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Your heart races. You get sweatier. You keep swallowing, and it’s hard to focus on the words you’re stringing together to form a sentence because your head is buzzing with a concoction of feel-good chemicals.
Those initial waves of attraction can knock you off your feet. More often than not, the first powerful feelings you experience for someone you’re attracted to seem inexplicable and maybe even nonsensical.
Why do we latch on to some people the way we do and not others? Is it just some ineffable, spiritual connection?
The truth is, attraction isn’t random. Science can explain a lot of why we feel what we feel for a person who catches our eye.
As it turns out, even when he isn’t aware of it, a man often gets romantically involved with a woman he sees has certain qualities that are biologically coded to mean “healthy” and, by extension, “fertile.”
He may think he is simply on the hunt for his next date, but thanks to evolution, he is also subconsciously looking for a partner for his role in the survival of the human race.
This innate drive to recreate can explain these eight things men are hardwired to look for in a potential lover.
1. It’s in her hips.
Biology is often to blame for why we do many of the things we do. Check out the video below to find out why most men look at body shape when searching for a significant other.
One 2017 study found a correlation between the number of children a woman had and her waist-to-hip ratio (WHR). The study looked at nearly 1,000 women from seven non-industrial societies in Sub-Saharan Africa, Western Siberia, South America, and South Asia; of this group, the women who had borne more children had higher WHRs on average.
These findings suggested that this preference for a lower WHR—the sweet spot seems to be around 0.7—may be because it is a biological indicator that a woman has not borne many (if any) children, meaning she’s got, in theory, the best of her baby-making days ahead of her.
So, contrary to the popular notion that low WHR equals high fertility, and that this quality alone is what’s prized by dudes on a subconscious level, it seems to be that low WHR indicates a limited number of previous pregnancies. The study’s authors offer a number of explanations for why this would be appealing, including that men aren’t typically thrilled about parenting another man’s kid: “from an evolutionary point of view, a male investing in another man’s children is synonymous to a man supporting his opponent’s reproductive success.”
2. It’s all about symmetry.
Although you probably learned all about it in art class or geometry, men’s biology seems to be fixated on symmetry. Symmetry is the idea that—when divided in half—each side of an object, person, or image mirrors the other.
Of course, men aren’t simply attracted to any symmetry they see. (Unless they’re one of those 19th-century male nature writers who was aroused by plants.) We are all specifically wired to look for this characteristic in other human beings and use it as a subconscious tool for rating attractiveness, according to the journal Symmetry.
There are a few different theories about why this is the case. Some researchers think symmetry is believed to be an indication of overall health.
There are others who believe that because symmetrical images are easier to process visually, our brain is wired to show preference for this characteristic.
3. Let your hair down.
If you have ever suspected that men prefer women with longer hair, you were totally onto something.
The way a woman wears her hair does influence how the opposite sex sees her, according to a 2004 study in the journal Human Nature. This survey found that women with longer hair were rated by male participants as appearing healthier and more attractive.
Admittedly, hairstyle seems to have a very small influence on the attractiveness of women. In fact, if a woman was already viewed as attractive, her hair length didn’t really influence how men viewed her in a study by the Scandinavian Journal of Psychology.
It was women who were rated as plain who were deemed more attractive when shown with long hair.
4. Throw on some red lipstick.
Women have long painted their lips red or added blush to their cheeks to make themselves more appealing to men, but it wasn’t until 2008 that we started to see some published research on the effects of wearing red on human attraction.
As it turns out, showing a preference for the color red is a behavior exhibited in males throughout the animal kingdom, specifically primates. Homo sapiens, at least according to the findings in this landmark study, were simply following suit, being the animals that they are. (Looks like that charming “you and me baby ain’t nothing but mammals” song that your parents didn’t want you to listen to in middle school was onto something.)
This attraction to the color red appears to be linked to the female cycle, according to the journal Personality and Social Psychology. Researchers observed that female monkeys actually reddened while ovulating and their mates responded to that change.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Follow-up research using larger samples has challenged these findings—which honestly makes sense, because when something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Although it would be wonderful to be able to secure your future with a dreamy guy by throwing on a red dress before you “accidentally” run into him at the library again, this factor alone is unlikely to stir his feelings.
Several more recent studies, like this one published in the journal Social Psychology, closely replicated the 2008 experiment and found that “the red effect” wasn’t actually a thing. Sorry, ladies in red.
5. The Way You Smell
As bizarre as this may sound, men may be attracted to you because of the way you smell. Even though a lot of people know that pheromones are a hormone with a very specific scent, the science behind the attraction isn’t common knowledge.
Research has found that a woman’s cycle directly influences the pheromones she emits. Depending on where you are in your cycle, men may find you more attractive simply because of the smell of the pheromones you are giving off.
6. Bright and Healthy Eyes
When you ask any man what he finds attractive about a woman, it is almost expected for him to comment on her eyes.
There is a real reason we place so much emphasis on the eyes of people we’re attracted to, and it isn’t because the eyes are the window to the soul.
Men are more attracted to women with clear, bright eyes, according to The Harvard Brain. It isn’t necessarily about color, either. It is the overall brightness of the entire eye that matters. This is believed to be all about evolution since bright eyes are viewed as healthier, whereas dull or dry eyes are associated with aging.
7. Those Luscious Lips
As silly as it may sound, all those teenagers posting duckface selfies on social media might be onto something, since fuller lips are seen as an attractive trait on women.
We already know the color of a woman’s lips matters, but that isn’t the only thing that men are looking for in the mouths of a potential love interest.
One Manchester University study found that after meeting a new woman, men spend about half of the interaction looking at their lips. And when it came to the attractiveness of the women they met, men rated women with fuller lips as more attractive.
The science behind this attraction follows the theme we have been seeing so far—men are attracted to the appearance of health, and full lips are viewed as a physical characteristic of a healthy woman.
8. You sound good to me.
It isn’t all about the way you look. A man’s ears also play a role in determining just how attracted he is to a woman. Just like with males, females’ voices change as they age.
As their estrogen levels decrease, their tone lowers and deepens. Men are more attracted to women with a higher tone to their voice, according to Smithsonian Magazine. This preference is all about youth, because younger women tend to have higher-pitched voices, and the perception is that a younger woman is healthier (and likely more fertile, with a lower waist-to-hip ratio and fewer pregnancies under her belt).
Of course, men aren’t exclusively dumb animals. Don’t be too quick to assume that any of these physical traits will usher you into eternal romantic bliss or lock you into a life of miserable singledom.
The way you look, smell, and sound are just a few pieces of the puzzle. The rest of a relationship is just about a couple of bumbling human spirits trying to make sense of this strange world together.