When a pair of friends matched on a dating app the other day, one came to me for the inside scoop. She wanted to know how I knew him, what he was like in person and whether I saw potential chemistry between them. Also, she asked, how tall is he? “Oh, he’s my height,” I replied.
This seemed to satisfy her — I’m 6-foot-2, and that stature comes with various well-known perks — but saying he had a similar build got me thinking: Aren’t a lot of my male friends over six feet tall, though just roughly 1 in 5 American men reach that height? It reminded me of something my girlfriend, Maddie (who is much shorter), likes to say: “Your friends are too tall to talk to.”
Surely, I thought, I wasn’t choosing my buddies based on their… measurements? Then again, homophily — the attraction to others with traits we share — is a powerful force. When you’re the same height as another person, you’re literally seeing eye-to-eye. And to the (troubling) degree that we link tallness and status, we may be subconsciously drawn, even platonically, to tall dudes.
This, in turn, leads to some counterintuitive forms of bonding. You might expect that a guy used to towering over everyone would feel threatened at meeting someone taller; in fact, when I lived in New York, I used to glance around the subway car to confirm that nobody had edged me out. But in the context of a casual get-together, the 6-foot-4 man could well be a go-to conversation partner. In part, it’s a way to normalize yourself, but it’s also rather practical.
Of course, some of the perceived height assimilation among men is down to obvious mitigating factors (a bunch of dudes who connected on the high school basketball team, for example), and some of it is pure illusion: Not accounting for slight differences by race, the average American male stands about 5-foot-9, with a normal distribution on either side — plus or minus a few inches, in other words. So if you suddenly realize that you and your boys all fall between this range, it’s no great mystery, but a manifestation of averages.
For an informal control group and demonstration of what I mean, consider Leonardo DiCaprio’s so-called “Pussy Posse” and their alleged stats: Leo is six feet even, as is David Blaine, while Tobey Maguire is 5-foot-8, matching up with Harmony Korine. Then you’ve got Jay R. Ferguson (5-foot-11), Lukas Haas (5-foot-11) and Kevin Connolly (5-foot-7). There’s variation, yet they’re clustered around the mean, and there’s no reason to suppose they enjoy each other’s company for that reason. This is the probabilistic outcome.
What I did take away from the anecdotal evidence supplied by people on Twitter is that, first of all, tall guys be congregating. Despite my question sidestepping any disclosure of my own height, it was immediately pegged as a “tall people tweet.” Beyond the tall cabals, however, you have lopsided cliques: Sometimes an average-height group embraces a token tall guy, and sometimes an average-height guy has many taller friends.
Such is the case for a 5-foot-7 pal who will remain anonymous for professional reasons. “The vast majority of my closest friends are like 6-foot-plus,” he tells me. “I don’t ascribe it to anything particular besides my closest friends from home and college [being] from peak meaty white-boy parts of America.” It’s usually not an issue, he says, “but occasionally I’ll be doing something where a group of old close friends all get together, and I’ll notice it and be like, ‘You guys gotta all sit down for a while.’”
Tellingly, while I heard of male social scenes that include a wide range of heights, or a single outlier in either direction — along with apparently self-selected cohorts of giants — almost nobody described a set of exclusively short kings, with the exception of trans men. It’s tempting to speculate, given this admittedly unscientific sampling, that absent other commonalities, solidarity amid shorter men can be lacking. And this could help explain the success of tall guys as a rule. Because regardless of unit composition, at least one beanstalk is required. As a mom once wisely informed her kid in a grocery store, after I’d grabbed a box of cereal on a shelf they couldn’t reach: “See? There’s always a tall person around when you need one.”
It’s not like you have to get in your head about this. Plenty of respondents mentioned that they’ve never once given thought to how tall their friends are (or hadn’t before I brought it up). At the very least, I’d venture, nobody is actively selecting friends by height. Just the same, tall guys, who have the privilege of thriving in whatever assemblage they choose, should be mindful of accidentally closing short guys out of their club. After all, we can’t gain new perspective if we don’t welcome it into our lives.
Look up, look down — anywhere but straight ahead.