The love laboratory

By Khaled Diab

Can make us more attractive and appealing? Let's put it to the test.

December 2008

In the game of , like in comedy, timing, they say, is everything. And a new study seems to confirm just that. Blokes who have their advances repelled can take solace – or delude themselves – from the possibility that women are most responsive to corny chat-up lines at the most fertile period in their menstrual cycle and least so during their period.

 Given the hormonal imbalances, headaches and pain many women feel during menstruation, this is hardly an earth-shattering discovery. In fact, it raises the question: what exactly is the use of this particular study?

 It's not much use to single men, unless some nifty gadget which discreetly gauges the menstrual cycle I'm unaware of has come on the market. And I very much doubt that “If you've got the right time of month, I've got the place” will catch on as a chat-up line. Stumped for any other explanation, my wife speculated that the only use of the study would be to help jealous boyfriends and husbands plan their agenda.

 Of course, scientific inquiry is a valiant pursuit in its own right, yet I can't help thinking that humanity has more pressing and important questions that need answering. So, in a modest attempt to make sure that all this relationship does not go to waste, here is a brief empirical guide to .

 As we are constantly told, first impressions count. Depressingly, according to one study, most people don't even give each other the benefit of an exchange of words and form enduring impressions in a matter of milliseconds. Looked at romantically, though, it could be evidence of “love at first sight”.

 If, like me, you are someone who needs time before people appreciate your finer points, what can you do to make the right first impression? Don't despair, science is there with some suggestions.

 If you want someone to find you attractive on the first encounter or date, a good scientifically sound strategy is to look them straight in the eyes and smile. Preferably, make sure your eyes are smiling, too.

 Oh, and don't forget to turn up the smile slowly to enable the onlooker to bask in your warmth – a “long-onset smile”, as it is known in the literature – while tilting your head slightly. While you're doing this, cross your fingers that you don't come across as a weirdo with neck ache.

 The supremely confident – or arrogant – should be warned that, even if their interlocutor reciprocates, this may not necessarily be a “come on”. One group of researchers has found that some women chat happily and flirt, even if they have absolutely no interest in the man – which is bound to make the bashful and proud even more tongue-tied.

 So, how can you tell if someone finds you attractive?

 Research suggests that people tend to choose partners who look like their opposite sex parents. To my mind, this is not only troublingly Oedipal, I don't think I've ever been attracted to anyone who looks like a family member.

 More worryingly still, many seem to be drawn to partners who look like them – so much for “opposites attract”. In fact, there is even evidence that a surprising number of people are highly attracted to opposite sex images of themselves.

 So, the self-centred among us can kill two birds with a single stone: increase their chances of finding a partner by seeking out someone who bears a resemblance to them and indulge their narcissistic impulses.

 Of course, some people are fortunate enough to be widely regarded as attractive because they have the right facial and physical proportions. But old macho ideals are on the way out. In fact, most women, one study suggests, find a more “feminine” face alluring in men. This is good news for metrosexuals and might explain why many women are so drawn to the boyish good-looks of Johnny Depp. And for those who aren't endowed with a baby face, it might be time to invest in that “guyliner” and “manscara”.

 But you don't have to be one of the beautiful people with a perfect figure to find romance or get laid. In fact, the best way to a man's heart for women who do not fit the emaciated size zero is not through his stomach, but it is to make sure he doesn't get enough food! Hunger, it seems, makes some men want to feast on their date.

 Besides, there are people out there, including good-looking ones, who prefer brains over beauty. The scientific evidence suggests that choosing intelligence is more common among women than men. Then again, other research points to the fact that there are plenty of women who go for looks.

 A contradiction? Yes and no. Given the sheer diversity, complexity and individuality of human interactions, certain patterns are bound to hold true in certain circumstances, but the exceptions will at times outnumber the “rule”. So, the best strategy is to throw away the science books and embark on your own unique experiments in the laboratory of love.

This column appeared in The Guardian Unlimited's Comment is Free section on 19 December 2008. Read the related discussion.

This is an archive piece that was migrated to this website from Diabolic Digest


  • Khaled Diab

    Khaled Diab is an award-winning journalist, blogger and writer who has been based in Tunis, Jerusalem, Brussels, Geneva and Cairo. Khaled also gives talks and is regularly interviewed by the print and audiovisual media. Khaled Diab is the author of two books: Islam for the Politically Incorrect (2017) and Intimate Enemies: Living with Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land (2014). In 2014, the Anna Lindh Foundation awarded Khaled its Mediterranean Journalist Award in the press category. This website, The Chronikler, won the 2012 Best of the Blogs (BOBs) for the best English-language blog. Khaled was longlisted for the Orwell journalism prize in 2020. In addition, Khaled works as communications director for an environmental NGO based in Brussels. He has also worked as a communications consultant to intergovernmental organisations, such as the EU and the UN, as well as civil society. Khaled lives with his beautiful and brilliant wife, Katleen, who works in humanitarian aid. The foursome is completed by Iskander, their smart, creative and artistic son, and Sky, their mischievous and footballing cat. Egyptian by birth, Khaled's life has been divided between the Middle East and Europe. He grew up in Egypt and the UK, and has lived in Belgium, on and off, since 2001. He holds dual Egyptian-Belgian nationality.

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