Girl meets boy, boy meets boy, girl meets girl, soul meets soul—it’s that simple, right? Well, not exactly. Dozens of factors affect attraction, and while we’d love to believe that we choose our romantic partners discerningly, research shows that certain superficial factors play a much bigger role than others. If you’re finding yourself having trouble meeting people or you’re striking out over and over on your dates, you may be unintentionally sending out a vibe that’s actually making you appear less attractive. That’s the bad news; the good news is that by understanding how attraction works, you can improve your chances of impressing that special someone. Here are a few of the surprising things that make you less attractive to others, according to the experts. Remember, take this advice with a grain of salt—these statistics don’t apply to absolutely everyone (that’s why they’re, uh, statistics), but they’re still fascinating.
1. Bad Grammar
Yup, that’s right. A bad grasp of the English language—or maybe whatever language you’re using to woo a potential mate—can be a turn-off to a romantic interest, especially if you’re active in the online dating arena. One study found that the majority of men and women admitted that they reject online suitors solely because of bad grammar and misspellings in their dating profiles. Seventy-five percent of a whopping 9,000 online daters polled in the study also said that they would most definitely reject a suitor who failed to pass a fifth-grade spelling bee. (For the record, my oldest is in fourth grade, and I’m willing to testify that some of those spelling words are harder than you would think…) So what exactly is it about bad grammar that turns people off? Apparently, aside from the fact that it shows a lack of education, bad grammar and things like lazy spelling and a lack of punctuation (yes, for real, periods are a big deal) signify a lack of interest. After all, if you’re not committed enough to close out the sentences in your dating profile or Tinder text with periods, are you really committed enough to have an adult relationship? You don’t have to write like Shakespeare, but if you’re trying to impress, brush up on basic grammar before you start swiping right.
2. Your Youthful Looks
While you may think that appearing youthful is an advantage in the dating world, it turns out that isn’t always the case. One study found that when individuals are born to parents who are over the age of 30, they are less likely to be attracted to people with “young faces” and tend to be more attracted to potential partners whose faces show signs of aging. To put that another way, a distinguished look trumps youth (at least in this case). The preference for older faces may win out as the population becomes more saturated with people born to so-called older parents. For the first time ever, more women in their thirties are having babies than their 20-something counterparts are. You do the math.
3. The Shirt on Your Back
That’s right, folks. If you’re a man looking to attract a woman, you may want to consider donning a red shirt. This study shows that women perceive men in red as more powerful and attractive, and those are two important characteristics when choosing a mate. This apparently only applies to heterosexual couples, but it seems effective across cultures. As the studies’ authors write, “people … link red to love and passion, and red often appears as a symbol of eros, lust, and fertility in ancient mythology, folklore, and ritual.” In the experiment, researchers showed participants a photo of a “moderately attractive man” (we’re guessing Vince Vaughn) for a period of five seconds. The color of the man’s shirt was digitally manipulated; some participants saw the man in a red shirt, while others saw a white or blue shirt. The red-shirted man consistently scored higher than his other-shirted counterpart—but his shirt color was the only thing that changed. Interestingly, the effect didn’t work when the genders were flipped; men slightly preferred the female models in white shirts over any of the other colors.
It seems everyone wants a natural look, but is that backed up by any sort of science? The video below explains the findings of two studies regarding the makeup looks men find attractive. Spoiler alert: Less is more.
5. Your Appetite
One study found that hungry men perceived women with higher body weights as being more attractive. Once those men had something to eat and no longer reported being hungry, they no longer reported finding those same women quite as attractive. I’m not sure what lesson to take away from this fact, however, as I’m a big advocate for 1) looking however you want to look and 2) not being hungry. But go ahead and book that dinner date—if you don’t feel a spark after you’ve cleaned your plate, maybe it’s this effect at work.
6. Your Table Manners
Speaking of hunger, watch what you do when you’re scarfing down food in front of a potential romantic interest. Sujeiry Gonzalez, 39, founder of Love Sujeiry and on-air reVolver Podcasts host, recounts a story of being completely grossed out by the man she was on a date with. “I was instantly turned off by a man I briefly dated (and was secretly in love with) after a revealing lunch date,” she confesses. “And by revealing, I mean he exposed the food in his mouth. The man I thought was ‘the one’ chewed like a horse, mouth all open and teeth exposed. Eek!” And we really, really, really shouldn’t have to say this, but phone etiquette is an important component of modern table manners. If you’re out to eat with someone, go ahead and put your phone away; if you keep glancing at the screen and typing messages, you’re sending the clear signal that you don’t find your date interesting. It’s important to look up every once in a while.
