My Favorite Anecdote from Lori Gottlieb

Perhaps you’ve heard of Lori Gottlieb’s piece in this month’s issue of The Atlantic. Well, rest assured it’s well worth your time. I wanted to share a brief anecdote.

Then there’s my friend Chris, a single 35-year-old marketing consultant who for three years dated someone he calls “the perfect woman”—a kind and beautiful surgeon. She broke off the relationship several times because, she told him with regret, she didn’t think she wanted to spend her life with him. Each time, Chris would persuade her to reconsider, until finally she called it off for good, saying that she just couldn’t marry somebody she wasn’t in love with. Chris was devastated, but now that his ex-girlfriend has reached 35, he’s suddenly hopeful about their future.

“By the time she turns 37,” Chris said confidently, “she’ll come back. And I’ll bet she’ll marry me then. I know she wants to have kids.” I asked Chris why he would want to be with a woman who wasn’t in love with him. Wouldn’t he be settling, too, by marrying someone who would be using him to have a family? Chris didn’t see it that way at all. “She’ll be settling,” Chris said cheerfully. “But not me. I get to marry the woman of my dreams. That’s not settling. That’s the fantasy.”

I realize this reflects poorly on me, but I found this both amusing and smart. Many men remain fixated for life on young women. I don’t find this baffling, exactly, but I’ve always assumed that when I’m middle aged I’ll continue to find women my age attractive — mostly because I think the important is how attractive you were as an adolescent. Something like this hypothesis has been raised by Andrew Postletwaite in the context of height.

When they looked at correlations between a man’s income and his height at the ages of seven, 11 and 16, as well as his adult height, Dr Persico and his colleagues found that all of the effect of height on income was actually attributable to height at the age of 16. Neither variations in increase after that age, nor differences in height earlier in childhood, had any independent correlation with income.

Other researchers have disputed these findings, but I find them sufficiently kooky and clever that I kind of want to believe them. Oh, better evidence will convince me (I have values but no convictions), but let’s stick with it for now.

Could it be that female coolness and attractiveness tracks confidence at age 16 very closely? I’m thinking of the beautiful women I know who have the confidence to date eccentrics and goofballs versus those who always struggle to date men who would have done well in the hierarchy of a suburban high school. And I think the difference is that those in the former category felt attractive, desired, and generally well-liked at the critical age. I caution that my experience of the world has been limited mainly to total weirdos, so there’s a high chance that I’m wrong.

But yes, I figure at 40 I’ll still appreciate most the free-wheeling, flirtatious, very confident women we all had crushes on as kids. I suppose I’ll find out soon enough.