When you’re dating, the pressure to measure up to the beauty standard prescribed by magazines, advertisements and celebrity info-tainment programs can feel pretty relentless.
Sure we all want to look our best, and there is a lot to be said for making an effort. Taking the time to iron your dress or tuck in your shirt is a gesture of courtesy and respect to yourself and others. But at certain point, you have to look in the mirror and say, “This is what I’ve got, folks. Take it or leave it.” Because no matter how much time and money you devote to exercise, hair care and clothes shopping, you’re still left looking pretty much like … you.
We all venture into the dating world hoping that others will appreciate our charms, even if our noses are crooked or our bellies spill over our beltlines. And the good news is they will—but it may take some time.
Paul Eastwick and Lucy Hunt of the University of Texas at Austin surveyed heterosexual students in a college class about the attractiveness of their opposite-sex classmates, asking them to state how strongly they agreed with statements like “members of the opposite sex are attracted to [name].” They were also asked to imagine their classmates as romantic partners and evaluate such statements as “[name] fulfills me in ways that other partners could not.”
At the beginning of the semester, there was a lot of agreement about who was hot and who was not. But three months later, that had changed. As the students got to know one another, they became more aware of each other’s unique qualities—the kind of stuff we don’t always agree on like bookishness (“smart and interesting” to me might be “stuffy and dull” to you) and boisterousness (one women’s fun party guy might be another’s annoying loud jock). By the end of the semester, the students no longer agreed on who was the most attractive but instead admired classmates with the unique qualities that most appealed to them personally.
In another study, Eastwick and Hunt asked people who were in the same friend network to evaluate their long-term pals’ attractiveness. Again they discovered that after people get to know one another, there is no agreement on the relative cuteness of the opposite sex. “Among these well-acquainted individuals, consensus on measures of mate value was nearly zero. These are the people who know what authors you like, what you wore for Halloween six years ago and what obscure movie you will quote the next time you all get together. But they cannot agree on your mate value. Over the years, it has evaporated before their eyes,” the researchers said in a New York Times opinion piece.
So if you’ve noticed that your tall, thin, symmetrically featured friends get more attention at cocktail parties, that’s probably because they are. But fortunately, their advantage fades over time. If you can find ways to gradually get acquainted with potential partners—through clubs, book groups, adult-ed classes, volunteer work, networks of friends—the beautiful people will have nothing on you.
Have you found this to be true in your own dating life?