It turns out the reason your mom and your sister didn’t like that one (exceptionally attractive) guy you dated may come down to a matter of simple genetics.
Of course, when your mom doesn’t like a guy, it’s usually a conflict of opposing interests: He may be the tatted-up bad boy, the guy from the ‘wrong side of the tracks’, or the sweet and sexy guy whose life choices are questionable at best.
And no, it doesn’t matter how attractive he is as far as Mom is concerned.
As Science Daily highlights, it’s called the “Juliet effect,” named after the conflict between Juliet and her mother over her love for Romeo in Shakespeare’s iconic drama. Like Lady Capulet, most of our mothers would rather we date the steady, stable guy from a good family than the unlikely handsome heartthrob who may be a potential liability.
What is new, however, is research that suggests that you’ll find the same opposing interests from your sister(s) in your choice to date the hunky bad boy over the stable, good boy. Your sister would choose the safe, “good” (albeit likely boring) guy for you. The twist is that both your mom and your sister would probably rather a sexy bad boy for themselves.
According to professor Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair and associate professor Robert Biegler at NTNU’s Department of Psychology, it all comes down to genetics and math.
“For their own partners, women focus on an attractive appearance that suggests good health and an ability to pass on their genes. At the same time, they prioritize qualities in their sister’s partner that can provide direct benefits for the whole family,” say the researchers. “This is consistent with our previous studies where we compared mothers’ and daughters’ choices.”
The new insight is the result of a survey administered by the researchers to female students and their sisters. Participants were asked to rank 133 different characteristics that described the perfect partner for both themselves and for their sister. A similar survey was conducted among mothers and daughters a few years back.
When it comes to the ideal characteristics that most of us seek in a relationship – faithfulness, loyalty, honesty, trustworthiness and reliability – the women, not surprisingly, chose the same characteristics for themselves and their sister.
But clear differences were also apparent.
“The women perceived characteristics like being understanding, empathetic, responsible, helpful, sensible and kind as more important for their sister’s partner than for their own,” says Biegler. When it came to their own romantic interests, women found being sincere, charming, sexually satisfying and fun (all great things, too) as more important for themselves than for their sister.
According to researchers, the reason is simple: The most important thing for females is the transfer of their own genes.
“The ideal partner for your sister or your daughter can’t drain resources from you and decrease the chance that your own genes can be passed on. Preferably he should directly increase your own chances. This can be achieved in part if your sister or daughter makes big gains by choosing a particular partner, and is able to spread your shared genes much more effectively,” says Biegler.
The thing is, an advantage for your sister will rarely outweigh your decreased chances. According to the study, you want to have the greatest genetic advantage when a relative chooses a partner that can provide direct benefits to you. For example, this can include wealth or status.
Meaning, a female doesn’t want to spend her own money or resources on raising her sister or daughter’s children unless it can bring a substantial advantage in spreading her shared genetic material. Furthermore, they’d often rather spend the resources on increasing the survival and status of their own offspring, or have more children themselves who can procreate.
“Women prefer for their daughter or sister to choose someone who can contribute to the upbringing of their own children and grandchildren, or who at least doesn’t pose a burden,” says Kennair.
This means that the man should embody the ideals that most females want in a husband – trustworthiness, the ability to take care of his children, financial stability and a strong social status – so that it does not diminish chances of you or your descendants in spreading their genes. Their own partner may contribute indirectly.
Why, then, would females rather choose the good-looking guy for themselves? What makes the hottie heartthrob a better choice than the boring, stable geek?
“The underlying truth remains: passing on your own genes is the priority. The primary consideration is to find a partner who can give you attractive children who survive. They need to be attractive enough to pass on their genes to the next generation to the greatest extent possible,” said Kennair.
The healthy “hunk” is seen to be the way to do just that.
Sure, stability is great – but apparently so are attractive children. Just because the heartthrob may be your first choice doesn’t mean you’ll end up choosing him to live happily ever after with. The important females in your life – your mom and your sister – may try to influence you to opt for the more “stable” option, even if it’s not your first choice. Of course, this poses a difficult situation, as everyone wants their family to love (or at least tolerate) their significant other.
But as Kennair and Biegler point out, the choice doesn’t come down to a matter of morality, only of passing on genes. They say that the opinion of your mom and sisters can also come down to competition. Subconsciously (or not), they say that your sister may want you to choose another partner so that the heartthrob could be available to her instead. Despite the quieting of her biological clock, the same may be subconsciously true of your mother, according to the researchers.
In most cultures, the researchers say that the mother will usually get her own way. According to researchers’ hypothesis, the stronger the parents’ control is over their children (something that can vary culturally), the stronger the conflict between the sister as well.
In the end, regardless of culture (including more egalitarian cultures), women tend to be more attracted to the good-looking set than the boring and steady type. Though this makes sense to ensure the greatest genetic success, the goal would be to find it all: looks, brains and stability.
A little bit of charm doesn’t help either, of course.