Elizabeth Bennets of the world, rejoice.
There's a reason Mr. Darcy chooses the sharp-tongued, quick-witted Elizabeth over her beautiful sister Jane and the snobbish, class-obsessed Caroline Bingley in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Women who conform to societal standards aren't as desirable as we might assume, a new study finds. It's standing out that's attractive.
The research: A recent study published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology tested the common belief that while women prefer nonconforming men as romantic partners, men prefer conforming women.
That "nonconformity" can come in many forms. "We used many different types of conformity: conforming to others' beliefs, conforming to social norms, conforming to parents, conforming in clothing choices, conforming to the tastes and opinions of others," Matthew Hornsey, lead author of the study, told Mic.
The study used five experiments, one of which asked 115 heterosexual undergraduates to rate dating profiles that either showcased a freethinker ("In group situations, she is not easily convinced to change her ideas") or someone who goes with the crowd ("She is quite happy to go along with what others are doing").
The result? Both men and women rated the freethinkers as the most attractive and best potential partners — even though the female participants assumed the men were going to go for the straitlaced profiles. Overall, in all five studies, an independent mind and spirit were found to be the most attractive qualities.
A lesson from Austen: The takeaway — that nonconformists get the guy or girl — is as old as Pride and Prejudice, Hornsey told Mic. "Jane, the beautiful conformist, ended up getting married to the eligible and personable Mr. Bingley," he said. "But it was Elizabeth — fiery, anti-authority and nonconformist — who drew men to her in droves, including Mr. Darcy, the most sought-after bachelor in the novel. Darcy fought for Elizabeth not despite her nonconformity, but perhaps, like the men in our studies, because of it."
Ironically, women's assumption that men would want a more basic girl is also deeply rooted in the past. Hornsey points to the centuries-old expectations of how women should behave. "Early 20-century books on etiquette, courting and properness paint a consistent picture," he said. "Women were expected to be submissive, modest, subdued, agreeable and supportive of their husbands in terms of attitudes and behavior."
That legacy of conforming to expectations has made its way down through the decades. "For women, the consequence may be that women rein themselves in when dating when they would be better served by just being themselves," he said.
It pays to stand out: Today, that's evident in the fact that online daters respond most to creative, inventive first messages, and stand-out traits like tattoos and piercings garner high profile views. Quirky, unique, offbeat — whatever you want to call out, detecting those traits in a potential partner is actually a big turn-on.
Take it from Austen: It might sound simple, but being your tattooed (or mouthy, muddy-petticoated) self might be the best dating advice of all.