- What do women really want?
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- New research may have determined what women want once and for all.
- The study from the menstrual cycle tracking app Clue, in collaboration with MyONE Condoms and researchers from the University of Göttingen, may have given us clarity on what women look for in a relationship.
- “Kindness” was the most important trait, with nearly 90% of women thinking it was a top priority.
- Attractiveness was important, but it came secondary to personality traits like “supportiveness” and “intelligence.”
- “This is the human brain unconsciously prioritizing what matters, and noticing physical ‘imperfections’ less,” said lead researcher Virginia J. Vitzthum. “Intrinsic goodness, and shared values, these are what drive real romance.”
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.
What do you look for in a partner? It seems like an easy question, but if you’re asked to break down exactly what it is that attracts you to someone else, you might struggle to put your finger on it.
There’s also the pressures of compromise and the paradox of choice waiting in the wings to keep you mentally adding up and subtracting what characteristics are really the most important to you.
New research from the menstrual cycle tracking app Clue, in collaboration with MyONE Condoms and researchers from the University of Göttingen, may have given us a bit more clarity on what women really want.
Researchers analyzed the answers from 68,000 people in 180 countries. Overall, they found personality comes out on top, with 88.9% of women considering “kindness” a very important trait in a partner. Close behind were “supportiveness” and “intelligence,” which were chosen by 86.5% and 72.3% of women, respectively.
Even though so much of our dating lives seem to depend on looking good for potential suitors, attractiveness traits came secondary to personality. For example, only 22.3% of women thought an “attractive body” was very important.
An attractive face, ambition, assertiveness, and financial security all came secondary to whether or not someone was kind and considerate.
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Virginia J. Vitzthum, senior scientist at the Kinsey Institute and Clue’s lead researcher on the project, said kindness is “like gravity” – “essential but little-noticed until it’s gone.”
“Given today’s emphasis on looks and wealth, it may surprise you that kindness is a top desirable trait across the world,” she said.
“But kindness is key to the human capacity for forming the long-term social bonds so essential to our evolution. Without those bonds, and kindness to help us get through the inevitable rough patches, we wouldn’t have survived and flourished.”
Read more: Dating apps give us too much choice, and it’s ruining our chances for finding love
Vitzthum told INSIDER that the findings about physical attractiveness could help improve people’s confidence when seeking out a new relationship.
“While it’s fun and nice to feel gorgeous and sexy (and there’s nothing wrong with that) the mistake is in thinking these are the most important things,” she said.
“When people realize that what matters to a romantic partner is who they are emotionally and intellectually … undoubtedly this will help them to be more confident about themselves as a person.”
She said it’s common to not particularly notice someone’s looks until you get to know them and you realize how thoughtful and caring they are. In these cases “we often end up seeing them as really attractive,” she said.
“This is the human brain unconsciously prioritizing what matters, and noticing physical ‘imperfections’ less,” she added.
The vast majority of people in the world get married, and that’s not because everyone is gorgeous, Vitzthum said. Rather, people look for partners that share similar values and aspirations about their life and future.
“Intrinsic goodness, and shared values, these are what drive real romance,” she said.
Read more: Meet the interabled YouTuber couples teaching viewers that people with disabilities need love, sex, and intimacy like anyone else
Both gay and straight women said an attractive smile and nice eyes were the most important physical features a partner can have.
Straight women chose an average-sized penis next (not a large one), followed by short hair, large hands, an attractive back, muscular arms, and facial hair. Gay women chose average breasts as the next important feature, followed by average buttocks, attractive back, and long hair.
Only 2.5% of women globally preferred a “very muscular” body type in a long-term partner, with “average” body-types being the most popular, with 44.8% of women choosing it. “Fit and athletic” body-types came in second place with 34.8% of the vote.
But whatever your body type or hand size, it’s important to remember there is a match out there for everyone. And it never hurts to flash a smile.
“In this era of unprecedented connectivity, we as a species have greater opportunity than ever before to meet others with whom we feel that uniquely human romantic connection,” said Clue’s CEO Ida Tin.
“This study … is wonderfully demonstrative of the diversity in people’s romantic tastes; as well as further proof that compassion and kindness is the great unifier.”
- You should know if they have the same values.
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- We’ve all been guilty of getting swept up in the whirlwind of romance.
- But there are several things you should know about your partner before you take the plunge and fully commit.
- Clare Stott, a relationship psychologist from dating app Badoo, told us the seven most important ones.
- Once you’ve ticked these all off, you’re good to go.
Navigating the dating world is difficult. So when you get the chance to commit to someone you genuinely like, you won’t want to let that go.
But how do you know if you’ve actually found the right person, or you’re just settling?
With so many dating apps, it can be easy to fall into the trap of the “paradox of choice,” where you reject someone amazing out of concern there’s someone else out there who’s even more perfect.
“The paradox of choice causes a lot of people to play the field early on,” relationship psychologist Claire Stott, who is a data analyst at dating app Badoo, told INSIDER. “But I think over a bit of time of dating, and experiencing a lot of different people, you really learn to realise what’s good and what’s not.”
