Face it, guys. She's hot. You're not. Walk away. Right?
Nope. At least, that's what an upcoming study in Psychological Science suggests. In a study of 200 undergrads at University of Texas, lead author Carin Perilloux found that the least attractive men were the most likely to think that the attractive women in a "speed meeting" exercise were the ones most interested in them.
The research involved 96 male 103 female undergraduates, who were put through a "speed-meeting" exercise -- talking for three minutes to each of five potential opposite-sex mates. Before the conversations, the participants rated themselves on their own attractiveness and were assessed for the level of their desire for a short-term sexual encounter. After each "meeting," they rated the partner on a number of measures, including physical attractiveness and sexual interest in the participant. The model had the advantage of testing the participants in multiple interactions.
The results: Men looking for a quick hookup were more likely to overestimate the women's desire for them. Men who thought they were hot also thought the women were hot for them -- but men who were actually attractive, by the women's ratings, did not make this mistake. The more attractive the woman was to the man, the more likely he was to overestimate her interest. And women tended to underestimate men's desire.
Go figure. According to the researchers, it's all about evolution. Or the mating opportunity, especially for all the nebushy guys who are out there trying to get laid. Overestimate your chances, and sooner or later, you're likely to score. And procreate. (In Darwinian terms, this may not necessarily be such a good thing.)
But let's move on. Now that the planet has hit 7 billion, one would think that the rules of attraction had evolved beyond the need to reproduce. But the culture -- and society itself -- seems to tell us that a woman is only as viable as her uterus. You can scarcely buy a loaf of bread without witnessing the parade of baby bumps blazing from the covers of the checkstand magazines. And look no further than Hollywood, where the old, fat or bald guy (pick one) often gets the girl young enough to be his daughter, and where most women actors have a shorter shelf life than your average jar of jam.
All of which could be a buzzkill, but as counterpoint I offer my late Auntie Margie, who was deep into her 80s when she once regaled a tableful of my girlfriends with tales of her love life. "I don't really need the sex anymore," she said somewhat pensively. "But I do need a man to take me out to dinner, now and again." And dinner dates, she had.
Auntie Margie was always something of a mystery to me when I was growing up. In an era when most mothers wore dresses and aprons, she wore wool suits. She was a single mother -- often "between husbands", as she put it -- who proudly worked as a bookkeeper to support herself and her daughter at a time when most women her age listed their occupation as "housewife." She drank Manhattans, and she told fortunes with a deck of cards, always predicting that you would meet a M-A-N within three days, three weeks or three months.
The last time I saw her, at a family party, she was sitting on a sofa when she asked me to fetch her purse. I lugged it over to her -- you know the size of those handbags -- she fished out her lipstick, and without bothering with her compact, applied those red lips perfectly. At which point I said I was amazed she could put on lipstick without a mirror. She waved her hand at me dismissively. "Honey, if you'd been doing this as long as I have, you wouldn't need a mirror either."
Even on her deathbed, well into her 90s, she was still the coquette. She had been hospitalized for several days, the story goes, when a handsome young resident stopped by her bedside for a quick exam. "How are you doing today?" he asked. My aunt, who hadn't spoken a word to her family in days, looked up at this dashing young doc, and fluttered her lashes like a teenager. She looked into his eyes, broke out a smile, and said, "I'm just fine. And how are you?"
She was probably my first encounter with an independent woman, though Auntie Margie never would have recognized the word "feminist," much less ever used the term. But she was something more. Marge was a woman who thumbed her nose at convention. Who didn't cave when it came to societal expectations or, more importantly, age.
Which leads us back to that study. Maybe, in terms of evolution, the men amongst us are looking to score. And maybe that's necessary. But just maybe, we women are into a whole lot more.