neil Strauss has a cool job (he profiles celebrities for Rolling Stone, he helped porn star Jenna Jameson write her autobiography) but is the first to admit he is no great looker. "My nose is too big for my face," he says, taking inventory. "My hair is thinning, which is why I shaved my head. My eyes are beady. I have indentations on either side of my forehead. I'm short, skinny and pale, and I slouch." Strauss does have one thing going for him: a great personality. Really. We're not just saying that. Five years ago the writer met a magician named Mystery, who taught him how to assert himself in the presence of a beautiful woman.
This isn't an infomercial. It's science. The Game, Strauss's best-selling account of his two-year transformation, describes how he and other pickup artists (PUAs) manage, sometimes in a matter of hours, to overcome forces sculpted by the waters of millions of years of evolution. Given that an error in judgment has much more serious consequences for a woman than for a man (he has an orgasm, she has a baby), the female brain constantly reminds her to be selective about who accesses her reproductive organs. The pill changes the equation but hasn't been around long enough to alter this protective instinct. In
search of quality genes, a woman is drawn to the man in any group who exhibits the highest status—the alpha male.
A PUA employs a variety of charming techniques to convince a woman he is the one guy in the room who is not thinking with his dick. These include wearing with unusual confidence at least one piece of outlandish clothing (peacocking), mastering a few conversation starters and party tricks, winning the admiration of any men she's with and playing hard to get so she sees him as a prize. PUAs pride themselves on applying scientific discipline to refining their strategies and pore over everything from academic papers to marketing manuals to romance novels for insights. Innovative approaches are shared online, then tested by tens of thousands of men from around the globe. Strauss says he needed no further evidence of the power of this emerging social science when, during the early days of his training, he picked up Playmate of the Year 2002 Dalene Kurtis in an Office Depot.
TAKING THE HINT
Until about 40 years ago the textbook version of courtship was aggressive male chases demure female. But in the early 1970s researchers began to look at the reproductive dance more closely
and noted that males of many species do not approach a female until they receive a sign that it is okay. ("When women kiss," H.L Mencken once wrote, "it always reminds me of prizefighters shaking hands.") Among pickup artists these cues are known as preap-proach invitations. At the same time, experiments have revealed that men interpret many gestures by women as signals even when they are not. We are nothing if not optimistic: Psychologist David Buss notes in The Evolution of Desire that if even a tiny fraction of these misperceptions lead to sex, it's easy to see how men could evolve to see signals everywhere. Sometimes you get lucky. However, Monica Moore, an evolutionary psychologist who has spent hundreds of hours observing couples flirt, cautions men not to appear too eager. "You can almost never look at a single potential signal—for example, a flip of the hair—and say, 'Oh, she's interested,'" she says. "You need a lot of signals over time."
Many cues women send to express their interest appear to be the same the world over. For 37 years, starting in 1965, ethologist Irenaus Eibl-Eibesfeldt of the Max Planck Institute near Munich shot footage of flirting and other social interactions
in cultures both primitive and modern. To ensure the encounters were unstaged and undisturbed, he rigged his film and video cameras so he could point the lenses in one direction while filming in another. After studying each interaction frame by frame, Eibl-Eibesfeldt found that regardless of whether a woman grows up in Bali, Botswana, Paris or some other locale, she follows the same inherent routine. First, she smiles to signal her interest. Next, she arches her brows to make her eyes bigger, quickly lowers her lids, tucks her chin down slightly and to the side, averts her gaze and then puts her hand on or near her lips and giggles. Finally, she extends her neck, which Eibl-Eibesfeldt and others read as a sign of submissiveness. In an observational study of 200 young women, Moore noticed many of the same cues, including the eyebrow flash, the coy smile, the partial averting of the eyes and the exposed neck. But she dismisses the idea that any of this is submissive. "If these behaviors serve to get a man to do what the woman wants, how can they be anything but powerful?" she asks. Moore says women may use a coy smile once in a while but more often maintain eye contact and smile fully.
