7 Nonverbal Ways You Attract a Date

The things you don't realize you're doing—or can't even control—are really attracting your date.

April 20, 2017
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Adapted from Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget

Despite the vast numbers of sonnets and songs penned in an effort to attract the attention of a beloved, scientists believe that courtship be- tween humans happens predominantly on a nonverbal level.

More: 5 Things Your NEED to Tell Your Partner Every Day

Here's what you're doing that's attracting your date, without even realizing it: 

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Hey, good-lookin'

Physical appearance is, of course, one of the very first things we notice about one another. A male bird's beautiful, brightly colored plumage intrigues prospective mates. The same is true of humans. I recently tried to persuade a good friend that charm and charisma were the things that men eventually and ultimately responded to in a woman. "The first thing we notice," he replied, without missing a beat, "is how she looks. If we don't think she's attractive, we never even get to the charm and charisma."

A study done in 1990 showed that women favored men with large eyes, prominent cheekbones, a large chin, and a big smile. The researchers who did the study said that these features indicated "sexual maturity and dominance." These characteristics are indicative of high levels of testosterone, which shapes the larger size and sharper contours of the male face. (Estrogen, on the other hand, is responsible for the round softness of women's faces and the extra fat in their cheeks and lips.) On some primal level, women found these very "masculine" facial characteristics attractive. Women were most attracted to men who seemed sociable, approachable, and of high social status. They also gave high marks to expensive or elegant clothing; apparently, it's not just birds who like beautiful plumage.

More: 10 Steps to Dating Success

Men, on the other hand, look for features that signify good health: regular features, a good complexion, and a good body. (It will perhaps interest you to learn that—as you dreaded in junior high school—while large breast size does influence sexual attractiveness, it does not carry a lot of weight in mate selection.)

Another interesting observation: People choose mates with physical characteristics similar to their own (hence couples really do look alike, as dogs resemble their owners).

Are we all just fundamental narcissists? I think it's more likely that after a lifetime of looking at ourselves in the mirror, our features and coloring seem "right" to us somehow. Maybe we choose the genetic material closest to our own, in an "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" paradigm.

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Don't limit your options

A few months ago, I ran into a friend of mine, out for a walk with a male companion. The first thing that struck me about my friend's date was that he wasn't very handsome or well dressed. But the next things I noticed about him were his lively and intelligent eyes and the laugh lines around them. In the brief chat the three of us had on that street corner, he impressed me with how charming he was and how attentive he was to my friend. I walked away very pleased that she had found someone so appropriate. 

More: The 4 Essential Ingredients of a Great Relationship

I'm no soothsayer, but I feel sure that my friend had a much better chance of happiness and laughter with the man she was with when I ran into her that day, even if she had to stoop a little to kiss him. And yet, women like her throw away great relationships all the time (or nip them in the bud before they even begin) because the man is "inappropriate" in some way—too short, not handsome enough, not well dressed enough, not intellectual or wealthy enough, the wrong race or religion, too young or too old.

Throw away all your old preconceived notions about what Prince Charming is going to look like, how old he will be, what he will wear, or what's he's going to talk about at parties; it will make you much more likely to find him.

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A token of affection

Psychologist Linda Mealey, PhD, of the College of Saint Benedict in Minnesota demonstrates how many of the mating behaviors of animals echo our own behavior, particularly in the use of carefully chosen objects to entice the female. 

For example, the bowerbirds of Australia collect brightly colored objects that they display for the female's consideration in a cleared area called a court. Some select only blue decorations; others collect the plumage of a rare bird of paradise. These gifts offer a female the chance to assess how good the male is at accruing resources and how well he will provide.

More: 6 Basic Relationship Needs Everyone Seeks to Fulfill

We don't have to look too far to find parallels in human society as well. Indeed, many women are likely to favor the man with the resources to buy her that house in the country or the status car and jewelry she's always longed for.

Ask any woman what's most important in a prospective mate and 9 times out of 10 she'll say "a sense of humor." It's my theory that this is another, more modern way of sniffing out his ability to accrue resources. A sense of humor takes intelligence and indicates charm: Surely these are far more useful skills in earning a good living in today's world than big pectoral muscles or a square jaw!

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50 is the new 40!

Another way, of course, for a female—bird or human—to assess a mate's suitability is by giving him a test, ostensibly to determine what kind of a protector he'll be.

I'm pleased to report that the traditionally male way of courting is expanding to include both sexes, as women become more financially and socially powerful. I'm not ordinarily all that interested in celebrity gossip, but my ears did perk up a few years ago during a wave of arti- cledescribing a rash of May-December romances in Hollywood. In all of the cases, the women in the relationships were more powerful, with more money and clout, than their chosen mates.

More: 3 Things Holding You Back From Love

I think this has a lot to do with the fact that men and women peak sexually at different times. Although men are fertile much longer than women, they are in their sexual prime in their late teens and 20s, and impotence begins to be an issue at about 40. In contrast, women can enjoy sexual exchanges for decades longer and sometimes even more after menopause, when the worries of conception aren't a factor anymore. It's my theory that, as the pursuit of sexual pleasure as an end unto itself becomes more acceptable for women, older women are seeking out the partners they need to make that happen: younger men!

I tell my patients and friends that they shouldn't be afraid to "date out of the box." Age is incidental these days: The old paradigm that women can only marry, love, and have children with someone two to 10 years older is truly out of date. This is of special relevance for older women, whose sexual needs can't be met by a same-aged or older male. Fifty is the new 40!

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The sniff test

When we smell someone new, we may be gathering data about a mate's potential suitability. Under the soap, shampoo, and perfumes we adorn ourselves with, every person has a unique and individual scent, like a fingerprint. Newborn babies, just a few days old, can differentiate between genders on smell alone and will express a preference for the smell of their mothers over anyone else. The US Defense Department is considering developing technologies that would be able to identify people based on their signature smells. Scientists call this unique smell our odor type, and many believe that it plays a significant role in whom we find attractive.

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"Opposites attract"

There may be more to the Felix-and-Oscar truism than we know. In fact, researchers believe that one of the things we seek out in someone else's smell is that it be unlike our own.

There's evidence that your odor type is linked to genes that deter- mine your immunity. People of different odor types seem to have different immunological resistance—so that someone with Odortype A might be immune to three different strains of flu, while a B is immune to three other different ones. Mating across odor types, then, is an evolutionary gambit to ensure that our babies have a wider band of immunity than we and our mates do on our own. (It may also be a way to make sure that we don't accidentally breed with a family member.)

More: 7 Signs He Knows You're 'The One' for Him

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Sending a message

A pheromone is a chemical signal that one party sends to another to influence its behavior. Animals decode the signal by smell, using small collections of tissue in their noses called the vomeronasal organ (VMO). 

I once heard a woman say that she could tell everything she needed to know about a man from their first kiss. She might have been right! Kissing gives us the chance to get a great big "taste" of the chemical signals the other person is sending—and to transfer some excitement while we're at it. Increasing our exposure to the other person's pheromones certainly would explain how courtship behaviors escalate—why we move from conversation to close conversation to dancing to kissing, for instance. If we're trading chemical messengers, then the closer we get to the object of our attraction, the more "information" about them we receive.

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