If you need a bit of a helping hand, there are certain topics you should broach with your partner before you decide to stick with them long term. Settling down is a big commitment, and you don’t want to do it with someone who’s wrong for you, or who ends up breaking your heart. Or even worse, with someone who’s right for you, but the timing is off, so you both get hurt.
1. Firstly, ask them: what are they looking for?
- Your plans have to match.
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“You don’t need to ask if they want to go out with you straight away,” said Stott. “But you can say ‘Are you in the market for looking for something?’ or ‘What are you looking for?’ And this gives you an indicator of whether they’re looking for something a bit more than something lighthearted.”
They might be honest and tell you they’re not looking for anything serious – and that’s fine. But they might also say they are willing to settle for the right person, which gives you the indication you’re not wasting your time. It’s either that or finding out later on that you were one of seven other people they were hanging out with.
2. Are they content with life?
- It’s important to know.
It sounds quite deep for the start of a relationship, when everything is supposed to be fun and carefree. But Stott said it’s a good idea to find out if someone is happy with where they are in their life.
“Because being fairly content is a sign you are at least mentally ready to meet someone and have a relationship with another person,” she said. “And a lot of that comes from, it sounds really cheesy, but loving yourself before you can love someone else. And if you’re meeting someone who’s really upset with their life… it can be a bit of a warning sign they aren’t quite ready to open up their life to a relationship.”
You don’t have to be quite so direct about it. You can ask questions like “Are you happy in your job?” or “Do you feel at home in the city you live in?”
“You can ask these questions which signal whether that person is in a good place and whether you think they might be ready for a relationship,” Stott said.
3. Do they have any major future plans?
- You don’t want them disappearing on you.
4. What is their average Sunday like?
- You can tell a lot from this question.
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The way you spend your Sundays can be quite telling. Some people waste away the hours nursing a hangover, whereas others are more “get up and go” types.
“It sounds quite random but you can really get an idea of the person they are,” said Stott, who recommends asking this question early on. “Quite often it’s that proactive versus hungover personality. And although it seems unimportant, it does say a lot about the person… You kind of get a flavour of what that person’s about.”
5. How do they handle stressful situations?
- It’s a good indicator of what to expect.
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“The way someone deals with things that go wrong in their life can be a real indicator of how compatible you might be with them,” Stott said. “And there isn’t a right or wrong way they might be.”
For instance, some people retreat into themselves and need coaxing out by someone who is more in touch with their feelings. If two emotional hermits start dating, it might not be a totally healthy relationship that blossoms.
If you go through something stressful, see how the other person reacts. It doesn’t have to be anything big, but it can be a good gauge for how much help they will be during the tougher things life throws at you. If they are dismissive or don’t seem to care about your troubles, it could be a sign they’re afraid of intimacy, or can’t communicate very well.
“It is hard in the early days because usually everything is rosy and you’re both being your best selves,” said Stott. “But just keep it on the backburner to see if there are any indicators that they might not be compatible with you.”
6. Do they have the same values as you?
- Know your deal breakers.
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People all have their certain deal breakers. For example, some will not tolerate drug use. Others are intent on not having children. Although it’s hard to get into the big topics at the start of the relationship, you should find out if they have any values that are the total opposite of your own.
“There’s no use screwing yourself over in the long run basically,” said Stott. “People don’t broach it in the right way, [or] they think maybe I’ll change, and they don’t. Then it just becomes an issue later. There are some certain deal breakers that should be brought up early.”
7. What are their friends and family like?
- It’s good to get another opinion.
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People aren’t always a mirror image of their friends and family, but in general, you can tell a lot about a person from who they choose to hang out with, and where they came from.
“If you meet someone’s friends and you think they’re the worst people you’ve ever met, it might be a bit of a red flag of what you’re missing of the person,” Stott said. “Is there a side to them I haven’t quite seen yet?”
The same goes for them meeting your friends. While you’re wearing the rose-tinted glasses during the honeymoon period, it can be tempting to dismiss things that would bother you further down the line. Your friends won’t be so easily fooled.
- Sometimes you like who you like simply because of who they are.
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Attraction is an unintelligible thing. Sometimes there’s no telling what brings you close to one person over another, or what it was that made you realise you can’t stop thinking about them.
There are those who are conventionally good looking, but it’s actually very subjective whether you fancy someone or not. It can come down to a mixture of biological, psychological, and experience-based factors, and no two people are going to agree on what’s attractive and what isn’t.
Here are some of the most common reasons people are biologically drawn to each other.
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A study this year found women with certain scents are more attractive to men. It turns out they were most appealing when they had high oestrogen and low progesterone levels. This balance of hormones indicates high female fertility, the researchers explained, so it makes sense that men would find women more attractive while they are at this stage.
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What you eat could also have an impact on how attractive you are. A small study from 2017 found that women were more attracted to sweaty men who ate diets high in produce than men who had more refined carbs like pasta and bread. Essentially, the researchers concluded, when we eat healthy, we might smell healthy too.
