Shrek and Fiona: mismatched couple (well, appearance-wise). (Photo: Mary Evans/DREAMWORKS SKG/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection)
We’ve all seen couples pass us by on the street where the woman is hot and the guy is, well, not — and vice versa. If we’re truly being honest, we’ve secretly wondered how they got together in the first place.
These types of couples may stand out in our minds is because, in general, research shows we’re more likely to be romantically interested in someone who shares our same level of attractiveness (there’s even a scientific term for it: “assortative mating”).
A new study in the journal Psychological Science sheds some light on these couples with so-called “mismatched” levels of physical attractiveness. The researchers studied 167 couples to find out whether getting to know someone over time can trump the natural bias toward good looks. The study found that oftentimes, the answer is yes.
The researchers found that couples who were similarly physically attractive tended to become romantically involved after a short period of time — in other words, “You’re hot, I’m hot, let’s get together!” — while paramours who paired up and didn’t share the same level of physical attractiveness were more likely to have spent time getting to know each other first. In fact, 40 percent of the pairs in the study started as platonic friends. So time helps level the playing field.
“In our previous work, we found that as people get to know each other better over time, they tend to make more unique evaluations of them,” study researcher Lucy Hunt, of the University of Texas at Austin, tells Yahoo Health.
She points out that if you ask a bunch of strangers to rate your attractiveness on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being very unattractive and 10 being very attractive, the group will likely agree on the same number. But if you ask your friends who’ve known you for a while to rank your physical attractiveness, that number would be higher (or eek, lower) because they’re also factoring in your personality. As Hunt points out: “Getting to know someone will either make you like them more or less.”
So according to the findings of the study, it’s likely those “mismatched” couples were friends or coworkers first. They may not have been initially attracted to each other, but as they got to know each other over time, they discovered other swoon-worthy qualities — a great sense of humor, a passion for travel, or a listening ear — that made them fall in love.
Of course, Hunt points out that you can’t force chemistry. If you have a crush on the office hottie, he or she may not necessarily fall in love with you as they get to know you better. “They still may not be interested,” notes Hunt. “Once you get to know someone after a little bit of time, both people have a sense whether you have chemistry. It has to be mutual.”
But Hunt sees a positive takeaway from her research: Appreciate your own uniqueness and, eventually, you will find someone who appreciates it, too. “What you see in magazines and movies and TV is this pressure to be the most beautiful, handsome, intelligent, and charming person [to all], and the data indicate that it’s better to be all of those things to one person,” she says. “Find the person who uniquely sees you that way. And maybe a better way of doing that is to get to know someone over time.”
Adds Hunt: “There isn’t one type of beauty or person to shoot for. Just be yourself, and you’ll find somebody.”
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