Dr. Val FarmerDr.Val
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

What Men, Women Look For In Dating And Mating

April 21, 2003

What do we know about human love and sex? How do men and women differ in their sexual and mating choices?

University of Michigan psychologist David M. Buss explains the enduring and intricate logic of mating. He found that males and females have different standards for selecting long term mates as opposed to coupling for casual sex.

Long-term mating. "Parental investment" is the underlying mechanism in long-term mating. Potential mates are judged on how good a father or mother he or she will be and what kind of children will come from the union. This is a largely unconscious process.

In his book, "The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating," Buss explains how mates and females differ in two areas. Males select "youth and beauty" as a signal that their future spouse can bear children. Females select males for their potential - ambition, industriousness, goal oriented - to acquire status and resources.

Qualities both genders like. Both sexes look for similar qualities in long term mates. Men and women look for signs of future commitment and fidelity. Virtues such as cooperation, kindness, generosity, intelligence, honesty, sincerity, openness and the ability to communicate show what kind of partner and parent their prospective mate might be.

Both sexes select each other on the basis of shared values and beliefs. Compatible couples work and cooperate for common goals. Shared values about money, parenting, sex and religion minimize conflict in their relationship.

What women like and don’t like. Women choose males who are dependable, emotionally stable, flexible, resilient and agreeable. Emotionally unstable men tend to be self-centered and monopolize shared resources.

Emotionally unstable men can be possessive and controlling. They have higher than average jealousy. They want to be taken care of. They can be verbally abusive. They often are inconsiderate, moody and more likely to be unfaithful.

Women are put off by poor problem solvers, complainers, excessive worriers, or men who break down or who are inconsiderate under adverse circumstances.

Men’s preferences. It may be something of a stretch to connect male fascination with female beauty with parental investment and reproductive advantage - but Buss tries to make the case through his research. The main qualities males like are charm, independence, loyalty, a sense of humor, sociability, responsibility and spontaneity.

Males and casual dating. For casual dating and sex, males relax their standards more than women. Males are turned off by a low sex drive, physical unattractiveness, a need for commitment and hairiness. Promiscuity and indiscriminate sexuality are abhorred in a potential wife but are neutral or mildly desirable in a temporary sex partner.

Males have a desire for sexual variety and more sex partners than females. Male sexual fantasies center on sheer lust and sexual gratification while female fantasies typically focus on someone with whom they are romantically and sexually involved.

Females and casual dating. Females prefer short-term lovers who are generous, have an extravagant lifestyle and spend a lot of money on them. These attributes are only mildly desirable in husbands. In casual relationships, women are turned off by abuse, excessive drinking, ignorance, possessiveness, promiscuity, selfishness, lack of humor and a lack of sensuality.

Women also use casual sex to evaluate possible marriage partners. Some females may use short-term casual sex as a back door attempt to get into a long-term relationship.

No matter whether dating is with a temporary partner or a potential long-term mate, women like a man who is kind, romantic, understanding, exciting, stable, humorous and generous with his resources.

Culture and technology disrupt long-term mating. Buss feels that modem media have impaired the willingness of males to commit themselves to a monogamous relationship because of the saturation of attractive female visual images.

In every decade since 1930, physical appearance has gone up in importance for men and women equally. This coincides with the rise in television, fashion magazines, billboards, advertising and movies. Research has shown viewing images of highly attractive females lowers male commitment and satisfaction with their existing romantic partners.

Other distortions in male/female mating come from congregating large numbers of available partners in cities. Geographic mobility lowers the restrictions that come from parental and community influence. With the arrival of birth control, there is less concern for out-of-wedlock births. A woman's reputation also is protected from damage through the anonymity of the city.

The logic of short term dating and serious courtship are contradictory. The motivations and widespread availability of casual sex contradict the standards and goals of long-term mating. Males who indulge in casual sex impair their ability to make commitments. They are also more likely to be unfaithful after marriage.

Females who engage in casual sex impair their desirability as potential mates if they develop a reputation of promiscuity.

In dating, goals make a difference. But goals can change. No wonder men and women are having a hard time connecting.