Do guys really choose a mate based on looks? Do females really go for high status? Kevin Carty examines how men are influenced by their peers, and how we should all loosen up a little on our dating standards.
In the opening line of their second album, Craig Finn of The Hold Steady sings: “There are nights when I think Sal Paradise was right. ‘Boys and girls in America have such a sad time together.’” Sal Paradise, Jack Kerouac’s alter-ego in On the Road, was right in 1957, and he remains sadly right today. And his rightness, then and now, is intimately connected to a few of Finn’s last lines of the very same album: “Guys go for looks, girls go for status.”
As I see it, when evaluating prospective dates, most straight young men that I know are either driven by attractiveness to a certain woman, or they consider attractiveness to be a prerequisite, only dating women who pass a certain test of beauty. Guys go for looks.
And, I’ve always found it to be true that self-assured men, their confidence a seeming symbol of their own social standing, have more success with the straight women that I know. Girls go for status.
On the surface, this might seem to validate a long-held theory of the evolutionary psychology community, that men like women whose curves, well-colored cheeks, and youthful glow belie a certain fertility that they adaptively desire, and that women like men of status and resources who can provide for them and their children during the arduous years of pregnancy and early childhood. But, I don’t think that’s the case. “Guys go for looks, girls go for status,” may be descriptively true, but it is not so as a complete result of evolution. It’s a socialized tendency, one that only serves to underscore my belief in the need for real and moral change in the area of gender roles and relationships.
For example, in an authoritative study published in 2002, Wendy Wood and Alice Eagly demonstrated that women’s desire for a mate of status tends to decrease as the society in which they reside becomes more gender-egalitarian. In other words, status and its associated resources matter less and less as women are rightfully given the opportunity to provide for themselves and possess their own resource-rich status. In addition to the obvious moral obligation of equal job opportunity for women, I find this to be an amazingly positive development for us young men and our modern masculinity.
For every man who has ever wished he didn’t have to pay for each date, for every man who has resented his position as the pressured breadwinner and provider, this is progress. For every man who wants to be seen as more than a collection of clothes and cars and cash to show off and shell out, this is meaningful change. For every man who has spent time trying to learn and exude confidence, whether it be through pick-up-artistry, relentless exercise, or pressured social posturing, this is good forward movement. Not a single one of us men wants to be evaluated through the lens of our status or its symbolic signifiers. No, we want to be people, whole and valued, unique and textured; as gender equality slowly but surely marches its way across the world, women’s willingness to care less about our social status will help us realize this goal.
Furthermore, consider the other clause of the lyric. As I wrote above, many men consider attractiveness to be a prerequisite factor in their dating lives, evaluating women and only pursuing a relationship or hookup if they pass a certain bar or advance beyond some BS numerical test. The evolutionary psychologist spies this pattern and sees attractiveness as fertility-signaling, but, in my eyes, that’s just another naturalistic fallacy. As I will write dozens of times in my coming months at The Good Men Project, masculinity is a social construction, built with the brick and mortar of all-male groups. Most trends of masculinity, everything from our propensities toward shame and anger to our peer-group loyalty and solidarity, can trace their roots to the homosocial world of men hanging out with other men. Such is the case with the apparent fact: “Guys go for looks.”
Think of trophy wives. I doubt that the wealthy, powerful men of the world are dating young, stereotypically women to please themselves alone.
What about men who take prostitutes as dates to formal functions? I doubt that they are doing so for their own visual pleasure at the event.
Consider another example, one more relevant to the college-aged and young-adult masculinity that I, and some of you, are navigating right now. Do you act according to higher standards of attractiveness (flirting, asking for numbers, etc.) when you are among your male friends or your female friends? Or, would you exercise higher or lower standards if no one was to ever see your prospective partner?
Lastly, to share my own story, even though I have had countless female friends tell me the same, I still vividly remember the spring day when one of my male high school friends told me that my first girlfriend was “really cute.”
These instances are telling. We men, especially those of us living through the uncertain and often hyper-masculine world of college and early adulthood, are in a desperate, constant search for the validation of our male peers. And, the physical attractiveness of our partners, something most of us do “go for,” is a facet of that search. Not one of us should have our dating lives constrained by the shallow opinions of our peers. Not one of us should be so limited in such a meaningful area of life. Not one of us should be so unfree.
It is true: “Boys and girls in America have such a sad time together,” and it is equally true that “Guys for looks [and] girls go for status.” But of course, neither of these things is everlastingly the case. The gendered failings of hetero dating are not static, and the values of masculinity that hamstring our lives are thankfully dynamic.
– Photo Credit: emilyrachelhildebrand on Flickr