Did you know that people pick their partners based on:
1. smell
2. eye spacing
3. nose-to-mouth spacing

There is great research to show this. My favorite is that women can smell men in a blind test and tell which one they want to kiss. But women cannot do this when they are on the pill. It messes up how they pick a mate.

Hollywood casting agents know stars need similar facial structure to look like a real couple. And we intuitively know to look for similar facial structure when we decide if “they make a good couple.”  Once I read the research I saw it in photos of me and my husband. But even in photos of couples that are interracial, you can see that their eye spacing and nose-to-mouth spacing is predictable.

Other research that has blown my mind is from the nature vs nurture department. The twin studies are fascinating. Of course, incompetent parenting affects kids, but if you take out all the parents who are unfit, what you find is that most parenting choices don’t matter that much. For example, parenting does not impact at what age a kid first has sex. And it doesn’t impact if a kid likes to read.

The birth order studies also make me think kids are pretty much going to do what they are going to do: Older children earn more than their siblings born later. Middle children earn less than all other children. You might think you are looking at an exception, but the studies are based on results over long periods of time, not last year’s tax returns.

Which means that you probably don’t need to teach your kids about finding a mate. They know how instinctively. And you don’t need to teach your middle child how to earn more money—the child will be more accommodating than most people, and that is a nice life, too.

What you really need to do is teach your kids to be their best version of their true self. They are who they are. If they learn to love and trust themselves they will pick a good mate. And get your daughters off the pill. Because a good mate is one who smells right. We’ve fine-tuned that selection skill over millions of years. Why toss it to the wayside now?

17 replies
  1. Sarah M
    Sarah M says:

    Those links were fascinating! I wasn’t on birth control when I met the man who I married, and I did like his smell from the beginning.
    Funny enough, when he went back home for a visit the summer we were dating, all his friends said, “she looks just like you” and “you guys could be twins”. It’s true. I always thought we were both just vain. Ha! Now I have science to back me up.
    Sarah M

  2. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    Great post and fascinating links. I sometimes get stressed out about homeschooling, feeling that if my kids don’t turn out to be highly successful individuals (by society’s standards), I haven’t done a good job. I love this post because when my wife and I get down to the heart of why we homeschool it’s for this reason. “What you really need to do is teach your kids to be their best version of their true self.” I should hang that quote up in our house. By giving them the time and space to explore themselves and their interests, this is the goal I need to remained focused on. I want my young girls to be proud of who they are and confident in themselves as they navigate life. Thanks for the post.

  3. Virginia
    Virginia says:

    I agree with a lot of what is written here. I don’t think the choices parents make influence their kids as much as we think (I believe there was an NPR podcast on this topic), but there are probably a few areas where parents can really influence their kids.

    In particular, I hope to help my children avoid high risk behavior such as drugs, alcohol and early/promiscuous sex. The book “Parenting without Struggles” has presented research saying that the best way to do this is for a parents to build strong bonds with their child.

    With regards to picking a partner, there was an interesting article in the Washington Post a few months ago that suggested early interaction with out children (before the age of 2), helps determine how they form bonds.

    Anyway, a lot of this research seems to tell me that we should focus on relationships and bonds rather than specific skills such as math or learning another language.

  4. Fatcat
    Fatcat says:

    I wonder if parenting choices make more of a difference to homeschooled kids who spend a much greater percentage of time with their parents. Since we are still so much in the minority, we probably will never know, but it’s interesting to contemplate.

  5. JML
    JML says:

    A few years ago I was having dinner at a restaurant with my husband. I didn’t realize it, but a guy I worked with was at the restaurant, too. The next day I ran into him at work and he told me that he saw me. Then he told me that he couldn’t figure out if the guy I was with was my husband or my brother! Ack! That has creeped me out for a long time. Thanks for clarifying!

  6. JML
    JML says:

    And teaching your kids to be their best version of their true self is the crux of parenting, isn’t it? But so often (and too easily) we can get caught up in who we want our kids to be. And therein lies the challenge.

  7. Joyce
    Joyce says:

    Hi! Your article is accurate for my family. I’m a 31-year-old middle child who just got off the pill. My older brother is a pediatrician in the United States, while my younger brother and I just want to stay in our own country. We all read a lot (medicine, law, and history).

    I really accommodate my family. I studied law to help my family even though my personality (INFP) is bad for lawyering. I save one-fifth of my income for my family. I even bought farm land from my aunt and uncle because they needed money.

    I’m not interested in dating and sex, but I’m improving myself and considering marriage so that my mother can have grandchildren. I got off the pill after I read the research that it changes dating preferences. I’m happy. Thank you for saying that it’s a nice life too.

