I am a slightly gawky individual. I am bit more interested in my computer than my personal appearance and I am not good at relating to other human beings. I am also well aware that the profile of my face does not conform to the ideals of Classical Greek beauty.
Despite all this, I have been reasonably successful in passing my genes on to the next generation. I have the good luck to be relatively tall, and I think that this positive has overcome all my other negatives. I am in the upper quartile for height, very nearly in the upper decile. I am taller than about 80% of other men in other words. In more ordinary language, I am tall but not outstandingly so.
I am lucky.
It turns out that women are very reluctant to consider partners shorter than themselves while men avoid women taller than themselves. This is something that we all acknowledge, without perhaps giving it too much thought. For instance, we all find the height discrepancy between Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes interesting and somewhat amusing. We know that a rule is being broken.
A couple of years back there was a study into jealousy that suggested that short men were more prone to jealousy. Tall men were less bothered. For women, average height women were the least jealous. The study was carried out in Holland and Spain, with 549 people questioned, so it sounds like a reliable study. But in any case I don’t think many people would doubt the conclusions. Just to drum it in, I have just been listening to the radio and heard an anecdote that bears it out.
When he became famous Douglas Adams, the author of the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy tried to use his new found fame to meet his long time hero Paul Simon. The call was made to Paul Simon’s management. A question came back – just how tall was Adams? The reply was 6’5”. They never met.
I have done some research myself by posing questions about what height people would expect in a partner in a few internet forums. The answers were pretty consistent with what I would have predicted from reading the scientific literature on the subject. Women want a partner who is a few inches taller than them. They are prepared to accept men taller than their ideal but don’t like the sound of a shorter man at all.
The interesting question is why this should be the case. At first sight, it might seem simply that larger individuals are better able to hunt and defend themselves, and therefore better partner choices because they have more survival value.
But if this were all that were going on, shouldn’t tallness be a positive across the board? Shouldn’t tall women be equally desirable as tall men? And in any case, height in itself is not that great an advantage. If you have ever played a game of rugby you will be well aware that weight and muscles count for a lot more in a raw struggle for existence. (I often think of rugby as a metaphor for what life would be like without an ordered society.)
I think what is really going on here is a subtle but important point. What humans seem to find attractive isn’t dominance, as is sometimes stated, but status. Height is a very visual indication of your status. Tall men don’t need to be domineering – their height does the job for them. But they don’t want to undermine themselves by having a partner who is even taller. And women don’t want to detract from the status of their partner by towering above them. They want to signal what a good catch they have. We see that when women who are close to their partners in height have an issue wearing high heels that might lead them to appear taller.
There is of course not much that can be done about your height. Women can vary their height to some extent by the selection of footwear that makes them look taller. Men have few options since the platform shoe went out of fashion. But basically we are all stuck with our height and the limitations it puts on who we consider suitable partners, and what they think of us.