The last time my best guy friend was in town, I took him to the kind of gay bar in the Castro where the walls are damp with dude-sweat and it's considered socially acceptable to stand on tables with no shirt on. Though I'm not one to pass up the chance to ogle moisture beading on the perfect, hairless abdominal muscles of a stranger, soon I got bored watching BGF chew on his own knuckles and started glancing around for a lady or two to hit on.
The bar had long ceiling mirrors -- I assume to aid in the aforementioned abdominal-ogling -- and I glanced up at them, sweeping the crowd for any hipster-looking girls in the sea of dudes shimmying to "Super Bass." Finally, I caught sight of a dark-haired girl wearing a stupid vest in glasses. Bingo. Giving my friend the On-the-Prowl Nod, I slipped away.
It took two more sweeps of the bar before I realized I'd been checking out my own damn self in the reflection. Womp womp.
It was like that dog-and-river fable, only in this scenario, the dog was half-drunk on Jim Beam and wearing an American Apparel hoodie in lieu of a normal person's dance club attire.
In my defense, I'd had a lot of shots, and that bar had been foggy with the exhales of a hundred dudes trying to slip their hands down each other's jeans. More to the point, I've become so conditioned to my San Francisco neighborhood that I occasionally mistake "giant glasses" and "Skrillex side-shave" for "physically attractive," even when they're on my own head. Maybe even especially because they're on my own head.
Although I carry around a rucksack full of self-loathing just like lots of other 20-somethings, I am starting to realize that the people I tend to look twice at on the street or at concerts tend to look quite a bit like, well, me.
Not all of them, of course. Current bleach-head and occasional push-up bra situation aside, my two blonde, curvy ex-girlfriends could never be mistaken for any genetic relation, and my current lady-date only resembles me insofar as we both wear the same pants size and enjoy falling asleep with our mouths full of Funfetti.
But still, put me in a room with a handful of 5'7" people with decent cheekbones and dark hair, and by the end of the night I will have found them and sniffed them enterprisingly. Even my "celebrity crushes" -- Andrew Garfield, Dylan O'Brien, Natalie Portman, Ezra Miller -- tend to be people I could cosplay with some degree of believability. As water flows to earth, so will my libido flow to freckly, awkward-shouldered jerkwads who have recently made dumb hair decisions.
Turns out, though, that this might not even be entirely rooted in narcissism. According to a new study conducted by French scientists, dudes prefer women who look like them, corroborating data obtained by the University of St. Andrews and MIT a few years back. Women, too, tend to seek out men who bear a passing resemblance to the face they see when using their Photo Booth as a mirror every morning.
Because our ancestors apparently lived solely to throw their gametes up in people, scientists hypothesize that this preference for our own face-twins stems from the need to create offspring that were at once viable and genetically diverse. And as knee-jerk yucky as it may seem, in one Icelandic study, couples consisting of third or fourth cousins had more surviving spawn after a few generations than anyone else, suggesting that a teensy bit of DNA similarity goes a long way in terms of eventually taking over the Earth.
On a similar note, women who got along well with their fathers tended to rate men who resembled them more highly, which makes me want to flee from anyone I see with a moustache for the next hundred years.
I think, too, that a lot of my own attraction to people who look like me, particularly women, tends to stem from a comfort in familiarity. For me, making sexy side-eyes at someone who looks a little like me feels like I'm taking a tiny pleasure in a shared experience, the same way I'll grump about my hips with good girlfriends. I have to wear this face around every day: the knowledge that someone else sucks in their giant cheeks in the mirror as they brush their teeth or squints at their own slightly smaller wonky-eye gives me a quiet thrill of mutual recognition beyond a simple, "Nice haircut."
I mean, I'd still take this with a grain of salt. Naturally, none of the researchers asked anyone about their same-sex preferences, so my stumping around and drooling over Jewel Staite may be the world's most pathetic long-running placebo effect.
And needless to say, it's not a flawless system. My brother is probably the person I look most like in the world, and I've never felt the urge to make out with the version of my face that's currently plastered to the head of his 6'3" 18-year-old self. Besides, I just took a Celebrity Look-alike Test and it told me my #1 match was Edvard Grieg, so I'm apparently never going to find love on this planet regardless.
As with most evolutionary science, it's more useful to think about this in terms of overall trends than to obsess over whether you hit on a dude with strong forearms and one sticky-out ear because your descendants are calling to you to fortify their chromosomes from beyond the temporal rift.
Still, it's kind of fun to wonder how much instinct is driving your decision to hit on one person over another at the piano bar. Or, as the case may be for some people, to make sexy eyes at yourself in the mirror until all of your gametes rot from annoyance. Evolution winner!
Kate is demonstrating her deserved victory in the evolutionary arms race at @katchatters.