Tall Guys, Short Women
Searching for the Opposite
by Kaya Oakes
illustration by Emily Oinen
I once read, in a book about witchcraft, about something called the Wheel of Attraction. Around the wheel are different body types. Once you found your body type you would look to the other side of the wheel and find what was supposed to be the ideal body type for the person you want to be with.
THE AUTHOR of that sentiment is Ronald, a 6’ 7” man whose most recent girlfriend was five feet tall. We’ve all seen couples like this, and maybe, if you’re like me, you’ve asked yourself, “What’s up with that? Why do tall guys like short girls so much?” When I say “if you’re like me,” I mean you are a female person of average- to-above-average height, looking down on the petite and up at the tall and trying to figure out the attraction when the height difference is, as Ronald puts it, “a little dramatic.” Or occasionally astonishing.
Part of the matter from the male point of view seems to be the question of protecting the mate. Ronald says that’s a factor in his attraction to short girls, but also that he “wouldn’t have to be as protective of a girl who’s taller.” This might be true; however, one of the toughest girls I know is 4’ 11”, and even though she barely reaches my shoulder, she’s also entirely capable of not only defending and protecting herself, she has actually pounded a thief with a telephone and sprayed an assaultive asshole with gasoline. I will admit that I, a woman of above-average height, sometimes feel protective of my shorter female friends; there is an impulse, whether gendered or not, to keep the short safe in crowds, where they can easily get overwhelmed or, in severe cases, trod upon. Yet this has never caused me to pursue a short guy. Something tells me he would not appreciate it if I pushed people out of his way at a rock show, for example, as I do for my short female friends, or hoisted him up on my shoulders, which I used to do before I developed chronic neck pain (partially from having had to lean over to talk to people since I was 12).
If men want to protect women, that’s probably Darwinian; the mate must survive in order for the male to continue his line. But think of the adjectives used for a short girl: petite, cute, adorable, pocket-sized. All imply their inherent attractiveness, and, in a more sinister way, their inferiority. While petiteness may imply weakness, oftentimes women learn to compensate for their size, just as short men do. Meanwhile, for a tall girl, we have words like Amazonian, statuesque, intimidating, towering. Clearly, there are issues of objectification afoot.
And, if tall guys like short women, then what happens to the tall women? You could feasibly make the argument that we have many advantages in life: We kill at basketball, we can buy pants off the rack without having them hemmed, we’re harder to lose in a crowd. But in my experience—and in the experience of most of the other tall women I’ve met—none of this has worked to our advantage when it comes to dating or finding a mate. E., who’s a hair under six feet tall and has dated a number of guys shorter than her, says an ex told her she was kind of a conquest, which led her to wonder if other guys feel the same way. She explains, “I wonder if taller women seem somehow less attainable, or more intimidating, and so dating one is like some kind of bigger score than a shorter woman.” Being bigger than many men does tend to draw attention to tall girls whether we like it or not; yet that attention can take on a negative taint. Both E. and I have been told by shorter boyfriends that we shouldn’t wear heels (taking improper advantage of feminine accoutrements), that we should be shorter (as if this could be changed), that we look “weird” with short guys. Yet our intimidation of men is of a subtle kind of intimidation, as E. agrees; you might find a guy pursuing your shorter friend, or choosing a different dance partner, or bouncing on his toes to make himself seem taller. Only a few times have men said outright to me, “You’re too tall,” and when they have said it, it felt about as good as being told I have a big nose. What, I wonder, am I supposed to do about it?
Clearly, however, history lays down a precedent for men liking short women, and there’s not much that’s going to change that now. Yet when I see a couple with a radical height difference (we’re talking a foot or more), I can’t help but stare. I’ve only met a handful of guys who are a full foot taller than me, and I never dated any of them—because they were all dating short girls. Ronald says that it “felt like we were the right height in relation to one another” when he was dating his five-foot-tall girlfriend. And the short girls I talked to came to a consensus: They like bigger guys. Bigger, however, doesn’t necessarily mean a lot bigger. Ash says she prefers guys who are just slightly taller than her, rather than much taller: When heights are relatively equal, she says, “the eye gazing thing is nice, because you know that you both see the world, literally, on the same level.” And Ginny agrees that radical height differences can even affect communication in a relationship: “I very much need to be able to stand close to my partner and have a discussion that lasts longer than one drink, or one room in a museum, or a mile on a bus ride. It won’t last longer than one drink if he’s too tall. My neck will hurt. I will not be able to wow him with my wit and intellect, and he will not be able to seduce me with his stories.”
And then there’s the issue of sex, which I heard plenty about from men and women alike. You’ve got to get creative when it comes to getting down, more so when you’re getting down with someone who’s looking up. Though Ash comments that sex with tall guys is like “climbing a jungle gym,” for the most part relative height equity was preferred, if only for the sake of the taller partner’s spinal health.
In spite of whatever challenges might be presented when people in a relationship are of such different heights, there is something endearing about the way in which a taller person’s arm can go around a shorter person’s shoulders just so, or how one person’s hip can notch into another’s waist. No matter the height difference, we all make adjustments in order to fit with another person. The wheel of attraction may imply that we are all looking for our opposite, but if no human body is a perfect sphere, why should we base our attraction to one another on that model? That would imply that perfection in the human form is normal, when it’s imperfection in the human form that makes life—and sex—interesting.
Even after writing this essay, Kaya Oakes still thinks she’s too tall for most guys. Luckily, her husband isn’t one of them.