Mating

Psychologists at Swansea University, a college in the second largest city in Wales, published a study in the Journal of Personality on what men and women want in a long-term partner.

The researchers got 2,700 students, from three colleges in the world with Western culture and two with Eastern culture, to tell what kind of person they most wanted as a lifetime mate.

From the little bit I’ve read of the results, the conclusions drawn from the study surprised me somewhat.

The psychologist who was the lead author of the paper reported that it was found that for both men and women, and in both cultures, the most important characteristic everyone wanted of a mate was kindness.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “kindness”, inevitably, as “the quality or state of being kind.”

And for “kind” as a noun or adjective, it offers five definitions, the one involved in this situation being “of a sympathetic or helpful nature.”

Now, I may be a bit cynical, but I find it hard to envision a couple of college boys spotting a pretty girl coming across the campus, and one saying to the other, “Wow! That girl really looks kind!”

The traits that brought the study back to harsh reality were that for young men, physical attractiveness came in second. For the women, second was financial stability.

It’s interesting that chastity was cited by fewer than 10 percent.

The study compared the dating preferences of students from such Eastern countries as Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong, and such Western countries as Britain, Norway and Australia.

I’m not sure that college-level dating preferences are the place to look for traits in a long-term relationship (what we old-fashioned folks call “marriage.”)

I had a friend who, way back in our teens, was dating two girls. One was beautiful, affectionate and full of fun. The other was nice-looking, loving, but quiet and more sedate.

He did a lot of soul-searching, and tried to picture himself with either of the girls when they both would be middle-aged and with children. He married the quiet girl.

The psychologist who was principal researcher of the study, Dr. Andrew G. Thomas, was quoted as saying that studying preferences of mates across different cultures is important for understanding human behavior.

“If men and women act in a similar way across the globe,” he was quoted in an article about the study, “then this adds weight to the idea that some behaviors develop in spite of culture rather than because of it.”

That sounds good. But I notice that no Middle Eastern or African countries are included in the study, places where religious practices and traditional behavior are a lot different than in England, and probably than Hong Kong or Malaysia.

There are lots of places in the world where a couple could be kind to each other all day long, but never be allowed to be lifetime mates if they were of different religions.

And there are frequent cases of unhappiness or despair as couples mate, or insist that they want to, in violation of some restriction set up by strong social or racial or religious customs or opinions.

I suppose it’s possible that when strong social or cultural barriers are involved, that’s where a heavy dose of kindness would come in, and help correct the situation.

And if the girl brings along considerable physical attractiveness, and the boy brings along what it takes for financial stability, that wouldn’t hurt.

Visit columnist Jim Smart’s web site at jamessmartsphiladelphia.com.

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