Any man looking for a woman will want an answer to this question: How does attraction work? Is it really the mysterious, capricious force it often appears to be?
Clearly, the math of attraction is not as simple as advertisers would have us believe. In their world, X (the right clothes and cologne) + Y (the right car and career) = Z (guaranteed romance). Actual experience more closely resembles the exasperating equations of quantum physics — where X, Y and Z all seem to have a mind of their own — and may or may not even exist the moment you turn your back on them.
Carl Jung nailed it when he proposed that unconscious processes account for as much as 90 percent of our decision-making. In other words, most of the time what motivates our choices is beyond our conscious thinking and awareness. The good news is, it doesn’t have to remain that way. Scientists have begun to piece together the puzzle of what happens the moment you meet someone new and what trips the switch of electric attraction…or not.
Understanding why you are attracted to one woman and not another is worthwhile for two reasons. First, when searching for meaningful romance, wouldn’t it be nice to know exactly where the buttons are — in your potential partner and yourself — and how to push them? Second, if there are clues that predict you will probably never get the fuse lit on a particular relationship, wouldn’t you like to recognize them soon enough to save yourself unnecessary heartache? Can’t dating involve less alchemy and more science for a change?
Research suggests the answer is yes. It shouldn’t be a big surprise that much of the unseen action of attraction is tied to your senses, including these:
1. The Nose Knows. It is estimated that humans can distinguish about 10,000 scents, an astonishing number considering that our eyes can only differentiate 250-300 colors. Many of those smells trigger responses we aren’t aware of. For instance, in men and women, compounds called major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules play a vital role in our immune system, governing things like blood type and organ transplant compatibility. They are also thought to influence mate selection in a way that prevents too much genetic similarity in potential parents — a very good thing. That information is passed along via scents.
In one experiment, women were asked to smell T-shirts worn by men for two nights (without deodorant) and to pick the ones they “liked” most. By far, the women most often chose shirts worn by men whose MHC footprint was the least like their own, unknowingly filtering them for reproductive compatibility.
Such subliminal exchanges of information may explain why a single kiss can either cement the attraction between potential lovers or have the opposite effect. Your MHC molecules simply don’t lie.
2. The Eyes Have It. When meeting a woman for the first time — or considering someone you’ve known for a while in a new light — you are receiving and processing visual cues without your knowledge. One criterion under unconscious consideration is “facial symmetry.” Many studies have shown that we find people more attractive when one side of their face more closely mirrors the other. One possible reason: estrogen and testosterone may play a key role in facial development during adolescence, perhaps signaling genetic advantage.
In addition, the ratio of hip and waist size appears to trigger attraction in both men and women, possibly transmitting information about reproductive viability. Our innate sense of “beauty” may encode information about who is most likely to carry our genes forward.
3. Music to Our Ears. Experiments reveal that women find men with deep voice pitch more attractive, while men favor females with higher voices. Interestingly, the pitch of a woman’s voice varies throughout her monthly cycle, elevating during ovulation.
4. Memory Lane. It is common for attraction to be triggered by unconscious association with relationships long past, because we never fully recover from first love. Again, your senses are calling the shots — like when someone new wears the same perfume as your first girlfriend; when her laugh sounds just like a woman you once loved; when her hair color reminds you of the girl you had a crush on in sixth grade. Just be sure that present-day attraction has a foundation in the here and now as well.
If all of this makes you feel that the odds of finding lasting romance are worse than you thought, think again! The encouraging news in modern research is that biology is on your side, helping you find exactly the right mate for you.