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Why We're Attracted to Assholes

The dream-date has gorgeous hair, beautiful eyes, and a breathtaking smile. But that same catch soon turns out to be selfish, unreliable, and unstable. Sound familiar? Read on to find out why men and women keep falling for jerks.
Why We're Attracted to Assholes
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Almost everyone has that ex they stayed with for too long, that one who never listened or could never commit, but still had some allure. Turns out biology might be to blame for our bad choices. Sex hormones, and even human evolution, may be the reasons why we date jerks [1] [2].

Dating Darwinism — Why It Matters

Photo by Jess Ivy

In general, men and women looking for short-term sexual partners prefer someone sexy to an average-looking Joe or Jane — even if the more attractive option lacks a stellar personality [3] [1]. It seems these dating preferences have a lot to do with biology: Even after the awkward adolescent years, hormones play a big role in choosing a romantic partner. In a recent study, women who were ovulating (meaning they were at their peak fertility) looked at fake online dating profiles of different men, and were much more likely to prefer confident studs over more average-looking guys. Women even wanted the hotties who were designed to seem unreliable, financially unstable, or commitment-phobic [1].

It seems that during this particular time of the month, women are sensitive to characteristics of men who’ll produce the strongest children [1]. Women often interpret a guy’s deep voice, chiseled jaw, and confident attitude as signs of good genes — and this finding holds true across many different cultures [3] [8]. On the other hand, some women may perceive modest men as weaker than more dominant men (and possibly as less capable fathers, though the research didn’t establish that conclusion).

As for guys who date selfish, unreliable, or emotionally immature women? The stereotype that men think with their reproductive parts may be a generalization, but it also hints at an answer. Some men say they’ve overlooked a woman’s negative qualities if they thought she was beautiful, especially if they were only pursuing a short-term sexual relationship [9] [10]. But the science of human attraction isn’t just about the hot or not game.

Beauty and the Butthead — The Answer/Debate

While some studies point to hormones as the main culprit in poor dating decisions, much about attraction remains unexplained [1]. For one thing, science suggests Adonises tend to be assholes. In other words, there’s some evidence that attractive people are more likely to be “jerks” (i.e. more aggressive and less empathic) in the first place, though it’s unclear exactly why. Secondly, many studies on this topic focus on men and women in their early twenties. So it’s possible that people are more likely to prefer a good-looking heartbreaker over a reliable mate because they’re just not that concerned about marriage and babies at this stage of life.

But while “jerks” might be good for a few dates or even the occasional tryst, research suggests they don’t typically make the cut as spouses. Some researchers have noted that men and women look for other attributes in a long-term partner besides physical attractiveness. They typically seek someone kind and intelligent, emotionally and financially stable, and in it for the long haul [12]. (These findings are relevant for heterosexual and same-sex couples.)

So how does all this apply to our current dating lives? For men and women, it may be worth telling those hormones to mind their own business and taking a second glance at the wallflower — he/she might have the sweetest personality ever! And dudes specifically, don’t fret if you’re the nice guy who always finishes last. Those who are looking to settle down will eventually appreciate you for the supportive, reliable, romantic-comedy-loving man you are [13]. In the meantime, you may want to work on your swagger.

Do you find yourself falling for the same jerks over and over again? Spill in the comments below!

Works Cited +

  1. Ovulation Leads Women to Perceive Sexy Cads as Good Dads. Durante, K.M., Griskevicius, V., Simpson, J.A., et al. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2012 May 14.
  2. Sex differences in short-term mate preferences and behavioral mimicry: a semi-naturalistic experiment. van Straaten, I., Engels, R.C, Finkenauer, C., et al. Behavioural Science Institute, Radboud University Nijmegen. Archives of Sexual Behavior 2008 Dec;37(6):902-11.
  3. Sex differences in short-term mate preferences and behavioral mimicry: a semi-naturalistic experiment. van Straaten, I., Engels, R.C, Finkenauer, C., et al. Behavioural Science Institute, Radboud University Nijmegen. Archives of Sexual Behavior 2008 Dec;37(6):902-11.
  4. Ovulation Leads Women to Perceive Sexy Cads as Good Dads. Durante, K.M., Griskevicius, V., Simpson, J.A., et al. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2012 May 14.
  5. Ovulation Leads Women to Perceive Sexy Cads as Good Dads. Durante, K.M., Griskevicius, V., Simpson, J.A., et al. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2012 May 14.
  6. Ovulation Leads Women to Perceive Sexy Cads as Good Dads. Durante, K.M., Griskevicius, V., Simpson, J.A., et al. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2012 May 14.
  7. Sex differences in short-term mate preferences and behavioral mimicry: a semi-naturalistic experiment. van Straaten, I., Engels, R.C, Finkenauer, C., et al. Behavioural Science Institute, Radboud University Nijmegen. Archives of Sexual Behavior 2008 Dec;37(6):902-11.
  8. Sex differences in sexual psychology produce sex-similar preferences for a short-term mate. Shackelford, T.K., Goetz, A.T., LaMunyon, C.W., et al. Department of Psychology, Florida Atlantic University. Archives of Sexual Behavior 2004 Aug;33(4):405-12.
  9. Sex differences in sexual psychology produce sex-similar preferences for a short-term mate. Shackelford, T.K., Goetz, A.T., LaMunyon, C.W., et al. Department of Psychology, Florida Atlantic University. Archives of Sexual Behavior 2004 Aug;33(4):405-12.
  10. Ovulation as a male mating prime: subtle signs of women's fertility influence men's mating cognition and behavior. Miller, S.L., Maner, J.K. Department of Psychology, Florida State University. Personality and Social Psychology 2011 Feb;100(2):295-308.
  11. Ovulation Leads Women to Perceive Sexy Cads as Good Dads. Durante, K.M., Griskevicius, V., Simpson, J.A., et al. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2012 May 14.
  12. Mate attraction, retention and expulsion. Miner, E.J., Shackelford, T.K. Florida Atlantic University, USA. Psicothema 2010 Feb;22(1):9-14.
  13. Mate attraction, retention and expulsion. Miner, E.J., Shackelford, T.K. Florida Atlantic University, USA. Psicothema 2010 Feb;22(1):9-14.

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