Neil Chethik's 'VoiceMale'

Rob scoured his mind for something to say, but as is the case with many men, the fear of sounding trite asserted itself. A few minutes went by, and two children on plastic riding toys clambered across the floor in front of him. That's when Rob's first noncommittal words emerged. "Boy, those kids have a lot of energy," he said aloud. The woman didn't hesitate: "Actually, I wish I knew who the parents were." Then, gesturing toward the kids, she added, "They ought to have some limits on them."

Rob was intrigued by this response. But before he could say more, the woman was inquiring about his letter. Soon they were in a friendly debate over capital punishment. During the next forty-five minutes, with interruptions only for washer-to-dryer transitions, the two ranged over politics, education, feminism, and other topics. He learned that her name was Sandy, she was a teacher, a year older than he was, recently divorced, childless, and full of energy and opinions. He found her very stimulating.

Eventually, the bedspread Sandy had brought to the Laundromat was dry. She folded it and prepared to leave. Rob recalls, "A red light started flashing in my mind. I kept telling myself, 'Ask her out now, or forget it.'"

Finally, he summoned the courage: "Maybe we could go out and have a beer sometime."

Sandy replied: "Why not tonight?"

Within weeks of their meeting, Rob and Sandy were dating exclusively. Less than a year later, they exchanged vows in the home of a friend. Today, fifteen years into their marriage, the couple lives in a college town in the Southeast, raising two middle-school-aged children. As one might imagine from that initial meeting, their relationship has been both passionate and occasionally volatile. Through it all, however, the legacy of the Laundromat lives on. As Rob says: "It was there that I saw the essence of who she is. Yes, I thought she was beautiful. But it was her assertiveness, her intelligence, her energy that captured me."

There's little debate that a woman's physical appearance is a crucial factor in attracting a man. Influenced by his culture's focus on the female form, and by his biology too, the typical American man responds to physical cues: a tapered ankle, a narrow waist, shapely calves, silky skin over high cheekbones. Indeed, 55 percent of the men in the VoiceMale Survey said that they had initially been drawn to their future wife by some aspect of her looks.

This focus on physical attributes may have biological roots. Evolutionary psychologists remind us that the most basic drive of all creatures is to perpetuate their genetic line. Recent research indicates that women with thin waists and full hips -- attributes that men across cultures name as desirable -- are most likely to have successful pregnancies. Thus, a man's attraction to a curvaceous woman apparently gives him the best chance of healthy children to carry on his genes. (Similar studies indicate that women are initially drawn to tall men with strong builds, indicators of the man's ability to provide for the woman and her children.)

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