Fact: Over age 22, you're all dried up. Last week's bagels, yesterday's baguette. So says the data on what men really want when they are at home alone under the covers hiding from complex interactions. And you know data doesn't lie, just as you know that analogies comparing your worth to bread products are apt and good.
Don't take it from me. I will let Sheila Eldred at Discovery News tell you the breaded truth:
A new book based on relationship data reveals much about the way people interact and view each other, but one graphic from the book's first chapter is generating all the buzz. Here's how the author describes the salient piece of data regarding how men view women:
"From the time you're 22 you'll be less hot than a 20-year-old, based on this data," Christian Rudder said at a recent talk, according to FiveThirtyEight. "So that's just a thing."
Yes, ha, just a trifling thing, like a teacup or a fact or an incrementally but visibly aging female face and body. That thing is data that Rudder, the president/co-founder of OKCupid, has collected for a new, hotly bid upon book called Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One's Looking). And what can you do with data but present it sheepishly?
THE THING LOOKS LIKE THIS:
A Man's Age vs. the Age of the Women Who Look Best to Him
A Woman's Age vs the Age of the Men Who Look Best to Her
Five Thirty Eight says Rudder is doing us a favor. "By assembling users' clicks and keystrokes into one place and spending hours inside Excel," they write, he has "found a way to articulate our humanity."
Sure, or at least, found a way to articulate how would-be daters with access to computers feel when they are alone selecting potential candidates from a richly visual, highly optimistic, self-selected pool.
Question: Who is to say which sets of data reveal what we "are really like"? Why is it that what we do alone when no one is watching is always treated as our "true selves" and what we do with people is not, when we probably spend more time with people being in groups than alone? You could be a productive civil engineer, but once it's revealed you like clown porn, now you are Clown Porn Guy, Real You. I mean, which is more real? Besides, I think when we look at all the pairing off that has ever happened in history, most of it has gone down in person. With people watching.
Most of it has gone down with other people, in living rooms, and in communities, and grocery stores and bars, and at work, talking to people in real life, in three dimensions, with their faces and bodies and qualities and flaws. Because the second you remove attraction alone from the mix, now you're dealing with messiness. Nuance. Cofactors.
That is not a knock against online dating or its attendant data! It's a knock against saying that anything you do when you can pick from a buffet of options that are merely what you're wishing for (and not at all what you can necessarily have or works well) is a totally different experience from what happens when two people have to sit across from each other and deal with each other's feelings about True Detective.
That is to say, to date online is to blue-sky the shit out of your preferences, and humbly scale back from there. What you like enough to message a person online in a carefully controlled environment means something — sure — it is not nothing. But everything depends on the red wheelbarrow of that actual date, at which point your apparent desire for someone a third as old as you will get weird if you are hoping to talk about your feelings about True Detective.
Rudder, to his credit, makes this distinction. From Discovery News:
…Rudder is quick to note that these preferences don't necessarily mean 50-year-old men are actually dating women who can't legally drink.
"This is just measuring people's opinions, not what they actually go out and do," he told NPR. "What you see when you actually look at what people do, you see the realism set in. So these 40-year-old guys … the people they actually have the courage to actually go out and message are a lot older: it's 30, 35-year-old women."
Ah, another truth: Men really want 20-year-olds until reality sets in and they have to settle for Talky McAge-Appropriate. Bummer. Here's a thing, and it's nothing against Rudder directly or his work, which I think does have inherent value. I'm just tired of hearing what men's preferences are. I'm just no longer interested in hearing what men prefer if they're given all the best options. I'm tired of how we talk about it, like, as if it actually matters, or that we'd even all instantly become permanently 20 if we could in the first place. As if their feelings are some high bar we can never quite measure up to and must live with and muddle through somehow.
Can we agree that we all get it? Can we agree that we now all understand that if any one group is totally indulged, praised without merit, fed a visual buffet of bodies daily, that in the end they might become, I dunno, how should I put it? Like giant babies about their preferences? That the world no longer needs to know that, if left unattended, men will fuck 20-year-olds 4life if you'll let 'em get up in there, brah?
We get it:
First choice: 20-year-olds.
Second choice: 21-year-old on birthday night.
Third choice: 22-year-olds.
Fourth choice: 23-year-old friend of 22-year-old, if not too mouthy.
Final choice: 24 - 35 if meeting at a dark bar, not too much baggage.
Meanwhile, women, humble old grossies, find men their own age attractive. Men are like:
I want a 20 year old!
I wanna turkey leg!
I wanna go out with the same girl I thought was pretty when I was in high school because peak pretty to me is cryogenically frozen in time! Gimme!
Then compare that to women, who are constantly told they deserve nothing unless they are hairless and deferential:
Yeah I guess I'll mostly date my age. Maybe, just maybe, when I get like, 50 years old, I'll not give a fuck so much that I will finally — at long last — allow myself to imagine a man FOUR YEARS YOUNGER THAN ME as still attractive and it will feel sexually transgressive because it is so against cultural norms. I like conversation. That's me. Conversation.
I don't want to be too cynical though. Here are some tips for how to deal with the fact that you're not hot anymore after you're 22:
Make sure your profile picture is really really good. Work on your facial attitude. Smile. It's your only hope.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby.