This is the first of a new biweekly relationships column that delves inside the male mind.
Iwas waiting to get my hair cut last week, the giant pile of my parka, fleece, scarf and gloves taking up a whole chair beside me, when I discovered that I am more attracted to women's bodies in the winter.
I didn't come to this realization all by myself, but was enlightened by an article in an issue of Men's Journal I was flipping through. Apparently, some researchers in Poland had forced a bunch of poor souls to look at pictures of naked women over the course of a year and rate them. "Since in summer men are much more often exposed to more uncovered women's bodies than in winter, our prediction was that stimuli presented to men in summer will be assessed as less attractive than the same stimuli presented to the same men in winter," the researchers hypothesized. And, indeed, they found they were correct. Women are hotter in the winter.
This got me thinking about another hypothesis, one of my own: Given this half-delusional attraction, it would obviously be a grave mistake to get involved in a serious relationship at the end of February. See, if a guy gets together with a woman he finds attractive in the summer, then in the winter she'd be extra hot. The other way around, however, would leave him regretful when the weather turned warm, bringing on the mating equivalent of buyer's remorse. He might have thought he was happy with his Ford Fusion when he bought it with his Christmas bonus, but a couple months later, he realizes that the Mustang looks better with its top down. Or maybe he really wanted an Explorer, with all that extra room in the back.
When I talked to Geoff MacDonald, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, he expressed skepticism of the naked woman study. "There are so many other issues in the winter that would be factors, like seasonal affective disorder or stress from not having had a vacation from work in a while," Dr. MacDonald said.
He had a point. But he did add that, in his view, there are certainly other complications with wintertime relationships. "Reasonable evidence supports the hypothesis that the best way to grow intimacy is to do something novel with your partner," he explained. "If you're staying in all the time during the winter, things are not novel."
Jessica Cameron, a social and personality psychologist at the University of Manitoba - where, as I write this, the temperature hovers at about a punishing -20 - points out that proximity is one of the most widely accepted criteria for sexual and relationship interest among both men and women. She speculated that winter could thus be a boon. "Being in a confined space might actually spark some mating," Dr. Cameron says. "But it would depend on how long the couple has been together. If they're newlyweds, that first winter could be exciting in close proximity. In older couples, though, unless they do novel things, it is a possibility that adaptation will occur."
Again with the insistence on the novel.
I recalled that the Men's Journal article had made a vague suggestion that the study's findings correlated with levels of adulterous behaviour in men. The takeaway message here is that couples should quickly schedule some time for a romantic getaway to Quebec City, or at least one or two clandestine erotic photo shoots in the park. Otherwise, your mate might be out looking for something else novel that does not, ahem, involve you.
The Polish researchers didn't arm-twist women into looking at pictures of naked men, but that may be beside the point, according to another study. Peter Todd, a professor from Indiana University who led speed-dating experiments in Germany about a year ago, found that while men were attracted to physical beauty in women, women were looking for money in men.
Personally, I think whoever funded the study should ask for their money back. First, because I can't believe this tired story hasn't changed at all in our postfeminist society, and second, because if it is true, then they could use that cash! And the sad fact for a man is that his relative wealth is not masked by the winter. His Escort from the past century isn't going to suddenly look like a Jaguar coupe in January and his one-bedroom apartment will still only have one bedroom. In fact, if women deep down really are still lusting for an alpha male who'll provide posh shelter, the subzero temperatures are only going to make that desire more salient.
Both Dr. Cameron and Dr. MacDonald asserted - to my relief - that research in their field is finding that as women continue to have more direct access to money and status, their tendency to seek those things in men is decreasing.
"Nevertheless," Dr. MacDonald said, "in Canada and the United States, where we have made the most accomplishments as far as gender equality, you still see popular songs like the one by Beyoncé, where jewellery is the reward for love and she refers to herself as 'it.' "
I suggested to Dr. MacDonald that in Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It), Beyoncé may simply be referring to her finger when she says, "If you liked it then you should've put a ring on it."
"Nice try," he replied.
Looking back now, I wished I'd put down a bit more cash and traded up for a hairdresser with more experience. I was blinded by her cuteness at the time - she was the first woman I'd seen in several hours wearing only one layer. Sexier Affective Disorder strikes again.
Micah Toub's memoir, Growing Up Jung: Coming of Age as the Son of Two Shrinks, will be published in April, 2010.