Normally, when choosing long-term partners, women prefer men who are stable over those who are physically attractive. But according to new research UCLA researchers, these women struggle with their decision later in life, especially when they are ovulating.
At their most fertile period, women who married for stability are less likely to find their mates attractive and more likely to find something wrong with them as compared to women who married more sexually desirable men.
“A woman evaluates her relationship differently at different times in her cycle, and her evaluation seems to be colored by how sexually attractive she perceives her partner to be,” said Martie Haselton, a professor of psychology and communication studies at UCLA and senior author of the study.
But the “stable” guys need to worry, as the negative feelings are usually transient, and they don’t seem to affect a woman’s long-term commitment to her romantic relationship. “Even when these women are feeling less positive about their relationship, they don’t want to end it,” said Christina Larson, the study’s lead author and a doctoral candidate in social psychology at UCLA.
The findings are scheduled to appear in the November issue of the peer-reviewed journal Hormones and Behavior.
Through a series of high-profile studies, Haselton’s lab has revealed important changes that take place in women’s behaviour during ovulation. Possibly to increase their chances of attracting a suitable mating partner, ovulating women tend to dress up and speak in a higher-pitched, more feminine voice and — in a potential inbreeding-avoidance mechanism — refrain from contact with male kin.
The lab also found that women whose mates are less sexy and masculine tend to be more attracted to other men during the few fertile days leading up to ovulation.
“A lot of research has shown that women’s preferences change over the course of the cycle, but this is the first time that these changes have been shown to have implications for relationship functioning,” Larson said.
The researchers found that women mated to the less sexually attractive men were significantly more likely to find fault with their partners and, again, feel less close to their partners during the high-fertility period than the low-fertility period. This was not the case with women who rated their mates as more sexually attractive. Instead, these women reported being more satisfied with their relationship at high fertility than at low fertility.
The researchers believe the findings shed light on a suite of conflicting behaviours that stem from mating strategies that might have provided an evolutionary benefit to women’s female ancestors of long ago but today probably serve no other purpose than to stir the domestic pot.