in: People, Podcast, Relationships

• Last updated: September 30, 2021

Podcast #474: The Surprises of Romantic Attraction

According to the popular, evolutionary theory of human attraction, people select romantic partners based on objective assessments of what’s called their “mate value” — the extent to which an individual possesses traits like good looks and status. But is that really all that’s behind the way people pair up?

My guest today has done a series of studies which add greater nuance to the mysteries of romantic attraction. His name is Paul Eastwick and he’s a professor of psychology at UC Davis. We begin our conversation unpacking the fact that there’s sometimes a gap between the sexual and romantic partners people say they prefer in the abstract, and the partners they actually choose in real life. We then turn to whether or not the popular idea that men value physical attractiveness more than women, and that women value status and resources more than men, is really true. We also talk about how people’s consensus over who is and isn’t attractive changes over time, and whether it’s true that people of equal attractiveness generally end up together. We end our conversation discussing how these research-based insights can be applied to the real world of dating, and why less attractive people may have better luck meeting people offline than on.

Some interesting insights in this show that lend credence to the old adage that there’s someone for everyone.

Show Highlights

  • What’s the accepted theory of how men and women are attracted to each other?
  • How “mate value” is calculated 
  • Is it true that men value physical appearance more than women?
  • The self-insight gap that plagues daters 
  • Why trait-based compatibility doesn’t give the full picture of a relationship’s potential
  • The importance of “fit” when it comes to compatibility
  • How physical attractiveness changes over time as we get to know people
  • Do equally attractive people always end up with each other?
  • What does modern science say about pick-up artist techniques?
  • Tips for how to think about modern dating apps 

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Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. According to the popular evolutionary theory of human attraction, people select romantic partners based on objective assessments of what’s called their mate value, the extent to which individual possesses traits like good looks and status. What does that really all that’s behind the way people pair up? My guest today has done a series of studies which add greater nuance to the mysteries romantic attraction. His name is Paul Eastwick, he’s a professor of psychology at UC Davis. We begin a conversation unpacking the fact there’s sometimes a gap between the sexual romantic partners people say they prefer the abstract, and the partners they actually choose in real life.

We then turned to whether or not the popular idea that men value physical attraction more than women and that women value status and resources more than men is really true. We also talk about how people’s consensus over who is and isn’t attractive changes over time and whether it’s true that people of equal attractiveness generally end up. We end our conversation discussing how these research based insights can be applied to the real world of dating and why if you’re not Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Cary Grant, 1980s Tom Selleck and whatever famous, handsome man you want, you’re not any of those guys may have better luck meeting people offline than online in an app. Some interesting insights in the show that lend credence to the old adage that there’s someone for everyone. After the show’s over, check out our show notes at Paul joins me now via

Paul Eastwick, welcome to the show.

Paul Eastwick: Thanks so much for having me.

Brett McKay: So you are a professor of psychology and you’ve spent your career researching human attraction. And what I think is interesting about your research is that it, it goes a different direction from what the sort of the popular and accepted ideas that are out there about what makes humans attracted to one another. So before we get to your research and how it adds to that theory, what is, can you walk us through like what the popular and accepted theory of what makes men and women attracted to each other is? I guess it’s based on evolutionary theory.

Paul Eastwick: Yeah. So there’s a lot of work out there that takes what I would call a trait based approach to understanding what makes men and women attractive and this is a very simple idea. It’s that we possess particular desirable qualities, or we don’t, and the extent to which you have those desirable qualities is what makes you appealing in a mate. And we can talk about things that you can see on the surface, like physical attractiveness. We can talk about status and resources, we can also talk about traits like intelligence, but the presumption here is that there is some sort of objective reality about a person and the extent to which they have those desirable traits and that a person’s desirability as a mate or their mate value, that’s often the term that’s used, can be sort of calculated based on the extent to which they possess those sorts of traits.

Brett McKay: And also the research has shown there’s differences between the sexes on what’s attractive and not attractive. Like men find certain things attractive in women, but women find other traits attractive and men.

