Recently, a reader asked me to define the fundamental characteristics of the attractive man. After mulling over the question, I came to a singular conclusion. The answer, to me, seemed obvious.
But yet the question was asked, and is constantly asked – in literature, advertising, movies, and politics. We’re constantly sold it, told what it is, given new measuring sticks and quotas to meet. And as a result, we’re constantly asking ourselves, in one way or another if we measure up – if we’re good enough.
Usually, we’re not.
When I set out to start talking about life advice and dating, this was the kind of article I wanted to avoid. I’m sure you’ve seen them before: ‘5 ways to become more attractive’, ‘the 5 traits every woman loves’ – an article where some shithead on the internet tells you how to behave as a man is nothing new – and often, offers advice that does more harm than good.
Self-help and personal development are not ubiquitous road maps, but instead journeys – and trying to force someone down your path often just reinforces the fact that they weren’t good enough to find their own way.
That’s not a narrative I want to contribute to.
But yet, I was asked the question. So I was going to have to try and answer it. And because I’m the enterprising shithead that I am, who desperately wants to avoid any sense of guruhood* – I decided to do something new.
Whilst I was certain of my opinion, I’m at least humble enough to realise it comes from just one perspective, specifically a male opinion – one that I wanted to test. So I did something different – I asked every woman I knew for her opinion on that one question:
‘What are the fundamental characteristics of the attractive man?’
And well, the response was overwhelming.
The responses came in all shapes and sizes – superficial responses, reasoned responses, emotional responses, responses directed at my own failings (thanks), responses that read like manifestos against exes; there was talk of height, penis size, income, beards, tattoos, and style. Personality traits cropped up, patterns began to show – and slowly, I had the answer.
And it wasn’t a good one.
These are the fundamentals as they occurred in all the responses I collected. I’ve listed them in order of the frequency with which they were mentioned, as well as the emphasis placed on their importance. Every response contained, in some way, at least one of these but often contained most, if not all.
- CONFIDENCE / STRENGTH / ASSERTIVENESS
The most common and immediate response. Typically defined as: someone who has the certainty of character to follow his conception of himself (morals, values) and pursue his goals. Well defined boundaries and a strong sense of respect, especially self-respect.
Eye rolling in its predictability and in my opinion the least understood of all traits. But more on this later.
- RELIABILITY / TRUSTWORTHY / ACCOUNTABILITY / EMOTIONAL MATURITY / EMPATHY
This one was almost tied with confidence. The idea can be distilled down to someone who has a decent emotional understanding of himself, his motivations, his strengths and weaknesses; and as a result interacts with the woman from a position of acceptance, equality and chiefly predictability – she knows he’s got her back, and can invest in that trust.
Essentially the trait that runs counter to almost the entire body of pick up theory.
- AMBITION / DRIVE
Enormously important. A man who is going places, internally driven towards some kind of goal that he is taking real and practical steps to achieve. That last bit was crucial – he’s actually going after what he wants. Whether or not he’d achieved it was never specified as being necessary, and the word successful was never used.
I would distill this down to a lifestyle design or goal that is actively pursued and prioritized.
- SENSE OF HUMOR / FUNNY / FUN
Definition: you can make her laugh. Can come in any form. Goofy, sarcastic, being a dick, being a dork, self-deprecating, one liners – whatever. It’s about the effect, not the delivery system.
This was never specifically mentioned by name but alluded to (almost in every case) in stories of failed relationships. The over invested boyfriend, the guy who texts too much, who needs to see her every day – in essence, the guy who needs her, rather than the one who wants her. Some women interestingly cited independent men as ones who prioritized their own needs first.
The women, in every case, wanted a man who didn’t need her in his life. He wasn’t dependent on her. This is, in effect, neediness. A useful barometer for this is the degree to which you’d be willing to walk away from the relationship.
Symbolic examples of this trait in its failed state included men who had very few friends, lived at home, and weren’t financially independent (employed).
Paying attention to the details of her personality, and bringing that attention to life in the form of tailored experiences. Examples such as: “never buy me lingerie” to taking her to a Frozen singalong. Investing in her personality rather than applying a one size fits all approach to women.
The only trait that consistently came up in every form as a negative (even when the question wasn’t asking for negatives) was complacency. It was such a negative, in fact, that its effect can only be described as complete revulsion. This is where the man in some form or another begins to stagnate in life, or perhaps worsen. It is the opposite of ambition. Think of it as instead of drawing things into your life, the flow has halted, or worse – is now flowing the other way. The word ‘provider’ was often used in conjunction here. A complacent man makes for a bad provider – and a bad provider is extremely unattractive.
You’ll probably need this too. And ice cream.
SOUNDS SIMPLE RIGHT?
So by now I imagine you’ve read through those traits – seen many you expected, perhaps some others you didn’t, or gained fresh perspective on – and now you’re thinking about where you measure up, and where you don’t.
But here’s the thing – the traits are not that helpful.
I asked the women a simple question ‘what are the fundamental characteristics of the attractive man?’. All of them without exception assumed this referred to a long term partner. Not a single one assumed I was referring to a short term hook up. In fact, that was scarcely mentioned, and when it was, the only correlated trait was height (the importance of which was greatly outweighed by the aforementioned traits). Ironically, the majority of these women have at least had one experience of being picked up in a bar or club, by someone they’d never met before. In fact, some of them were picked up by me – and they had no idea as to where I fell on the spectrum of desirable traits, all they could see was some asshole necking vodka. The lesson here being that these traits, whilst attractive – are also contextual, and subject to contradiction; you can still be attractive when none of them are present.
