Why Women Marry Forgettable Men (But Still Date The Hot Ones)

A new study in evolutionary psychology shows women care more about looks when it comes to casual hookups than life partners

Jun 16, 2015 at 1:14 PM ET

Women marry forgettable men, according to a new study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

If a woman wants a casual fling, the study suggests, she’ll remember your face and forget what you’re saying. But if she’s gunning for marriage, she’ll hang on to your every word and probably forget all about your face. The findings suggest that both genetics and evolution may play a role in modern hookup culture.

Here’s how it worked: In an effort to better understand what women are looking for in a casual fling, the researchers from the University of Michigan presented a short film of an average-looking white male describing his aspirations to a group of 125 female undergrads. They told half of the students to evaluate the him as a potential husband, and the other half to look at him as a would-be fling. Later, the “fling” group had no trouble recalling the man’s physical features, but were a bit fuzzy when it came to his hopes and dreams. Meanwhile, the “marriage” group remembered his backstory but forgot his face.

The subject of hookups has been whittled down to a string of scientific theories by evolutionary psychology since at least 2008 when psychologist Anne Campbell published the unintentionally hilarious paper, “The Morning After The Night Before: Affirmative Reactions To One-Night Stands Among Mated and Unmated Women and Men.” (Enjoy.) Campbell was puzzled by her observation that, evolutionarily speaking, women have no reason to hookup. They’re unlikely to benefit from a casual partner’s status or resources and, in general, they don’t expect it to turn into a long-term relationship.

So why hookup at all?

One reason could be studies have shown that the features we find physically attractive tend to signal high-quality DNA. When a woman is looking for a husband, the researchers say, she considers several evolutionary factors beyond genetics—is he successful, likely to protect his family—but in a casual hookup, women shift their focus to the short-term. Namely, if I get pregnant, will my baby inherit healthy DNA? And it just so happens, scientifically speaking, the best genes come with the least forgettable faces.

Read More

One-Night Stands: 5 Shocking Facts About the Science of Hooking Up (Psych Central)
Vocativ’s Shame-Free Guide to Hookup Prep (Vocativ)