Paul Eastwick: That’s right. So the calculus for mate value classically differs between men and women. You know, intelligence is very appealing to both men and women in a partner, but when you ask men and women, how much do you care about traits like attractiveness, men will tend to rate it higher than women, although women like it too. You see the reverse for traits like resources, right? With women rating it higher than men, but in general these findings sort of fit into this, what I would call this trait based mate value sort of approach where the idea is that there’s some sort of reality about the traits that you possess and your job if you’re looking for a mate from this perspective is to size up whether or not somebody has these qualities and then make your choice accordingly.

Brett McKay: And it’s also a very market driven, right? Approach to relationships, right? You have certain values and you kinda have to make trade offs on what you have and what the other person has.

Paul Eastwick: Exactly. Exactly. And that’s why it’s, you know, evolutionary theory touches on these ideas. But yeah, it’s based on these very classic market based ideas about marriage, this pervade sociology going back 70 years or more. These are very influential important ideas that have long pervaded how people think about the way relationships form and are maintained.

Brett McKay: And how have evolutionary psychologist come to this conclusion that men find physical attractiveness more important than women find physical attractiveness in men. What are the studies look like where they’ve come to this conclusion?

Paul Eastwick: It’s interesting because humans can do this really funny thing which is you can put rating scales in front of us and we can fill them out with a pen or a pencil. And what that means is that instead of, if you were studying animals in the wild, you’d have to set up these really complex designs and sort of see which of the mates the females would pursue or see which mates the males would pursue. But in humans you can sort of throw a scale in front of them and be done in 30 seconds. And so much of the research supporting these sex differences tends to use that ladder approach that is, you asked men and women to rate physical attractiveness on a rating scale from one to 10. How much do you like this trait? And that’s where you see men say they care about it more than women. You see the reverse with things like status and resources. So a lot of the research is pretty straightforward and questionnaire based along those lines. It’s sort of this neat thing that you can get humans to do that you can’t get other nonhuman animals to do.

Brett McKay: So basically what these surveys ask is like what you would want in a hypothetical potential mate, not an actual mate, correct?

Paul Eastwick: Right. I mean, you know, they’re asking people to think about what would you want an ideal mate to have and people can do this. When you give people questionnaires like that, they’re like, they’re not thinking I have never pondered such a thing before. People are definitely … They can call to mind what their ideal partner looks like. But I’d also argue that that requires a level of self insight that is under appreciated. That is, we can ask whether or not people really know the extent to which attractiveness appeals to them. And is that captured by a rating on a rating scale? It’s one of the questions that we’ve tried to pursue in our research.

Brett McKay: So in addition to what this idea of trait based attraction, there’s this idea of a sort of meeting that comes up that attractive people end up with other attractive people. High status people end up with other high status people. So, there’s that aspect to this trait based theory as well.

Paul Eastwick: Yes, that’s right. And it is certainly true that you see assorted of mating on many qualities, qualities like attractiveness, traits that people generally say they really like in a partner, both men and women rate attractiveness quite highly. And indeed the attractive men and the attractive women tend to pair up. Now that association is far from perfect, right? So there are plenty of matched couples and plenty of mismatched couples out there too. And so we need our explanations just to be able to account for the existence of both the matches and the mismatches, if you will.

Brett McKay: So there’s been mountains of research for the past 20, 30 years that reinforced this idea that, they’ve done this across cultures too, it doesn’t matter whether you’re in Japan or America or England, men tend to rate physical attractiveness more important on the list of wanted traits in women than women do. And women put an emphasis on resources and status. So despite the mountains of research that has shown this over and over again, what led you to think that there was something else going on in how people decide who they pair up with?

Paul Eastwick: So we noticed that much of this research had sort of used these questionnaire type approaches where you’re asking people what they’re looking for. The better studies would do something a little bit more clever. They would say, introduce you, usually in the form of an online dating profile or something like that, to a series of people who very in attractiveness. And then you could ask the question, well, does the attractiveness of these various people that you’re looking at predict who you like, who you choose? And there were a few studies that had conceptualized the appeal of attractiveness that way. Not my theory about how much attraction this appeals to me, but sort of this enacted preference, something we actually call a functional preference, right?