When Moore began studying flirtatious behavior, in the late 1970s, she discovered no one had ever attempted to catalog the signals women send. She watched hundreds of interactions
and assembled a list of 52 nonverbal cues that resulted in male attention. If a man responded within 15 seconds, Moore counted it a successful flirtation. Typically the women she watched would first survey the room, then select a man, stare at him, look away, stare and look away. Some women flirted with several men at once. Others hiked up their skirts until their target noticed. Some paraded in front of him, tits high. The women who got the most attention were those who sent out the most signals, regardless of their relative attractiveness. Moore calculated that a woman who sent at least 35 signals an hour could expect to be approached by about four men.
Moore later observed teenage girls in schools and malls, sending out basic signals. Although their cues are clumsier, are displayed much less frequently and follow the lead of their group's alpha female (adult women flirt independently), they still manage to mesmerize teenage boys. Because this "call-and-response" is universal, a man and woman don't even need to speak. David Givens, director of the Center for Nonverbal Studies in Spokane, Washington, recounts the story of a flirtation
in central Africa that eventually led to marriage between a tall, middle-aged white ethnologist from New Jersey and a teenage Pygmy. "Even before humans developed language, we obviously managed to get together to reproduce," he says. "Love letters, poetry and all that are just frosting on the cake."
Men send cues of their own. A team of researchers led by Karl Grammer of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Urban Ethology at the University of Vienna observed 40 men in bars for 30 minutes each to document dominant male gestures: sprawling across a couch ("space-maximization movements"), stroking his facial hair to draw attention to his face, slapping a buddy on the back, punching him in the shoulder or elbowing him in the ribs good-naturedly (touching is more powerful than being touched) and shooting glances at women to see how he was being received (a man averaged 13 glances before he and a woman started talking). Men who folded their arms, dropped their shoulders and gave up space so other men could sit usually went home alone.
Unfortunately, while men are always scanning the horizon for signs of interest, those who aren't pickup artists or sociologists appear to miss many of them. Timothy Perper, a biologist who, like Moore, has spent hundreds of hours studying couples in bars (and who may be the perfect wingman) says he sometimes
point out to oblivious friends that they are getting a yellow light from a woman. The problem, he says, is men usually look only for green lights, when the signals are often more subtle. Strauss offers an example: If a woman moving through a club stops near you to have a conversation with her friends and keeps her back turned, that is nearly always a signal of interest. He can't explain why, although Perper takes a shot: With her back turned, a woman can sway her hips and move her hair around without making eye contact, which may seem too forward. Perper says that during his research he would often see a woman walk the length of a bar until she saw a guy who interested her. She would then strike up a conversation. Later, when Perper interviewed the man and woman, he always asked the man how the two had met. "He would say, 'She was just standing there!'" Perper says. "It got to be a cliche. And how do you think she came to be standing there? That shows you how a woman's cues can be interpreted as both subtle and not so subtle."
Moore says that when a man, whether through ignorance or recklessness, approaches a woman without being summoned,
ne is very likely to crash and burn, hor a 1998 study she observed another sample of 200 young women as they shut down suitors—or tried to, anyway—by yawning, frowning, sneering, gazing toward the ceiling, searching for split ends, thrusting one or both hands into their pockets, closing their legs tightly, crossing their arms, offering only a hard stare or shaking their heads, no. Some women even cleaned their nails or picked their teeth. David Givens suspects men don't always get the message, because they are generally less adept at reading body language. "A man is so enchanted by the woman's face and figure, he tunes out her behavior," he says.
The chief problem with approaching without an invitation is that it reeks of desperation. Researchers have tried to capture its soul-sapping effects through experiments with speed dating. In 2005 Eli Finkel and Paul Eastwick of Northwestern University's Relationships Lab organized seven sessions involving a total of 75 female and 81 male students. They found that even within a four-minute encounter,
students of both genders could sense whether the other person had "unselective romantic desire." That is, some people gave off the vibe that they were ready to like anyone who liked them. Because everyone wants to feel special or unique, Finkel says, we much prefer to meet someone who is selective yet still chooses us.
MOVING RIGHT ALONG
As a couple converses, there comes a critical point Perper calls initiative transfer, when the man senses he needs to make a move, to get physical with a lingering touch or kiss. "Knowing when to touch a woman is tricky," Perper says. "I tell guys to let her touch them first." When interviewed later, men typically forget or overlook details of the initial interactions, such as who spoke first, says Perper, who describes the findings in his 1985 book, Sex Signals.- The Biology of Love. By contrast, a woman usually shares explicit points about the beginning but is vague about what happened after things got physical. "They would tell me, 'We moved closer, started kissing and took it from there,'" he says. "The guy is the one who takes it from there."
