Stanford professors Daniel McFarland and Dan Jurafsky published “Making the Connection: Bonding in Courtship Situations”, a study on how people develop initial romantic bonds, or “click”, in May’s American Journal of Sociology. The series “In the Beginning” elaborates the study’s findings.
I know a grand total of zero of the women on my celebrity crush list. Okay, I connected with the personalities of some of the characters they portray. I’m drawn to the quiet assertiveness of Kate Beckinsale’s portrayal of monster slayers in Van Helsing and the Underworld series. I find Zooey Deschanel’s mixture of awkward and confident in New Girl and Elf endearing, comforting, and attractive. Eva Green combines serious, flirtatious, and a hint of bad ass in her role as the original Bond girl in Casino Royale (and I’m crazy excited to see this magnified in the new 300 and Sin City films).
But let’s be honest. Eva Green’s piercing blue/green eyes, Zooey Deschanel’s charming smile, and Kate Beckinsale’s, well, good grief she’s beautiful…ness are the reasons these women are on my celebrity crush list. They could be awful, selfish individuals in real life, but if I were dating again (and I happened to be rich and famous), I’d be willing to risk discovering those traits simply because they are gorgeous.
McFarland and Jurafsky began their study on clicking by asking the question: Does interaction matter?
After all, Western societies coined the phrase “Love at first sight“. Romeo states: “Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight/For I ne’er saw true beauty until this night,” when he first lays eyes on Juliet. The Beatles sing, “Would you believe in love at first sight? Yes, I’m certain that it happens all the time,” in “With a Little Help from My Friends”. Numerous industries–fashion, film, advertising–strive for success by linking beauty and vision, hoping that the presentation of physical beauty leads customers to desire the marketed product by way of desiring the physical attractiveness of the stunning model’s face/body. Americans spent $8 billion in cosmetics, $10.4 billion in cosmetic surgery, and $2.6 billion in gym memberships in 2012 in a nationwide attempt to seek beauty, to create images that may be attractive to other people. In worst case scenarios, social psychologists link the advent of eating disorders with the excessive emphasis on visual media and the inability of many to meet the “ideal” physical image.
McFarland and Jurafsky determine that interaction does matter in ways that will be discussed later in the series, but physical traits affect clicking just as much. Women found taller speed daters more attractive than the shorter ones. Men chose women with lower than average body mass indexes (BMIs). Clicking appears to start with physical attractiveness.
McFarland and Jurafsky also evaluated how clicking works for those deemed “physically attractive”. Men who met the desired physical stature (tall, dark and handsome) reported more connection with other women than men who didn’t. Women in general reported clicking less than men; the Stanford professors note that women are more careful and methodical in creating romantic connections via speed dating. Interestingly, women who met the desired physical stature reported the least amount of connection. This seems to connect with evolutionary theories, which state that those with the highest physical status can afford be the choosiest when selecting mates. I’d be interested to discover how this is true for women but not for men.
Commitment, the daily choosing of one individual because/in spite of a compilation of interactions, contrasts the theory of “love at first sight”. Throughout this blog, I want to write articles that debunk dominant societal discourses about physical attraction, gender, and sexuality. But we start our conversation about relationships with an unavoidable truth: physical beauty matters.