So what do men really want? Brains, not boobs, apparently
Research shows that men prioritise intellect when it comes to choosing a life partner. But Eoin Butler is not convinced
Published 27/05/2015 | 02:30
When choosing a life partner, men prefer brains to boobs - that's the latest according to science. Or, at least, that branch of science which exists mostly to provide content for the "And finally..." section on radio news bulletins.
Professor David Bainbridge is a psychologist at the University of Cambridge. And to judge by remarks he delivered at Britain's Hay Literary Festival at the weekend, field research for his new book, Curvology: The Origins and Power of Female Body Shape, wasn't conducted at closing time in Copper Face Jacks.
"The main thing men are looking for is intelligence," the academic told his Hay audience. "Surveys have shown time and time again that this is the first thing that men look for."
One of the London broadsheets, reporting on these remarks, used a photograph of Amal Alamuddin Clooney to illustrate Prof Bainbridge's point. Which probably led most male readers to stamp their fists in agreement thinking, yes, we men are much less superficial than we're ever given credit for!
It is not Mrs Clooney's striking beauty, her luscious black hair or slim physique we find attractive. No, it is of her sterling work in the field of international human rights that makes us drool over her!
("What work would that be exactly?" a nagging voice then asks. "Er, something to do with WikiLeaks," we stammer. "Or possibly drones. Or was it Guantanamo Bay? No, wait, wait... She got Deirdre Barlow out of prison that time, didn't she? Are we even getting warm here?")
In truth, men are shallow creatures. Much more so than woman, I'd say. And we don't mind owning up to that. The comedian Jerry Seinfeld had a great routine about men and women's attitudes to each other's careers. "Women need to like the job of the guy they're with," he observed. "If they don't like the job, they don't like the guy."
"Men. on the other hand," he continued. "If we're physically attracted to a woman, we're not that concerned about anything else. Men will just go 'slaughterhouse? Really? Is that were you work? That sounds interesting. So what, ya got a big cleaver there? You're just lopping their heads off?'"
That routine appeared on the Seinfeld sitcom, in which the eponymous star played a notorious commitment-phobe, dating a string of mostly interchangeable, beautiful but forgettable women. And that made tremendous fodder for comedy.
But in real life, as in Seinfeld, an attractive partner, if they haven't much going on between their ears, isn't going to hold a person's attention for very long. I know this is the same for women when it comes to dim-but-attractive men.
Real relationships - enduring relationships - are based on a whole lot more than aesthetics. If a person, male or female, can find someone who has values and interests in common with them, and who can tolerate them in return, that's pretty much the sole necessity for a long-lasting union. So far, there's no great mystery about any of that.
Most of Prof Bainbridge's observations at Hay seem to be based on traditional evolutionary theories of human interpersonal attraction. This is the theory which contends that the traits men and women find most attractive in each other are based primarily on each other's perceived suitability for procreation.
Intelligence in a prospective partner is important for a man, he argues, because an intelligent woman is likely to make a responsible parent for his children. Good health in a woman is also important for a man, not just because it indicates she will be able to carry his child to term, but also because it suggests she was raised by intelligent parents, who fed her well and looked after her in childhood.
"Breast size doesn't matter," Prof Bainbridge believes. "Large breasts are more likely to be asymmetric and men are more attracted to symmetry. And they look older more quickly, and men value youth. And men are not looking for long legs. Straight legs are a sign of genetic health so that is something that is more attractive, but surveys have shown most men prefer regular length."
Academic reviews for Bainbridge's book have been mixed at best. And as for the rest of us? Well, my own personal instinct is to be sceptical about any scientific finding intended for mass market consumption - one week coffee causes cancer, the next week coffee cures cancer. As a layman, who knows?
Women could get out mirrors and spirit levels out and start measuring the symmetry of their boobs, and the straightness of our limbs, to see if they're up to scratch. Or they could take this man's word that beauty, real beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. The most attractive woman is one who is confident, self-assured and comfortable in her own body.
And you don't get that worrying unduly about what other people think.