Chicago Sun-Times

Dear Fairy Godmother: Make him cute, sweet, smart and rich

June 4, 2002

Chicago Sun-Times

Cornell University biologist Kevin McGraw set out to answer the age-old question: So, what do single women want, anyway?

In Chicago, the answer is a guy with nice hair, nice teeth and a nice caboose.

Oh, a man with a decent personality, too, maybe with a little empathy and the ability to actually listen while she's talking.

Money and shared pastimes, not so much.

McGraw examined thousands of newspaper personal ads placed by SFs looking for SMs in 23 American cities. He counted the words in the ads that related to physical appearance, wealth, emotion and hobbies.

In Chicago, 33 percent of the words used referred to physical traits ("handsome,'' "cute,'' "tall''). About 32 percent of the words were connected to emotion ("caring,'' "honest,'' "loving''). Twenty-two percent were related to money ("professional,'' "financially secure''). And 14 percent related to hobbies.

Looks and emotion were a statistical tie in Chicago. But in some cities--such as Boston, Houston, Salt Lake City and St. Louis--big hearts beat good looks decisively.

On the flip side, a strong chin and bedroom eyes go farthest in Washington, D.C., where 42 percent of the words in ads were about appearance, compared with only 27 percent about emotional language.

For Sarah Allen, 18, of Blue Island, how a man looks is No. 1. "Five-eleven and taller, in shape and with a goatee,'' she said with a laugh Monday.

Allen's twin sister, Hagar, rolled her eyes.

"Women like her mess it up for women like me,'' Hagar said.

"A lot of guys, they don't even think of being emotional and affectionate because they're too busy thinking about their physical appearance, as if that's everything,'' said Hagar, who, like her twin, is a Northern Illinois University biology major.

"No psychos need apply,'' said Oak Lawn's Nancie Ruiz, 27, an administrative assistant with the state. How a man looks was once most important to her but "as you get older, you get more mature, and you look for somebody who's mature enough to settle down with.''

Valarie Emich, 24, a part-time police dispatcher who lives in Merrionette Park, said she was attracted to her boyfriend two years ago by his blue eyes, brown hair and lanky build.

"But I grew more fond of him as I realized he could give me the emotional aspects I was looking for,'' Emich said.

McGraw's syntax in the city--titled "Environmental Predictors of Geographic Variation in Human Mating Preferences''--was published in Ethology, a European journal of behavioral studies.

What he found most interesting was how money came into play in the mating ritual: Generally, the more expensive a city is to live in, the higher percentage of money-related words that appeared in the personals--about 28 percent in San Francisco, leading the nation, only 12 percent in low-cost Montgomery, Ala.

That relates to McGraw's usual field of study--birds (of the feathered sort).

"In densely populated and resource-demanding environments, birds and women may not be all that different,'' McGraw writes. Both seek out partners that are good bets for survival, he concludes.


Cornell University biologist Kevin McGraw studied thousands of newspaper personal ads in 23 cities, analyzing the words used to determine what women want in men. "THIRTYSOMETHING" uses language that reveals her perfect man: a good-looking guy with money.

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