Neither the man nor the woman seems to dominate a flirtation— "They take turns," says Moore—but researchers have found the woman usually sets the pace, using her body language to slow things down and speed things up. In 2000 a
team led by Karl Grammer in Vienna videotaped a number of 10-mmute interactions and discovered that, although a woman shows much more interest in a man during the first minute, it's not until the fourth to the 10th minute that her behavior correlates with her actual interest. This, they noted, may explain why men tend to overestimate female sexual interest. Perper saw this in action during his fieldwork. "When you start to chat, the woman may not have a clear idea of what she thinks of you," he says. "That's why her early signals don't always have a clear meaning. Part of the reason men expect otherwise is we see it play out that way in the movies. But couples don't act out scripts; they make it up as they go along."
When a woman is interested, she seals the deal with a dagger—her voice. For one study, psychologist Julia Heiman (now director of the Kinsey Institute) had volunteers listen to a variety of six- to eight-minute taped conversations between men and women. As measured by genital blood flow, the erotic discussions aroused both genders. But some men got just as turned on by the control tape, which Heiman described as "a bland narrative of a
student couple discussing the relative benefits of an anthropology major over premed." (A few years later anthropologist Donald Symons essentially accused Heiman of naivete and wondered if a male investigator would have presumed any recording of a young woman's voice could be heard dispassionately by a young man.) More recent research, from 2005, suggests men decipher female voices using the same part of the brain that processes music. "The female voice is more complex than the male voice due to differences in the size and shape of the vocal cords and larynx," says Dr. Michael Hunter, the University of Sheffield psychiatrist who led the study. "Women also have greater natural melody in their voices." This may explain why people who suffer hallucinations usually hear a male voice, as it's easier for the brain to conjure than a complex female voice.
The male voice is important in a different way. Strauss asserts that "the secret to meeting women is simply to know what to say and when and how to say it." Pickup artists depend on being the most engaging guy in the room. In his book The Mating Mind, evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller proposes we are "courtship machines" because those ancestors who could write poetry, play music, sing, tell jokes, draw and dance were more fun to hang out with and therefore more likely to get laid. Every human has the ability to flirt, converse, be funny, tell stories, choose a mate and fall in love, he says, but some (continued on page 126)
(continued from page 101) display more of this learned and/or inherent "mating intelligence" (MI) than others. Miller argues that almost any personality disorder can be viewed as an MI dysfunction. "For example, narcissism, which is more common in males, involves vastly overestimating your value as a mate."
When you approach females, scientists and PUAs agree, the key is to be cool. "Men think they have to show off," says Givens. "But courtship works on the principle of luring." Strauss says when a pickup artist spots a woman in a mixed group, he doesn't try to out-macho the men who are with her. (PUAs love to boast about how they secured the phone number of a woman who was with her boyfriend or fiance.) Instead, he tries to amuse everyone in the group while ignoring the target except to "neg" her with mild rebukes. While this sounds counterintuitive,
Strauss says it works because most beautiful women have never been ignored, much less gently insulted. They'll be milled but also intrigued. Who is this mysterious guy? How can 1 get his attention?
WHAT YOU SEE
What draws you to a certain woman in the first place? Novelty and physical activity that stimulate the production of dopamine (Love Potion Number One) appear to have some influence: Men rate strangers as more attractive immediately after getting off a roller coaster or crossing a narrow, wobbly bridge, for instance. This phenomenon, known as excitation transfer, could mean we are more likely to fall for someone we meet while dancing than someone we meet at a coffee shop. Our ability to experience love at first sight—or more accurately, attraction at first sight that works out in the end—may be a reflection of the fact that nature doesn't care about heart-to-hearts
and walks in the park. It wants you to begin reproducing as soon as possible.