7. A Smidge of Stubble Versus a Boast-Worthy Beard
While both gay men and straight women prefer men whose faces appear more masculine, guys don’t have much control over whether they’re blessed with prominent brows and strong jawlines or not. What they do have control over: the type of facial hair they choose to sport. Studies have shown that heterosexual women prefer men with one very specific type of facial hair. Unfortunately, it’s not the mountain-man megabeard—and it’s not the clean-shaven look, either. One study of Australian women found that they all considered men with heavy stubble more attractive than men without facial hair or those with heavy facial hair. There’s a silver lining: If you’ve got a full beard, you’re more likely to be seen as more masculine and as a good parent. That’s not to say that you should rush to the bathroom and trim your powerful beard back to its patchy roots. The key, of course, is to maintain a nice, even amount of facial hair. If you prefer a full beard, go ahead and grow one; eventually, you’ll find someone who can appreciate the time and effort that goes into a truly massive beard.
8. Flashing a Smile (or Not)
In what winds up being a rather confusing study, men rated smiling women as more attractive, while women rated smiling men as less attractive. Women reported finding men more attractive when they displayed signs of “pride,” like a slight smile and a raised fist, instead of flashing their pearly whites. Regardless of these findings, keeping your teeth bright and white is never a bad idea.
9. Your Attitude
When it comes to dating, there is no such thing as “fake it ’til you make it,” says Gonzalez. “Whether you’re online dating or meet someone through a friend or at a bar, people can smell fakeness,” she explains. “The more you try, the more you’ll pretend to be someone you’re not and the more people will see right through your bluff. And, of course, when I advise others to be confident, I don’t mean to be arrogant and aloof. You must be open to finding love. You must be open to attracting a mate. Be confident in your skin and honest about who you are while smiling a dazzling smile and remaining positive and hopeful [about] the possibilities.”
10. Too Much Personality
Although it may seem like dating means putting your best foot (or face?) forward and showing off your assets, don’t discount the importance of humility. “The most attractive thing to me is humility, so when a guy I went on a first date years ago bragged about his six-figure salary and BMW, I threw up a little in my mouth,” admits Gonzalez. “Mr. Bravado, as I like to call him, truly believed that fancy cars and piles of money would woo me. Instead, I slurped my spaghetti with meat sauce … and hightailed [it out] the door.” Rachel Needle, a licensed psychologist at the Center for Marital and Sexual Health of South Florida, also believes in the power of humility. “Confidence is a trait that is often attractive [but] so is being humble,” she explains. “Appear confident but humble.”
11. Your Undiscovered Hobby
While physical features and even things that we aren’t really aware of—like our bodies’ pheromones—have a direct impact on how attractive we are to people, true attraction to another human is much more complex than grooming habits or skeletal structure. In fact, one study found that the single most attractive trait about an individual is actually their creativity. Test subjects were more likely to rate people portrayed as having creative pursuits and passions as attractive. The study also showed that was more true for women seeking men, meaning women found men depicted as creative significantly more attractive, whereas men did not necessarily rate creative women as more attractive. Either way, creativity and a passion for something other than yourself—or even your mate—is definitely sexy. “Oftentimes people are more attracted to those who are passionate about something,” Needle explains. “When people are excited and passionate about their interests, it can be attractive.”
Here’s what you need to know about yourself in order to share your true appeal with others.
Fortunately, there are ways that you can make yourself more attractive—and in some instances, they have nothing to do with your appearance. According to Gonzalez, two non-physical traits that instantly make someone more attractive are also two of the most surprising: humor and grammar (which we already touched on). That’s right, the ability to make your partner laugh will go a long way when the good looks fade. However, even humor is very individualized. “Some studies have found that women are more attracted to those who make them laugh,” Needle says. “But remember that sense of humor is also based on an individual. So what one person finds funny, another may not.” And when those inevitable fights happen down the line, your partner may be angry with you, but he or she might still find you irresistible if you use your semicolons properly or crack a perfectly timed joke. It’s the little things that count in a relationship, right? Perhaps most importantly, you should put your best self forward and have confidence when seeking a partner or romantic match, no matter what the scientific studies may tell you. “Be confident, says Gonzalez. “Whatever your momma gave you, be proud of it and work on it. We can all get plastic surgery to have the ‘perfect’ face and body, but then we’d be clones and seek out what’s different. Just because a study discovered that a woman with long hair or a man with great abs is most attractive, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t someone who isn’t going to love your bob or dad bod.” “If you’re confident in who you are inside and out, and what you contribute to a relationship, plus know you’re worthy of all that is good and loving, suitors will flock to you like bees to honey.”