I’m going to explain a major difference between men and women that will help men understand women and women understand men. It won’t explain everything, but it will help you understand the opposite sex better than most perspectives.
I’ll overstate the point for clarity. You have to figure out for yourself how much to dial it back. And keep in mind, I’m presenting a model. If it works for you, use it. If it doesn’t, you don’t have to. If you feel compelled to point out the model is wrong or missing data, review what I wrote about models — I probably agree with you, but that doesn’t mean the model doesn’t improve your life. You might as well point out that men aren’t from Mars and women aren’t from Venus (we’re all from Earth, last I checked). The question is, does the model help?
Anyway, some people will find my point totally obvious, some will think it’s incredibly insightful. Some will think I’m an idiot, others a genius. In other words — the usual.
People evaluate each other. Two major criteria by which we evaluate each other are behavior and appearance. We are attracted to attractive-looking people (that’s what attractive means). We are also attracted to people who behave attractively.
First I’ll state the point so it sounds obvious. When we evaluate women we value appearance over behavior. When we evaluate men we value behavior over appearance. As a result, what appearance means to women, behavior means to men.
women : men :: appearance : behavior
People usually get this point easily. The value comes in learning to translate between men’s and women’s perspectives. When you compare men and women you have to translate between their different perspectives based on these different values. Then you can understand the other sex in terms you understand.
Based on some comments I’ve already gotten, I’ll note I’m not saying men evaluate based on looks and women evaluate based on behavior. I’m saying everyone — men and women alike — tend to evaluate women based on looks more than behavior relative to how they evaluate men and everyone — men and women alike — tend to evaluate men based on behavior more than looks relative to how they evaluate women.
To clarify, I’m writing about how people are evaluated, not how they evaluate. This starting point leads to other differences, but I’ll start here for now. Anyway, maybe I could better write the analogy
women : men :: evaluated by appearance : evaluated by behavior
I’m not just writing about dating and attraction. I’m writing about work relationships, family relationship, etc. I drew several examples from dating, but not to highlight that area. I could have drawn from other areas too.
Of course men’s appearance and women’s behavior matter. I’m talking about relative comparisons, not absolute differences. It’s easy to point out the flaws in this post and point out how wrong I am. More subtle and useful is to see what you can get from it to improve your understanding and relationships.
Also note that I’m suggesting both sexes evaluate women more on appearance than men and both sexes evaluate men more on behavior than women. That is, I’m not saying one sex evaluates differently than they other — a subtle but important point.
Example 1: types
When men describe their types, they tend to describe attributes you can see — blonds, redheads, Asians, leggy, etc. Someone who wants to attract a man will do well to accentuate some part of their appearance. A man who isn’t attracted to butts still understands attraction of a man who is because he has something similar, only it’s to hair color or something like that.
Sometimes women will hear men’s descriptions of their types and say they don’t have a type because they don’t care about hair color or body type. They haven’t translated properly. To translate properly they have to convert descriptions of appearance to descriptions of behavior.
So what are the behavioral equivalents of body types and hair color?
When women describe their types, they tend to describe attributes related to behavior — men in uniform, leaders, musicians, stage performers, professors, etc. Someone who wants to attract a woman will do well to accentuate some part of their behavior. A woman who isn’t attracted to DJs still understands the attraction of a woman who is because she has something similar, only it’s to intelligence or something like that.
Women get that some men like legs and others like Hispanics, but they don’t go for body types or appearance as much so I don’t think they understand the appeal of appearance viscerally like other men do. Likewise, men get that women go for men in uniform or lead singers, but they don’t go for status like women do, so I don’t think they understand the appeal of behavior viscerally like other women do.
I take no position on whether what I’m describing is right, wrong, good, bad, nice, or cruel. Only that I observe it and it helps me understand a lot.
Example 2: attracting men versus attracting women
Women who want to attract men are rewarded by men for learning attractive behavior, but not nearly as much for learning to look good. Women learn to show health and beauty — they dress to show off their bodies, do their hair, put on make-up, hide wrinkles, and so on.
Men who want to attract women are rewarded by women for looking good, but not nearly as much as for learning to behave attractively. Men learn to show status and ability — they behave to display how important they are, they dress not to show off their bodies, but to show their status, they practice things to say, and so on.
A woman’s well-fitted dress is a man’s opening line. A man’s planning a night out on the town is a woman’s make-up.
If you want to sell something to a woman, convince her it will make her look younger. If you want to sell something to a man, convince him it will make others look up to him. Yes, men want to look younger and women want others to look up to them, but the sexes weight them differently.
Example 3: superstars
Consider Mick Jagger. He was desired by women for decades and probably still is. I don’t think many would say he looks beautiful, but his world-class status as the lead singer of one of the greatest rock and roll bands cements him as a superstar. Another man, ten times more attractive, but without his singing and performing talent wouldn’t never reach Mick Jagger’s status.
The world abounds with ugly male lead singers, lead guitarists, politicians, business leaders, and so on whom women perennially show attraction to. Are there examples of ugly women whose success brings them hordes of male suitors? I can’t think of many.
Consider the glamor model on a magazine cover. Having worked with glamor models, I’ll be the first to agree they have incredible talent to command a room. They also have beauty. Yet a woman without her body could develop ten times more talent, but never make a magazine cover.
The world abounds with professions where most of the women at the top are beautiful. Undoubtedly less attractive women have comparable or greater talent, but beautiful women succeed in greater numbers.
Example 4: what we tolerate in the other sex but not in our own
If a man and a woman meet for the first time, few women would tolerate learning that he doesn’t have a job and is living with his parents trying to figure things out for who knows how long. Many women would reject such a man, no matter how attractive.
Likewise, few men would tolerate learning that a woman had thirty extra pounds of fat with no plans to lose it, no matter how successful her career.
Yet many men would tolerate a woman living with her parents trying to figure things out if she was beautiful. Likewise many women would tolerate a man having thirty extra pounds of fat if other men looked up to and followed him.
A man and a woman can date for months without her ever planning a night out. But if he says “I don’t know, what do you want to do” enough times, she may well leave him. A man may not go to the gym the whole time but if she puts on a few pounds he may leave her.
What to do with this perspective
I wrote all this increase understanding. I think a lot of evolutionary psychology backs up what I casually wrote about. It goes without saying men and women differ and I’ve found this area to be one of those differences.
I suggest using the model to understand the other sex, or your own, where you wouldn’t before. Hopefully you’ll find some applications obvious. This post is getting long, so I’ll follow up with more applications in a future post.
By the way, though I wrote this post from a heterosexual standpoint, it applies outside heterosexuality too. You just have to think about how to apply it.
Learn to make Meaningful Connections
with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.
- Step by step instructions
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- An excerpt from my book