By Amy Alkon
Q: I dragged my boyfriend into the makeup store Sephora, and he said, “Save your money! You don’t need any of this stuff. I like you better without makeup.” Huh? Why is there a huge makeup industry when so many men say they don’t even like makeup?—Pretty Confused
A: A friend of mine, bioethicist Alice Dreger, tweeted, “True story: I was on Oprah for a show about how appearance doesn’t matter and there was a whole guy tasked with doing just her eyelashes.”
A whole lot of us are in some denial about makeup. And sure, there are men who really do like women better without a drop of the stuff. And then there are those who just think they do—like the men on Reddit who posted all of these supposed “no makeup!” photos of female celebs. I particularly loved one of Jenna Jameson that a guy captioned “before all the surgeries and without makeup.” Meanwhile, tiny type below the photo lists the makeup and hair goo she actually has on. My other favorite was one of Rihanna, who also very clearly was not sans maquillage. Guys, sorry, but cat-eye liquid eyeliner does not appear naturally on the female eye in the wild.
Biological anthropologist Douglas Jones finds that men are attracted to women with somewhat “neotenous” features—meaning somewhat babylike ones like big eyes, full lips, a small jaw and chin, and clear skin—which correlate with health and fertility. So, basically, what we call “beauty” is evolution’s version of a street-corner sign spinner: “Genes passed on here!!! Best babies in town!!!”
In other words, makeup is fake-up—a woman’s way of making herself out to have more neotenous features and thus a higher mate value than she actually does. (The male version of this is leasing a top-of-the-line Tesla while living in a tent in Grandma’s backyard.)
So, a man will think he has an aversion to makeup, but it’s really an aversion to being deceived by it. This doesn’t mean that you have to stop wearing it. Just keep in mind that—except for special occasions and those special dudes who are into your looking like your office is a pole—men generally prefer the “natural look.” Of course, the reality is, this sort of “natural” is about an hour and a dozen products away from being “au naturel.” What ultimately matters is that you don’t look so dramatically different in makeup that when your boyfriend bumps into the barefaced you at the fridge in the wee hours, he puts his hands up and yells, “Take whatever you want; just let me live!”
Q: This guy and I have been friends with benefits for six months. We were casual friends for two years prior to hooking up, but we have gotten much closer since. So, can FWB things ever turn into real relationships, or did we blow our chance?—Hoping
A: Friends-with-benefits arrangements are, to some degree, replacing dating. Unfortunately, trying to turn an FWB thing into a relationship can be like trying to return a shirt. One you’ve worn. For a while. You march straight up to the counter and lay the thing out. The guy at the register frowns: “Ma’am, Macy’s closed six years ago. This is Chipotle now.”
It’s helpful to understand what anthropologist Helen Fisher and her colleagues have discovered—that lust, love and attachment aren’t just emotions; they are motivational systems (ultimately for the purpose of reproduction and child rearing). Lust eventually wanes (which makes sense, because “Ohhh, baby” needs to give way to feeding the baby). The neurochemistry behind lust “can trigger expressions of attachment,” Fisher explains. However, in men, high testosterone—in general or from having sex—“can reduce attachment.” This is probably more likely if a man has a “high baseline level of testosterone,” which is typically reflected in a strong jaw and chin, a muscular body and dominant behavior.
Because you two were friends first and seem to care about each other, maybe you can be more than sex friends. Tell him you really enjoy hanging with him, and ask whether he’d be up for more than FWB. But take the low-pressure approach: You don’t want an answer on the spot; you’d just like him to think about it. This should make you seem less desperate and possibly let him feel like having more was his idea. If he wants less, you should probably stop seeing him—at least naked—for a while. He may end up missing you, which could energize his interest in you in a way FWB tends not to do. (They call it “the thrill of the chase,” not the thrill of “you can text any day at 2am and she’ll let you come over.”)