April 21, 2006

Never make a pretty woman your wife?

Over at GNXP, there's an informal thread in the comments to posts about females & feminism (here and here). The basic idea is that you can use evo psych to your advantage if you want a date. For example, focus your efforts on females who are shorter, younger, and of lower status than you: you're more likely to appear a good catch. Also, rather than attempt to show how high status you are via bragging, have guy friends -- or better yet, attractive female friends -- approach and congratulate you on something, even if bogus (e.g., "Ha, this guy puts the rest of us to shame at work!"). Praise from others is harder to fake, so she'll eat that up more easily than if you had bragged yourself.

There's also another thread on "tracking" -- as in, separating students into ability groups. The motivation was Judith Rich Harris' new book No Two Alike (which I reviewed here and here, where the tracking thread is). Basically, she shows how personality can be shaped into adolescence, based on what others think of you and then adjusting your personality in light of that information. For example, if you inspected the minds of your peers and found out that, on average, they regard you as a wimp, it doesn't pay to be aggressive and cocky in the competition for status, so dial down your physical aggressiveness and search for a niche less dependent on physical intimidation.

Now, how do these two relate? Well, as designated "sensitive guy" at GNXP (source: GC), it's my responsibility to show how you don't have to use a Machiavellian approach to getting the girls you want. Don't get me wrong: the approach seems to work, and pieces of it are necessary no matter what your overall strategy (e.g., do things that boost your confidence, which is a huge factor in winning over girls). Let's say you're not that great of a catch among your peers, and yet you'd still like to win over a pretty, pleasant girl. Say you're a 6 on a good day, and the girl you're after is an 8. Since humans tend to mate assortatively (the male 9s match up w/ the female 9s, etc.), it's unlikely she'll have even a remote interest in you.

But what if, even though objectively an 8, she regarded herself as only a 6 or 6.5? Then it wouldn't be an exercise in futility to approach her. However, the hard part is finding good catches who don't realize they're good catches. But if we recall Harris' comparison-based view of personality changes, then it's possible -- you just have to look where the population average is higher than in your native population. Consider a military boarding school's effect on the guys there -- even if you're an aggressive badass, so are all your peers. Thus, when you inspect their minds to see what the average peer thinks of you, you'll get a much wimpier self-image than if you surveyed the general population at random. You'd be put in your place.

Returning to looks, all you do is sample a population where the girls are much better looking -- that way, an 8 from your p-o-v might only be a 6 or 6.5 from her p-o-v, and assuming she was raised there through adolescence, her self-image as a 6 - 6.5 will be as stable as any other personality trait. Simplifying for concreteness, assume your score from 1 - 10 is what decile you're in for the population you were raised in through adolescence (e.g., if you were at the 53rd percentile in your native pop, you'd be a 6). Also assume "good looks" is distributed normally. Let's say there's another population where the mean is 1 standard deviation above your native mean. So a girl 1 SD above your native mean, if she came of age in your population, would be at about the 84th percentile, meaning she'd be a 9. By contrast, the same cutoff in the better-looking foreign population would be the 50th percentile, meaning she'd be a 6! Assuming she grew up in your group, on average she'd think she was the bee's knees and behave like a raging snob w.r.t. dating; if she grew up in the foreign group, she'd be humble, even if not desperate.

Now, I gave a marked difference -- 1 SD -- in the means, but note that this isn't unheard of for desirable male traits like height (compare the Vietnamese with the Japanese, let alone the Swedes) or IQ / education (compare the African-Americans to European-Americans, let alone the Ashkenazi Jews). Sure, "good looks" may be more slippery to get one's quantitative hands on, but it's not ineffable. Just poll the world's populations to see how attractive a particular group is on average. As an aside, this also works for XXs who want a tall or smart guy who's also not cocky -- cockiness is predicted by how tall / smart he was in adolescence (see Harris' book for discussion), so if he were 6' tall and grew up in the Netherlands, he wouldn't regard himself as anything special, and thus he'd be more accepting of you even if you're not particularly hot. Ditto for people who have IQ of 115 from various populations.

Nice theory, but does it have any basis in reality? Well, as readers of my many posts on the differences between Spanish & American girls will anticipate: yes (see here, here, here, and here). Anyone who's spent more than a mere day in a foreign country can't help but notice these differences -- if the country you're visiting is hotter, you're struck by how nonchalant and approachable the girls are who you'd consider 8s or 9s; whereas if the country is uglier, you're struck by how perplexingly deluded the girls are who you'd consider 4s or 5s (or for those who don't travel, think of the questionably "pretty" girl in a group of geeks who acts like she's hot stuff). And if you knew of any international students at your college / graduate school, you couldn't help but notice these differences. Ah, and then there are the celebrities -- how crude and how unjustifiably large the egos of our typical Hollywood actresses compared to those from Spain, Italy, or France! (Click links for visuals: safe for work.)

