Mock Love to Me
My boyfriend has this irritating habit of making fun of my outfits or my spray tan. When I get upset, he says I’m being “sensitive.” I try to look cute for him, and I just don’t think it’s funny for your boyfriend to mock your appearance. Is this his issue or mine? If it’s his, how do I get him to stop? -- Unhappy
It’s probably tempting to give him a taste of his own medicine: “Baby, I did not use the word ‘small’ in describing your penis. I called it ‘adorable.’”
The reality is, beyond men’s zipper zone, women are generally more sensitive to jabs about their looks. This makes sense if you look at sex differences in the qualities we evolved to prioritize in a mate. Of course, we all want a hottie if we can get one -- just as we’d take the Malibu mansion with the stable, the tennis courts and the manservants over the basement apartment with all the charm, space and light of a broom closet in a Dickensian orphanage.
But in mating, as in life, we tend to be on a budget. Evolutionary social psychologist Norman Li and his colleagues recognized that, and instead of asking research participants the open-ended sky’s-the-limit! question “So, what do you want in a mate?” they gave them a limited “mating budget.” This, in turn, forced participants to decide which traits and qualities were “necessities” and which were “luxuries.”
The Li team’s results echo a body of cross-cultural findings on mate preferences. Men in their study overwhelmingly deemed “physical attractiveness” a “necessity.” (Consider that the female features men find beautiful correlate with health and fertility in a woman.) Meanwhile, the women they surveyed, under these “budgetary” constraints, overwhelmingly went for “status/resources” over male hottiehood. This reflects women’s evolved motivation to go for men with an ability to invest in any children who might pop out after sex.
Because women coevolved with men, they are, at the very least, subconsciously attuned to men’s prioritizing physical appearance in female partners. This, in turn, leads a woman’s emotions to sound the alarm -- in the form of fear and hurt feelings -- when her male partner seems to find her less than lookalicious.
Explain these sex differences to your boyfriend so he can understand why you feel bad about his taunts in a way he probably doesn’t from, say, putdown-fests with his dudebros. Encourage him to tactfully tell you if something in your look isn’t doing it for him (and explain how to go about that). In time -- assuming he’s an accidental meanie -- he should start showing a little restraint, merely blurting out “You look good enough to eat!” and not (har, har) going on to part two: “... because that spray tan makes you a dead ringer for a giant Cheeto.”