Bonald’s advice for finding a spouse

Lower your standards.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t think you should get married to someone you don’t love and don’t really want to be married to.  I’m just saying that much misery in the world is caused by people’s nets being too small.

Start with physical attractiveness.  You will not have failed to notice that there is a very widespread consensus among men as to which women are pretty and which aren’t, at least when the women are strangers and the men hence “unbiased”.   Hollywood has no trouble knowing whether an actress will be physically appealing to the vast majority of men.  Even relative degrees of attractiveness are a matter of rough consensus.  Think about what this means.  It means that the husband of the median woman will have thought half of women more attractive when he first met her.  The husband of women farther down the scale will have at first found the great majority of women more attractive.

Of course, men don’t choose wives just based on looks.  But just adding other qualities doesn’t change things, at least insofar as the states of those qualities can be ranked by desirability and that ranking is the same for most men.  I suppose that some personality traits are not thusly rankable, but many qualities–related to age, health, demeanor, femininity, maternal impulse–are.

Men tend to evaluate women on an absolute scale.  A man may, for instance, decide that all of the women available are very attractive or that none of them are.  For women choosing a husband, the situation is worse.  Again, men can be ranked by women on some of the most important traits with much consensus.  However, one of the traits by which women judge men is social status, and that is a zero-sum game.  In a room full of admirals, the captain has low status.  To the extent that status is necessary for attraction, some fraction of men must be unattractive to women, regardless of how much each man can do to improve himself.

Putting all traits together, everybody has a lower bar of attractiveness below which a person of the opposite sex is not an appealing marriage prospect.  Game websites offer men advice on how to raise their own attractiveness level to clear more women’s bars.  I won’t comment on how good their advice is, but I’ll agree that raising your attractiveness is certainly useful to the extent you can do it.  However, you mustn’t neglect the other bar, namely your own.  Men and women are condemned to loneliness just as much by their own bars as by the opposite sex’s.

“You’re saying I should make myself marry an ugly woman?”  No, with that attitude, you would be a curse to her.  I want to help you improve your ability to recognize women’s beauty.  I claim that what you call more vs. less beautiful is often a case of obvious vs. subtle beauty.  Becoming a connoisseur in matters of food means being fussier than the average person, seeing faults where others would just see a good meal.  To be a connoisseur of female beauty, I say, is the opposite.  There is no value in spotting faults in obviously beautiful women.  Rather, you should learn to see beauty that the untrained eye would miss.

How do you do this?  There’s no studying involved, no reading, no exercises.  It happens automatically.  Can you remember a time when you were away from women for a week or more, and after that practically any woman looked good?  Can you remember spending a lot of time in a place with a small number of women, how maybe at first none of them seemed pretty, but after a few days of nothing else to look at, you started seeing a few of them in a new light?  When obvious beauty is absent for a while, a man’s eyes adjust, and he starts to see the less obvious (but still real).

Masculine nature combined with large groups and the media conspire to make this difficult.  Put the average man in a crowded room, and his eyes quickly fall on the most attractive woman in the room, and to that spot they return as often as propriety allows.  Most men are often in large enough crowds that the prettiest woman present is very pretty.  Even when alone, television, movies, and magazines bombard a man with images of exceptional female beauty.  His beauty standards are getting calibrated to attractiveness levels far in excess of what he can realistically hope for in a wife.

So here is my first piece of advice:  stop looking at pretty girls.  By this I obviously mean to stop looking at them unnecessarily–if a pretty girl is talking to you, of course you should look at her.  However, if you’re like most men, you’re looking at pretty girls far more than social interaction demands.  Do this, and your brain will start looking for attractiveness in the girls you’re allowing yourself to look at.  The girls who once seemed marginal now seem definitely kind of cute, and the girls who seemed plain-but-not-ugly now seem marginal.

Once your brain has recalibrated to properly appreciate the women in your league, you may pursue a mate intelligently.  Once you’ve got a girlfriend, you can stop worrying about not looking at more beautiful women (at least, insofar as lust isn’t an issue).  Getting to know and care for a girl will automatically atune you to her beauty.  Once you’re in love, you will realize that you prefer this girl to the ones you had once thought you wanted.  (If you marry her, you’ll also condition yourself to associate sex with her, which is beneficial.)