In surveys conducted over the past half century, men say physical beauty is the most important quality in a potential mate, while women cite wealth and status. David Buss found these stated preferences to be consistent among men and women in 'M cultures. It's all about children: Men are said to prefer beauty because it gives some indication of a woman's health and fertilitv: women value a man's success because it reflects his potential as a provider. I'nfortiinately for women, wealth is easier to lake than health, so they must sort out which ol the alpha-mule signals sent their way are bogus. A few-years ago a team led by Columbia University economics professor Raymond Fisman organized a series of speed-dating sessions that eventually involved 400 students to determine if their stated preferences gibed with real life. In pre-date surveys men said their ideal partner was first and loremost beautiful, and women said their primary criterion was intelligence. The actual results of the speed dates revealed a man also likes a smart woman—as long as she isn't smarter than he is. Men also like ambitious women, as long as they aren't more ambitious. Fisman would later write of his disappointment that "the stereotype appears to be true: We males are a gender of fragile egos in search of a pretty face."
What can we say? We're addicts. The Columbia study found women prefer men of the same race but men express no preference—beauty is beauty. A man's brain lights up at the sight of an appealing female face in the same way it does when he craves food, money or drugs. Brain scans that demonstrate this, collected in 2001 by researchers at Massachusetts Ceneral Hospital, suggest our appreciation of beauty has been hardwired by natural selection. A man looking at a woman's face will find her even more alluring if her pupils are dilated, a sign of interest he does not consciously recognize but can spot up to six feet away. A male's ability to see this dilation appears only after puberty. Notably, women's pupils dilate when they look at an attractive man in a swimsuit but not one who is nude.
What makes some faces more attractive than others? Why do so many men instinctively stop for a second look at Angelina ]olie and Halle Berry? Some researchers say we see beauty in average faces on which certain features are slightly exaggerated. In 1986 psychologist Michael Cunningham, then at Klmhurst College- in Illinois, conducted a pioneering study in what he calls lacialmetrics. He asked male- undergraduates to rate 50 female faces, including those of 27 Miss Universe contestants. I he men showed a preference for larger than average eyes and a smaller nose and chin, qualities Cunningham says signal youth and are designed to provoke a caretaking response (e.g., she's cute, adorable). Such "supernormal" features may reflect masculine or lemi-nine trails: For instance, testosterone causes a boy's jaw to lengthen at puberty, while
estrogen causes a girl's lips to swell. Cunningham says men also prefer prominent cheekbones and narrow cheeks—signs of sexual maturity—and highly set eyebrows and a large smile, which women use to convey positive emotions. Using data from the study, Cunningham created a schematic for this idealized beauty—e.g., the nose takes up no more than five percent of the face, and the distance from the bottom lip to the chin is a fifth of the facial height. He shares such figures with two cautionary notes: (1) Having a "six percent" nose does not make a woman ugly, and (2) the findings may reflect the preferences only of men in the West. "Perhaps there is a culture where small eyes, a large nose, narrow cheekbones, wide cheeks, a long chin, low eyebrows and a small smile represent the epitome of beauty," he says, although chances are it's not on this planet.
Victor Johnston at New Mexico State University and David Perrett of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland have concluded much the same thing about facial extremes. But critics say this type of research is flawed because it forces participants to make choices between faces they may find equally appealing. Instead, they argue, we see beauty in the absolute average. In 1990 two psychologists, Judith Langlois and Lori Roggman, took photos of 96 male and 9(5 female college students and created a digital composite for each gender. Other students rated these "averaged" faces as more attractive than any of the individuals—in fact, the more faces used to make a composite, the more alluring it was judged to be. Writing in the journal of the American Psychological Society, Langlois and Roggman hypothesized that a supermodel's face is striking not because her features stand out but because her face is extremely typical, a prototype. Cunningham and a colleague offered a retort in a later issue. "Averaged faces are attractive," they conceded, "but very attractive faces are not average." Nancy Etcoff, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School and author ol Suii'ival of the Prettiest: The Science of lieauty, seems to have found the truth in both positions. There appear to be "two faces of beauty." she has said. "One is the 'average' face, comfortable and familiar, and the other a deviation from average that is extremely attractive."
