Attraction Triangle Game Theory

by Matt Savage

Attraction Triangle Project

Let’s play a game.

The above triangle represents a spin-off of the classic Project Triangle used in engineering and business circles in which one is forced to prioritize certain qualities of a “project” at the expense of another.  The difference here is we are substituting those qualities for that of desirable traits in a long-term mate.

For the purposes of this experiment, let me define the above qualities for clarity sake and to make things a little more interesting:


For this trait we assume that your mate has a high I.Q., the ability to have great conversation and a strong witty humor.  Since they are intelligent we also assume that they have the ability to get a decent job and thus are financially stable, making well over $100,000 a year or is highly regarded/influential in whatever field they excel.

If you sacrifice this option your mate will have annoyingly low intelligence and will be lower-middle class in income level.

Good Looking:

If we were superficial enough to rate your mate on a 1-10 scale they would be an 8 or 9.  Thus for women, the guy would be in good shape, not fat, have a chiseled chest, nice butt and masculine good looks.  For guys, your woman would be thin, in good shape, attractive, with whatever preferred physical qualities that you desire, like big breasts, firm ass, etc.

Sacrificing this option results in your mate being a 6 or less on your attraction scale, where the person is generally out of shape and does not pay much attention to how they look.  For guys, this could mean your girl being overweight and/or ugly.  For girls, this could result in your guy being shorter than you and/or overweight.

Emotionally Stable:

This option refers to how down to earth your mate is, having the ability to be calm and willing to work things out rationally during tough times in a relationship.  Also, they have unconditional love for you, will always be faithful and stick by your side through thick and thin.

By sacrificing this option, your mate has some minor psychological issues in which they tend to be irrational at times.  For guys, your woman will throw temper-tantrums from time to time, may be argumentative and have self-esteem issues.  For girls, your guy is either too masculine as in having anger management/control issues or is insecure with himself with some tendencies to let people walk all over him.  Both genders would have a 50% probability of being unfaithful.

Let the Games Begin

Which two qualities do you choose?  Which one do you sacrifice?  Put your answer in the survey below and please explain your game theory and analysis in the comments.

Update: You can view the results of the survey in the follow up post, Preferred Signs of Attraction in Men and Women.

Thanks to Kiss and Blog for bringing this to my attention.

Also, it’d be cool to get as much data input on this as possible from both men and women, so please feel free to spread the word.


Hammer March 16, 2010 at 3:06 pm

This is a no brainer man. Intelligence and Looks ftw. But then again, why settle? The whole purpose of this community is to improve your skills enough that you don’t have to select two of the three.
.-= Hammer´s last blog ..I Dare You to Flake =-.

Matt Savage March 16, 2010 at 3:10 pm

I agree with the “why settle?” statement if the post was about real life and the pursuit of the best mate possible, but I’m just having some fun here to see what people would “hypothetically” hold as their preferred traits in a mate, hence the reason I’m likening it to game theory… kind of like playing “Marry, Fuck, Kill.” :)

Wendy March 16, 2010 at 4:17 pm

Leave out the good looks…..they tend to ‘become’ better looking in my eyes the more i like their character.

Alkibiades March 16, 2010 at 4:34 pm

I picked looks and emotional stability. I’ve never expected to find a woman close to my IQ, so why start now?
.-= Alkibiades´s last blog ..How to make a million dollars in a year!!!* =-.

Kiera March 16, 2010 at 5:04 pm

I had to go for intelligence & stability. I’d try really damn hard to pretty him up and if that didn’t help, I’d stop wearing my contacts and keep the lighting dark at all times.
.-= Kiera´s last blog ..Touch Yourself This Thrilling Tuesday #6 =-.

