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Is it best to be a sensitive man?
A bit of sensitivity can go a long way with women. (Thinkstock)

Is it best to be a sensitive man?

Hugh Wilson

According to the latest research you need to emphasise your sensitive side to impress women. It's all down to, um, global economics...

Most of us know what women want in a man, right? They want a sense of humour. They want a man who knows his way around a toolbox. They want someone fit and sporty. They want intelligence and ambition. They want a man that other men look up to.

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But while some of that might be true, some of the time, new research suggests that what women look for in men subtly changes in response to what else is going on in the world. And right now, what many might really want is a man not afraid to show his sensitive side. That's what one new study says, anyway.

According to the research, the biggest factor influencing who women fancy at the moment is not buff bodies or a gift of the gab, it's global economics. But that doesn't mean they're looking for a wealthy sugar daddy to lavish them with gifts. When the economy goes bad, alpha males get ditched.

Researchers from Southampton Solent University asked over 150 women to view a series of online dating profiles containing information on the men's earning potential and status, and choose which they'd most like to date and which they thought would make the best marriage material.

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Half the women were also primed to think of the recession by being given words to read beforehand connected with economic downturn. The results were revealing.

When they'd been primed to think about the economic situation, the women overwhelmingly plumped for men who didn't like to take risks and didn't like to take command. They were considered more reliable and sensitive.

"He wouldn't necessarily be boring. He might be very interesting but just comply with what the woman says," said Dr Fay Julal, the lead researcher. "It is telling us that all men may be attractive at some time, given different economic settings."

So why would women concerned with the state of the economy want to date these lower status men? Surely an alpha male with high status would be far more likely to look after them financially?

The researchers theorised that the women — subconsciously at least — thought the wealthy high achievers among the dating profiles would be more likely to cheat or quickly move on.

That was a risk many of them clearly weren't prepared to take in current conditions. In an economic slump, they want a reliable bloke, sensitive to their needs, who will stick by them through thick and thin.

In evolutionary terms it makes sense. When resources are scarce, better to have a man who will bring home a few slices of bacon all the time rather than a man who will bring home the whole pig but give it to someone else. Evolution primes even childless women to make some decisions based on the wellbeing of potential offspring.

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But tough alpha males shouldn't read the research and weep like babies (they wouldn't of course, that would be wimpy). Other studies have consistently shown that at certain times the raw appeal of a six-pack and a bulging wallet trumps just about every other consideration, even economics.

And that time is ovulation. A study published last year found that when women are at their most fertile they're more likely to fantasise about masculine-looking men. Those masculine traits — like a pronounced chin, strong jaw, narrow eyes and well-defined brow — suggest a man has good genetic quality. Not only did he survive development, he had the extra energy to expend on producing manly looks. Those rugged genes would be passed on to any children.

At other times of the month, women seem to be more attracted to reliable, caring, sensitive types, who may not have the best genes but will at least stick around to help bring up the children.

So apart from the vagaries of individual preference, it seems that the men women fancy most is affected by a number of factors, from the timing of their monthly hormonal cycle to the state of global economics.

Which may seem confusing, but if the latest research is to be believed, there's a simple message for men. While finances are tight and job insecurity rife, emphasise your sensitive, reliable side as much as you can. Subconsciously or otherwise, she may be yearning for a bloke who will stick with her through the rough times.

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