"Your column last week made me sick," Neil said. "I read it and thought, is this what it's come to after all the blah-blah about warm nurturing relationships? Hey, it sounds like we're right back where we were 30 years ago."
The subject is first impressions--what attracts us to potential dating partners and why.
Last week we heard from Orange County women, who, with a few exceptions, listed good grooming, stylish clothes and a healthy physique as incentives for an initial pas de deux.
If a man was up to par physically, local women said, they were willing to find out more: Is he intelligent? A good conversationalist? Does he have a sense of humor? The majority of women respondents also included money--the quick assessment of a man's financial status--as a key element of first impressions.
"I find the whole subject of women and money strange," said Neil, 44, a construction company owner from Newport Beach. "I've dated some pretty high-powered career women, women who were making $100,000 a year or more, the upper stratum, and yet they're waiting for a man who makes more money than they do! That's pretty discouraging.
"You meet a woman who you'd think has it all together, making lots of money, totally independent, and then you find out she's just waiting for Prince Charming like the rest of them."
As for first impressions, Neil said he was attracted to "women with a certain magnetism, women who carry themselves well. I am impressed by women in really strong business clothing, with nice blazers and skirts. It's a strong look. And what it communicates is someone who is confident and has opinions. I'm looking for someone who has her own ideas and can give men an argument, not someone sitting around saying, 'Oh, Neil, you're so smart!' "
Still, for all his hopes for a confident, successful, opinionated mate--someone, in other words, who has been taking care of business for a while--Neil has found himself dating women half his age.
"Women over 30," he said, "have a particular bitterness about them. They've either never married, and they're angry about that, or they're divorced, and they want to blame every man they meet, rather than take responsibility for the failure of their marriage. There's a disappointment at that age. It's a complex problem. But I don't want to have to prove to them that I'm not the jerk they think I am.
"Young girls don't play as many games," Neil said. "There's not the same kind of guardedness. After four hours with a 21-year-old, you think you've known her all your life. Date a 35-year-old for four months, and you're still not sure you know her."
Randy, 32, said he's drawn to women who are "physically attractive but carry themselves in a fashion that is a little more innocent and non-assertive."
Now dating a 24-year-old, Randy said younger women tend to be more "naive," which he said is good, and not "loud and boisterous or know-it-alls."
"I'm attracted to women who are a little bit more low-key," said the marketing executive from Costa Mesa. "If you see a real good-looking woman in a bar, and she's checking out everyone in the room, you can bet the first thing she's going to say if you go over is, 'What kind of car do you drive? Do you have your American Express card with you?'
"That actually happened to me," Randy said, laughing. "I went to pay the bill and this woman said, 'Are you going to pay with your American Express?' I said, 'No, just my regular old Mastercard--but it's a preferred card, if you're taking notes."
Single men generally echoed the distaff view of attractiveness regarding physical fitness and fashionable clothes. And most agreed that a little makeup was nice, but "gobs of goop"--as one man put it--was bad news.
"I'm definitely a makeup person," said Steve, 26. "I don't like the 'no makeup' look at all. If she puts on makeup correctly, it enhances her natural beauty."
A self-employed telephone systems salesman from Laguna Hills, Steve said the first thing he notices about a woman is "nice clothes. I go to clubs a lot and what attracts me first is clothes. Somebody wearing nice bright colors, something appealing to the eye."
And after clothes, intelligence.
"I'm particularly attracted to somebody who seems to be more intelligent than myself," Steve said. "I like to feel I can learn something from her. If we start talking, instead of talking about the weather, we might talk about the Iran-Contra scandal. I'm not saying I know a lot about it, but she might strike up that conversation with me. And I'd be impressed if she knows about it."
Steve, a nonsmoker, said smoking "is a complete turnoff."
Andy, also a nonsmoker, said he doesn't mind if a woman lights up "just as long as she doesn't blow smoke in my face."