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The 3 Most Important Things Women Look For In a Potential Date Are Not What You'd Think

Details logo Details 12/15/2014 Ben Kassoy

© Getty Images Like so many goofy kids, my adolescent years were an orthodontic gauntlet of braces, rubber bands, and palette expanders. My dad, a pediatric dentist, never missed a chance to extol the virtues of brushing, flossing, and retainers—while warning against eating cotton candy and chewing ice. While this was often a nuisance, it turns out my love life may owe a great deal to an upbringing filled with oral hygiene routines.

According to Singles in America, Match.com's annual survey of 5,300 Americans, 76 percent of singles (81 percent of women, 67 percent of men) care strongly about the condition of their partner's teeth. And only two other attributes matter more than what's in your mouth: grammar (number one) and confidence.

"I think they're all Darwinian. They can all be explained by human evolution," says Dr. Helen Fisher, Match.com's Chief Scientific Advisor, who spearheaded the study. "Grammar is going to say a great deal about your upbringing and your background. Your confidence is going to say a great deal about your mental stability, and your teeth are going to say a great deal about your age and personal health. All of those things are really important in sizing up a person, a potentially reproductive partner."

Context, of course, is everything. In this case, the official question was: "Do you judge a potential date by any of the following?" The nine most important qualities are listed here in order of significance:

83%: Grammar (88% W; 75% M)

78%: Confidence (84% W; 69% M)

76%: Teeth (81% W; 67% M)

62%: Tattoos/piercings (62% W; 62% M)

58%: Clothes (68% W; 49% M)

32%: Car (40% W; 21% M)

28%: Jewelry/watch (31% W; 21% M)

29%: Accent (32% W; 25% M)

27%: Electronic devices they carry (30% W; 23% M)

Numbers don't lie. But still, I wanted to hear what some of my single friends thought about the data.

The grammar issue resonated for my friend Erika, a veterinary student in Florida: "Please learn the difference between you're, your, and yore," she says. "I cannot take you seriously as an adult human if you cannot do that."

Fair enough. Egregious and obvious mistakes (loose/lose, there/their/they're, and all things apostrophe, for example) are understandably unforgivable. But where do the 83 percent of us who judge our partners on this stuff draw the line? Is affect vs. effect a deal-breaker? Who vs. whom? Less vs. fewer? I mean, who besides copyeditors and your middle-school English teacher knows the difference between lay and lie? Sure, I'll dock points if a date substitutes "complement" for "compliment." But I'll also be weirded out if she ever uses "lain."

So how about teeth? They deserve some leeway, says Jess, who does nonprofit work in New York City. If eyes are the window to the soul, then perhaps the mouth is the window to the self-esteem.

"I wouldn't say I necessarily 'judge' men by their teeth, meaning a guy with bad teeth is not a deal-breaker for me," says Jess. "It's more about what's behind his smile—there's nothing better than a smile or laugh that allows you to see that a person is genuinely happy and comfortable with himself."

The common denominator among grammar, teeth, and confidence: they're hard to fake and even harder to change. The things the fewest people notice—cars, jewelry/watches, and the electronics we tote—are material and easily upgraded.

That's great news for yours truly, the English major with pearly whites (thanks, Dad). Now I'm just waiting to find all those women who care.

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