A key element of a beautiful face appears to be symmetry, which our brains interpret as a sign of what one biologist calls developmental precision, or having UNA with fewer mutations. Men and women both have a strong preference for faces on which I fie nose and mouth are centered and the eyes equally placed. We l<x)k for the same balance in the body. The most influential research in this area has been conducted by Devendra Singh, a psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin who has shown female body outlines to men in 18 cultures and asked them to indicate which (hey preferred. The men consistently chose (he figure representing a woman of average size (five feet five inches, 120 pounds)
whose waist measurement was 70 percent of her hip measurement. Marilyn Monroe had a waist-to-hip ratio (W'HR) of 0.7, as did Audrey Hepburn. This hourglass shape, which doesn't appear until puberty, is thought to be created when optimum levels of estrogen cause fat to be deposited in the hips while keeping it away from the abdomen. The idea is that a woman's curves store about 80,000 calories, the amount needed to nourish a fetus to term. A study last year led by an epidemiologist at the University of Pittsburgh found a child's performance on cognitive tests can be linked to the mother's WHR. This suggests, he says, that women with wider hips have more of the omega-3 fatty acids essential for fetal brain development. After a woman hits menopause and can no longer reproduce, her estrogen levels drop and her WHR grows closer to that of a man (0.85 to 0.95).
Some feminist scholars dismiss the notion of a 0.7 ideal as "the tits-and-ass theory of evolution," and in 1998 Douglas Yu and Glenn H. Shepard Jr. argued in Nature that Western men prefer the shape only because that's what they see repeatedly in advertisements and magazines such as playboy. (In fact, a 2002 study reported the WHRs of Playmates—who are often cited in research as reflective of male desire—have dropped over the years as Centerfolds have become taller, thinner and less busty.) When Yu and Shepard gave the WHR preference test to men living in a remote part of southeast Peru, the subjects chose the heavier figures. One man even identified the hourglass shape as a symptom of diarrhea. A 2005 study cast doubt on this finding, however, noting there is less difference between the preferences of American and non-Westernized men when they are shown lateral views, i.e., when booty size comes into play. A significant difference does arise between cultures in regard to body-mass index. For instance, one survey of 58 cultures found men in 81 percent of them prefer women with a moderate amount of "(at. David Buss notes that, historically, plumpness is valued in societies in which resources are scarce and slender-ness is valued in societies in which people can afford to be thin. "Men apparendy do not have an evolved preference for a par-ticular amount of body fat per se," he writes in The Evolution of Desire. "Rather, they have an evolved preference lor whatever features are linked with status." Some research suggests a man's preferences may change in a moment. Researchers in the U.K. who asked 61 male students to rate photos of women's bodies found that those entering a campus dining hall showed a preference for heavier women than those leaving.
WHAT SHK SEES
Women have their own standards for men. Studies suggest females prefer rugged features (a square jaw, six-pack abs) that signal an abundance of testosterone, indicating good health and hearty genes. Researchers have found this preference to be strongest during ovulation, when a woman is most
fertile; otherwise, she goes for rounder, more feminine faces. Women say the)' prefer moderately muscular "mesomorphic" builds rather than Charles Atlas-style barrel chests. They also love symmetry. In one experiment biologist .Albert Thornhill and evolutionary psychologist Steven Ganges-tad measured 10 features on 42 men—ear width, finger length, etc.—then gave each man a T-shirt and asked him to wear it to bed for two nights. They asked 52 women to sniff each shirt and rate the man's attractiveness based on how pleasant or unpleasant they found the scent. Ovulaung women preferred the odor of the most symmetrical men; the others had no preference.
In another sniff"test, researchers at the University of Chicago found women prefer men whose sweaty T-shirts indicate they have a similar but not identical genetic makeup to their own. Mating with a man who is too genetically similar increases the risks of miscarriage and passing on recessive genetic disorders. "Women can actually smell genetic differences," says Martha McClintock, a specialist in chemosignals, who co-authored the study. A woman inherits the gene that appears responsible for this ability from her father, so in his own way Daddy helps his daughter choose each of her dates. The only exceptions to the rule are women who are taking oral contraceptives, which simulate pregnancy. In experiments at the University of Bern, these women preferred the scent of men who were very similar genetically to them. Could it be that the pill tricks women into dating the wrong men?
Last year researchers from Duke University and Rockefeller University for the first time identified a gene directly connected to how a chemical smells. In this case the gene encodes a single odor receptor (one of about 400 in the human nose) called OR7D4. The number and type of mutations on the gene determine whether a person finds the scent of androstenone, a derivative of testosterone that is a primary ingredient in male sweat, to be sweet, vile or odorless. "Since some mammals, such as pigs, clearly use androstenone to communicate sexuality and dominance, it's
intriguing to think whether the same thing may happen in humans," says Leslie Voss-hall, a neurogeneticist at Rockefeller. Her lab is now doing a follow-up androstenone study involving only young women who are ovulating. "We're trying to draw some links between the ability to smell these man smells and how a woman relates to men," Vosshall says. In another experiment at Rockefeller, neurobiologist Don Pfaff reported in 2006 that female mice consistently choose males that have the odor of another female on them. ("If he's good enough for her....") The mice even preferred the odor after scientists mixed it with the scent of an infectious parasite. This effect had been seen in birds and fish but had never before been documented in a mammal.
MAKING THK LEAP
As Americans wait longer and longer to marry (the average age for men is now 27 and for women 25), usually after having a few serious relationships, scientists have started to ask how a person decides it's time to settle down. Clary Becker, who won a Nobel Prize in economics in 1992 in part for his theory of marriage, imagines a cocktail party of rational daters looking for the most desirable partner they can entice. A pattern of "positive assortative matching" emerges, in which each man pairs off with a woman of similar desirability (looks, intelligence, social status) to himself. This concept is neatly summarized by the title of a 2004 paper, "Narcissism Guides Mate Selection," which makes the case that married couples tend even to look alike. This may be a survival instinct: We aren't interested in experimenting with exciting new gene combos in our kids, so we reproduce with people who aren't so radically different. Some social scientists (the cynical ones) argue that whenever you see an imbalance—a striking women with a dumpy guy, for example—it can be explained by the influence of money and/or power.
How long should you search for a wife before you ante up? Geoffrey Miller, who teaches at the University of New Mexico, and Peter Todd of Indiana University decided to see if a mathematical model
could provide clues. Miller describes the result in The Mating Mind: "The standard optimal search strategy is known as the 37 percent rule. It says that you should estimate how many candidates are likely to apply for a job, interview the first 37 percent and remember the best of that initial sample. Then keep interviewing until you find a candidate who seems even better than that." That's the person you hire. The challenge of using the 37 percent rule during a mate search is estimating the size of the total field. Todd and Miller guess 50 is about right, so you should first have around 12 relationships.
"The model obviously abstracts away all that is difficult and heartbreaking in relationships," Miller concedes. "And it's often misunderstood. We're not saving you choose 12 random people and find a soul mate among them. Von should consider the first 12 people who reciprocate your interest, remember the very best and look for someone even a little more attractive than that. There is no way to figure out your own mate value—where you rank in the mating market—except by having experiences with acceptance and rejection and setting your aspirations based on that." At the evolutionary level this "sat-isficing" imposes sexual selection "that is almost as strong as the most complicated, perfectionist decision strategy'," he says. In other words, there is always the chance you could find a woman who is a better match than the one you end up with, but at some point it takes too much energy. This doesn't speak well of the notion that every person has a soul mate. Nevertheless, one survey found 94 percent of never-married people in their 20s say they are searching for this elusive partner sent by God.
WHY YOU CHOSE HER
II the current trend continues, nearly 50 percent of American couples marrying for the first time this year will eventually divorce. Scientists have long wondered why some couples stay together but others split. If you parse the research, as David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead have done since becoming co-directors, in
1997, of the newly formed National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, a couple can expect to be parted only by death if they have similar goals and interests, know each other well but don't live together before they decide to marry, come from intact families, marry after the age of 25 and aren't expecting a child.