If you present me with a series of mates that vary in attractiveness, to what extent am I likely to take the attractive ones relative to the unattractive ones? That’s like a more live in the moment way of capturing the extent to which attractiveness appeals to me. So there’ve been a few studies out there that had used that sort of approach but almost none that had used that kind of approach with people actually meeting face to face. And we thought well gee, ancestrally, certainly, and even in the modern day for the most part, people meet face to face before they start seeing where this thing is going. And so we wanted to see what did people’s functional preferences look like once these face to face meetings had taken place?

Brett McKay: So tell me about a story that you did to look into that idea a bit more.

Paul Eastwick: So one of the first studies that we conducted along these lines was a study with speed daters. So, we brought a number of men and women together who were single and looking to potentially date new people, but these folks hadn’t met each other before and these were heterosexual speed dating events. So, all of the men have a chance to meet all of the women. And so you’re meeting this array of people who are varying in attractiveness and then we look to see how much does attractiveness appeal to me as I go about selecting these people saying, oh, I’d like to meet you again and not you. You know, when rating how much I liked these various people. And sure enough physical attractiveness was a very strong predictor of the extent to which people liked their speed dating partners. But that association, the power of attractiveness was identical for men and women. Physical attractiveness as instantiated in these real people was just as powerful a predictor of initial attraction for men as it was for women. There was no sex difference there whatsoever.

Brett McKay: Interesting. So what do you think that says about the theory that’s out there that women prefer, you know, status and resources more, they rate that higher than men do? What’s going on there then?

Paul Eastwick: So it’s interesting. I mean, you know, one thing we’ve been trying to figure out is that it looks like there is some sort of self insight gap that is plaguing people, right? People aren’t totally off when you ask them sort of kinds of qualities and attributes they like in general, there’s often a little bit of an association there, especially when people are in very simple environments. Right? So if I asked you how much do you like sweetness when it comes to your breakfast cereals, you will actually give me an answer that reflects pretty good self insight. But as the domain gets more and more complicated and when we get into the really complicated domain of romantic attraction, people’s insight just seems to fade. And the kinds of qualities they think are really appealing to them when you ask them in the abstract end up having very little relation to what actually appeals to them in the moment. So we do think there is this self insight gap there and what that means is that when you ask people about the kinds of qualities that they care about in a partner, you’re getting a lot of other stuff in those reports that don’t necessarily reflect strong self insight. Right? People might be reporting their sense of what desirable members of the opposite sex generally are like, right? As opposed to, you know, what are the traits that are really going to appeal to me specifically?

Brett McKay: Well, another interesting thing about speed dating is that it’s very, it’s all about initial attraction. Like the idea in evolutionary theory is that women put an emphasis on resources more than men because they’re looking for a longterm companion. Does the short duration of speed dating, does that change things like how women evaluate or do you think just like no, women actually put emphasis on attraction more than they think they do?

Paul Eastwick: That’s a great question. I think that, and then when we ran those first studies, that was sort of the next question for us was, well, okay, is this limited to initial attraction? Maybe some of these sex differences start to emerge later and we actually conducted a very large scale study a few years later. It’s called a meta analysis and in a meta analysis, you just bring many different data sets together that can all address a similar question. And so we had data from tens of thousands of participants that look across the full span of people’s relationships. So not just initial attraction, but also what happens in dating relationships. What happens in married relationships. Do you see these sex differences playing out? Now we can look at these same kinds of associations in these datasets. So generally, when women are married to men who have more versus fewer resources, do they tend to be happier in those relationships?

And importantly, if we asked the same question of men, are men happier when they’re in relationships with women who have status on resources, are they happier? So when we look at all of those effects and all of those associations across all of these datasets, we end up seeing, again, no evidence for these sex differences. So to go back to the status and resources example, there’s a small effect that people tend to be happier in their relationships when their partner has more status and more resources. It’s not nearly as large as physical attractiveness and initial attraction, but that effect is just as strong for men as it is for women, which frankly we found a little mind blowing, right? The idea that that men are a little bit happier in their relationships when their women have status and resources. That was not intuitive to us going into this study, but this was a pretty large swath of evidence that seemed to suggest that you know what? The status resources effect, when you look across datasets in this aggregated way, you don’t see much of a sex difference there.

