what attracts men

A depressing experiment.

I created a fake profile on Plenty of Fish. The reason was singular but it matters not. The profile served its purpose, but I experienced something completely unexpected. What attracts men, anyway?

This is one of those situations where I don’t really know what to make of what happened. It has caused me to question things I’ve told myself, and I’m curious what you think.

I created a profile of a 39 year-old woman. She was pretty but not stunning, but had a very hot body. There were four pictures on her profile. The main profile picture was her in a small bikini walking out of the ocean and smiling, in dark sunglasses. There was a closeup of her face, smiling, and two pictures of her outdoors. None were selfies and they didn’t show cleavage.

Let’s call her Pam. She was 5’6″, athletic, divorced with no children. An undergraduate degree. Her profession was “a good one”. Interests? Surfing, dinners out, wine, yoga, and travel.

There was very little in her profile description: “Hi! I’m new to this site so haven’t filled everything out yet. I am divorced and have my life together, but despite a full life would love to have someone to share fun times with! Please be real :)”

In other words, at least in my estimation, it was fairly banal profile. Except the bikini profile picture.

Within the first few hours of putting up the profile Pam had received almost 100 messages. I was stunned. Her profile restricted anyone messaging her except those between 40-52, so I can’t imagine what the numbers would have been without those parameters.

The only time I ever experienced anything similar with my real self was on Adult Friend Finder, and the very first naughty site I went on. Those sites are highly sexualized, I had naked pictures, and mentioned my sexual appetites. Oh, and most women on those sites aren’t real – literally. They are “bots”, or cam girls looking for money, so just being a real female I had an advantage. It was still nowhere close to that many messages.

When on sites like Plenty of Fish, and OKCupid, I may get five messages a day, maybe ten if I’m active. It should come as no surprise to anyone that the more you are on the sites, the more your face shows up in searches or in their “look who’s here!” promotions. So if I’m not active for a couple of days I may get one message daily.

So why the hell did Pam’s profile get her so much attention?

My first thought was – oh, shit, I’m too fat to attract men. Perhaps the beautiful shot in Pam in her bikini is what did it. Forget the “rules” on the site that your main pic has to have a clear shot of ones face. It seemed no man minded seeing Pam’s flat abs.

So was it that? Was it as simple as a hot athletic body does it? Can men be that simple? The messages Pam received weren’t all from men just looking for hookups. Messages flowed in from many seeking relationships, some described her profile as “authentic” and “honest”. I stared at my screen in disbelief. Are we really so shallow that a few pictures and sentences can let us see authenticity? I resisted the urge to respond to the man who said he could tell I was a “real woman who said exactly who she was”.

There were a number of basic statistical differences between our profiles. Pam is a good 4 inches shorter than I am. Could it be that? I know men 6 feet and over make up only 15% of the North American population. At 5’10”, I’m half a foot taller than the average North American woman.

Pam is 39 and I am 43. Do that many men over 40 look for women under 40?

I list my body type as “average”. I know there are people who would only search for “thin” or “athletic”, and while I’m strong, I’m not slender.

I have a child. Pam had none. Assuming men even read profiles, I know there are many who don’t want children, or who want one of their own so would rather not meet up with a divorcee who comes with a built in plus-one.

But then a friend suggested men are intimidated by strong, intelligent, and successful women… and I check all those boxes. Could it really be that Pam, a hot bodied woman without anything real to say, no indication of business success, nothing too strong or forthright or intense… is that what brings all the boys to the yard?

Or is that just what I tell myself to make myself feel better? Like the friend who told me ages ago I was too intimidating and beautiful for men to approach me in real life. I never believed it to be true. I will acknowledge I’m conventionally pretty for a white chick – curly blonde hair, blue eyes, and all that – but I am really tall and somewhat curvy and take up a lot of space. I look at myself next to shorter and smaller women and have a hard time believing that the reason I’m not approached is anything to do with being too anything, other than too…big.

When I started dating online I noticed men were intimidated by my job (my profile says I’m a corporate executive), or my intelligence (my profile says I have a masters degree and apparently my smarts come through in what I write), or my confidence and forthrightness (again, which I’ve been told comes through in my profile). But could that actually be the difference between Pam and me? Are the things that I believe are the right things to aspire to, also the things that prevent men from reaching out?

I have a hard time believing it, and that’s what I’m interested in your opinion about. Please tell me what you think.

And don’t worry, I tell myself that those men who aren’t attracted to me in all of my facets – my hips, career success, wit, strength, passion – they aren’t the ones for me anyway. But of course I’m thinking about why her experience is so different from mine.

