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Q&A

How do you find a mate when everyone looks amazing?

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We have modern humans found in a near future, first world country on Earth. The primary technological advancements are in the form of extremely cheap and fast genome sequencing ($10USD/genome) and in the inexpensive use of CRISPR gene manipulation to fix any and all defects. This gives everyone the capability to know what their genome contains and a means to make any changes to that genome.

Gene manipulation techniques become quickly and highly regulated. For the first few years after this treatment became available, only fixes to genes considered defective or disease causing are eligible for correction. Changes to appearance or musculature are not permitted. Those found to receive these treatments are punished by resetting to their previous state. Organization such as WHO and other NGOs have successfully made this treatment available to 99.9% of the world population. (Yeah, a miracle.) Now, the world is healthy and free of all genetic diseases. As children are born, they are tested and treated so no diseases are reintroduced into the gene pool.

Under considerable pressure from cosmetic surgeons and the populace in general, the regulatory body for gene treatments has permitted the genetic manipulation of appearance. As the treatment is ubiquitous across the world, anyone can manipulate their genes to alter their appearance to anything they please. Therapies that alter a person's brain or brain chemistry are forbidden (let's assume perfect enforcement).


Now, the implications of this kind of technology will touch practically every aspect of society. Every single one. I'm only interested in one particular aspect though, dating, specifically mate selection in cultures where individuals are able to choose their own mates. Arranged marriages are not up for consideration in this question.

When everyone can look like a Greek god (or the local physical ideal), how will mates be chosen if physical appearance is eliminated from the list, leaving material wealth, social status, smarts and emotional intangibles as the remaining criteria?

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6 answers

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This already happened. I married my wife, who I met on an MMO, and I am far from being the only person this has happened to. Many, many people meet on the Internet and fall for each other online, without their physical form being relevant.

Even prior to that, it happened, with arranged marriages, marriages between those who had hitherto only been pen-pals, and so on and so forth.

In a computer game like, say, Second Life, you have full control over your looks... and people's looks still vary. People's tastes still vary. With full control over your looks, your looks just become a full expression of your personality, rather than something over which you have at best only tangential control over.

So in those environments, everyone's looks don't become homogeneously "perfect" because there is no one version of "perfect": instead, people become more unique, more different, each struggling to find the most different and standout version of "what makes me, me".

Your "looks" (whether you're an insanely-endowed crocodile-man or a tinkerbell pixy who propels herself by farts) in some sense can be argued to actually matter more in the way people evaluate you, but that's OK because you chose them.

As a side thing: it already happened IRL too. We are currently freaking gorgeous by some historical standards. Nothing has changed. You get used to stuff. They become commonplace. If everyone is very close to the ideal, we'd get used to that, and just notice the smaller differences more. And use tattoos, piercings, jewellery, perfume and clothing to customize our looks.

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In all honesty, probably the same way people select their partners now: partly by appearances, but ultimately by psychology or for financial reasons.

Let's face it, your concept of the physically ideal partner is going to be different from Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin, Tim B, your siblings (if any), or me. That's one thing that makes us human: our individuality. I'm not suggesting that physical appearance is the first thing everyone uses to identify a potential mate, but it is for some people. I'm sure there are some who only care about physical appearance, but these individuals (there's that word again) probably care less about long-term relationships (at least at that point in time). Let's face it, someone even wrote a song about liking the gluteus maximus.

Beyond the physical, however, are the things that really matter in a long-term relationship: the psychological factors. Finding someone who looks like Aphrodite is all well and good (if you're into Greek beauty goddesses), but if she is a psychopath, you're probably going to seek a partner elsewhere. If you hook up with someone who looks like Zeus (if you're into Greek sky gods) and he is so vain he doesn't care one jot about you, you'll probably look elsewhere (especially if you are the Aphrodite and he's just using you as arm candy to get everyone else to look at him).

As bowlturner points out, money can also play a role in selecting a partner. I don't really expect that particular interest to change just because we can freely alter our DNA. Still, if money is a motivator for an individual (again with this word!), there's a greater chance that physical appearance will play less of a role from the outset.

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This post was sourced from https://worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/a/21148. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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I don't think things would change as much as you think they might.

Looks would still play a part. Just because someone has great genes doesn't mean they take the time to maintain their body - selection would still occur based on metrics such as this. However, ask couples what attracted them to their mate, and you may find that only a tiny fraction of the answers you will receive will be "their body". It's always something they did, or some indescribable aura/aire that they have. For example, dating companies usually advertise healthy relationships by having the subjects say things like, "s/he makes me laugh, and that's why I love them".

