Editor's Pick: Originally Published Tuesday, Dec. 22.
A recent study by the University at Buffalo revealed some pretty hypocritical findings when it comes to what men are looking for in love. Apparently, men prefer women who are smarter or more powerful in psychologically distant situations, but when it comes down to day-to-day interaction, are more attracted to potential mates with similar qualities, especially regarding intelligence.
Basically, this means that men are attracted to the woman executive in the corner office, but when they get to know her and interact on a regular basis, that attraction could fade -- mainly due to "feelings of diminished masculinity," says Lora Park, an associate professor in the university’s department of psychology and the study’s principal investigator.
The study found that the majority of men are looking for similarities rather than distinguishing factors in potential mates.
"We found men preferred women who are smarter than them in psychologically distant situations. Men rely on their ideal preferences when a woman is hypothetical or imagined," Park says. "But in live interaction, men distanced themselves and were less attracted to a woman who outperformed them in intelligence."
Park says that the study suggests that men prefer partners who are more intelligent than themselves in the abstract, hypothetical sense, but when the woman becomes more concrete -- is right there in front of them, for example -- men show less attraction to those who outperform them.
Park's team conducted six separate studies involving 650 young adult subjects. The studies ranged from presenting subjects with hypothetical women to women they expected to meet, to actually engaging in an interpersonal interaction.
Recent statistics from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development suggest similar findings. According to the OECD, these days, women tend to marry men from the same socioeconomic class. As an alternative to "marrying up," assortative mating, which experts define as people choosing spouses with similar educational achievements and incomes, is becoming increasingly common.
Harriet Lerner, psychologist and author of The Dance of Anger, admits that, historically, women have had "a long legacy of being encouraged to 'marry up,' and in general, when people pair up, it’s not a problem for them to have different levels of status and success."
However, she warns that a problem occurs when both partners begin the relationship at the same level of status and success and later the status quo of the relationship is disrupted by a big leap up by one party.
"It's normal in this case for the 'one down' partner to feel envious or competitive," Lerner says. "Whether this becomes a problem or not depends on how these feelings are acknowledged and managed."
Both Lerner and Park suggest that shifting your response to a potential or actual mate's achievements by offering support rather than feeling threatened could be a win-win for both parties. Park says this can be achieved when "one person's superior performance is not viewed as a threat to the self per se, but as an opportunity to share in the other's successes and respond in a relationship-promoting way, rather than a self-protective way."