That’s my advice to men.  I’m not oblivious to the fact that having unrealistic expectations in a mate is much more common among women.  I suspect it’s the main reason women don’t marry or divorce.  Not being a woman, I can’t say concretely what girls can do to properly appreciate the men around them who are their realistic marriage prospects.  I expect there’s something analogous.  Stop reading romance novels, perhaps?  Avoid unnecessary interaction with high-status men?

Again, I’m not telling you to settle for something not good that you don’t want.  I’m saying there’s a lot of really good stuff right under your nose that you’re missing.

18 Responses

  1. I have a strong feeling that approaching the matter of marrying in this kind of objective, analytic way is in itself a deep and profound insult to what should be regarded as the supreme mystical act.

    Rather as if someone was to do the same about their children, or children were to do the same about their parent.

    These are matters of the heart, the soul, one’s deepest inner self – if we instead treat marriage and family as matters of psycho-social calculation then our punishment will simply be that *that* is precisely what we will get.

  2. I disagree with Bruce. First of all, unlike Game, or even a woman coloring her hair, Bonald isn’t advising deception. This isn’t a case of “tricking” another person by simulating greater youth or higher status. Second, the strategy is directed at a population, not an individual. I agree with Bruce that a certain artless candor is appropriate in courtship, but I see no problem with some rational calculation when it comes to preliminaries.

    One thing you’ve left out, Bonald, is the Madame Bovary syndrome. She developed unreasonable expectations by reading romantic novels, but our world of visual media is much, much worse. It’s not just pornography. All media are filled with women who are, for the most part, more attractive than any woman an ordinary man is likely to meet in a month of Sundays. And they appear is scripted scenarios that make them appear funny, intelligent, interesting. So I would add to your advise the suggestion to cut way back on media consumption. Media is the heroin of experience and it ruins a man’s taste for real experiences.

  3. Hi Bruce,

    I agree with you that this is an attitude to avoid, but I don’t see how I’ve indulged in it. Many people have unhealthy expectations that keep them from properly appreciating ordinary members of the opposite sex. Identifying spiritual problems and imposing minor ascetic disciplines (control of the eyes, in this case) is a normal part of the Christian life, is it not?

  4. I agree. “Stop looking at pretty girls” will automatically mean one basically can’t watch television any more.

  5. We are thinking beings, though not primarily thinking beings, so thought and planning in this area, one of the most important areas of human life, while not primary, are still absolutely essential. “Go with your heart” is just about the worst possible advice you could give. Thoughtlessness of the Bruce Charlton type in this area doesn’t lead to some ideal paradise but to a place where Hollywood and romance novels dominate our consciousness.

    Avoiding media can help, but I’m not sure that that is a complete solution either. Every reasonably large, viable and healthy church will have at least a half dozen young women of quite profound beauty, and let’s not even talk about taking a stroll over to the nearest university library, or even going off to buy something at the store, where the most attractive young women tend to be chosen to manage the check out stand.

  6. I’ve been to a couple of Western countries where I found the women were generally not as pretty as I am used to, in fact they seemed rather plain to me. Yet the men there have found them attractive enough to have reproduced for aeons. HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE???!

  7. I actually don’t think the girls on TV are all that pretty. The female ideal the media pushes is either excessively athletic or skinny both of which I find utterly unattractive (e.g. the way-overrated Jennifer Anniston and her stick-like arms and boy-like face). I think black men’s preference for “thick” women is a more natural preference probably because black men are less “reformed” than white men by feminism, liberalism, modernism, etc.
    But maybe I’m confusing pretty and sexy.

  8. Don’t mean to sound “game-like” but one thing a man can do to make himself more attractive is start a strength training program. I don’t mean narcissist body-building that eats up hours each day. You can start a basic power-lifting routine , your body will look fitter (give it enough time and it WILL work) and you will elevate yourself in attractiveness above the large number of guys or are “soft” because they never exercise. Women find physical strength attractive (you don’t have to be a roided-up monster).

    Also, learn some manly skills like fixing things. I think women find this attractive as well. It seems to make them feel secure that they are with a man who is resourceful and can fix things.

