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Thursday, June 11, 2009

mars and venus and all that

Questions by my "single and looking" clients that leave me most bewildered go something like this:

"He gave me his phone number. What do you think he meant by that?"

Or,

"Do you think that means she wants to go out with me.... or not?"

According to the old school rules of dating, women are supposed to play hard to get and men are supposed to ask a woman straight out, right? And that mars and venus guy? Even he tells us we're looking for different things in a relationship.


Does any of this conventional "wisdom" hold true?

Wisdom, by the way, is codeword for advice given by people who have lived a whole lot longer than you but really have no clue how the dating game is played, either.

But thanks to a couple of dating studies summed up by the good people at BPS Research Digest we don't have to rely on antiquated advice. And we may now be able to say that we are finally beginning to meet up on the same planet.

In 2006 researchers studied what types of come-on lines women see as most effective when a man is trying to show he is interested.

Women, according to this study, are positively swayed when men demonstrate their helpfulness, generosity, athleticism (really? this works?), "culture" and wealth (again with the really?). They are unimpressed by jokes, empty compliments and sexual references.

And how about the guys? What works for them? A 2009 study found that men are most convinced when women use straightforward forms of communicating compared to more subtle lines. So the direct, "Let's go out sometime," is seen as more effective than the indirect, "Is that an iPhone in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?"

And here's where the common planet comes in. Neither men nor women find sexual humor and innuendo to be all that helpful in figuring out whether to expect a follow up phone call. Or text. Or email. Or Facebook friend request. Let alone a date for Saturday night.

So according to the latest in dating research, if you are really interested in a particular someone you are chatting up, here's some potential applied advice.

Women, you might say something like this:

"Want to go out sometime?"

And men, you would say something like this:

"Thanks to my speed and strong throwing arm (athleticism), I caught a little old lady (helpfulness) who stumbled in my Buddhist meditation class (culture). She was so appreciative that I offered her a ride home in my Porsche (wealth) and donated a sizeable chunk to her charity fundraiser (generosity)."

And then you would suggest a night on the town.

Actually, I added that last piece of wisdom. Because it kind of seals the deal, doesn't it?

If you want to read these studies for yourself, in their entirety, you can either go to your nearest university library and look for the journal called Personality and Individual Differences, or, click on the links below and pay $31.50 each to purchase the studies online. You can also read a more in depth explanation here at PsyBlog.


Bale, Christopher, Morrison, R., & Caryl, P. G. (2006). Chat-up lines as male sexual displays. Personality and Individual Differences, 40(4), 655-664.

Wade, Joel T., Butrie, L., & Hoffman, K. (2009). Women’s direct opening lines are perceived as most effective. Personality and Individual Differences, 47 (2), 145-149.


Image source: Oil on canvas by Illingworth, 1971, found here.

3 comments:

  1. Sandy, you are a gem! This really brightened up my day. Those guy lines were quite depressing (if jokey) though. Do women really go for that? And then I was thinking about what works for me. Too embarassed to admit here but partly it's pretty basic and you're right about the direct part. Which reminds me of that classic line from Will Ferrell - "I want you" in that movie which might be called 'Stranger than Fiction'.

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  2. My personal opinion is that women prefer the direct approach, too. I didn't get a chance to scrutinize the entire study (relating to what men prefer) but it was set up by researchers with an evolutionary bent (psycho-biological, maybe it is called?). So my sense is that the cues were generated with that particular theory in mind.

    I do think it makes sense that women would be impressed by generosity and helpfulness. And I recall studies and pop psych anecdotes showing that women prefer men with bigger wallets.

    But where is the humor? It could be that the researchers slected lame jokes, rather than say, edgy or dry humor? I really should read the full study before commenting (ahem).

    Thanks for your comment, however, Pete.

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  3. There was some interesting research on body image and attractiveness (Male--> Female, Female--> Male) that found men and women incorrectly predict what the other sex is looking for in regard to body type. The study found that men generally over-estimated female's preference for muscularity and v-shape (shoulder/torso ratio), and women over-estimated the men's preference for more slender women.

    I have the study still packed away in one of my boxes, but I can look it up if you are interested.

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