Desperately Seeking Sought-After

February 24, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

What does he want in this relationship, and what does she want?

A week ago, Gwen at Sociological Images posted this photo of an ad for a dating service that she found in an in-flight magazine.

Click on the image to see it in readable size.

The ad doesn’t give any prices, nor does their Website, but presumably, this is an expensive service, at least for men (“Women join for free”). But it’s the male/female differences that have nothing to do with cost that are more interesting. For example, the ad thinks its important to tell women that the service’s male clients are
  • selective
  • eligible
  • highly educated
  • commitment-minded
“Eligible” and “commitment-minded” don’t appear on the men’s side of the ad. My guess is that these are code words to tell women that the guys are not married and not out just for sex. Apparently that’s a concern for women (but not men), perhaps a concern born out of experience.

The ad for men lists in parentheses the criteria the guys might use – her religion, her age, etc., and the one I find most puzzling as a variable, her level of emotional stability. (“I’m looking for someone who’s 26-32, really pretty, college grad, and mildly neurotic.”)

The ad assures men that the women on the service are
  • highly attractive
  • intelligent
  • sought-after
One of the commenters on Gwen’s post, someone with inside knowledge about the dating service industry, said that in fact the top criteria for nearly all men are simply a woman’s looks and weight, and for nearly all women, a man’s education and income.

Probably so. But what about “sought-after”? It’s one of only three things listed as making a woman desirable. But why? “Sought-after” implies that in deciding who they find attractive, men submit their feelings to a majority vote. For them, love is based not on the special chemistry between two particular people but on the consensus of what others think or on universalistic criteria. If lots of other guys want a woman, she must be the right woman for you. You choose a woman the same way you choose a car (“Car & Driver’s Top Rated” “America’s #1 Selling Luxury Model”).

In a similar vein, the Website for men equates finding love with career achievement. At the top of the men’s page is this headline

While You Drive Companies Forward, We Help You Succeed In Your Personal Life

It’s all about success. The women’s page has nothing like that. For women, the top headline is

Isn't It Time You Met The Real Love Of Your Life?

That love-of-your-life line appears on the men’s page as well, but at the bottom. As in the magazine ad, the Web page also tells women, but not men, that “you have nothing to lose and a wonderful man to gain.” I can see why men have something to lose – they’re the ones putting up money for this service – but why do only women have a wonderful someone to gain?

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