For many years growing up, Justin Timberlake was to me, the sexiest man alive. I remember distinctly the excitement of going to his concert… the screaming girls… the dance moves… But what is it about the Justin Timberlakes, George Clooneys, Angelina Jolies and Anne Hathaways of the world, that make them sexy? Is it charisma? Is it a bit of “tall, dark and handsome”? Or does it purely come down to confidence?
And more importantly, once we have attracted someone, what makes a relationship last? Today, I will enlighten you to the three stages of love, sex and magic…
Well in order to have a relationship, you actually have to attract someone in the first place… And interestingly, this is the area of research that psychologists have spent the most time on (wonder if this says something about psychologists).
Thinking logically, we know that there are some common things that allow us to come to some consensus over what makes an individual attractive. These things can include physical traits, as well as ideal personality, attitude and achievement traits. Probably why someone as dull and unattractive as Donald Trump can still get women –money certainly comes into it!
One of the most interesting areas of attraction research is the idea of the “average” face. One research group combined 32 faces together using computer technology, and found that this composite face was deemed to be way more attractive than any of the single faces. This comes down to evolution, as the “average” face (the face made up of the average measurements of 32 people) is more attractive to us as this person is less likely to have bad genes.
It also comes down to symmetry… Check out these two faces:
Many of us would find the one on the right more attractive, mainly because she looks healthier. In order to genetically produce a highly symmetrical face, it is more likely that the individual has a wide variety of genes. This is also what helps to guard the human race against disease, which is why we are more likely to want to reproduce with someone who looks “average”.
Genetic attraction is also the cause behind the histocompatibility complex which was shown in a study done in Brazil. Here they asked women to smell the shirts of a large sample of men, and rate the pleasantness of the men’s body odour. They found that the men who were more genetically different to the women were rated as smelling nicer. So… that may just be why I always say my brothers smell so bad!
2) The Dating Game
So once we have all had a series of plastic surgery procedures to make our faces more symmetrical and “average”, the next step is getting through the first date. This comes down to personality…
Phrases like “she’s smart, she’s funny” or “he’s just so sweet and considerate” show us that there are definitely some strong universal ideal traits which determine who we are attracted to, and who has no chance.
The most common thing that we look for when we are choosing a partner, is high extroversion (outgoing, friendly, exciting) and low neuroticism (calm, laid back, easy going). After that, we also like to see a bit of agreeableness (people focused, friendly, caring and considerate), and lastly, we like to check whether they seem conscientious, particularly to determine the likelihood of future housework (check out the book “Porn for Women” – it’s devoted to this idea).
3) Tying the Knot
Once we have dated for a while, we come to the most tricky part of romance… preserving a relationship. Divorce rates all over the world tell us that this is probably one of the most difficult challenges of our lives, and that no matter how much in love we are at the start of a relationship, this is likely to fizzle out at some stage.
Flemlee has devised a whole theory to explain this process, with the key part relating to the idea that an adorable and attractive trait at the beginning of a relationship can soon develop into an annoying or unattractive trait with too much exposure. This is how relationships soon change their tune from “she’s so funny” to “she never shuts up”, “he’s so lovely” to “he’s way too passive” and from “she’s so organised” to “she never stops nagging”!
Other researchers at Cambridge University have also shown that extroversion can help sustain long term relationships as this ensures that the excitement and energy of the initial attraction lasts the lifetime.
Ultimately however, this is clearly an area where we need much more research. With relationships evaporating as we speak (every third marriage ends in divorce) we could really do with some ideas of how to make relationships last.
So how do you do it?