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Should you Date Someone ‘Out of Your League?’

Here are five principles for creating a win-win relationship

The 2010 film “She’s Out of My League” would hardly be confused with a Hollywood classic. But the premise did raise questions about how singles with much different levels of attractiveness and attributes fare when they become romantically involved. In the movie, Kirk is an average guy who works at the Pittsburgh airport. He’s out of shape, uncoordinated, and drives a clunker. Then he meets a successful, smart, and stunning blonde named Molly. 

The story is one take on what happens when Mr. Ordinary and Miss Extraordinary fall in love. Or as the movie’s slogan bluntly states it: “How can a 10 go for a 5?” Knowing how formulaic romantic comedies usually turn out, you can predict the ending to this tale. But can you predict how such mismatched couples fare in real life? Chances are, at some point you have met a couple and said to yourself, “How did he end up with her? She’s too good for him!” 

As tactless as it may sound, no one wants to marry someone “beneath” them. We’re not talking necessarily about social class, family status, wealth, or education. We mean the sum total—the whole package–of qualities a person brings to a relationship. Whether a man or woman primarily seeks someone with great earning potential, a charming personality, or sterling character, that person wants a partner whose bottom-line total is similar to his or her own. And they should want this, because it’s rare to find two happily married people who don’t have this kind of equality. As you ponder possible matches and mismatches of your own, keep these thoughts in mind: 

Accept the “marketplace” principle of relationships. When you are searching for a partner, you can expect to attract a person whose total “set of attributes” is approximately equal to your own. This is the principle of the marketplace. You want to find the best person you can, but this best person will largely depend on what you bring in trade. This concept may strike some people as crass and calculating, like a business contract being hammered out. But the fact is that all of us want to get a “good deal” when it comes to choosing a mate. A good deal in a romantic context is defined as “a person who brings at least as many qualities to the relationship as you do.”

Assess your own assets. Carefully evaluate what you bring to a potential relationship. The goal is not to inflate your ego by listing all of your wonderful qualities, or to deflate your ego by pinpointing your shortcomings. The goal is to honestly and accurately understand what you have to offer another person. 

Appraise the attributes of your partner. Some individuals are unusually intelligent, good-looking, athletically gifted, musically talented, and spiritually thoughtful. Other people bring a more moderate set of qualities to the “negotiating table.” And still others bring significantly fewer qualities. Hone your skills at identifying strengths and weaknesses in members of the opposite sex.

Acknowledge that there’s a wide variety of positive qualities. These days, when someone refers to a man or woman as a “10” or a “5,” of course they’re talking about looks. What that unfortunate numerical rating doesn’t take into consideration are the myriad unseen qualities a person might have to offer—intelligence, sense of humor, generosity, dependability, and so on. Remind yourself that appearance is just one among many traits to evaluate.

Aim for win-win. When it comes to a long-term relationship, you want to feel like a winner in your choice of a partner. And your partner should feel like a winner for choosing you. No one should feel like he or she “got gypped” in their choice of a mate. After all, the strongest couples include two people whose sum total of attributes is closely aligned.

To borrow a page from the Goldilocks fable, when it comes to love and romance, find a partner who is not too far above you, not too far beneath you, but is just right for you.