Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The St. Louis Effect

Every city has its own unique characteristics.  Some cities have basic stereotypes (New Yorkers are assholes, vapid blondes in L.A., Providence has... Rhode Islanders, etc.) and other cities have certain representative images (Wrigley Field in Chicago, White House in Washington, AK-47s in Detroit, etc.). St. Louis certainly has its own uniqueness, but the most fascinating, and confusing, aspect of St. Louis has taken a bit longer to make its presence known.  Now that it's out there, I've been trying to analyze it without much success.

I need your help. 

What's the issue?  There is a subtle (sometimes not-so-subtle) effect in play, consistently, involving couples in St. Louis.*

*[by "St. Louis" I of course mean the relatively normal and habitable portions thereof, and not, for example, the Afghanistanesque portions in East St. Louis.]

Before I spell it out, take a look at the following photos.  I didn't take the time to stalk people and take my own photos, but these are real St. Louis people- taken from insidestl.com.  (Great site, btw-- check it out if you want!)






See it yet?  I purposely kept these on the subtle side, but if you're still not sure, here's "drastic."

With St. Louis couples, the chick is significantly better looking than the guy in an extremely disproportionate number of cases.

Take this as true.  I'm not here to debate my accuracy on rankings, or whether it's weird to rank guys at all (most guys have a sense of this), or whether it's been statistically verified. 

As I bring this up for discussion with a wide range of people in St. Louis, any argument is most likely going to be "maybe it's just all the couples you see" or something like that (which is true).  What nobody has brought up is their own observations to the contrary.  This trend is, for all intents and purposes, verified anecdotally.

[Note on anecdotal evidence: while you can't prove something to be empirically true, you can provide strong evidence against the opposite conclusion.  For instance, I could say that there are no packs of wild hyenas roaming the streets of St. Louis because I haven't heard any reports on it.  While this might not mean that there are no packs of wild hyenas in St. Louis, it is strong evidence that there are not lots of packs of wild hyenas in St. Louis.  Thanks to the PROF for that one.]

So take a look at those first 5 pictures again, and come up with a ranking difference for each.  I won't use 1-10 numbers (that's an altogether different post) of my own, but just the reasonable difference.

1: 2 points
2: 2 points (however you pair/average them)
3: 4 points (yes, I'm using bearded dude, for reasons that will be explained)
4: 2.5 points
5: 2 points

This is about the norm for St. Louis.

In essence, as you walked the streets of random (and habitable) St. Louis, and observed the first 10 couples you saw, 7 of them would have this effect.  My reasonable guess for other cities, on average? 2 or 3.  But why?  Why, St. Louis? 

I'll go into what we've got so far for working theories.  But first, there is another St. Louis characteristic that must be explained, as it may bear directly on this phenomenon.

St. Louis has a high number of dudes that are, for want of a term, St. Louis hipsters.  They're not common enough to quite be "typical," but if you surveyed the most common subgroup of St. Louis and came up with a St. Louis Man, he would but thus:

28-34, bearded, visible tattoos (especially arm tattoos), piercings, and a lame non-baseball hat of some sort. He wears a shirt that proclaims his love of an indie band (that he's sure you've never heard of) and drinks some sort of craft beer (that he's sure you've never heard of).  He's slightly pudgy, plays kickball every weekend, and hasn't met a subject that he doesn't know just a little bit more about than you.  He'll be happy to explain this to you as he parks his scooter at the farmer's market.

Think Minneapolis hipster without the iPad or PETA shirt.

So what's the big deal?  Surely guys dating women who are hotter than they are is common.  Hell, I've mostly dated chicks that are, objectively, better looking than I am.  But, we can all probably agree that:

1. Looks aren't as important in guys (confidence, humor, success, giant wieners, etc.)
2. Sometimes hot chicks are, ahem, awful human beings with low self-esteem and can easily be taken in by arrogant and less-attractive guys

But whatevs- while that is certainly true, it doesn't explain why St. Louis experiences this phenomenon much more often than other cities.

Let's look first at some simple explanations. Maybe St. Louis has, on average, less attractive guys?

Alex Clare: an 8 in St. Louis but a 7 elsewhere?

A plausible theory, but for it to work women would have to be average or above-average in St. Louis. This, too, is plausible as my own observations would be that women here are, at least, about average.

But, here's the thing: the more you notice people in St. Louis, the more you realize that both women and men seem, on average, to be average.  The St. Louis effect only seems to materialize in relationships; it doesn't apply to individual, single people. 

Maybe there are just less available men than women in St. Louis, so market forces have raised the value of men.

According to the U.S. census, St. Louis is female-dominated by a margin of 51.7%--48.3%.  This is 1% different than the total U.S. population.  A factor, maybe, but there are a number of statistical caveats. (i.e., this is "total" St. Louis... what would the numbers be for "habitable" St. Louis?).

One time a bartender chick hinted at another possible theory when she smugly told me "Well, women go more for good personalities than good looks, so..."  Hinting, perhaps, that St. Louis is just filled with guys with great personalities.

This shall be dismissed out of hand. (And no, not just because there are an unseemly amount of Cardinals fans, either).

An explanation emerged based on the observation that there were a huge number of the above-mentioned St. Louis hipsters running around.  These guys are famous for possessing a confidence that is neither warranted nor appropriate.  Could this explain the discrepancy?

Maybe.  That surely happens, as we all know. But let's be clear: I don't think that any of the guys in St. Louis who are dating chicks hotter than them are, on average, any better or worse than average guys throughout the county.

I'm sure that you could take the first 5 pictures and explain each of them reasonably and rationally.  Great guy, tons of fun, lots of money, sweetheart, caring, dating since high school; whatever.  Those are all possibilities and I'm not trying to puzzle out each picture (or real life couple) as I go.  I'm taking a meta-view of this and asking why does this happen so often in St. Louis?

The weather?  Maybe.  It's just Missouri.  Possibly true- but what does that even mean? Cardinal fans are just crazy, irrational, and make poor decisions in general.  An interesting point.

My own theory is that there is no catch-all explanation for this phenomenon.  Instead it's likely a combination of some or all of the factors I've mentioned.  But I still feel like I'm missing something. 

Maybe you have a thought?

Interestingly, the most creative explanation I've yet heard came from a friend who is a cop.  And not a "your registration is expired" cop but a "did you murder this guy with your sawed-off or your AK?" kind of cop.  While lamenting the considerable crime in St. Louis, he volunteered this:

"People in St. Louis know that there's a lot more murders and violent crime, so they view life as if it could end tomorrow.  They make bad decisions because, statistically, they won't have to live with the consequences as long as most people."

That's a (poor) paraphrase.  An interesting point though.  What doesn't add up for me though is how you would get a girl to go from "did I just hear gunfire?" to "I better find a guy less attractive than me, fast!"  But still; something to consider.

So what's the answer?  I don't know.  But I'm putting this out there, as true, for someone to ponder.  And I will continue to bring it up in conversations throughout bars in St. Louis. (Note: the Bar-venture group from the last post?  We're at 87 bars and counting).

Why keep bringing it up?  Some have said to me, "Caleb-- what are you complaining about?  This whole theory just means that YOUR stock is up and you have a better shot at dating a hotter chick."

True.  BUT.  I'm not comfortable taking advantage of this until I KNOW WHY IT EXISTS.

I gave this example: you're at a prison with consistently shitty food.  Over time you notice certain inmates disappearing without explanation and the beef stew suddenly tastes delicious.  I don't know about you, but I'm doing some research before I start asking for seconds.

Caleb "7" Shreves