This is why couples are often about equally beautiful

This is why couples are often about equally beautiful

Both men and women appear to be generally good at judging their own attractiveness, which in turn influences their choice of partner.

Has anyone ever told you that your crush is “too high”? In this case, the person you have your eye on is supposedly a lot more attractive than you are. However, in practice, this often doesn’t hold true. Because new research shows that we generally choose a partner who is just as attractive as we are.

The study shows that we are actually very good at judging our own physical attractiveness. So we have a good dose of self-knowledge. But perhaps even more interesting is that the research shows that couples are often a good match in terms of physical appearance. This means that we tend to enter into relationships with people who are in our own ‘league’.

The researchers reached this conclusion after examining a meta-analysis originally conducted in 1988. This analysis included data from 27 different studies that examined how attractiveness was related within a group of 1,300 heterosexual couples. The couples were asked to rate their own physical attractiveness. Their photos were then shown to strangers, who gave objective ratings of their appearance. “So we examined the relationships from an earlier meta-analysis that looked at the relationship between independent raters of men’s and women’s physical attractiveness,” researcher Gregory Webster explained in an interview with “And it turns out that men who are perceived as attractive by others tend to date women who are also perceived as attractive by others (and vice versa).”

Despite the original data going back several decades, the researcher believes the findings are still relevant in 2024. “It’s possible that some aspects of attractiveness have changed over time,” Webster says. “On the other hand, the fundamental aspects of what people find attractive are fairly consistent across cultures and over time.”

In onze league
The study leads to some surprising findings. “What was striking was that people who thought they were more attractive also tended to have partners who were considered more attractive by others,” Webster says. In short, we apparently date and marry people who are as attractive as we are. If you think you are an ‘eight’ yourself, you often have an eight as a partner. But why do we do that? “Our study did not specifically focus on the why question,” Webster says when asked. “But previous studies have suggested that people are generally attracted to others who are similar to them. This is not just about physical attractiveness, by the way, but also about shared interests such as hobbies, values, cultural preferences (such as films, literature, food) and observable qualities such as friendliness and a sense of humor. In other words, the English saying ‘birds of a feather flock together’ applies here. The assumption that ‘opposites attract’ does not seem to hold true.”

Longer relationships
The meta-analysis also gave Webster’s team the opportunity to examine how self-evaluations change over time. Some studies focused on young dating couples, while others focused on long-term married couples. The researchers found that men who had been together for a longer period of time became more accurate in their own assessments of their attractiveness, perhaps because the overconfidence of their youth had worn off and they began to see themselves more realistically. “We found that for men who had been together for a longer period of time, the relationship between their own assessment of their attractiveness and how objectively others perceived them to be attractive was stronger,” Webster explained. “So maybe men are becoming more realistic. Because no one necessarily becomes more attractive over time.”

Online dating
One major difference from the past, however, is that we now date en masse online. We often meet our partners via dating apps or dating websites. An interesting question is whether online dating platforms have changed the way people select their partners based on physical attractiveness. “We suspect that online dating places more emphasis on physical attractiveness and less on signals of attractiveness that come from real social interactions,” Webster says. “In online dating, you often only see a few of someone’s ‘best’ or heavily filtered photos, whereas in a bar, for example, you can observe someone’s facial expressions, gestures, and other nonverbal cues, and see how good they are at holding conversations. So when you base your dating choices solely on physical attractiveness, you are likely missing out on important information about other aspects of people that could help you make better—or at least more informed—decisions.”

The study sheds more light on how many romantic relationships are formed. But don’t get hung up on attractiveness. While it can play a role in forming relationships, an important lesson is that true connection goes far beyond appearance alone.