Jake March 16, 2010 at 5:37 pm

I picked intelligence and stability for an LTR since looks are so fleeting. I would then try to fuck women with looks + intelligence on the side; emotional instability = daddy complex and spankings…

Ferdinand Bardamu March 16, 2010 at 10:08 pm

Looks & emotional stability for me. I’d rather not have to get into dick swinging competitions with girls.
.-= Ferdinand Bardamu´s last blog ..The death rattle of the Luddites =-.

dadshouse March 16, 2010 at 11:06 pm

When I was in high school and college, and even in my 20s, I swore intelligence was huge for me. I’m well educated, and come from a well-educated family. Since my divorce, though, I’ve dated a lot of uneducated women. And let me tell you – the ones I dated were a lot more vibrant and compassionate than the educated women I dated. That is NOT to say educated women can’t be vibrant or compassionate. It just means I no longer hold education in such high esteem. Give me an emotionally balaced hottie, and I’m set.
.-= dadshouse´s last blog ..IM Chat With an Ex Lover =-.

Hambydammit March 17, 2010 at 4:15 pm

I think a lot of men would choose emotionally stable and good looking for their woman. It may be harsh, but intelligent and emotionally unstable women are damn dangerous. They’re smart enough to figure out how to get every irrational thing they desire.

I think intelligent and good looking is actually fairly common, and it’s not a stretch to say that the combination often leads to emotional instability. Intelligent beautiful women generally get everything they ask for from men. That doesn’t make a good mate.

If a woman is good looking and emotionally stable, but not the sharpest tool in the shed, I think it’s pretty safe to say she is more likely to take a bird in hand and stay faithful to a guy who treats her well and is really into her sexually and physically.

I suppose there’s a lot to be said for intelligent and emotionally unstable, but to be honest, I just can’t date ugly women. Harsh but true. I have lots of smart friends I don’t want to have sex with. I’m ok keeping it that way.
.-= Hambydammit´s last blog ..The Politics of Tolerance =-.

Vincent Ignatius March 17, 2010 at 7:02 pm

I pick looks and emotional stability, but I would want to have children with my hot, intelligent, emotionally unstable mistress.

In summary:
Wife: Looks + Stability
Mistress: Looks + Intelligence

I have the same qualities as my ideal mistress. My father made the mistake of choosing looks + intelligence for his wife. My grandfather was wise enough to choose intelligence + stability. I’m too superficial to sacrifice the looks, even if I could have as many mistresses as grandpa did.

VJ March 17, 2010 at 7:24 pm

Being very old, I’ve come to think than just about any combo with ‘above average looks’ is almost always toxic in the mix, one way or another, now or later. And yes, that’s based on years of observation. It’s a nice & vaguely appealing & fragrant dream. But mostly in real marriages? It almost never works out well. The eternal pull of hypergamy will have the women constantly reassessing their self worth on the basis of their looks. And that just deadly, in too many ways to count, no matter how intelligent you are. Cheers, ‘VJ’

Dave March 17, 2010 at 8:05 pm

I choose good looking and emotionally stable, or in other word trophy wife ;)

LS March 18, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Intelligence & stability. Sanity trumps looks.
I prefer the Mary Ann types over Gingers anyway.

chili March 18, 2010 at 8:39 pm

I’m a woman and emotional stability is probably the number one consideration for me, because I want someone who will be honest and faithful. Without honesty and respect, a relationship will never reach its full potential. That said, I also chose intelligence. I have above-average intelligence myself and while looks fade, I want my partner and I to be able to talk to each other for ages. (As an aside, keeping yourself mentally engaged throughout old age is thought to prevent Alzheimer’s and other degenerative disorders!) An intelligent man will also probably want to use his intelligence and have ambitions. Ambition is the sexiest thing in the world.

INTP March 19, 2010 at 5:37 pm

For short-term, I would chose looks and intelligence. The reason for looks is obvious. I include intelligence because I have to at least be able to talk with her if our relationship is going to last more than 4 weeks. Her emotional instability can be corralled by (1) knowledge beforehand of the short term life of the relationship (i.e., an acceptable fun/pain reward ratio); and (2) her intelligence indicates I can reason with her (at least enough in the short term) to keep her on an even keel, before I eventually tire of her chaotic id.