54 thoughts on “A depressing experiment.

  1. Your fundamental question is “Was it as simple as a hot athletic body does it?”. My answer is “yes”.

    If you want to test this answer, you can perform a very simple experiment that I suspect will give you the same answer. Make another fake profile, with essentially the same information (age, marital and child status, circumspect personal description, etc.). Change only the pictures, and change them to a woman who in your opinion does not have a “very hot body”. This is a modestly controlled experiment, and I expect the results will tell you that, yes, men recognize and desire as a first priority a woman who at a glance has a “very hot body”. This is desirable to men over all other factors, especially when clicking through a dating site.

    I’ll add as a note that I read your blog and appreciate your perspective and writing style. Thank you.

    • I contemplated creating a new profile with everything the same except removing the bikini picture… that would tell me, I think.

      And no, thank you for saying so 🙂

  2. This is very concerning… and it makes me want to tweak my profile to see what would change.

    One of the first dates I went on after separating from Mars was a guy who claimed he extensively beta tested his profile on Tinder. He said even small tweaks made a huge difference. He experimented with the number of photos, which photos, what he wrote, and how much he wrote.

    Sometimes I wonder if less is more. ??

    • I know less is “more” because it gives people fewer reasons to rule you out – but that’s exactly why I have a longer profile. I actually want men to know about me and self select out. It saves me a ton of time.
      I don’t think tweaking your profile would work because of the ways the sites work in how you show up. And if someone has already seen you and “ruled you out” they may not bother to read again. You’d have to create a new profile to really compare.

      • It’s really easy on Tinder but wouldn’t work on, say, OK cupid.

        He’d delete his profile and start over. When you do that, you’re basically starting from scratch and get shown to everyone all over again. The minor tweaks would yield big changes in who he’d match with.

        Your experiment is making me want to do it! 😁

      • That is just what I wanted to answer to you 🙂 You don’t need 100 replys, 5 good ones are way better 🙂 I am sure you are gorgeous! Did you see the movie Embrace? It made an impression on me. Just a thought. May I ask if the test was successful ? Did you catch Jack lying?

        • Absolutely agree – in the past I wasted so much time fussing with men who ultimately weren’t aligned. But it’s different now because I want a relationship. Quality is better, but its still off-putting when you see the quantity that’s out there in other circumstances!

          I haven’t seen that movie, why do you recommend it?

          And yes, the test was successful in that it helped me get closure.

  3. I am 40, 5′ 9″, weigh a bit more (or a lot), and have an adult child who lives with me so I don’t mention himb(except I think PoF had an option to check if you had kids over 18), government employee for over 20 years. My profile was Star Wars and museums and comic books and music and outdoors. The few messages I got were men letting me know that they were down with BBWs (hate hate hate that term) and to send more pics.

    I have made connections with through non-dating sites based on similar interests…lots of emails and chats until they ask for a pic(non-creepy, legit in the evolution of the communication)to never hear back again.

    I know I am at a disadvantage because of how I look, sad but reality is what it is. But then I hear about stories like yours or from my other friends who are gorgeous, average size or within a few pounds of it, educated, etc and I have to wonder WTF is going on and does anyone really have a chance if even y’all run into this? Disheartening as hell. I am not sure what you can do with this information except keep trying ((hugs))

    (yes, I am being hypocritical with the keep trying advice…I want it to work for everyone else!)

    • Oh Holly, I’m sorry to hear that has been your experience. I won’t give you platitudes – it sucks. For me I’ve been coming to terms more and more over the last 4 years that I need to accept myself for who / how I am, notwithstanding trying to always improve and grow, and that the men who I reach out to and don’t reply back, or who look at my profile and don’t like me… well, they aren’t the right ones for me anyway. It’s a tough thing to accept especially when faced with the knowledge that others have a very different experience.

      • Exactly. My biggest issue right now is being told I need to “just” go out with more people. They get frustrated because it doesn’t go past the first or second date; I get frustrated because I can’t get a first date. So they mean well, but they don’t get it so while I guess it’s definitely a way to weed out those who aren’t worthy, it ends up creating feelings of worthlessness (even if only temporarily or only in this area).

  4. Well, I once changed my profile pic. I put on a very sexy close up from my behind in a tanga and I got 18 messages in 20 minutes!!
    Then I took it offline and things went back to normal again… 😅

    • I know even with my current profile I could put up far more sexualized pictures – or myself from flattering angles – and get messages… but that’s deliberately not what I’m trying for.