Brett McKay: Okay. So meta analysis shows that men and women are actually, there’s not that much of a difference. When you look at things at a broad view. You also did some interesting research to that show that whether you find someone attractive or not depends on a lot on how long we’ve known them. Can you talk about that? Walk us through that research?

Paul Eastwick: Yes, definitely. So this goes back to this sort of classic trait based approach, right? I mean, the reason we’re asking questions about why we think physical attractiveness is more appealing to men or women. Same thing with status and resources is because classically the field has treated mating and mate selection in this trait based way, right? There’s a reality that you possess that’s determined by your traits. And like again, my job as a mate selector is to assess those traits and then make my selections accordingly. I think what that perspective misses, at least with respect to humans, is that part of the mate selection process in humans ancestrally wouldn’t have been about finding the objectively best mate, or even the objectively best mate that you could get given your own mate value, it would be about this ephemeral thing called compatibility.

And that’s because a lot of what mate selection was about in our ancestral past was about coordination and interdependence, right? So in order to raise these very costly offspring, I have to essentially set up an effective coordinated system with you and not just you, but also your family members and my family members. Right? But the pair bonding process and then what it takes to raise these costly offspring is not something that’s just about your traits and my traits. It’s also about how well we fit together and how well we work together. And so another of the main mate selection tasks that people have to solve is this assessment of compatibility. And that’s a lot trickier than assessing whether or not somebody has desirable traits.

Brett McKay: Gotcha. So this is what you’d call it, I guess you’d call it relational attributes of-

Paul Eastwick: Yes. Right. It’s a way of thinking about the concept of mate value, but in a relational way. Right? The idea is simply that, you know, somebody might not have the most desirable traits in the world, but because of the way we fit together, this person has tremendous mate value for me specifically. And I think that’s a useful way of thinking about the compatibility concept. Now what it suggests is that, you know, when we all get together and rate each other’s traits, sure there’s bound to be some agreement. We’re going to agree on who is attractive and who isn’t. But what’s going on with the disagreements that we have? Is it just random error? Are we guessing or is there something systematic and important about those disagreements that also tell us something about the way mate selection works?

Brett McKay: Well, walk us through the study you did with college students where you had them rate each other’s attractiveness the first day of class and then done the same thing three months later.

Paul Eastwick: Right, so that’s exactly what we did. So we had these students in a class, they had just met each other and all of the opposite sex pairs in the class are rating each other in terms of their attractiveness, but other traits classically related to mate selection, things like intelligence, things like status and what you see at the beginning of the academic semester is that there’s pretty strong agreement there about who is attractive and who isn’t. Now there’s also a lot of idiosyncratic variance as well and in fact you can compare these things to each other mathematically and you see about as much consensus as you do idiosyncratic variability. So there’s a healthy amount of agreement about who’s attractive and who isn’t, but also important, real disagreement, right? I think this person is more attractive than you do, right? That doesn’t mean that I’m right and you’re wrong, or vice versa. That’s legitimate disagreement there on top of the existing consensus, but then we followed them up at the end of the semester and what we found at that point was that things had started to shift. But it shifted in a way that’s a little bit counterintuitive. People’s consensus about who was attractive in the class actually went down relative to the beginning of the semester and that idiosyncratic variability, the disagreements and you know, sort of in parallel increased.

So in other words, as I get to know you better, we start agreeing less about whether or not you’re attractive, right? The people who you know especially well start to agree less and less about how desirable you are and we think this is reflective of this idiosyncratic nature of the way mate value Works. As I get to know you better and better, you make a joke that I think is particularly unfunny, but somebody else thinks that’s quite funny. That feeds into your attractiveness judgments of the person. You make other remarks in class. I witnessed you doing something really nice for somebody, but somebody else doesn’t witness that. That feeds into your attractiveness judgment, so because when we form impressions of each other over time, the meaning of those different behavioral nuggets can be interpreted so differently by the people who are observing you and sort of judging you and considering you as a potential mate. That’s what causes that consensus to decline and what causes this increase in idiosyncratic judgments of who is desirable and who’s not.

Brett McKay: That’s really interesting. So let’s unpack some things here. So when you did the initial evaluation, there was a consensus not only on physical attractiveness but also things like character, humor. There was a consensus there as well?