For long-term, I would chose emotional stability and intelligence. Looks fade. In a woman they fade very fast. For example, even middle-aged Hollywood starlets with multimillion dollar salaries look ghastly without their makeup and hours of Photoshop work (though the hard-partying lifestyle, undoubtedly, contributes to their rapid aging). But looks fade. So we are left with a person we need to remain cool, calm, and collected (emotionally stable) though thick and thin. And she can problem solve. That is she is reasonable and rational (the hallmarks of functional, walking intelligence). I can leave her alone for extended periods of time without worrying she will burn the house down or spend us into the poorhouse. Plus, or so the theory goes, if I was ready for marrying I would have had my fill of sex with beautiful (but vacuous) females. I’d be ready for lady, sane wife, and a good mother at that point.

But, keeping with the spirit of your ‘Attracting Triangle Game Theory’ question, isn’t it all an academic question at this point, at least in the West? Emotionally stable women are rapidly going the way of the Dodo bird.

Jacko March 19, 2010 at 8:42 pm

I’m 40 and beginning to settle down. Only three years ago I was on the beaches of Thailand soaking in pussy. All I wanted were hotties. Now I am beginning to slow down, and so I chose emotional stability and intelligence. Looks count but not as much as they did when I was younger. The only thing I absolutely rule out is a fat woman. I do apologize if there are larger females reading this, I know you are getting a rough time in the media, but that’s just the way it is.

virginat50 March 21, 2010 at 1:20 am

I picked good looking and emotionally stable. I know some highly intelligent women who make > $100k. They’re all career oriented and treat men like accouterments, somewhere below their job, hobbies, pets, and purses. Also, I know many lower middle class people and don’t find them annoying. In fact, I get all the intellectual stimulation I can handle at work don’t go looking for it in a relationship.
.-= virginat50´s last blog ..Just One More Hater =-.

Casual March 21, 2010 at 3:47 pm

I think good looks is a given, so given the choice between intelligence and emotional stability, I would go with intelligence. As a geeky guy myself, I need a girl with some level of intelligence to be able to appreciate some of my passions and interests. Besides, emotional instability can be maddeningly addicting.
.-= Casual´s last blog ..The 7 Most Flagrant Examples of Bad Pickup Jargon =-.

Matt Savage March 22, 2010 at 2:49 pm

Thanks everyone for the input so far, some good theories here and will talk about them more in the follow-up post. I’m still waiting a couple more days to get more female input in both the survey and the comments before publishing the results, as I would like to have a somewhat fair representation of the average female opinion.

Jess March 22, 2010 at 4:13 pm

I picked Intelligence and Emotional Stability. I am only 14 so i guess i don’t know much yet. But in the explanation the intelligent guy could make you laugh and have a decent conversation and in the long run I would much rather have that than some Idiot who can’t hold a proper conversation and can’t make me laugh! I think the best thing a guy can be able to do is make you laugh. Also, the emotional stability is a must since how can you have a proper relationship if your guy is always being irrational and having tempers?

Anni March 23, 2010 at 7:59 am

I chose intelligence and good looks. In a man ambition in essential, and so is a sense of humor. I’d like a partner whom I can talk to. Also, I would like a man who pays attention to his looks and I want him to be healthy. I am willing to sacrifice the emotional stability, because at least the relationship wouldn’t be boring as it would be if I chose it instead of intelligence. It probably would be exhausting, but if I love him, I guess I am willing to put up with some psychological issues. At least we can laugh about it together.

Brad K. March 23, 2010 at 2:43 pm

I imagine your attraction triangle (it seems to be heavily influenced by the prevailing Playboy Philosophy) is a pathway to disaster.

For attraction – looks, intelligence, emotional stability – these are parlor game gimmicks.

For a relationship, you need healthy emotional bonds (adding more is *different* than connecting to a completely, asocially disconnected malcontent or perpetual dater), you need character (honesty, integrity, respect, discipline, and an aversion to hurting and ridiculing others), and you need skills, including an aptitude for making a home and sharing a life with a responsible partner.

Attraction is a rich man’s toy. Today’s concept of romance was invented in the Renaissance, practically yesterday in the development of human civilization. Today the practice of arranged marriages is still very common, and working about as well as it ever has, with little consideration about “attraction”.

