Monthly Archives: May 2012

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Ask Anne M.: Can style (or substance) opposites attract?

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, until recently the First Lady of France, shows her rarely-seen frumpy side


I recently went on a date with a very attractive and nice woman. However, her style was a bit off and her shoes were very out-of-date as well as downright ugly (like… really bad).

I’m a very design-oriented, “artsy” and liberal guy, and her lack of aesthetic sense really turned me off. Even I was surprised at my reaction.

Am I being petty or too picky? Can an artsy person get along with an earthy person? Could a liberal be attracted to, and get along with, a conservative?


You raise a couple of significant issues, Picky Picky. First impressions, and the value we place on them consciously and unconsciously, have been the focus of decades of study by sociologists, psychologists, and marketing departments. I think it’s fair to say that anyone would be taken aback by someone whose appearance varied noticeably from our expectations of it. Such expectations are based on the subtle messaging about ourselves that clothing sends out to the world. If I’m told I hold the same values and goals in life as another person – at least “on paper” – and we’re of approximately the same generation, with similar interests, I’d kind of expect them to dress somewhat like me. Or at least provide a nice complement to my style.

You also describe her as attractive, however, which I assume means that underneath her dated duds she had an appealing figure at the very least. What you’re really gauging is the value of the person vs. the shell, and there is a difference. One study determined that when appraising new people, clothing has the most impact on social impressions, while person (including both face and body) dictates views of one’s athletic ability (and by extension, health). Interestingly, neither “costume” nor “person” exerts any notable influence over perceptions of intellect.

What you need to figure out is whether you seek certain attributes in potential partners because they will contribute to your long-term happiness, or because they have become preferences that are fixed for other reasons. But if you’re not sure, you might want to broaden your parameters a little, just as an experiment. Fashion choices, hairstyles, even taste in music are all easily updated. It’s whether you choose to view that as an opportunity (“Hey! Let’s go shopping together sometime!”) or a sign that something more significant is at play.

There are many reasons a person may appear to have given up on fashion, including practical, ethical, and financial ones. It’s entirely possible that your date is completely comfortable in her own skin, and uses her personality to put her best foot forward in the world rather than cool shoes. Or maybe she’s so much cooler and fashion-forward than you are that you failed to recognize her resurrection of the 90′s floral print Elaine dresses and penny loafers for the maverick move it was.

As mismatched couples go, style may well be more of an issue to grapple with than substance. Research into whether opposites truly do attract suggests that yes, it is very likely our mates will be drawn from a pool of people with whom we share certain attitudes – on everything from movies to politics to religion to a shared love of downhill skiing. But it is ultimately how well personalities complement each other that determines happiness. This means that yes, Picky Picky, a liberal and a conservative could technically fall in love and live happily ever after.

Mary Matalin, Republican, and James Carville, Democrat, married since 1993

Looking up your Internet date: a handy infographic

Looking Up Your Internet Date
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Click here to see a slightly larger version.

A little courtesy goes a long way

If your grandmother is (or was) anything like mine, you’d have a hard time getting her to understand how to open an email attachment. So the idea of turning to her for online dating tips might seem preposterous. But if you apply one of her most basic pieces of advice – “Mind your manners” – to just about any online situation, you’re going to get better results. And if you get the chance to test your virtual success by meeting one of your matches in the real world, I hope you’ll bear at least the standard Emily Post wisdom in mind.

But before you even get to that stage, you’ve got to line up dates. And despite your best efforts, they may not always go so well. Here’s an example:

Let’s-Call-Her-Alice had been dating women she’d met on popular free sites like OkCupid and POF for a few months when she went out for a meal (hint: not a good first date) with Let’s-Call-Her-Jamie. As is often the case, they spent the first several minutes discussing their respective internet dating misadventures – and their relief that at the very least, both of them seemed to be reasonably well-groomed adults who resembled their pictures quite closely. Then Alice raised the obvious question: why were they both still single?

Jamie started crying. Not just a little teardrop in the corner of the eye, or a quaver in the voice. Full on crying. Alice thought it was a joke at first. Then, when she realized she’d triggered something major, she offered a hanky. Just like Grandma (or Grandpa, if he was the right kind of manly) would have done. Then, twenty minutes later – with Jamie still carrying on, seemingly inconsolable – she left.

That night, she went home to close her two online dating accounts, determined never again to waste her time and money on a real life encounter with a freak she’d met on the Internet. Then she looked in her inbox, and realized that she still had another date scheduled. For the following afternoon.

Jamie started crying. Not just a little teardrop in the corner of the eye, or a quaver in the voice. Full on crying.

Desperate though she was to cancel, she realized that it would be the height of rudeness to do so on such short notice. And besides, her prospective date had a very cute picture. So she put her game face and date makeup on, and braced herself for another grim reminder that the only thing worse than a lifetime of loneliness was an hour of craziness. If only she’d met crying Jamie a day earlier, she could have begged off. But less than 12 hours is unacceptable except in cases of emergency, and Alice is a person of conscience.

And had she canceled, Alice would never have met Let’s-Call-Her-Tracy. And when they did meet, even though she had a really really really great horror story to tell – she sat on it.

(Because  talking about bad dates – even though it’s something to which all online romance seekers can relate – is bad etiquette if you’re hoping to have a good date, in my professional opinion. At least, right out of the gate it is.)

Plus, Tracy was even cuter than her picture. And she laughed a whole lot harder at that story when she finally heard it – at their engagement party.

A little courtesy goes a long way, lovers – and in all kinds of ways you could never predict. Be nice to each other every chance you get.