Paul Eastwick: Right. So we also asked people questions like if you were in a relationship with this person, how good would the relationship be? Right? Again, these people have not met for all that long and yet they’re still reaching some consensus about judgements like that too. It’s not nearly as high as the consensus they reach when it comes to judgments of physical attractiveness, but you know, they are sort of looking at these folks around them saying like, oh, maybe being in a relationship with this person would be good. This person, they seem to have good character, but you know, people at the beginning, they’re drawing from stereotypes. They’re drawing from snap judgments as they sort of make these determinations.

Brett McKay: I imagine like the halo effect is also going on like, you know, typically attractive people are seen as, you know, more honest, trustworthy, high status, etc, etc.

Paul Eastwick: Exactly, exactly. I mean it’s just, you know, some people at the beginning of the semester they’ve got this glow about them and that’s what’s sort of producing the consensus on all of these sorts of judgments certainly.

Brett McKay: Okay. And then as you went on, you get to know people more and more. That’s when things started, the consensus just basically went away completely.

Paul Eastwick: Yeah. I mean for judgments of things like this person is going to be a good relationship partner. I’d like to be in a relationship with this person. The consensus went down on those measures substantially. There’s still a little bit there, but it definitely goes down over time. We also ran a similar study among people who had known each other for a few years on average. Right? So this is as if we’re tapping into your network, right? If you’re a heterosexual man, we’re tapping into your network of female friends and acquaintances, right? So if you think about those women in your life that your friends, your acquaintances, you know, maybe there’s an ex in there, what do these women think of you? Did they agree about how desirable you are as a partner? About how attractive you are. And those folks exhibited the least consensus out of anybody.

So the people who know you the best are the people who agree that least on what you are like when it comes to these romantic sorts of judgments. And that’s another important caveat too, because usually we think like, well, the more somebody gets to know me, people should agree on what I am really like. There’s a reality to who I am as a person and you know that’s true for things like what your personality is like, but when it comes to these romantic judgments, the fact that we see this increasing disagreement as people get to know each other, suggest to us that you know what ever the mate value truth is about a person seems to be quite ephemeral. It seems to disappear the better you get to know somebody and you’re left with these very idiosyncratic impressions that some person is really great for me and this person is really not so great for me.

Brett McKay: So this can go back to, we were talking about a sort of mating, right? So there’s this idea that attractive people end up with attractive people, but what this research suggests that the longer someone knows you, they might initially not have found you physically attractive or attractive, but they got to know you and you end up in a relationship with them. Right? And so you’re less attractive than she is. I guess that can sort of put a wrench in this idea that equally attractive people always end up with each other.

Paul Eastwick: Right. Exactly. And so that was, you know, as we conducted this research, the assorted of mating question loomed large because it suggested, well, okay, if we all disagree about who is attractive and who’s not, then why is it that you see assortative mating out there in the world? And so the way we resolve this is by thinking, well, okay, when some relationships form, they form relatively quickly after two people initially meet each other, but other relationships, people know each other for months or even years before they ultimately get together. And what if that distinction, that dimension explains where some of the variability on assortative mating comes from. That is what if the people who get together quickly, that’s where you see the matches, right? Because these people are largely operating based on consensus, but the mismatches come as people get to know each other better over time. That opens up the opportunity for, maybe he or she is not the most attractive person on the planet, but as you get to know him or her, you start see this person as being quite attractive. That can then start to create some of those mismatches.

Brett McKay: So, there’s the stereotype of like the more attractive women ending up with a lesser attractive guy, like the guy dates up or whatever they talk about. Does it also work the other way around too? Like sometimes really attractive guys end up with women who would be objectively rated not as attractive?

Paul Eastwick: Yes. So the flip side of that definitely does happen. But the caveat, I think, what my guess is that if most of your listeners try to call to mind one example or the other, it is going to be easier for them to call to mind the schlubby guy with the attractive woman. But part of that is caused by the fact that on average women are more attractive than men. So that’s a little wrinkle in there that produces this. And usually when we talk about assortative mating, what we miss is that we’ll actually in all of these relationships on average, the woman is more attractive than the guy by about a half of a standard deviation. That’s a pretty reasonably sized effect. And so that’s an important component of this as well, that women generally tend to be rated as more attractive than men on average when you look at a reasonably sized swaths of real life men and women.

