Should you go with your gut instinct when picking a man?

attraction gut instinct personality relationship satisfaction Sep 05, 2021
mature couple

If I asked you “what are the most important attributes to pay attention to when picking a partner?”, what would you say?

A great sense of humour maybe? Kindness? Honesty? A bulging bank-balance perhaps?

Whatever it is, it’s unlikely to be what gives you the hots for a guy when you first meet him – that je ne sais quoi that has your insides turning to jelly and makes you want to lean in a bit closer.

The things that you list as most important to you – these aren’t the things that get you excited about a guy right way.

This is nicely illustrated by a speed dating experiment by relationship psychologists Paul Eastwick and Eli Finkel. In the experiment, the participants were young people, and they were asked by the researchers before the speed-dating event about what they valued in a partner.

As you might expect, the men tended to emphasise physical attractiveness while women were often on the lookout for guys with ambition and good career prospects and both sexes rated good personality as very important.

But once they sat down with potential partners during speed dating, both sexes said they were most attracted to the people rated as especially physically attractive.

So both men and women when faced with potential partners in the living, breathing flesh in front of them, chose the ones they were attracted to physically.

Personality, it seemed was a secondary consideration, in spite of being what most people tend to think of as most important.


What we say we want is not the same as what we’re initially attracted to.


When you think about it, we’ve evolved to be attracted to certain attributes when we first meet someone – it’s what we call chemistry and the things that produce the chemistry aren’t necessarily the same things as what we consciously think would be good qualities for a relationship.

We’ve evolved to behave in the way that gets our genes into future generations and that’s not always the same as what makes us happy, so in a way it’s not surprising that a lot of us have the habit of going for the wrong kind of partner!

So we might say we want someone kind and considerate, but then when we get someone like that – we complain that they’re not edgy enough and there’s no spark.

On the other hand, when we come across some gorgeous hunk who also happens to be charming and charismatic – we’re blown away before we’ve even worked out whether he’s got the personality characteristics we say we want.

The thing is, our gut instinct about who we’re attracted to evolved back in the stone-age when couplings would have been relatively short term, and the important things to look out for in a man were health, brute strength and dominance for protection, and also good genetic compatibility for having healthy babies.

Even as older women who aren’t going to have babies we’ll likely have retained some preference for these things, so we have a habit of ignoring our own partner specifications when confronted with an actual live bloke.

Is this a problem? – well it might be.


It turns out that the qualities you think of as important in a potential partner before you meet them – they ARE really important!


The extent to which you partner has these characteristics partially predicts your relationship satisfaction and the length of your relationship if you end up getting into a long term relationship with the person.

But the point is they’re not necessarily what we’re attracted to when we first meet people – so this clearly tells us something about the wisdom of following our instincts immediately upon meeting someone – the person who we find irresistible right away isn’t necessarily someone we should be pursuing a relationship with.

It might have worked in the stone-age, but nowadays we’d do well to consciously override our evolved instincts and figure out ways to make better relationship decisions that suit us in the modern world, and for the stage of life we’re at.


So what does this mean for meeting men then?


It means we have to be mindful of what we really need in a partner to be able to have a happy relationship.

And it means hanging back when we get the surges of dopamine we experience when Mr Sexy is whispering in our ear, until we’ve worked out whether he’s got those qualities we know we need.

Yep, I know – easier said than done – but in this case it pays to put the gut instinct on the back burner.


It also means we shouldn’t rely on the chemistry to tell us if a guy is a good prospect for us.


If you’re with a guy who’s properly got what it takes, but you’re just not feeling the spark – give it time. Research shows that if we like someone, if we like their personality and their sense of humour – as we get to know them we come to find them more physically attractive – we come to desire them.

So just have a bit of patience.


So should you ever follow your gut instincts?


Yes there are some situations where it’s a good idea to listen to your gut. When you meet a guy that seems too good to be true – but you’re feeling a bit uneasy about him - then it’s a good idea to act on those impulses and get out of there, as your subconscious could be picking up on signs of the Dark Triad. This is something that I’ll cover in detail in another post.

But when it comes to the initial chemistry or lack thereof – don’t set too much store by this. It doesn’t tell you if you’ll have a good relationship with this person. You have to assess him objectively. And I’ll tell you more on how to do this soon!

Mairi Macleod PhD