  5. I honestly think most men on those sites don’t even read the profiles…many go by pictures alone. My profile states that I am in an open marriage…and I have had guys message me who were later surprised when they finally read it. lol.

    Also…I think a lot of men look for new profiles and will respond rapidly to those. There is usually a large pool of the same guys who will immediately reach out to any new profile. Even if you create a new one of your own I bet many of the same guys who reached out to your fake profile will reach out to you. But those are the guys I like to stay away from.

    • Too funny about your open marriage comment. For a while I had a sentence at the top saying if all someone was going to say was “hey sexy” or comment on my looks they shouldn’t bother… and men did it anyway so I knew right away they hadn’t read what I’d very carefully written.

  6. I think partly it was because the profile was new has something to do with it. New faces get the most attention. But yeah, men are very visual and looks have so Much to do with it. My mother doesn’t understand why I’m always on a diet … 🙁 there is nothing a man fears more than a woman who is a little chubby. This is just my honest experience.
    That being said I’m 122 pounds, not fat, but I’m very opposed to putting myself out there in a bikini picture. I’m not a cow to be inspected at a market, and I won’t present myself like that.

    • I agree with you Caroline… I don’t WANT to put out some sexy shot or bikini because I don’t want to be seen in that way. God, it’s hard enough to breathe a word of a healthy sex drive in a discussion with a man without it suddenly being all about sex. Sigh.

      Reality is there’s a small part of me that believes if I lost that extra 20 lbs it would make all the different. And seriously how insane is that?!

      • We don’t need those sort of men. It sucks that we sometimes feel a need to pander to that, but I can’t be that woman, because it’s not who I am. I am a human. More than my body. More than a pretty face. I know the same is true with you. You may be more sexual than me, but that doesn’t make u any less real and multi dimensional… then again, I don’t know if a lot of guys even read profiles. Sometimes it is super depressing. I keep trying to remind myself that amongst billions of men, all I really want is one good one. So I try to imagine that the odds are in my favor. ♥️

    • My experience is slightly different. I met a man who LOVES my curves.
      He doesn’t like skinny women, even healthy ones. He prefers his women to be curvy and have flesh he can dig into and hold, or softness to cuddle or pound… I’m not sure.
      I have gained weight recently, through various reasons. He still likes me, or at least my body. Me, he loves for all the other reasons.
      The only problem I have with him liking curves is that… I don’t 😉
      I mean, I’m more attracted by a more classic sort of size. Not skinny either, but certainly not very overweight. I don’t know how to explain that. The fact that I feel like they are offering me a mirror and I usually don’t like what I see when I look at myself may have a lot to do with it.
      So, when looking at couples to swing with, it gets hard for us to find someone we would both be Ok with!

      I know it’s hard, I know I don’t date online, but… just be yourselves.
      If you dislike life because you are constantly worried about your weight, then men won’t look at you in a sexy way.
      It’s late here; hard to explain clearly and without sounding judgmental 😉
      Good night!

  7. What are you going to do? Men are interested in what they are interested in. In my work I have seen what I consider drop dead gorgeous women who still can’t find a guy. They are nowhere near being over weight, the typical what “society” calls beautiful, educated with at least a Master’s degree, and about 5’5″-5’7″ tall. We are working on them, from the inside out. Not what some guy is looking for. She eventually makes good decisions in life because she feels good about herself and what she’s really looking for.

    • I’m not going to do anything different. This didn’t make me want to have to troll through tons of message from men who ultimately wouldn’t want me for who I am. I’m okay with getting fewer messages because I know the ones who are reaching out are far more likely to be right for me.

  8. She was reasonably hot and not intimidating. A lot of guys just want a simple relationship I would guess. On the other hand, if they are looking for someone more interesting, challenging, or whatever, you might be right up there in preference.

    • I’ve gone on to read some studies that say that men typically don’t want to feel threatened by someone who is smarter / more financially successful. There are definitely exceptions – I’ve dated several. It was disheartening to experience what felt like proof that so many of the things we tell our girls to aspire to are opposite to what a whole ton of men are looking for.
      Granted, not the ones for me!

  9. I hate online dating – it brings out the superficial judgemental tendencies of people. You can dismiss someone in a nanosecond with a click.I think men like online dating because it’s easy. Click, click, click. They don’t want to meet a strong Alpha woman online – they want to pursue ; be in control.

    I’m old school. Meet people face-to-face. Meet people thru friends, activities, etc. Then they know you for you, not some picture and carefully worded profile they barely read. Rant, rant, rant. I need a nap.

