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12 May

What women really want – I was watching the Discovery Channel the other day. I only watch the Discovery Channel on occasion, as it happens to be at the fuzzy end of our cable coverage, and I mean this literally—the higher up you go in the channels, the fuzzier they get. DC is somewhere up in the 70s (the channels switch around every once in a while, don’t ask me why, and it really ticks me off when they put the BBC up in the fuzzy end, like it is now), meaning that on a bad day it is almost unbearable to watch. I don’t know why this is so. I was always under the impression that the idea of cable television was to get rid of the fuzzies you had to deal with when using an antenna (remember those?). Most likely it has something to do with the fact that I live out in the middle of nowhere. I suppose I should be happy that I have a decent connection to the Internet (er, most of the time).

“Are we really just like any other animal when it comes to choosing a mate?”

Anyway, as I was saying before I so rudely interrupted, I was watching the Discovery Channel the other day. It was a bearable day, meaning that the fuzzies weren’t too bad if I sat far enough away from the television, and there was an interesting program on to boot. I can’t remember the name of the program, and apparently it’s not in the current rotation, as I can’t find it anywhere in the listings for Discovery Channel Asia. Not that the name is really all that important, but I want you to know that I tried. The important thing is what it was about, and it was about what we look for in mates and how we make mating decisions.

It was a scientific program, so it concentrated on how we are wired when it comes to selecting a mate. As we all know, physique is an important part of how we judge prospective mates—according to the program, women look for the inverted triangle physique in men, while men look for the hourglass figure in women. The why is pretty much what we were taught in school: the inverted triangle physique indicates a strong male who will be able to protect the female, while the hourglass figure indicates a female who is capable of bearing children. I must admit that it’s nice to have a handy, scientific excuse for why men can think of nothing but sex. Hey, we’re just trying to propagate the species!

The next topic they covered was probably the most interesting bit of the entire show, at least for me. Everything else was either something I already knew or common sense. I never knew how important smell was, though. I know about pheromones, of course, but this went beyond that: apparently, we react differently to the way members of the opposite sex smell based on how our immune systems match up. The more similar a person’s immune system is to our own, the less we are attracted by their scent. This makes sense, of course, since children will have a better chance of fighting off a variety of diseases if their parents have dissimilar immune systems because there are, so to speak, fewer gaps in the coverage.

The program also discussed how women are greedy, materialistic vultures who are always on the lookout for stupid rich men to devour attracted to wealthy men because these men will better be able to provide for them and their children. They did an amusing experiment where the frumpy narrator drove a beat-up old car to a cafe, stepped out wearing an old sweater and crappy pants, and sat down at a table next to four or five women. These women were then asked to rate his “sexiness.” The highest score he got was a three from one of the women, who said, “He’s got a nice smile.” I guess that’s the equivalent of a guy saying, “She’s got a nice personality.”

Then our intrepid narrator got a quick makeover in Beverly Hills: haircut and grooming, nice suit, ridiculously priced car. When he went back to the cafe in his new ride and duds, the women rated him much higher. One woman said: “A 10 if he’s single, 9.5 if he’s married.” I did find it odd that none of the women recognized him—he did look different, but not that different. Anyway, scientific credibility aside, the idea was that women are attracted to men of means. The program went on to say that female penguins, for example, take into account the number of rocks their male suitors have accumulated when choosing a mate, as these rocks will be used to build their nest. It’s good to know that we’re not that much different from those wacky birds in the tuxedos.

Actually, I think that was the whole point of the show: that, as human beings, we are just another animal species when it comes to choosing a mate. I like science programs, and this one was interesting—especially the bit about scents—but I couldn’t help feeling that something was missing. Was that all there was to it? Are we really just like any other animal when it comes to choosing a mate? I would say no, and I would present myself as Exhibit A.

My wife and I were married when I was 23 and she was 22, which seems to be a bit young by today’s standards. I think my parents were married around the same age (if not a bit younger), but the trend these days is to marry later. Now, to be perfectly honest I don’t think I fit the profile of a desirable male at the time. Forget the inverted triangle physique—I had (and still have, although I am working on building tiny bulging muscles) what my wife calls a “chopstick physique.” I definitely did not look like a big, strong male who could take care of her and her offspring. As for the material aspect, well, I was a poor English teacher (no, not all English teachers in Korea make millions of dollars—although they do make millions of Korean won) with absolutely nothing to show for the six months I had spent in the country. In other words, I was like pretty much every other English teacher I knew.

As it turns out, my wife and I do seem to have different immune systems, so maybe there is something to the scent thing after all, but that seems like a pretty weak foundation on which to base one’s selection of a mate, especially since it’s not something of which we are consciously aware. With the whole “protecting me and providing for my children” theory out the window, there has to be a different answer.

I have, over the years, collected enough information from my wife to offer a fairly concise summary of why she married me—or, at least, why she says she married me. From what I can gather, there are three (four, actually, but the last two are linked) separate lines of thinking that went into the decision, three things about me that somehow fit her ideal at the time. Interestingly enough, all three of these things stem from a common source, but I’ll get to that later.

