social sciences

Romantic attraction: what do we look for in a partner?

There are many ideas on what attracts people to each other romantically. Some people are convinced that opposites attract holds true. As such a couple would perfectly balance each other out. According to this principle,  a person who is very timid and an outgoing person would make a perfect match. Or people might have theories, regarding looks that individuals search for others who are just as attractive as them. This concept is labeled ‘being in someone’s league’, meaning you have a chance of making a successful move one someone who is just as attractive as you are. Earlier I wrote a post about what men and women find attractive about each other, from an evolutionary perspective. But these a very generalized ideas, what about individual attraction?

  • First of all, in terms of romantic attraction, men perceive attraction as a more important feature than women.¹ This is what studies,  time and time again, seem to find in terms of gender differences and attraction.
  • For females, height was deemed more important, with the male-taller norm as the standard.²
  • Using speed-dating settings for research, it was found that people ended up being more attracted to their potential partner when they knew that the partner already liked them. So knowing someone is attracted to us, can make us feel more attracted to them.³
  • There seem to be robust findings for the similarity principle. People like those who are like them. Opposites attract was quickly regarded as folk wisdom, similarity is what influences who we form relationships with, whether it be romantic or platonic. However, again using speed-dating settings, researchers found that it’s perceived similarity is what matters and not actual similarity. If we feel as if we are similar to others, this makes us feel more attracted to them.4
  • Interestingly, while knowing that someone likes you can increase your own attraction, uncertainty can also have an effect. Not knowing whether someone is attracted to you can ultimately increase your attraction towards that individuals. As you will spend more time thinking about that person.5

1. Feingold, A. (1990). Gender differences in effects of physical attractiveness on romantic attraction: A comparison across five research paradigms.
2. Pierce, C. A. (1996). Body height and romantic attraction: A meta-analytic test of the male-taller norm. Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, 24(2), 143-149.
3. Luo, S., & Zhang, G. (2009). What leads to romantic attraction: Similarity, reciprocity, security, or beauty? Evidence from a speed‐dating study. Journal of personality, 77(4), 933-964.
4. Tidwell, N. D., Eastwick, P. W., & Finkel, E. J. (2013). Perceived, not actual, similarity predicts initial attraction in a live romantic context: Evidence from the speed‐dating paradigm. Personal Relationships, 20(2), 199-215.
5. Whitchurch, E. R., Wilson, T. D., & Gilbert, D. T. (2011). “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not…” Uncertainty Can Increase Romantic Attraction. Psychological Science, 22(2), 172-175.