So, that's my non-Machiavellian evo psych solution for the guys (or girls): stick with those who were raised in a country w/ higher average good looks (or height). Note that this doesn't backfire, as guys & girls aren't identical. Though my Spanish male competition is better-looking on average than here, they're also shorter and not as high-status. Likewise, if you're a girl looking for that typical 6' tall Dutch guy, your Dutch female competition is taller than here, but guys don't care about height, so don't worry.


In fact, as pathetic as my dating luck was in college, the two girls who accepted date invitations from me were international students: a (white) Ecuadorian and a Bulgarian. The latter ended up cancelling, as she didn't realize I was much shorter than she was (and I hadn't noticed she was that freaking tall), but still, at least I got my foot in the door. We later worked at the same place on campus and became friends; she was very easy-going and cool. And the Ecuadorian girl, despite being an easy 9 by American standards, was so unassuming and cultured that I was taken quite aback. (Aside: no financial aid given to intl students where I went, thus they were fantastically rich as well, making their conduct even more surprising to me.) We really hit it off (and only stopped talking when the coffee house closed up), but in more of a "potential best friends way," so it didn't go anywhere. Still, that sole encounter with an other-worldly incarnation of beauty and nonchalance was much more than anyone of my status could have asked for. I noticed later on that she'd found a boyfriend -- only slightly on the tall & good-looking side, and otherwise not high-status, rich, or popular. So, her easy-going attitude was a rather stable trait. On the one hand, I'd hoped that she'd choose a tall, rich prick so that it'd be easier to dismiss her and get on with my search -- but on the other hand, though it made it more difficult to get over her, it also opened my eyes to an unexplored world of attractive yet cool girls.

After graduating, I went to Barcelona for three months, and two hot Catalan girls made their, um, intentions known. One I had to decline, since she was a student (she 21 and I 23, nothing sketchy). The other I decided to play it slow with, lest I come off as desperate. Unfortunately, she mistook that for lack of interest and left to hit on some other guy. I mention this not to brag (hardly brag-worthy), but to show how sudden the changes in female attention can be when you sample different populations.


  1. Now this is useful advice. It's counterintuitive, too, but on reflection it rings true with my experience -- four times in my life I've been in a situation where I liked a girl but assumed her to be "out of my league", then later found out that she was attracted to me too. I know for a fact that at least two of them significantly underrated their own physical appearance (which probably did have a lot to do with their social milieu), and the other two showed no signs of being snobby or especially aware of how good-looking they were.

    The harder problem (for me at least) is with extracting signal from noise, as in your example of slowplay being misconstrued for lack of interest. With two of the aforementioned four, I had no clue that they were interested until other people told me. I'm sure this has happened several other times without the benefit of third-party informers -- my ex g/f accused me a couple of times of passively letting other women flirt with me, which was a surprise to me because it simply hadn't occurred to me that that's what they were doing. On the other side, I'm sure most of us have had a couple of times where we've mistakenly believed someone to be more interested than they actually were.

  2. On the other side, I'm sure most of us have had a couple of times where we've mistakenly believed someone to be more interested than they actually were.

    The curse of an overactive pattern recognizer.

  3. yeah but what if i just wanna get laid?

  4. What strategy would you recommend for someone who's nearly indifferent between physical 10s and 5s (though sub-5 is unacceptable), instead prioritizing intelligence? In my experience the competition for very smart 5s is actually significant; I'm wondering if I'm simply not looking in the right places, or if no magic strategy exists.

  5. Anonymous,

    If you're really looking for intelligence rather than looks there are several avenues open to you. First, I'd suggest deciding what kind and amount of intelligence are you looking for---are you looking for a math/science geek woman, a woman say 2 SD above the mean with a balanced mental portfolio, or a woman who is in the 1 in 1000 or 1 in 10000 mental leagues?
    The women you want definitely do exist (I'm marrying one next month), but you have to find them in an environment where they're not romantically overvalued (its probably going to be difficult if they're, for instance, engineering undergrad students, but not necessarily so if they're degreed professionals working as engineers (the romantic marketplace is a lot less efficient after you finish college, something that you can make work for you). Here are some hints that might help you in your search:

    If you're religious, you can work this angle pretty well---there are a LOT more women than men in most denominations of most religions (about the only exceptions are really small churches that are highly orthodox and Moslems).
    In a lot of marketplaces, eharmony works pretty well also--typically the male-female ratios are pretty good (think of all the touchy-feely stuff in their ads that probably makes your skin crawl as a male, women statistically eat that stuff up---most of the women I dated through them had a lot less matches than I did).
    Best of luck to you

  6. The problem with that strategy wrt finding a long-term mate using this strategy is that she will eventually adapt to the values of your social circle and if in reality you aren't that great a catch this may lead to feelings of regret and tension as she compares you adversely to those around you.

    Much better to become a 10 yourself. Looks are much less important than you think (and one has a good deal of influence over presentation, physique, posture etc). Confidence can be developed later in life although the process of transformation can be demanding and painful.


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