With an arranged marriage, parents or community evaluate the character, social prospects, aptitude for making a living and providing for a family, and background in the skills and relationships needed to make a family work. No one is doing that for us today – but ignoring the fundamentals has the dismal divorce rate sky high, and doesn’t even count the number of “relationships” that start but don’t last – or the hordes of people looking to “hook up” for long or short term social recreation rather than trying to life a shared life in a long term relationship.

One seriously detrimental affect that “attraction” has had on relationships, is training men and women to be aware of and to seek out those that are deemed “attractive”. That habit and choice continues after beginning a relationship – and enables infidelity. Where a happily coupled, dating-inept person stops noticing the singleness of others – their attractiveness – the currently-occupied bed partner chaser will notice – and is likely to consider pursuing “other options”. Experiencing actual intimacy with more partners actually makes settling down (not the same thing as settling) less likely to be a life-long commitment.

I think your triangle, as presented, asks the wrong questions.
.-= Brad K.´s last blog Read the fine print, then watch against changes =-.

Karina March 23, 2010 at 2:51 pm

I would go for stability and intelligence.
At first, i was going to leave stability, because I’m a pretty calm and stable, quite sensible and comprehensive as well, so I could support and bear a person who has ups and downs. However, the unfaithful thing drew me back, I dont think that i could maintain my sanity if I suspect or know he is hooking up others.

PS. Im Spanish, so forgive my English. :)

Brad K. March 23, 2010 at 3:02 pm

I am sorry – I meant that arranged marriage is common in the world, not that it is prevalent in the US, outside certain communities.
.-= Brad K.´s last blog Finding a new truth =-.

SuziQ March 23, 2010 at 5:03 pm

Having been married and now divorced from a good looking, intelligent man who turned out to be highly unstable, I am going to forgo the looks and opt instead for emotional stability and intelligence. Looks fade and change over the years, and if you’re really looking for someone to spend a lifetime with, stability is an absolute must. And for me, I don’t think I could respect a partner that wasn’t at least my intellectual equal. And besides, intelligence is hot!

Displaced May 18, 2010 at 7:25 pm

Looks are of little value to me. I am a cerebral person with a pure interest in the workings of my partners mind.

Kim May 19, 2010 at 12:48 am

I am in a relationship, 12 years and it is going really well, not because he is or isn’t intellegent, or because he’s totally emotionally stable or looks like he stepped out of playgirl centerfold. He is my best friend. I asked God to bring me someone, I wasn’t doing a very good job on my own, oh ya and it just so happened that he was disabled. I was attracted to his heart, not his wallet, his looks, nor his intellegence.

gtguy June 9, 2011 at 11:16 am

just find an intelligent, good-looking person who has been through a successful emotional rehab experience

amber February 8, 2012 at 7:50 pm

i would have to go with intelligence and emotionaly stable. looks don’t really matter all that much to me, yeah it’s fun to be with someone who is goodlooking for a short being just being attracted to their attractiveness but if they are not the best conversationalists or humurous or more importantly not stable than see ya. i think someone who can get you laughing and have great conversation, thats someone you want to be with forever,not someone who is drop dead gorgeous but horribly intetellient or unstable. yikes just a bad mix.

Christa September 21, 2012 at 5:08 pm

Interesting. Like many people, I picked looks and stability, which is kinda sad, because I most closely identify with the (least desired) intelligence category. But my decision wasn’t based on what I desire in a mate. Rather it was based on avoiding the bad qualities. I don’t strongly desire an 8 or 9, but I would be very disappointed with a short, overweight 6. Similar logic with the emotional category. 50% likelihood of cheating. Yikes.

The unintelligent description wasn’t so bad. If it had said “your mate has learning disabilities that prevent him/her from reading books, holding a job, etc.” then I definitely would have picked intelligence as one of my two. It’s all in the way the question was framed. Generally, people are risk averse.

Mariya August 1, 2013 at 4:53 pm

If the author is implying that you can’t be all 3, then I don’t fully agree. I think you CAN find a balance. Maybe he won’t be as rich as Bill Gates and a good looking as David Bekham, and not as emotionally stable as America’s sweetheart (or whoever else) but he doesn’t have to be. He can be reasonably intelligent to carry a good conversation, be just good looking enough, and have a good enough personality. People like that do exist

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