  10. Oh, Ann. Yeah, that sucks. I wonder though, if you went into this experiment wanting to get precisely this kind of negative validation… that this archetype of woman whom you see as more conventionally palatable and less threatening than you would get more attention. How have you been recovering from the really awful triple whammy you went through? What are some ways you can seek positive validation out there, rather than negative?

  11. I’m sad to say I think most men on dating or hook-up sites are incredibly shallow. Yes, they want a young, sexy, beautiful body. They frankly aren’t interested in a challenging woman who wants to talk, heaven forbid, who may have baggage, and who might even earn more than they do. That would be intimidating as hell and perhaps even emasculating?

    I don’t understand who raises these types of male children. Obviously they all had mothers… so where does this type of thinking come from? Their fathers? My husband in his younger days dated a woman who was 6 feet tall and curvy. He is 5′ 3″. He’s never had any sort of bias and when we met, said he liked a challenge! But he is a rare bird. I look around me and see so many older men with very young women now. I personally know so many couples who’ve divorced, and the guy ends up with a woman who could just about be his daughter.

    This is very disturbing to me. As a society we are giving our daughters a message that they are disposable. That marriage does not last and they will be discarded in favor of a younger, prettier, newer model! Like trading in for a new car every few years.

    As for you, Ann… There is nothing wrong with you. Don’t settle for less than what you desire!

    • I love that about your husband, good for him.
      I think its a pretty complex answer about how men end up with these attitudes and preferences, and it makes me wonder whether there is any difference in the younger generation?

  12. Note to Ann: Boys will say and/or do anything you can imagine to get laid. Men do not. Boys are terrified by women who are successful, or in control of their lives, who have their shit together. Men, are not afraid of women who have success and well-assembled life. Boys are afraid of commitment. Men are open to it. Boys are secretly afraid of women who are in charge of their sexuality. Men see it as a natural progression and communicate openly about sexuality. Men, however, like women, have their preferences. The experiment is valid, but that doesn’t mean you don’t measure up to some obscure metric that will change in twenty minutes. It means at that particular time the one-handed typist squad on the site was approximately a certain type, or psycographic profile. Post the same experiment again at Christmas time and see what falls out of the tree. Odds are it will be a different result and that means you could draw a different conclusion as the results were not similar. You are who you are and what you look like. Boys most likely can’t handle any of it. Men, at least there is a chance. If the respondents can’t handle Ann St.Vincent, then they can do something unsanitary and uncomfortable without the benefit of lubrication.

    • Thank you Dave – your last sentence made me laugh out loud.

      I’m pretty sure it’s not a transitory thing… I suspect any day or time someone whose profile picture is them looking slim and athletic in a bikini will trump mine.

      BUT I do want a man and not a boy. I want someone who can appreciate me for me, and god forbid I’m carrying 20 extra lbs.

      • sarcasm on/ Twenty pounds? Oh well, that makes all the difference sarcasm off/ Next time weigh yourself without your purse (kidding)

        I still point to the internet photo of “What does a 350 pound woman look like?” Then you scroll down to the Dutch Woman’s Olympic Shotput Champion, who is simply gorgeous, seven feet tall, built for comfort and speed. Plus she’s so fit, her eyebrows were top five in the Dutch Ironman last year and she didn’t even enter!

        Ignore the number on the scale – Does it look good naked? If the answer is yes, then move on. If you’re not happy with it, do the work until it’s where you want it to be, but tape over the numbers on the scale.

        • You’re quite right (of course). I used a common short form – “weight loss”, when I couldn’t agree more that the scale isn’t what matters. I’m not sure I look good naked… I certainly have plenty of repeat customers so I’m far more confident than I ever was before. But I still want to be stronger and leaner…unfortunately my 4 months of recovery from my injury saw some fat gain and muscle loss. I’m trying to reverse that trend but bottom line is I don’t exercise enough (2x / week with my trainer is good but not great) and I eat and drink too much. I love life, so that’s how it all works for me.

  13. First of all, I haven’t commented in ages, so: Hi!
    I’ll break my comments into two sections, and deal with the intimidation thing first. Yes, I think many men are intimidated by successful or intelligent women. Whether it is cultural expectations of male dominance, or insecurity over their own short comings or what, many men are intimidated and stay away because they don’t know what to do with a woman who is or has “more” than they do. Their loss really…you didn’t want those guys anyway, so fuck ’em. I have a very small cadre of friends and lament that to Amy and part of her response is always that I intimidate people with my intelligence and self possession. I laugh at her, but she always insists that it’s a thing, and I can imagine that with a woman that force can be even more challenging for the men around you.