Brett McKay: But how do you think your research compliments or doesn’t compliment, this evolutionary approach of human mating because like, I mean, a lot of people will have, there’s whole industries, the pickup artist stuff that are based around this evolutionary approach to human mating where you have to like, you know, they tell guys how to increase their mate value on these specific traits. What do you think your research does that idea that’s out there?

Paul Eastwick: Yeah, I mean, you know, I only know a little bit about sort of the pickup artist techniques and the pickup artist scene and certainly a lot of those techniques and tactics are designed to be effective in initial attraction settings, right? Where you’re meeting people for the first time and those are certainly settings where you know you’re going to cue into these traits that are very easy to pick up very quickly. It takes some time to really get a sense of whether or not you know, there’s something about, like a unique fit between us and often that’s sort of not exactly what the pickup artists are going for necessarily. So sort of looking for makes you idiosyncratically desirable to somebody else is you know, probably a technique that’s going to be more useful to people who are cultivating the possibility of forming relationships over a longer period of time.

That being said, I think it would be really interesting to sort of clearly hone and define what these effective pickup tactics are and then train both male and female confederates to use these tactics in initial attraction settings and see how effective they are. Now, maybe they’ll only be effective for the men using these tactics and women who sort of dress with the fancy hats and sort of use these clever lines, maybe they won’t be appealing, but I don’t know. I’d like to see the data. I wonder if those sorts of tactics, if women used them, would also be pretty appealing.

Brett McKay: And how do you think your research complements the more classic evolutionary approach to human mating?

Paul Eastwick: I think in some ways it’s very complimentary, right? We aren’t saying that people don’t care about traits like physical attractiveness. Of course they do, but we’re saying that the relative amount of sort of consensus going for the popular person, that there’s a truth to how desirable you are, that’s true in some settings, but not all settings relative to mate selection. Right? And settings where people get to know each other better, people start, whether they know it or not, making judgements that have this more idiosyncratic compatibility element to it. I think with respect to some of the sex differences in the appeal of attractiveness or the appeal of status resources, you know, I do think our perspective is harder to reconcile with the evolutionary perspective on that front in the sense that I think when we look at people’s impressions of real people, when we look at how people are actually acting in their relationships, I think those sorts of studies get closer to tapping the kinds of judgments that really would have mattered in a functional way when people were evolving as opposed to what people’s circle on rating scales. So, I think some elements are that we present are very complimentary, some are more challenging.

Brett McKay: And what do you think are some practical takeaways from this research? For people who are in the dating game?

Paul Eastwick: And that’s a good question. So I do think that there is a tendency to think about the mating and dating as being about a game of first impressions, a game of how does it go when you meet somebody else? Do you sufficiently impress them that they want to hook up with you or they want to give you their number, etc. And another really important thing that we find that some of our research is that the vast majority of relationships, whether short term or long term, do not form this way. People’s hookups and longterm relationships are usually come out of their networks of friends and acquaintances that these, as I talked about before, people have networks of their heterosexual opposite sex individuals that sort of float in and out of their lives. And that’s where most of these romantic experiences come from. So I think what’s often hard for people, let’s say they moved to a new city and their social network is pretty thin. It can get very frustrating to be out there dating and trying to meet new people and not having a lot of success.

But in some ways the problem is that getting out there and meeting people with initial impressions is always a very tough way to go regardless of what kind of relationship you’re looking for. It’s the thinness of your social network that is often the real problem. So if I were to give anybody advice who’s struggling with dating, it’s the more effort you can put into just sort of building your network, gradually building the people that you know and spend time with getting to meet new people without immediate expectations of something becoming romantic or sexual right away, that’s ultimately going to be a more fulfilling process. Right? It’s like diversify your portfolio and give it time to grow and expand rather than, you know, like keep hitting the same bars over and over again. I think it’s likely to be a much more fulfilling experience to do the former rather than the ladder.

Brett McKay: And what do you think your research says about dating apps? Because these things like Tinder, they’re all based on initial physical attraction or you swipe right because you just see a picture of someone who’s attractive or not.