    • Aimee
      Aimee says:

      Perfect! Thank you for the laugh!! My middle child husband is the only one of the 3 boys who is a functioning member of society. Probably because he wasn’t the preferred child like the oldest and coddled like the youngest. We now have 3 kids! LOL

  8. HomeschoolDad
    HomeschoolDad says:

    I heard that deodorant scares off your one and only soul mate too. Perhaps that’s why there is so much “love” in France?

    Regardless about what any study might say about parents collectively, parents should ask themselves individually what they can do to change the trajectory of their children. They only have a short time to influence their kids and will themselves have to live with potential guilt. Google deathbed regrets and you’ll see a lot related to parenting.

  9. Nur Costa
    Nur Costa says:

    Haha it seems as if this post has been written specifically for me.
    Thanks Penelope for your words (and the links! They’re amazing!)

    What HomeschoolDad commented is true: not wearing deodorant is better for your love life (or sex life).

  10. J.E.
    J.E. says:

    For me personally, I love being on the pill. It was the only thing that made my periods lighter and predictable. Without it, I bleed heavily and couldn’t always predict when it would come. The pill was a godsend to me. I’m on the lowest dose pill available on the market and don’t have any side effects-no weight gain, no headaches, no mood swings. A big one for me-it’s easy. I don’t have trouble remembering to take it every day. Maybe I’m just lucky.
    As for earning among siblings I’m the older of two and my younger brother has far out earned me for most of our adult lives. I’d rather have a life than make a lot of money but not be able to enjoy it. I’m married to someone who makes decent money, but isn’t rich by any stretch of the imagination. I’m an INFJ, but just meh about kids and don’t think I really want them. I have zero maternal pull and I’m 35, so if it hasn’t happened by now, it’s not likely to. I feel like some kind of weird anomaly :-)

  11. Cindy
    Cindy says:

    Penelope, I’ve always thought your husband looked just like you.

    I’ve had a hunch about the looks and smell thing for years. It’s obvious that people pick not only for facial structure, but a similar level of attractiveness.

    My ex-husband and I both have “strong” faces and were mistaken for brother and sister when we had our portrait taken.

    I started dating a man with a full beard after my divorce. I loved how he smelled even when he wasn’t all that clean. When he shaved the beard off I freaked out because he looked like a mash-up of my brother and former brother-in-law. It was way too disturbing, so he grew the beard back.

    I am in a relationship now where all of this is a little “off”. I love his smell, so I think that’s the biggie. But, we met accidentally when I went to visit one of my customers in the hospital the day she had a stroke. He was the only other person there, so we talked. Every time I went to visit her, he was there, so we chatted about everything. I’d sit there and knit while we talked. I got to know who he was over the course of a few weeks and kept thinking to myself, “Hmmm, this is a good guy.” “I need to pay attention to this one.” “This is someone who doesn’t run away.” “I love how he loves his family…..etc…..” I was attracted to who he was more than how he looked. Later, when I told him all of this, he said he loved that I was paying attention to who he was rather than sitting there, wondering where he would take me to dinner. So, in our case, it seems more like a character match than a physical one. Though I know I couldn’t take it if I didn’t like his smell……

    I had been married to an extremely handsome man with a great body for 25 years. The men I’ve been with since the divorce feel “less than” in the looks department. It bothers them, even the not-vain ones. It is what it is. But, I have to say, it just doesn’t really matter to me much now. That handsome ex-husband was a cruel, narcissist who took pleasure in crushing me and our boys psychologically. Give me a man with a good heart and solid character over Gorgeous George anyway.

    I’ve noticed that though, haven’t you? It seems like the second husbands and wives aren’t as solid a match physically as the first ones. I think it’s because we learn whats really important and go for the character traits (as long as he smells right).

  12. Cindy
    Cindy says:

    correction….btw….I never told the man I’m in a relationship with now that I wasn’t attracted to him physically. It sounded that way in the above post. I did him that our conversations in the hospital made me fall in love with who he was.

  13. Caroline
    Caroline says:

    When I first saw my husband, I thought: I think his nose can accept my nose. I don’t remember his smell. But what do you make of me being in a fury over his cologne when I was pregnant? I guess the answer is that smell is supremely important.

  14. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    Wow, that explains a lot since I was on the pill for endometriosis from my mid teens on to my mid 30’s with a couple of breaks to get pregnant in between. I did an utterly horrific job of picking my mates then. Now I am just super single, unwilling to trust my judgement about men, with the hormonal imbalances that were probably caused by taking the pill all those years. Ha! well that means maybe I can trust my choice in dates a little better now since my nose is free and clear of the pill!

  15. Patricia
    Patricia says:

    I love that you said that if kids learn to love and trust themselves, they will pick a good mate.

    As someone with a keen interest in health, I find the study between taking pills and finding a mate so intriguing! Thanks for writing about it!

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