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Being fertile doesn’t just make you smell attractive, but it can affect how you look too. One study from a few years ago found that men would rate women’s faces and voices as more attractive when their progesterone levels were low and oestrogen levels were high.
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Some research has suggested our hormonal balance might impact who we fancy. For instance, men with high levels of testosterone may be more attracted to women with more feminine faces, meaning big eyes, high eyebrows, and a smaller jaw. But higher levels of testosterone may not make men seem any better looking.
While testosterone and oestrogen are characterised as male and female respectively, they both play a role in men and women. Testosterone, for instance, increases libido in pretty much everyone.
5. More hormones
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Love is connected with several hormones that make us feel warm and fuzzy. Dopamine is the reward hormone that is released when we do something that makes you feel good, such as spending time with loved ones and having sex. Norepinephrine is also released during attraction, and the combination makes you feel giddy.
Attraction is also associated with higher levels of serotonin, the happy hormone. And physical contact – hugging as well as sexual contact – has been shown to increase oxytocin, the love hormone. So it makes sense that spending more time with someone, enjoying their company, and touching them more would make you feel more attracted to them.
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If someone is kind, it can make them seem more attractive, and can also make them more likeable. A study showed that putting positive character traits against someone’s photo meant people rated them as better looking.
Altruistic behaviour is also attractive, possibly because it was one of the qualities our ancestors favoured in a mate.
“The expansion of the human brain would have greatly increased the cost of raising children, so it would have been important for our ancestors to choose mates both willing and able to be good, long-term parents,” Tim Phillips, a psychiatrist at the University of Nottingham, told the Independent. “Displays of altruism could well have provided accurate clues to this, and so led to a link between human altruism and sexual selection.”
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One study found that women prefer men with low voices, especially just before they start ovulating. There could be something inherently biological in this, as deeper voices have been linked to producing healthier children, and in the wild, lower pitch is associated with being bigger.
According to another study, people who reported being more sexually experienced and sexually active were rated to have more attractive voices by strangers.
8. Being similar
Research points to us being attracted to people who are similar to us – both physically and in personality. For example, research from St Andrews showed we are attracted to the features that our parents had when we were born, such as eye colour. This could be because we see them as our first caregiver, and associate positive feelings with their features.
Research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that spouses tend to be more genetically similar than two individuals chosen at random. And an article published in Psychological Science found that if someone looks similar to ourselves, we are more likely to trust them.
9. Being different
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But sometimes, opposites do attract. For instance, if you’ve lived a sheltered life, you might gravitate towards people who have had extremely different experiences to you.
There may be some biological basis to opposites attracting, too. When it comes to reproduction, a bit of variety works in your favour. For instance, the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) is a part of the immune system that helps cells recognise foreign molecules. When the MHC is vastly different from your mate’s, this decreases the danger of mating with someone you’re related to, and increases the genetic variability of any offspring you have – meaning they’re more likely to be healthier with a better immune system.
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As people mature, they tend to learn more about themselves. This can work in your favour when looking for a partner, because you’re more likely to know what you want and what’s important to you.
“If you’re looking at people when they’re younger and dating, they might be attracted to the entire external package and not so concerned with the internal package, meaning somebody’s values or their ideas, or the way they treat other people,” counselor Michele Kerulis told Elite Daily. “When you start maturing, I think people look more at the overall picture and not just the way somebody looks or that initial sexual attraction.”
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People transfer about 80 million bacteria when they kiss each other, and yet they keep doing it. Not only does kissing stimulate the release of oxytocin, but the taste of another person also helps with biological attraction.
“Humans don’t have strong olfactory skills and kissing allows you to smell and taste a person and see if you have different immune responses as we tend to feel more attracted to someone with a different immune response,” Sarah Johns, an expert in human reproduction and evolutionary psychology at the University of Kent, told The Independent.
“The major histocompatibility complex is detectable in body odour, so by kissing and tasting someone it gives the opportunity to assess how similar or different that individual is to you biochemically.”
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When it comes to heterosexual relationships, several studies have pointed to health being a deciding factor in what people find attractive. It’s not necessarily about body shape and size – although low BMI is sometimes a reason, based on distorted social norms.
“In men, attractiveness was predicted positively by masculinity, symmetry, averageness, and negatively by adiposity” – being overweight or obsese – reports one study. “In women, attractiveness was predicted positively by femininity and negatively by adiposity.”
Generally, if someone looks healthy – they sleep enough, exercise, and eat well – this will probably show on the outside. And not just in the way they look, but in the way they behave, too.
13. Facial traits
There are certain facial characteristics that are proven to be attractive much of the time. Sometimes it’s facial symmetry, but other times it’s a crooked smile or unique beauty spot that makes someone stand out. Averageness and simple faces are often considered most attractive, possibly because standard faces represent a more diverse set of genes.
On the other hand, familiar faces tend to be most attractive, because people may be influenced more by their personal experiences in life than anything else.
Attraction is an incredibly complicated thing, and science probably won’t be able to determine all the reasons you find someone attractive, or vice versa. Often, what’s most important is your compatibility, and you’re unlikely to be able to quantify that. But there are a few questions you can ask yourself before settling down.