What’s Height Got to do With It?

By Sara Afzal

Height is likely one of the most basic observations you make when meeting someone for the first time. During the initial pursuits of online dating, however, it can be a lingering question mark. Some people choose to list how tall or short they are on their profiles, but many don’t. As a woman who is 5’9”, I stand at the average male height in the United States (the average female height is around 5’4”). For me, this means inevitably asking a prospective date the dreaded question: “How tall are you?”

It’s superficial, but I admit I care about height. Everyone has a preference as to what he or she finds physically attractive, and for me, the taller, the better. I’m certainly not the tallest woman to walk the streets of New York City, but I’m tall enough that height (or lack thereof) is a factor in my dating encounters. I’m also not alone in wanting to date a man who’s taller than I am. In an essay for Esquire, Ann Friedman discusses the ingrained female preference for taller men. “Women have internalized the message that it’s better for us to be smaller. This is essential to know—it’s not just about shortness, but also skinniness. To be bigger than men is to worry that you’ll turn them off,” she writes. According to her, this is boiled down to a “sweeping prejudice masquerading as sexual preference.”

I know it’s shallow to be a heightist, so on dating apps, I prefer to be blunt: I ask men how tall they are if they haven’t already mentioned it in their profile. Some men are polite about it, either saying that they don’t mind my height or admitting that they prefer shorter women. One 5”6” man even wished me luck, joking, “I wish I was a little bit taller and a baller.” Clearly, the idea of an appropriate height disparity in a straight dating scenario is ingrained on both ends.

That doesn’t mean some men haven’t gotten defensive. One such gentleman lashed out after he told me he was 5’7’’. “Is that going to work for you?” he asked, before telling me I didn’t exactly have an ideal body, and my nose was “pretty busted, too.” Now we’re married! Just kidding.

Carly Stipek, 29, a fellow tall woman who dates men, said she is exhausted by the focus on her height when getting to know someone online. Stipek has heard it all, both negative and positive, ranging from “I love tall women, please be the big spoon to my little” to “You should play basketball. How’s the weather up there?”

At just over 5’11”, Stipek regularly is approached by men on the street or the train who gawk at her stature. Sometimes it isn’t much better on dates, where her height has been interpreted as a personal affront on masculinity. She remembers, “During one first date the guy immediately got angry because I’d put 5’11” on my profile, and that was misleading. Apparently a quarter of an inch really makes a difference and I should have rounded up to 6 feet.”

Stipek doesn’t feel she has the same luxury of weeding out men based on their height. “My dating pool would be ridiculously small if I limit only to men who are as tall as or taller than me,” she said. “I also know it’s not my job to apologize to a man who feels emasculated by my height. It’s a red flag when a guy makes more than a jab or two at how tall I am because that tells me this will likely be an ongoing insecurity that he feels the need to punish me for.”

For her, it’s about confidence. “Mostly I just want to be with someone who is comfortable enough with themselves that their masculine identity won’t crumble just because I happen to have the better view,” she added.

Not all shorter men see taller women as intimidating. At 5’3, Peter D’Amato, who is 30 and married, says he has never felt that his height was an issue in his dating life. His wife is 5’7″, and D’Amato says it doesn’t bother him that she usually wears heels. When he was online dating, he would usually stop talking to women who brought up height in the first few exchanges because he knew it would be important to them. Some women would tell him they were impressed that he didn’t let being short bother him.  

“People put so much emphasis on height in the sense that they worry that, socially, it’s hard for short men to date. It’s really not. Obviously, there’s a lot of emphasis placed on the attractiveness of tall men, and some women and men don’t find themselves attracted to shorter men,” he said. “But the times I went out with a woman who was taller who wasn’t interested or who I talked to online who wouldn’t date someone shorter are so unmemorable. Not everyone is attracted to you, and making height the reason is silly,” D’Amato added.

Ira Gamerman, who is 35 and 5’8”, disagrees. When women react to his height it makes him feel emasculated, he says. “I feel sad that the patriarchy forces women to feel so insecure about arbitrary bodily attributes they have no control over while simultaneously peer pressuring them into high heels to boot.”

Gamerman goes on to question if women’s preference for taller men is more about human biology. “In the time of Neanderthals or the Middle ages, I could see where physical stature might dictate one’s potential for survival. But I doubt this is still a factor for the ever image conscious post-millennial female.”

When Gamerman comes across a woman’s dating profile with height listed and not much other personal information, he says it makes him feel like he should keep swiping. The emphasis on height, he says, leads him to believe these women are ‘high strung, no fun, superficial, insecure, closed off, have out of whack priorities, and are lacking compassion.”

In some relationships, a height difference can affect the nature of physical intimacy. Pete MacAskill, 30, is 5’9’’. Given his average height, he’s dated men taller and shorter than he is. His preference is more focused on mental and emotional compatibility. “Height isn’t necessarily a limiting factor for me but it does affect the energy I bring to the relationship. When a guy is taller than me I tend to take a more submissive role, while a shorter guy will make me feel more dominant.”

On the taller side of the spectrum, Eric Erskins, at 6’6’’, feels that his height gives him an edge while dating women. “I think it’s an asset. I’m still discovering its impact,” Erskins said. He notes his shorter male friends “tend to be more extroverted in general due to their desire to be noticed.”

Being noticed isn’t an issue for Amy Gail Brown, 32, who stands at 5’11” even without the heels she usually wears. She said she likes being tall now, but it’s created some issues during her interactions with men throughout her life. A boy in college called her “the biggest girl he has ever seen,” and even now, her male friends tell her her height is intimidating. “They tell me that’s probably why I am still single. I do get a lot of non-responses from men online.”

Brown attributes some of this to the many options people in New York City have when it comes to dating. “Men in the city have too many choices, so why should they choose the tall girl when they could go out with the girl that makes them feel like a big manly man?” she said.

In the end, everyone has certain preferences when it comes to dating. I am free to say no to shorter men and they are free to say no to me. It’s human to focus on the physical as an essential aspect of attraction. As long as everyone is polite, I really can’t begrudge anyone’s individual standards and taste. But it is helpful to know you don’t stand alone with your tallest-kid-in-class struggles, and you can occasionally lament your extra inches with your fellow vertically-advantaged humans. As Stipek notes, “Sometimes you can’t help but check out the other floating heads above the crowd in silent acknowledgment.”