    On the online profile thing: Yes, it IS that simple that your bikini picture of Pam makes ALL the difference. My experience is a mixture of OKC, Craigslist and FetLife but I am sure that it generalizes across all platforms because men are men. Being bi, and an occasional crossdresser I see men from several different perspectives. Many many men will respond to an ad or profile clearly without looking at more than the headline, or a picture etc. They don’t give a shit about anything else because they are either too self absorbed or too stupid to read. Fuck those guys. The fact that there is a woman in a bikini is enough to light up the brains of many men…sex sells for a reason. I do think the vague, unchallenging profile probably does egg more guys on, but it really comes down to pictures with skin, and the traditionally cuter you are the better in terms of traffic. When I place an add or fill out a profile I want it to be detailed and specific because I want any potential “consumers” to be a good match. Being a good match means being literate, able to follow basic norms and instructions, and respectful. I want their replies to be communicative, articulate and poses a command of grammar and punctuation. I’m sure you have a similar basic threshold. If I don’t get those basics, I just delete them. Then we have to move on to a “connection.” A lot of guys however again are either self absorbed or stupid and just assume that you want them and that deserve to have access to you, which is why dudes send dick pics. They assume that at the sight of THEIR cock (which is special and unlike anyone else’s of course) that you’ll swoon and invite them over immediately for incredible sex.

    From a behavioral psychology standpoint, it is kind of wired into our brains to respond to certain cues like visible skin and touch and to make generalizations about people from basic info. I saw an experiment once where people at a grocery story had to rate their check out person for kindness and general “niceness.” Without fail if the cashier’s hand touched the subject, the subject said that the cashier was nice or kind. Without physical contact the ratings were far less kind.

    So, long story short, a lot of people in the world are mouth breathing knuckle draggers who can only respond to basic visual stimulus. To hell with them.

  14. Hey, I am Pam and am 5’11” and 150 lbs. and slender but would never wear a bikini at my age (59). PS. I have a master’s degree and no children. And if it’s depressing to you, don’t make a fake profile; just my 2 cents.

    • Hey Pam! I didn’t make the profile to be a test or comparison to me at all. I used the term depression not to say I’m actually personally depressed, but I find many aspects of it a depressing reality. If that makes sense?

    • Wow, thanks for sharing. I want to read some of the underlying research which was referenced. I had this sudden clarity yesterday which was that at some level I believe if I lost 25 lbs and looked better in a bikini I’d suddenly be more desired, and that is simply bananas.

  15. We don’t lose weight or tone for a man: we do it for ourselves. To remind us that we are warriors, the challenge of self discipline and the pride and confidence in results. These perks permeate to other areas of life. The 40s are a great time to reinvent and get shit done before hormones start acting up. Wanting to do this doesn’t make you weak or insane. We change as time goes by- be who you wanna be, Ann- no explanations necessary. That’s the beauty of self-evolutionXO

    • You’re quite right Sophia. My increased focus on health and fitness is for me, ultimately. I don’t think I’m weak because I want to be leaner, but I do absolutely think it’s ridiculous if that’s the cure-all for male attraction. But I will also say, I get plenty of attention given how much time I can spend on dating. So I’m good.

      • Ironically I think “Pam’s” profile success was her attitude: “I’m happy, fulfilled in my own life, I’m sporty, no younger men (intellectual connection more important, willing to date older men, so secure about her own age), not here to impress you” (with my résumé).
        Short and sweet bio.
        Girl next door/wholesome thing. (That’s probably why she came across as “honest”). That’s what I got when I read it.

  16. Surely you’re not surprised to find that there are tons of shallow men on a free dating sight looking for hookups? I’ve known those guys. Always looking for the easy score and bragging about their conquests.

    I mean, attraction is something that has to exist in a romantic relationship, but in my own experience I’ve found that the more I fall for someone the more attractive they become to me no matter their appearance.

    There is someone out there for you, but that person is hard to find when there’s 7 billion people out there. When you find that person, he will be proud of your professional status, appreciate your intellect, and embrace your curves.

    Don’t change yourself for the shallow. If you change at all, do it because YOU want to.

  17. I was told that my masters was intimidating to men. I had a hard time believing that. I changed my education level to only a bachelor’s, nothing else changed. I got a lot, no where near yours and Pam’s profile, but a lot more activity. This was on Plenty of Fish. It was shocking to me. I returned it back to my masters because that is who I am and it weeds out the insecure men. But it was a very surprising experiment.

What do you think?