Another thing to consider is that clubs often hire Asian bouncers because they can better distinguish the faces of other Asian people. I have not confirmed this story myself, but it makes sense. In a culture where the differences between individual facial structures is smaller, they have simply become more in tune with those subtle differences.

Heck... for most of us, our legs are roughly the same length. Did you ever stop to give credit to genetics for pulling that one off? Think about how hard it is for the body to measure leg length and ensure they grow evenly! Do we spend more than a passing thought on leg length when choosing a mate? There's plenty of beauty there, even before cosmetic surgery!

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Current research shows that mate selection happens based on traits that we think will provide the best chance for the production and survival of offspring.

Men choose women who we think will produce good, healthy, strong children. Then be able to care for those children. Good Providers and good mothers.

Women choose men who they think will be good protectors, providers, and produce good strong children.

In that venue, once aspect that will likely change is screening of genes before choosing a "mother/father of your children". We already do this now. When my wife and I were starting to try to have kids we sat down and reviewed our family histories to make sure we knew what possible situations would arise. With that data more prevalent, I would imagine it would become more important.

A lot of other things would not change. Everybody's idea of a Good mother or good father is different. Some people like physical appearance. Some, mental stability, some confidence, some strength. If you remove one of those aspect the others (and there are more than listed here) are still used. Even today physical appearance doesn't play "that" big of a role in choosing a mate. Other aspects are measured and considered.

To top that off not everyone can or would choose to look identical. Some people like taller, some shorter, some larger, some smaller, etc. Everyone's ideal of "perfect" is different.

Most people look for balance. If I am strong in one area and weak in area 2, then I want my wife to be strong in area 2, and if she is a bit weak in area 1 then it's OK. We end up balancing each other out, and as a family unit we are stronger. This would not change either.

To sum it up: Looks are not "that important" today. In the future described they would be even less so. People would start to choose from the other traits to make mate selection.

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I'm surprised no one said it yet: Pheromones! One of the things that make you attractive is pheromones!

This will pan out in two ways:

  • People will just find the "best" sequence and everyone will be the same.

  • People will start doing a ton more in-person, social dating.

The first is extremely unlikely, since each person's base receptors are different, so there probably isn't one best emission. So I feel we can disregard this possibly. I'm sure it will be attempted, but those people will get regarded the way people who wear AXE body spray are now "“ posers, and lame douchebags.

That leaves the in-person stuff. I think that what you will see is more of a group-date, casual encounter setting, people going to events where the atmosphere is quiet enough for people to talk with each other and flex their personality, since no body needs to flex their biceps anymore. You see some of this now in larger cities in the US (at least, maybe more places) where bars are set up to play board games and tabletop rpgs, comic stores have reserved space for tables and tournaments, stuff like that. Noisy nightclubs and seedy bars are designed to mask undesired physical traits, whereas in the new world, attractive is the norm.

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General comments (1 comment)
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personality, and intellect, to name a few important criteria.

Physical appearance is only one of many factors we use when choosing a mate, and arguably in the modern era it is less important to the overall fitness of our children then other criteria; evolution just hasn't gotten around to 'catching up' on that fact.

Once everyone was beautiful we would simply fall back on the many other things that we use to determine who to date. Personality and how much we get along with them, how intelligent they are, how good of a provider they would be, how good a parent they would be etc etc. There are many things that effect who were attracted to. Were not all so superficial as to only care about looks. If your beautiful and a jerk, or even just slow and uninterested in learning, I would not be interested in you.

I would imagine that a higher emphasis would be placed on intellect and ability to provide (which yes, means how much money you have/make) in such a society. Since money can now buy better genes money is even more important. It's okay if your husband/wife has some health issue, if they have enough money they can treat that issue in their child before it's born etc. The culture would likely grow to focus even more on ability to provide, direct income, and intellect (which almost always leads to higher potential income; especially once you can no longer rely on being beautiful to help you excel).

In addition people would choose mates based off of...appearance. Just because everyone is beautiful doesn't mean everyone is equally beautiful to everyone else. We will all have our preferences, perhaps someone loves redheads, another person prefers tall women, and another things a specific ethnicity has beautiful facial features. Even if each person was an ideally sculpted appearance some would still be more attracted to certain men/women then others based off of their personal definition of beauty.

Also, remember you only mentioned genetic control of appearance. Environment has an effect on appearance as well. Perhaps someone was malnurted when young and so is tiny despite genetics for height? Maybe someone over eats (or under eats) and thus a physical heavy/bone thin body? Maybe one man works out and builds muscles, and another doesn't. Maybe one person has better fashion sense while another refuses to use makeup. Environment will effect physical appearance as well.

Thus, people will still be partially controlled by physical attraction, even as all the other things that lead to a romantic relationship will still drive them as well.

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This post was sourced from https://worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/a/21147. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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