  9. I’m not sure what psycho-social calculation means here. Matters of the heart, the soul and one’s deepest inner self are, of course, matters where cold, rational, intentionally disinterested thought is most important to adopt.

    “[marriage] should be regarded as the supreme mystical act.”

    One way of thinking about theological modernism is that it involves advising normal people to act as if they are very spiritually advanced. This is a point Charlton has made himself. If you condemn rational calculation and extoll mysticism in matters of marriage as is being done here and as has been done endlessly by Hollywood, what you are going to get is what we have, in fact, got: people rushing to and fro as their pelvises dictate.

    Except at very high levels of SES, the West doesn’t seem to have had much of a tradition of arranged marriages. That’s too bad for us — though if you believe Gregory Clark, mostly we are descendents of the people who did have arranged marriage.

  10. Many of the most successful marriages I know, including mine, were approached with a healthy dose of cold-eyed pragmatism on both sides. I recommend it very much.

    Pragmatism by itself isn’t enough, but it has to be there.

  11. If you condemn rational calculation and extoll mysticism in matters of marriage as is being done here and as has been done endlessly by Hollywood, what you are going to get is what we have, in fact, got: people rushing to and fro as their pelvises dictate.M.


    “It just happened.”

  12. Absolutely, there should be something there that is not calculable, but that does not mean that you shouldn’t be practical.

  13. Not being a woman, I can’t say concretely what girls can do to properly appreciate the men around them who are their realistic marriage prospects. I expect there’s something analogous. Stop reading romance novels, perhaps? Avoid unnecessary interaction with high-status men?

    Romance novels and of course books like 50 Shades of Grey are part of the problem, but the bigger problem is arrogance. I discussed this issue in an old post of mine; basically there are three things girls need to do:

    1. Get an honest assessment of their own physical attractiveness and accept that this will affect how attractive of a man they can hope to marry.
    2. Have some humility.
    3. Stop (or don’t start) having sex with men they aren’t married to because they can generally get men to sleep with them who are much more attractive than the men who are willing to marry them. It gives young women a false impression that they themselves must be much more attractive than they really are, which makes them a bit too arrogant to appreciate many of the men around them.

    Also: delete Taylor Swift off your iPods, young ladies. If men like the ones she sings about in her songs really existed, she would be married to one of them. And she is single. What does that tell you?

  14. I find that many young reactionary and traditionally-minded men are quite concerned about a lady’s political views. My advice: Lower your standards.

    Women are taken in easily by feminist propaganda because (on average) they are just more easily taken in by propaganda. Most young women, even virtuous ones, will have many silly ideas, of which they will be more or less easily disabused when they come under your proper authority. If she promises to obey you, and you think she can keep a promise, she’s a keeper; notwithstanding that she has an annoying brain quirk that tries to hold onto to bits of feminist ideology.

    Just be sure to catch them before they have made stupid, life-altering decisions based on those silly ideas. Now that is a disqualifier.

  15. Bonald, we should raise a glass to toast a possibly rare occasion. I think I agree with everything you say here. I agree too with JM Smith’s point that there isn’t any trickery or mind games in the points you are making and that this is a point in their favor.

    Incidentally, home school associations are chock-full of young women who are excellent marriage prospects for good Christian young men. They are not usually looking for hyper-attractive men, either. They usually _are_ looking for young men who can afford to support a family, though, because they want to have kids and stay home with them and home school them. But of course these young ladies vary greatly in sheer physical beauty, and some of them (gasp) wear very little makeup. It would be a real mistake for men not to propose to them because they don’t look like the girls on TV shows.

  16. Hi Lydia,

    I think we actually agree on a lot of things; it’s just that I have a habit of writing most about my most offensive beliefs. I remember you once wrote an essay about how the internet tends to heighten the perception of disagreement among people who are basically on the same side.

  17. True, true. Good point.

  18. @Bruce:

    The female ideal the media pushes is either excessively athletic or skinny both of which I find utterly unattractive

    I’m so glad to see someone else agree with me on this. I realized some time ago that one of the ways I was being harmed by the “game” blogs was that I was constantly being told that “good” is something different than what I find good, and that “normal” men like something different than what I like. In an odd way, I felt I was being warped in the same way that girls’ self-image is warped by the mass media.

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