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Dating Down

Why Less Attractive Men Make Better Mates

Various news outlets are reporting that the dating site BeautifulPeople.com, on which hopeful candidates may submit their photo in order to get approval to join the site from existing members, has purged 30,000 users who were uncharacteristically unattractive. Turns out a virus was responsible for the mishap, but the news got us thinking about whether or not looks really matter all that much in a relationship. Our freelancer investigated. —Glo

My friend Karen is a gorgeous, tall, auburn-haired beauty with measurements that would put Barbie to shame. And although she has her pick of hot guys to choose from, she's currently in a committed relationship with a man who's pushing 5'6", balding and could afford to park 15 pounds.

And she couldn't be happier.

Their pairing is not an anomaly. All one has to do is step out onto the street or flip through a gossip rag to see a great beauty stepping out with her beast. From couples such as J. Lo and Mark Anthony, Beth Ostrosky and Howard Stern, Salman Rushdie, and well, anyone, one thing is clear: Physically-mismatched couples are everywhere.

Sure, these guys have money and power — a trait evolutionary biologists say women place great value on — yet scientists say when not accounting for these factors, these female hotties may be onto something deeper.

A recent study published in the Journal of Family Psychology suggests that for women, dating a less attractive man may result in a happier, more emotionally satisfying relationship.

Researchers from UCLA and the University of Tennessee gathered 82 couples in their mid-twenties who had married in the past year and had been together for almost three years prior, then filmed the couples discussing a personal problem. All the while, a panel of people evaluated who was the better looking individual in each pair. After analyzing the tapes, researchers discovered that in couples where the man was more attractive than the woman, he said often things such as, “This is your problem, you deal with it” whereas the unattractive hubbies were more apt to say things like, “I'm here for you — what do you want me to do? How can I help you?'"

“It's possible that a man who is less attractive than his partner feels so grateful to be with her that he works harder to maintain the relationship, amping up the amount of emotional support and kindness he provides,” says Benjamin R. Karney, Ph.D., a professor of social psychology at UCLA. “Yet a man who is better looking than his partner knows he has lots of other options besides his mate, so he's less committed to providing the emotional support long term relationships need to thrive.”

“In fact, among couples where the husband was the looker, both partners supported each other less,” says Karney. “That implies when the husband disengages emotionally, the wife follows suit. Then no one is happy — it's a vicious cycle.”

Karney chalks up the relationship between a female goddess and a less beautiful man to The Social Exchange Theory: Simply put, people use a cost-benefit analysis when they think about entering or staying in a relationship. So a man might not rival Robert Pattinson in the looks department but if he's willing to please, emotionally engaged, and loyal, a woman will probably overlook his looks when deciding to pursue him. Likewise, if a woman possesses beauty and youth but say, doesn't earn a high income, a man will overlook that in exchange for genetically blessed offspring. Everyone brings something to the party.

And considering there's a shortage of hot guys to go around these days, say researchers at the London School of Economics, the exchange between a lovely and a not-so-lovely works out perfectly. “An evolutionary strategy programmed into our DNA dictates that attractive people have 36 percent greater odds of having a daughter than a son,” says Satoshi Kanazawa Ph.D., a professor of management at the London School of Economics and Political Science. “Due to this evolutionary process and because physical attractiveness is highly heritable, there tends to be more beautiful women in the world than there are beautiful men.”

If nothing else, you may find that your not-so-pretty man brings his A-game in the bedroom. “What I've seen from my clinical practice is that women who are married to men less attractive than them often have happy sex lives most likely because their mate tries harder to please them sexually,” says Bethany Marshall, Ph.D., author of the book Deal Breakers. “And while there's no hard data to support the theory, it makes sense that if an unattractive man has to work harder than a handsome man to stay in his relationship, he must work just as hard in the bedroom.”

  • Will dating someone less attractive make you happier?

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Why Less Attractive Men Make Better Mates
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