Paul Eastwick: Right, exactly, and it is interesting how online dating has in some ways up ended this sort of traditional way of forming relationships where relationships, again, sexual hookups or longterm grow out of the networks that people have and with online dating sites and with apps give certainly the sense that there are all these options out there, right? As you’re sort of looking at all the various possibilities in front of you and you’re swiping right and swiping left, you get the sense that there are many possibilities out there and people are often effective at leveraging these sorts of encounters into immediate sexual hookups and things like that. So there’s nothing wrong with that and that’s often a very good way to go for people. I think for people who get, who are starting to get a little burned out on the apps or feeling like, oh my God, I’m spending a lot of time on these.

Again, thinking about these apps as ways of expanding your social network, not you know, solely a means of immediate sexual gratification could also be very, very useful. That, you know, that is, you might go on a Tinder date with somebody and it might just be okay, but you did have this one interest in common and you start spending time with the person and get to know some of their friends and your friends meet their friends and that starts to snowball and expand that way. So I think if we don’t, you know, dichotomize our relationship so much into, you know, these are the people I have sex with, these are my friends, but we sort of again think about a network of people that we know and we allow that network to grow and change over time. I think that ends up sort of giving people the best possible options.

Brett McKay: So you use the apps as a tool to increase your network. Not necessarily to get a romantic relationship.

Paul Eastwick: Right. I mean you can use it for that too, but again, my sense from people that use these apps and I confess, I have not done online dating in a very long time, well before there were the apps. But you know, my sense is that people start to burn out, right? Because they go on a lot of coffee dates before they find somebody that they even remotely like and sometimes it’s useful to find ways of even turning those meh coffee dates into a win. And again, if we don’t think about Tinder and other apps as an immediate road to a hookup that it’s really more about expanding your social network. That I think tends to go better for people.

Brett McKay: And we had Kate Julian, the Atlantic writer, she wrote that article about the sex recession she talked about people getting burnt out and then also people just not having any luck with the apps. So say you’re a guy, you’re not super physically attractive. So they never get a match because you know, women just like swipe left on them and they found that, okay, if I just start dating in person, I actually have better luck there because people get to know that I’m funny and charming and I’m kind, etc, etc.

Paul Eastwick: Right, right. Exactly. I mean, the apps do put many people at a substantial disadvantage.

Brett McKay: So, I think it sounds like the big takeaway here is, you know, physical attractiveness, those play a role, but there’s much more nuance to human relationships than what we think there is.

Paul Eastwick: Yeah. I think that’s right and that the humans evolved in relatively small groups where we got to know each other over long stretches of time and the possible mates that you are going to have over the course of your life, it was a pretty small group and it was probably a group of people that you tended to know pretty well and that is an evolved reality that’s tough to reconcile with the fact that many young people today are very mobile. They move from place to place and they also often live in large cities where there is vast swathes of people out there. So I think to create a community of people is often the thing that helps people as they negotiate the romantic landscape.

Brett McKay: Well Paul, it’s been a great conversation. Where can people go to learn more about your work?

Paul Eastwick: They can go to my website. It’s Very straightforward, and there we have our publications and links to videos and things that explain the kind of work that we do.

Brett McKay: Yeah, I love it. You have all your PDFs, your research and PDFs there, which I really appreciate. So, so thanks for making that available. Paul Eastwick. Thanks so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.

Paul Eastwick: Yes. Thank you. I’ve really enjoyed this.

Brett McKay: My guest, it was Paul Eastwick. He’s professor of psychology at UC Davis. You can find out all the research he’s done. He’s got them all in PDFs for free at his website. Go check that out. Also check out our show notes at where you find links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic.

Well, that wraps up another edition of the podcast. Check out our website at You can find thousands of well-researched, thorough articles and just about anything, relationships, personal finances, health and fitness. You name it. We’ve got it. And if you haven’t done so already, I’d appreciate if you’d take one minute to give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher. It helps out a lot and if you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend or family member if you think they could get something out of it. As always, thank you for the continued support. And until next time, this is Brett McKay, encouraging you to not only listen to the podcast, but put what you’ve learned into action.

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