Right off the bat, I must tell you that this expression – dating “in your league” – is one I detest. People use this expression to make immature comparisons between people, and the suggestion is always that some people make better catches than others because they’re more attractive. If you regularly read my eHarmony blog, you know that I constantly advise against placing too high a priority on physical appearance, urging everyone instead to focus on the emotional and personality traits of your dates. This distinction is the key to finding a relationship that lasts. It is important to date in your league, but we need to break down what “in your league” really means.
People say that you need to date in your league but what they often mean is that you can’t expect to date someone who’s more attractive than you. Nonsense! You don’t need to date someone who is in the same league of attractiveness as you. A very attractive person can have a perfectly good relationship with an unattractive person as long as they are in the same league in other ways. If you are someone who gets a lot of attention for your appearance, you need to be with someone who is okay with you getting a lot of attention. If you date someone who is jealous or insecure, your attractiveness – and people hitting on you constantly – is going to be an ongoing issue in your relationship. If you are someone who has never gotten lots of attention for how you look, it’s fine for you to date a more attractive person as long as you don’t idealize them or believe that they’re a better catch simply because they’re more attractive. Ultimately, good relationships require a balance of power, and everyone needs to be aware of the unique positive traits they bring to the table.
Matching each other in the intelligence department is far more important than matching each other in the appearance department. As a rule, my fifteen-plus years of experience counseling men and women has shown that a good relationship requires being in a similar league in the intelligence department. Long after the lust ends, a couple will sit opposite each other for thousands of meals, and these meals will involve conversation. If you and your partner have vastly different levels of intelligence, you aren’t going to want to talk about the same things. In other words, if you aren’t in the same league intelligence-wise, you won’t have the glue you need to stay emotionally connected for years to come. Save yourself a breakup down the road by accepting this rule.
Empathy is another interpersonal trait in which a couple should be a match in order to have a happy relationship. You can both be callous or you can be the kindest people in the world, but you will need to have a similar degree of empathy to last. For example, if you see a homeless person, does one of you judge him while the other feels sympathy? If there’s a major difference in how much empathy you have, the relationship will not work. Another example: If someone is feeling down or depressed, would you and the person you’re dating feel the same way toward the one who’s down? If one of you feels empathy for people but the other does not, the two of you are not similar enough to happily last together. Plain and simple, you have to be in a similar league in the empathy department to make a relationship work.
Ways you can be in different leagues and still have a successful relationship
There are many traits or behaviors you’d think a couple should share in order to have a good relationship. Ideally, you and your partner would be in the same league in terms of emotional sensitivity, but you’ll rarely find a romantic partner who is sensitive in the exact same ways you are. Similarly, it would be ideal to find someone who is in your league in terms of the ability to listen and to express feelings. However, we typically aren’t attracted to our carbon copies, so most couples include one person who is more emotionally expressive than the other. Finally, it would be ideal to find a partner who matches you in terms of a sense of humor, but couples don’t have to be a match in this way to have an overall good relationship.
Dr. Seth is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, Psychology Today blogger, and TV guest expert. He practices in Los Angeles and treats a wide range of issues and disorders and specializes in relationships, parenting, and addiction. He has had extensive training in conducting couples therapy and is the author of Dr. Seth’s Love Prescription: Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve.