In the 21st century, men and women have a multitude of options as far as what kind of relationship they choose to be in, such as casual sex relationships (i.e. short-term), long-term with marriage, long-term without marriage, and even polygamous. With all these options, it’s a wonder that people get together to begin with. But one reason could perhaps explain it; Charles Darwin’s theory of Sexual Selection that causes males and females to want to mate with one another (Buss & Barnes, 1986). In his book “Men, Love, and Sex,” author David Zinczenko states that it’s the man’s job to fulfill his biological role by reproducing (p. 57). Geary, Vigil, and Byrd-Craven agree that while men are mostly interested in reproducing, women, on the other hand, are more interested in the long-term parental investment and want to seek males that help support the parental role (2004).
Despite the various relationship types, marriage remains to be a “cross-cultural universal,” (Berscheid & Regan, 1997). According to Betzig (1989), Daly, and Wilson (1983), “…all known human societies endorse and practice some form of long-term mating arrangement…” Several theories help to explain what criteria people look for when choosing a potential mate and possible marriage partner, such as social context theories and evolutionary theories.
Social context theories mainly involve cultural, social, as well as historical backgrounds, while the second theoretical approach assumes that evolution, namely natural and sexual selection, play a major role in mate selection (Berscheid & Regan, 1997). The “social role theory” purposes that expectations are developed based on personal beliefs regarding sexually appropriate behavior and attributes (Eagley, 1987; Eagley & Karau, 1991). For example:
In Western cultures, the male role traditionally has centered on occupational and economic tasks, whereas the female role traditionally has focused on domestic tasks. Consequently, sex differences in social behavior are believed to be caused in part by the tendency of people to behave in a manner consistent with their sex roles. Applied to mating behavior, this principle suggests that, to the extent that people prefer others to behave in accordance with existing sex-role stereotypes, “male” characteristics, attributes, and concerns such as a high-paying job and assertiveness will be valued more by women than by men when considering and selecting a potential mate, and “female” characteristics, attributes, and concerns, such as nurturance and presenting an attractive appearance will be valued more by men than by women (Berscheid & Regan, 1997, p. 354).
The second theory of evolution proposes that human mating stems from past centuries that affected our hunter-gatherer forebears (Berscheid & Regan, 1997). Berscheid and Regan state that there are four types of attributes the human species considers when deciding on a mate: physical or genetic fitness, emotional fitness, relational fitness, and social fitness (1997). It is said that our ancestors who selected mates with these characteristics enjoyed greater reproductive success than those who chose other mate selection preferences (Berscheid & Regan, 1997).
So what do these theories boil down to when it comes to selecting a romantic partner? Numerous studies and experiments have been conducted to gauge just that. In 1989, psychologist Susan Sprecher conducted an experimental study presenting highly attractive or unattractive targets, who had a high or low income potential, and who had a high or low expressiveness. While deciding on what target the participants would choose for a dating partner, both the men and women overwhelmingly chose the physically attractive target. Sprecher stated that the women participants, however, reported being more influenced by the male targets income potential (1989). The results were publicized and not confidential, therefore, according to Berscheid and Regan, “could yield less insight into mating dynamics than studies that utilize data from…behavior observation of mate choice” (p. 356).
While many studies rank physical attractiveness high on the list when selecting a mate, how do humans judge attractiveness? According to Simmons, Rhodes, Peters, and Koehler (2004), who provided the first detailed asymmetry study in human faces, “humans find symmetrical faces more attractive than asymmetrical faces.” The results of this study exposed that perceived symmetry was positively correlated to both male and female attractiveness, however, measured symmetry was “only related to attractiveness in male faces.” To note, perceived symmetry and asymmetry can influence what we find attractive, and depending on gender, what is physically attractive to one person may not be to another.