Why We Fall in Love
Three guys at a table are attending to a woman in a slinky knit dress. Her head
is tilted to the side and her hand reaches up to casually brush back her hair. She
is smiling and crosses her legs exposing a bit more thigh than she needs to. The
men are laughing and talking to her.
This is an example of how men and women get together. They flirt. Eyes catch
each other across a room and hold the gaze for seconds longer than normal.
They move a bit closer, and lean in angling their legs toward the other. She
laughs at his joke while she studies his face. They exchange phone numbers.
This is a normal interaction between a man and a woman who are attracted to
each other. People follow courtship patterns that are thousands, perhaps
millions, of years old
The patterns are based on men and women trying to find a healthy mate, one
who, not only will produce healthy children, but can be counted on to raise them
Men seem to be drawn to a waist to hip ratio with the waist being 60 to 70
percent smaller than the hips for over 20,000 years at least, and probably much
longer than that. This ratio is optimal for having strong, healthy children. One
man I know, while he admires his wife’s intelligence says, “I was first attracted to
her slim waist and rounded hips, and her ample rear end.”
Women, by contrast, gravitate to taller men who, in turn produce more babies
than shorter men.
While we are attracted to people, that desire may be rooted in our biology. Men
and Women both select mates based on the probability that that mate will allow
them to pass their genes on to the next generation. In the past men and women
did not have singles bars, the internet or matchmakers to connect with the
opposite sex. They used their senses, visual and other senses to make a good
selection. Men noticed that women had wider hips to help with child bearing,
healthy skin, sparkling eyes, all signs of good health. Women looked for other
signs that the male had strong genes perhaps in the area of strength of height.
Both men and women display “their plumage” much as birds do. Men will show
off, do something physically dazzling that the female can admire or simply
expand their chest area and suck in the waist, women will strut to show their
Adolescent boys with high testosterone levels tend to have strong chins when
they grow up. In biological terms a strong chin may indicate sexual potency.
Consider Tom Cruise, John Wayne, or Mel Gibson. Strong chins all. Now, think
of Woody Allen. No strong chin.
Testosterone also plays a part in muscle development. Ample muscle
development signals that this man has an evolutionary advantage. Research on
tall men indicated that tall men are more likely to have children than shorter men.
For women the relevant hormone is estrogen. Estrogen creates a woman’s
curves providing her with a trim waist, ample hips, indicators of health and
fertility. Also, when food was scarce the extra fat stored on the rear, hips and
thighs provided survival insurance, Today doctors recognize that the hip to waist
ratio is a good predictor of the ability to conceive.
Another indicator good health is symmetry, or having symmetrical faces and
bodies, hands, and wrists. An experiment in Mexico showed that women could
smell symmetry. At the time in their monthly cycle of greatest fertility, women
could detect, through smell, the shirts of men whose faces were more
symmetrical than other men. Men could not do the same.
So for mating women are attracted to testosterone enriched, symmetrical, tall
men, but they showed preferences for other types of men when it came to raising
a family. In Scotland women rated the faces of males who showed more
feminine features—bigger eyes, almost boyish features, smaller chins, etc., as
more attractive than other men, when they were not in the fertile part of their
cycle. These are the men who would be more likely to stick around and raise the
Men look for women with heart shaped faces, small jaws, big and wide eyes, a
neonate look as favorable choices for mates. Thus, neotany, or being childlike is
an advantage for women when men are looking for mates.
We also select our mates based on smell. Odorless chemicals known as
pheromones surround us. These chemicals strongly influence our sexual desire.
Scientists posit pheromones that attract us may be signaling a better genetic
match than those pheromones that turn us off. This is excellent for human
survival because researchers who study immune system genes, found women
we most attracted to the scent of men whose genes were most distinct from their
In 1998, Martha McClintock discovered similar pheromones in human beings.
One of these compounds lengthens the menstrual cycle while the other one
shortens it. Compounds like these may point to reasons why women can smell
symmetry and why certain physical scents can totally turn off, or turn on any type
of sexual desire.
Courtship is a complex series of asking for and receiving permission throughout
the process. One person indicates he or she is interested in the other. The other
either accepts the interest or rejects it. This happens repetitively during courtship.
People signal their interest by showing that they are harmless. A smile invites
someone closer again by indicating harmlessness. The shoulder shrug indicates
uncertainty, vulnerability. A titlted head is a gesture of openness and
receptivity. This one movement uses multiple muscles and nerve circuits that
can be traced back through millions of years back to our animal ancestors. It
indicates “I am harmless. I am not going to attack.” Holding the palms up,
exposing the wrist and other open gestures indicate the same thing. These
same signals appear in the legs and feet. An independent, aggressive type may
have his or her toes pointed outward. The person who is receptive, or
vulnerable, or of lower power, points the toes inward.
Of course human beings are complex and they are not totally prisoners of their
biology. Other things play a part such as early experiences, cultural attitudes
and so on.
Finally, we must realize that not all of us have picture perfect physiognomies, not
all of us have symmetrical features, not all of us (males especially) are tall. It is
possible to compensate for not having ideal looks. People can show they will be
caring partners for a lifelong journey; they can bring other things like intelligence,
humor and creativity to the relationships that may be ultimately more powerful
and more beneficial to the development of a romantic relationship than matching
the biological ideal perfectly.