That’s the statistical equivalent of dogshit.
But where the answers became really interesting was where a woman disagreed with the trend or had a specific niche taste. This didn’t just happen often, it happened a lot. Where three of them would cite confidence as the most desirable trait, another would state she was perfectly confident herself and liked shy men as a result. Where every woman stated traits that fell into the aforementioned patterns, they would also state traits unique to them, which were equally fundamental but fell into no pattern – for example; creativity, competitiveness, persuasiveness, intellectually challenging, philosophical or, enjoys video games and / or comic books.
The point to take away from this is that not every girl is going to be interested in you – even if you develop all the traits. Despite all your efforts at self-improvement, the numbers game rules the roost, and all your efforts simply lead you to a girl who probably would have liked you anyway.
THE ONLY TRAIT THAT MATTERS
When the reader first asked me ‘what are the fundamental characteristics of the attractive man?’ I initially thought of a few – but slowly, as I ran them through my mind, many of them began to fall away as they were slowly disproved by my own experience until I was left with only one:
He can make a move.
There are times when I’ve been shy and still got the girl. There are times when I’ve been incredibly confident and gone home empty handed. There are times when I’ve been empathetic, a complete dick, had something going for me, had nothing going me – each getting the opposite result I’d expect and the listed traits would imply. But when I got the girl, when she was ‘attracted to me’, and I capitalised on this, I made a move. And this is all that mattered.
That is my fundamental.
A lot of guys believe you have to be confident to make a move. That they have to achieve X,Y,Z or do A,B,C personal-development-meditation-hack-morning-routine to be able to make a move. This is only reinforced by the fact that women will tell you in the blink of an eye that confidence is the most attractive trait in a man, so surely you have to be confident to make a move right?
No, you really don’t.
The thing about confidence is that you get it after you make a move. Not before. That’s how it works. Making a move is leaning into vulnerability, not being too confident to feel it.
Another reason I really harp on about making a move is that in my experience, female attraction is amplified by a man expressing his desire. Provided it exists in them to begin with – their desire will be amplified by you expressing your own. They’re aroused by you finding them arousing. The less you fuck around with your own intentions, the faster you’ll end up fucking around with each other later.
THE ATTRACTION PARADOX
One of the best pieces of advice I ever read was ‘if you have to ask, it’s not going to happen.’ It made me reflect on how I’d been engaging with personal development up until that moment. I’d been searching for the way that worked for others, rather than the way that worked for me. My desire for self-improvement had stemmed from a lack of self-worth, rather than a desire to see myself achieve my goals – and as a result, I couldn’t trust myself to find my own way.
And that’s where the question of ‘what are the fundamental characteristics of the attractive man?’ goes wrong.
As the answers from the women flooded in, I began to see the flaw at the heart of the reader’s question. The patterns and anomalies in the answers didn’t just fall under the parameters of female attraction, but instead something grander. The traits all described a man who was simply invested in his own development, for the developments sake – for his sake.
And that’s the flaw. So much dating advice is concerned with telling you how to be attractive, how to react to the rules and conditions that are required in order to be attractive. It’s a mind-set, which in asking the question ‘what are the fundamental characteristics of the attractive man’, already puts you in a position where you’re fundamentally unattractive. You’re pursuing a path of development that’s for her, rather than for you.
This is something I’ve come to call the Attraction Paradox™.
The more you try to be attractive to her, the less attractive you actually are.
Everything stems from this one paradox. You want to know what’s going through my mind when I’ve done well with women?
I want her, so I’m gonna get her.
You want to know what’s going through my mind when I’ve completely wiped out over and over again?
How do I get her? What would get her?
One mind-set is all about me, one is all about her. Imagine how you’d behave from each mindset.
The more you invest in your own needs, your own character, and your own desires – the more inherently attractive you actually are. You’re not a man who’s trying to be attractive, you’re a man who already is. This truth is why I think all the answers fell under the spectrum of a man who was engaged in his own healthy personal development. They weren’t attracted to the man who was engaged in becoming better with women, but instead the man who was engaged in becoming a better him.
Why do you think complacency rated so highly as a repulsive trait? It’s an abandonment of development. And you know what’s a recipe for complacency? Giving your development an end goal, in this instance, women. As soon as you get it, the need for improvement stops. And that can’t happen. Development is an endless project. Slowly developing yourself over years and years of effort – isolating your weak points over time as your self-awareness grows, then working on them.
As a culture, we’ve become fixated on the idea of what is attractive and desirable to the opposite sex*. We’re beaten down by a narrative that tells us we don’t measure up, and we aren’t good enough. Objectively, this exists to influence us as consumers. Subjectively, it makes us feel like crap.
But worse than that – it’s just a shitty way to go about being attractive.
In writing this article, I was asked to compile a list of the traits that women found attractive. The fundamental traits, the ones that couldn’t be missed. This list, if true, presumably offers a roadmap to the heart of every woman on the planet. But in fact, it does quite the reverse. Adhering to a list like this is in itself, fundamentally unattractive. The secret of attraction doesn’t lie in a checklist. You’re not ticking the boxes of what she wants. It’s not about that. No, The secret of attraction is simple. It’s not about what she wants, it’s about what you want.
It’s about a desire to live well and improve. For no one but yourself.
*I am no guru. I’m just a guy. In reality, I’m someone who spends most of his time imploding as a result of his flaws. Just like everyone else.
*Imagine a million bearded, tattooed men, with undercuts, falling off a conveyor belt into a fresh plaid shirt. Forever until infinity.