Education is a key indiauor. Surveys show that college-educated .Americans (about 25 percent of die population) have higher marriage and lower divorce rates. In his most recent annual Slate of Our Unions report Popenoe notes a "marriage gap" has developed: Among women married in the early 1990s, only 16.5 percent who attended college have divorced, compared with 46 percent of high school dropouts. This is typically attributed to college grads having more financial stability and marrying older. The problem, Popenoe explains, is that the highly educated aren't having enough children to replace themselves, so the number of people getting married continues to decline. Also, many more women than men now attend college, so there are fewer educated men for them to pursue. Marriage remains popular in the U.S. (85 percent of Americans hitch up at least once), but the numbers are edging toward the northern European model—fewer marriages, more living together and more babies born to couples who aren't married, although it's notable that in Europe these children are much less likely to grow up in a single-parent home. The decline of matrimony is bad news, Popenoe says, because "the empirical evidence is strong and persuasive that a good marriage enhances personal happiness, economic success, healdi and longevity, not to mention its benefit for children." As a bonus, married people report having more and better sex than singles.
What other factors keep a couple together? "We tend to match up on almost every trait researchers have l<x)ked at," says Geoffrey Miller. "It's clear opposites do not attract." Successful couples are generally similar in age, race, religion and political beliefs and moderately similar in education, intelligence and values. This makes sense in that we tend to meet people at work, school or play who have similar backgrounds. But personalities are hard to pin down even before you mix them. In 2005 psychologist Marcel Zentner of the University of Geneva examined 470 marriage and personality studies dating to 1938 and concluded it's simply impossible to predict which couples will have the best chemistry. A University of Iowa study of 291 newlywed couples revealed that although people may be drawn together by shared values, attitudes and beliefs—and gel married for dial reason—die personality traits that influence marital satisfaction don't reveal themselves imlil later. Two Berkeley psychologists have proposed that notions of similars and of opposites attracting may both be true: People with higher self-esteem choose similar mates, while those with lower self-esteem look for someone different.
Zentner believes social scientists who attempt to find a formula for compatibility may well be analyzing the wrong two people. Rather than matching actual traits, he says, they should instead consider each person's "ideal mate personality concept" (IMPC)—i.e., their fantasy partner. Zent-ner's research suggests relationships thrive or die depending on how closely your partner matches your IMPC. Psychologist John Money proposed a related idea—a "love map" that he felt develops primarily between the ages of five and eight based on our experiences and relationships with family members and friends. Our love map solidifies after puberty and guides us toward certain traits regardless of whether they mirror or balance our own.
Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers who has spent most of her career studying the forces of love, is now turning her attention to the role genetics plays in how we select partners. One of its chief influences can be seen, she says, in the efficiency with which each person's brain processes dopamine, serotonin, testosterone and estrogen. Fisher, who is writing a book on mate choice due next year, is busy analyzing data from the first 523,000 responses to a questionnaire she developed for the dating site Chemistry.com. It attempts to identify which brain chemicals are dominant by measuring personality traits, as well as physical characteristics such as the relative size of your index finger to your ring finger, which studies suggest reflects hormonal activity during fetal development. The next piece in the puzzle is determining, through algorithms and feedback, which brain types produce the best matches.
Some researchers believe the most reliable sign of a relationship's strength is not
found in the higher processes but in the lowest one: how a couple fights. Psychologist John Gottman has observed hundreds of married couples converse and bicker in his "love lab" at the University of Washington. He divides them into three types: avoiders, who agree not to discuss their disagreements; attackers, who bicker about seemingly everything; and soothers, who choose their battles, listen respectfully and respond with gentle persuasion. According to Ciott-man, most marriages disintegrate only when spouses have conflicting styles. For example, soothers overwhelm avoiders, and soothers and attackers reach a standstill. The worst combination is an avoider and an attacker. But there is always hope. Gottman found that among couples who stay together, the positive remarks they make to each other, during fights or otherwise, outnumber the negative by a five-to-one margin.
Even when a marriage appears to be failing, it often pays to stick it out, according to a study of 645 unhappy couples by sociologists at the University of Chicago. Within five years 26 percent had separated or divorced. Half the people in this group said they were happier. But of the couples who stayed together, two out of three said they were happier. The most discordant relationships seemed to have the greatest turnaround: Among those who described their union as "very unhappy," nearly 80 percent of those still together reported being happier. The data doesn't mean everyone who divorces should have remained together, writes Linda Waite, who led the research team. "But it does prove that a bad marriage is nowhere near as permanent a condition as we sometimes assume."
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