What is it about going out at night that makes us prone to hooking up with mindless, idiotic douchebags?
You think you're just about to have some innocent girl time with your friends at your favorite bar, but before you know it, some dude's arm is wrapped around you, and you're giggling incessantly over your second vodka cranberry.
Then, you end up back at his apartment, your dress and heels strewn across his dirty hardwood floor, and he's railing you to the sounds of a John Mayer album playing in the background.
The next morning, as you and your friends recall the evening over brunch, everyone starts talking about how much of a piece of sh*t that guy you hooked up with was.
They tell you how he was flirting with anyone who would talk to him, how he spilled some girl's drink and didn't even buy her a new one and how they overheard him calling some girl a slut.
For some reason (because you weren't that drunk), you don't remember any of this.
You remember how muscular his arms were, how dazzling his smile was and how unbelievably great he looked in his black button-down shirt, but you have no recollection of his assh*le behavior... or, hell, even his name.
It turns out the only thing you remember about him is what he looked like, and there's science to explain why, according to a June 2015 study from the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships called "Show Versus Tell? The Effects of Mating Context on Women’s Memory for a Man’s Physical Features and Verbal Statements."
The study says that when women go out just looking for a short-term partner -- someone to hook up with or very casually date, for example -- they remember his physical features more than they remember what he said about himself.
When women go out looking for a long-term partner, the opposite is true.
To test this, researchers gave 125 female participants, all undergraduates, a fictional scenario in which they encouraged the women to determine whether they wanted a man as a short-term partner or a long-term partner.
Then, the researchers gave the women a surprise memory test that tested their recollection of the man's appearance and verbal statements.
They asked the women to describe the man's "eyes, nose, eyebrows, shoulders, facial and body hair and body build," in addition to "his university, major and minor in school, community, favorite foods, feelings about competition, workout habits, scholarship, mother’s and father’s occupations and family history of heart disease."
While all women preferred men who are both attractive and interesting, those who wanted a short-term partner remembered what he looked like more than what he said, and vice versa for those who wanted a long-term partner.
It appears that the importance of each quality depended on the type of relationship the women wanted -- which, in turn, affected their memories of said quality.
The study says:
When selecting a long-term partner, women prioritize cues to a man’s status and ambition more so than his physical attractiveness. In a short-term mating context, women’s preferences change somewhat toward the physical features of men, as they become particularly interested in men with attractive faces and bodies.
This goes beyond simply examining a woman's preference for what a man brings to the table; it actually examines how her memory is affected, signaling how deep-rooted these desires really are.
But what is it about each quality that appeals to either a short-term relationship or a long-term relationship?
For long-term relationships, things that might verbally signal a man's ability to provide for a family -- his status and ambition, as reflected in his discussion about his competitiveness, the university he went to, etc. -- are more important, however, those things are not as important for short-term relationships:
In the context of long-term mating, women appear to have stronger preferences for men who display indicators of high investment/status... When considering a man as a short-term sexual partner...women are not likely to benefit substantially from a short-term mate’s status and resources, and they understand that casual sex is not likely to lead to a long-term relationship. Instead, they benefit from securing high-quality genes, which can be passed onto their offspring.
So, when you talked to that guy at the bar, it made sense you didn’t think twice about going home with him; you actually forgot he was a gross flirt, that he obnoxiously spilled your friends drink and that he called some girl a slut.
You forgot anything about his substance, anything about who he was as a human being. You were only focusing on what he looked like.
The results from this study could also explain why you keep hooking up with the same sh*thead person who has repeatedly denied your request for something more.
Even though "women understand that they are not likely to have a long-term relationship with a casual sex partner, they are more likely than men to engage in casual sex as a means of trying to start a long-term relationship."
And according to this study, in the context of a hookup, women value appearance more than substance, so how hot your sh*thead hookup is could be guiding your decision to continue hooking up with him, feeling like sh*t and repeating the cycle over and over again.
In deciding whether or not to hook up with him, you literally forget what comes out of his mouth: sh*t.
It's important for women to be aware of all of this because our desire to hook up with hot guys is about more than just our libidos or feelings of attraction.
Instead, it appears as though our memories actually trick us into thinking that sleeping with someone is a good decision because we forget how bad he is for us.
Perhaps the more we know this, the fewer sh*theads we'll hook up with.
To stop this phenomenon, maybe we can start going out to bars with the mentality of looking for a long-term partner (whether or not that's actually true or not).
That way, we'll value what a guy says more than what he looks like, and we'll be able to have our own backs more often.