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Men's Fall Fashion Issue

Cracking the code

A naif tries to boost his rating on the sex-appeal scale

September 12, 2004|Martin Booe | Martin Booe last wrote for the magazine about out-of-control kids.

It was at the impressionable age of 19 that I saw the Blake Edwards movie "10." The title, of course, referred to beautiful Bo Derek's sex-appeal rating on an ascending scale presumably beginning with the No. 1. Who would argue whether Derek was a 10? Not me, then or now, but that's beside the point. The film introduced the idea of hormonal calculus to an entire generation, and we are still living with it.

Rating the opposite sex on a numerical scale seems to me an innately male inclination. Women don't quantify attraction; they feel it. Leave it to men to take something as abstract and mysterious as attraction and slap a bar code on it. Not that I do. I am an enlightened male. Women tell me this all the time, usually right before they dump me for the leader of the regional chapter of Hells Angels.

But at least I've navigated my own ever-lengthening tenure as a single, available male, blissfully unconcerned with how I'd personally be rated on the numbers scale.

Until recently. Not surprisingly, my innocence was shattered not by a woman, but by another male.

I call him the Anti-Mensch. At 78, he is a Zen-master curmudgeon who likes to tell people the truth about themselves. The truth is rarely pretty. The A.M. has been married more than a few times, so he's learned a few things about women--the sorts of things that can make you toss in your sleep like a Cub Scout who's heard his first campfire ghost story.

Anyway, I was sitting next to the A.M. in a restaurant when he began quizzing me about a recent girlfriend who had been, to put it mildly, a handful.

"Is she crazy?" he asked me, though it was clear she'd already been judged in absentia.

"Well, she's ... complicated."

"Then you're doomed. Is she beautiful?"

"Yes."

"Then you're really doomed. Martin, you're a four looking for a seven. Face it, you're not very good-looking." The A.M. gestured to the lithe, beautiful 23-year-old blond at the end of our table. "You're looking for a 10 like her," he continued, "and you're not going to get her." Overhearing this, the young woman in question drifted over to where I was sitting, planted a kiss on my lips and whispered, "You're a 10 in my book, sweetie."

A lovely gesture, but I am realistic enough to know that I am not a 10. But a four? I was thinking maybe I was a 7.8, making allowances for my age bracket the way they do for geriatric marathon runners. OK, I'd ballooned up a bit, and my wardrobe was a ruin of Hawaiian shirts and tattered khakis. But a four?

My "friend" went on twisting the knife. He said a four like me should be with a three because a three would be grateful and sweet, two descriptors that have never applied to any woman I've dated. I wonder why.

I didn't realize it at the moment, but I was soon to embark on what anthropologists refer to as an assessment of my "mate value." The concept is transparent enough, but from a male's perspective this is what you do when you're so confused about your goods you don't know whether it's more realistic to steal Sheryl Crow from Lance Armstrong or to enter a Trappist monastery. This requires a fearless moral inventory, or more likely, an utterly fearful one. Hands a-quivering, I resolved to crack the code. Would women like me more if I were rich? Must I drive a Porsche? Do I need to spend money on clothes? Do I have to spend money on women?

I decided not to start dating again until I'd collected empirical evidence that could be easily skewed to confirm that I am no less than a 7.5. I found my way to David Buss, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Texas and author of "The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating." In Buss' realm, mating strategy is influenced by the specter of offspring (and both quantity and quality count). Me Tarzan, you Jane. But Buss is a heavy hitter, having traveled the world to evaluate mating strategies.

What women look for in men is resources, says Buss in his book. In ancestral times, resources were measured in buffalo hides, sharp spears and the muscles to heave them. Now, as one might expect, it's more along the lines of real estate, savings and a juicy paycheck. This is not to say that women are greedy and shameless gold diggers; it's simply that evolution has pointed them toward men with resources, who are more likely to provide an environment in which offspring can be successfully and comfortably nurtured. That still may be less than flattering, but so is the fact that men judge women primarily by their physical beauty, which is indicative of the kind of offspring they'll produce. Darwin never said nature had a soft touch.

So anyway, the Porsche doesn't hurt, but not because women care that much about expensive cars. The car, like a trove of tribal jewelry in primitive cultures, and for that matter Beverly Hills, is more a symbol of underlying abundance and not the thing itself. (Though, for the record, I know a fair number of women who think men could find better ways to shake their tail feathers.)

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