men and women. It theoretically implies health and good genes. Or maybe that’s good jeans—either way, it’s very desirable. An easy smile implies agreeableness and friendliness. Maybe, surprisingly, many men apparently prefer less makeup on a woman these days. The assumption is that this is because it indicates honesty and directness. The other main physical characteristic is scent. For most of us, it is totally subconscious, but a huge number of studies have shown that the subtle scents (pheromones) given off by our bodies strongly affect attractiveness to potential mates.

It may be interesting to notice what traits and characteristics you find appealing in others. Also notice if you have, over time, broadened your perspective on whom you see as desirable. In other words, do you reserve judgment until you really get to know someone? My guess is that as we go through life and get to know ourselves better, we put less emphasis on the physical aspects of others in terms of seeing them as potential partners or close friends.

However meeting another occurs, we can explore how to express our genuine selves such that the persons drawn to us are the ones with whom we will feel a reciprocal connection.

Robert Dallas holds a PhD in Counseling Psychology from Georgia State University. He has been a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice for the past twenty-five years. He helps people with career and life focus, works with individuals on their anxiety and self-esteem issues, and works with couples in the realm of relationship issues. www.TheDallasCenter.com