Let’s start with the physique issue. What is it about my chopstick physique that my wife finds so attractive? Well, as it turns out, I bear a remarkable resemblance to male comic book heroes. Now, when I say “comic book” here, I’m not talking about D.C. or Marvel, I’m talking about what are called manhwa in Korean and manga in Japanese, the same art style behind Japanese anime (sometimes unfortunately called “Japanimation”). If you have any familiarity with any of the above, you’ll know immediately what type of physique I’m talking about here: these characters have legs up to their armpits and eyes the size of volleyballs. Granted, my legs don’t go all the way up to my armpits, but they are long compared to my total height, and I do have larger eyes than most Koreans. I also have very pronounced facial features, such as a high nose and cheekbones. I am a manhwa character incarnate, or at least that was how my wife saw it.

What about the material possessions part? After all, at the time I basically had nothing. I was an English Lit. grad with no money and nothing to really brag about. So I asked my wife why she decided to marry me. Her reply? Because she saw that I had potential. That compliment there cuts both ways. On the one hand, it shows tremendous faith in me, while on the other hand she was basically saying, “I know you’re not always going to be such a loser.” Then again, I can’t really argue with that, so I guess it’s mostly a good thing.

More importantly, I think that this, more than anything else, is what sets us apart from the other animals: as human beings, we can look ahead and see possibilities that might not be present yet. Take the penguins, for example: either you’ve got the stones, or you don’t (sorry, it was just too good to resist). The female penguin doesn’t say, “Well, I can see that you’ve got a lot of potential, and even though you don’t have a big pile of rocks now, I know that someday you’re going to be an avian Fred Flintstone.” She just sees a measly pile of pebbles and moves on to the next horny penguin.

There was something else that my wife once said that would seem to be at odds with the idea of marrying on potential. My wife likes to watch those mindless black holes of entertainment known as Korean television dramas. After observing her behavior while watching these shows (all the while desperately trying to avoid watching them myself), I came to the conclusion that she latches on, emotionally speaking, to the pathetic male characters. When I say pathetic, I mean: “being able to evoke pity or compassion.” These pathetic male characters evoke this pity or compassion because they are a) poor, b) amnesiacs (this happens a lot more often in Korean television dramas than you would think), c) astounding in their depth of social ineptitude (i.e., unable to maintain even the semblance of a healthy relationship with a girl), or d) fatally ill or otherwise doomed to die.

I asked my wife why she connected with such pathetic (and here I mean it in the contemptuous sense) characters, she said, “I don’t know, I just like pitiable guys. That’s one reason why I married you.” She shoots, she scores! Wife: 1, me: 0. The funny thing, though, is that she was completely serious when she said it. This has to be the least complimentary reason my wife married me (notice how we’ve gone from most complimentary—if you can call it that—to least), and the one that I’ve subjected to the most analysis. My first thought was that it was somehow connected to a mothering instinct—that she wanted someone to take care of. I do think that is part of it. After all, everyone wants to be needed. No one wants to be with someone who doesn’t need them.

Only when I started thinking about writing this entry, though, did I come up with another possibility, and this fits in with the underlying thread that ties everything together. My distaste for Korean television dramas caused me to see these male characters as simply pathetic, but actually they are more than that—they are tragic. That is not to say that I am a tragic figure, of course, but when my wife met me, there was an element of pathetic tragedy to my life. I was in a strange new land with no family, no real friends, no real material assets, no real anything. On the other hand, this lack of anything to hold me down gave me incredible freedom, and she admired that. Since the amount of freedom one has is inversely proportional to the amount of stability one has, this freedom cannot be separated from my patheticness. They are two sides of the same coin (these days, I am far less pathetic, and thus I also have far less freedom).

Some of these reasons may seem at odds with each other, but they all make sense when you understand the underlying thread: my wife is a romantic—not a romantic in terms of love, but as in “responsive to the appeal of what is idealized, heroic, or adventurous.” The comic books? Romanticism. The potential? Also romanticism. And the two sides of the coin, tragedy and freedom? That’s right—romanticism. Fortunately for us, I also happen to be a romantic as well. This is why we are still not rich (and most likely never will be)—because we invariably spend large amounts of money traveling for several weeks out of the year. We hadn’t actually intended on getting married as soon as we did, but we moved the date up so we could go to Mongolia together when I helped a friend set up an English language school in Ulan Bator.

My wife insists that she married me based on potential, with little concern for my present condition, because she was young. She says that she would probably not do the same thing today. Well of course she wouldn’t. I probably wouldn’t have married a thirty-year-old woman at the ignorant age of twenty-three either. Yes, time has tempered our adventurous spirit a bit—we are probably more responsible now than we were then—but that doesn’t mean we are any less romantic. The fact is that my wife hasn’t changed, and I’m thankful for that. She still sees potential in me—even though I’ve come a long way, she believes that I will go even further in the future.

Sometimes I tease my wife for being such a romantic, for watching silly Korean television dramas, for still getting excited about comic books, for watching Pirates of the Caribbean and reminiscing about how she always wanted to be a pirate—but the truth is I’m the same way. I try to pretend I’m not, of course. I try to pretend that I am logical and realistic and firmly planted on the earth beneath my feet. But it’s all a sham, a smoke screen I put up to make myself less vulnerable. My wife knows this and loves me anyway. And I love her for the way she is, even though I may not always tell her that. No, I need to post it on the internet for all the world to see. Ah, men. We are such cowards. And yet our women love us anyway. What more can you ask for?

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