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Smaller guys get the short end of the stick Add to ...

Justin Parfitt remembers one man who arrived early for a speed dating event hosted by his company, FastLife, and sat down instantly.

Usually, participants mingle before the flirtations begin, but this man stayed planted in his seat until the bell indicated it was time to date.

"It turned out he was really, really short," said Mr. Parfitt. "But he managed to get through most of the evening by disguising it."

At a time when dating possibilities appear endless, with matchmaking sites, Facebook groups and fetishes for almost every type imaginable, it still seems harder for short men to find a romantic connection.

"If I was from another planet studying humans, I could understand the concept of ugly and the concept of unhealthy as being a sexual turnoff, although I don't necessarily agree with it," said Montreal filmmaker Howard Goldberg. "But I wouldn't have thought that height would play such a huge role."

But Mr. Goldberg, who is 5 feet 3 inches, does believe height is a major factor in romantic coupling. His new documentary S&M: Short and Male, which hit theatres last week, tells us that it's hard out there for a pipsqueak.

"I don't think women are trying to discriminate, it's just a biological thing," he said. "It reminds us that we're all animals and we have these animal reactions, men and women."

So just how important is height to women looking for love?

On the streets of Toronto, women seemed open to the idea of dating shorter men, and some said that they had in the past.

"I have, but it's not my preference," said Sarah Keenlyside, a 33-year-old film journalist. "I think on a primal level, women still want a kind of hero type."

Mac Scott, 35, said she has dated a man who was three inches shorter than her, and that it was a long-term relationship.

"If it's within a few inches it's fine, but if he's really short it's an issue," she said. "It's nice to be on the same eye level."

Laurel Finlay, 21, also dated someone who was an inch shorter than her, but said she had reservations.

"I guess I did, but I didn't want to admit it," she said.

In a chat forum on the online dating site Plenty of Fish (plentyoffish.com), a discussion of height stretches over several pages and hosts a variety of strong opinions. One woman claims that "tiny men" are tiny elsewhere, while another poster points out that the famously endowed porn star Ron Jeremy is 5 foot 6.

"Height is an important factor for male attractiveness, but not for female attractiveness," said Guy Grenier, a psychologist, sex therapist and professor at the University of Western Ontario. "Women want someone taller than they are."

The preference is an evolutionary one, says Dr. Grenier. It's rooted in a tribal history of elevating taller males to positions of higher stature, giving them more resources and therefore a better ability to care for their offspring.

But Gad Saad, an associate professor of marketing at Concordia University's John Molson School of Business, found that despite that innate preference, finding a tall man is not necessarily a woman's number one priority.

In a study examining the mating preferences of men and women, he gave participants a list of 25 attributes such as income, personality and height, which they were asked to rank on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being the most important.

They were asked to give each attribute a ranking according to two different scenarios: if they were looking for a short-term or long-term romantic partner.

When men were looking for a short-term relationship, a woman's height was given an importance of just 14.31. That number rose to 25.5 when the men were looking for long-term love.

And for women, the importance of a man's height was ranked in the same range.

When women were considering a short-term relationship, they rated height at 24.53, but when they were responding to long-term prospects, it was only 21.9.

Many other factors were deemed much more important, including the top-rated attribute: intelligence.

Male participants ranked intelligence at 78.5 for long-term partners, while women ranked it at 80.31.

"It's a multi-attribute package that we're looking for when we're mating," said Dr. Saad. "So does height matter? Yes. Is it fatally deterministic? No."

Mr. Goldberg agrees, to a certain extent.

While researching his film, he came across the results of another study that used neuroimaging to trace the blood flow in women's brains as they were shown images of men.

The lust centres of the brain were found to have more activity when women looked at images of taller men, except for those women who were already in a relationship with a shorter man.

"Attraction is very short-lived and once the personality is engaged, if the personality is attractive, then love can follow and easily override the [lack of]physical attraction," said Mr. Goldberg.

But overcoming this first response can be difficult for shorter men, even in arenas where women are actively seeking partners, like the FastLife dating events.

Mr. Parfitt said the company started hosting "tall man" dating events across Canada, at which all male attendees must be more than 6 feet tall, at the request of their female clientele.

"Women come up to us and say they're all very nice, but do you have any taller ones?" he said.

So, can women be persuaded to prefer shorter men?

Dr. Saad doesn't think so.

"I'm unaware of a culture where women have said the following: 'Give me a wimpy beta male and we're good to go,' " he said. "Nature doesn't give a damn what's fair; it seeks to optimize adaptive solutions. And height is just a reliable cue of physical dominance."

But Mr. Goldberg, who is happily married (to a woman shorter than he is) believes that men like him still have a chance.

"As long as you're kind and aware that there is an initial turnoff factor, there are ways to get past it," he said. "They have as good a chance as anyone at being the guy who gets the girl."

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