Research Finds the Greater Disparity in Looks in a Relationship the Longer a Couple Has Known Each Other

Drop everything; there’s some interesting new research on the dating front.

But, I can’t say it’s surprising.

New findings in Psychological Science (a journal of the Association for Psychological Science) has found that partners who become romantically involved soon after meeting tend to be more similar in physical attractiveness than partners who get together after knowing each other for a while.


“Our results indicate that perceptions of beauty in a romantic partner might change with time, as individuals get to know one another better before they start dating,” says lead researcher Lucy Hunt of the University of Texas at Austin.

“Having more time to get acquainted may allow other factors, such as another person’s compatibility as a relationship partner, to make that person appealing in ways that outshine more easily observable characteristics such as physical attractiveness. Or perhaps another person might actually become more attractive in the eyes of the beholder by virtue of these other factors,” she said.

Everyone knows (or knows of) that super beautiful couple that seem to only have one thing in common – their good genes.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why this is the case. A competition-based perspective suggests that someone’s success in the dating scene is limited by his or her own desirability. Most often, people who are physically attractive are seen as the most desirable and – as a result – are able to attract the attention and win the hearts they most desire themselves.

In the new report, the researchers hypothesized that the length of time the partners knew each other before becoming a couple may shift the dynamics of this fellow beautiful people-seeking sexual competition.

Their past research had shown that opinions about desirability and attractiveness change over time as people get to know each other more intimately and in different contexts. This means that objective physical attractiveness is less relevant in determining whether who individuals will become a couple.

And we all know it’s true.

We’ve all had that friend who becomes more romantically appealing over time – and hence more attractive – despite them being far from your typical “type.”

I mean, there’s a reason why so many best friends and coworkers find themselves in love with one another.

Recognizing this, the researchers hypothesized that partners who had known each other just a short time before beginning to date were likely to be similarly attractive, while partners who were well-acquainted before they became a couple were likely to exhibit a greater mismatch in physical attractiveness.

To prove this, they looked at data from 167 couples — 67 dating and 100 married — who were participating in a longitudinal study of romantic relationships. The duration of their relationships ranged from three months to 53 years. The average relationship length was eight years and eight months.

The couples were all videotaped talking about how they had changed over the course of their relationship. The videos were assessed by trained coders, who used rating scales to designate the physical attractiveness of each partner. As it turned out, the coders were in agreement on what makes someone physically attractive, and the ratings were highly correlated among the coders.

As the researchers suspected, in couples where an unattractive person was paired with an attractive person, the pair had known one another longer before dating. In contrast, couples who began dating within a month of first meeting each other happened to be more equally good-looking.

Finally – and perhaps something we should all pay attention to when it comes to our inner circle – couples who were friends first were less likely to be matched on levels of attractiveness than those who were strangers before they began dating.

One would probably assume that those who knew each other longer and fell in love organically would be more satisfied with their relationship than those whose initial draw to one another was more superficial.

It turns out, though, that’s not always the case.

Perhaps the most interesting finding of the study was that the level of match on attractiveness was not associated with relationship satisfaction for either men or women in the study. Both friends-first and stranger-first relationships were approximately equally happy years later.

Either way, the findings suggest that the length of acquaintance can influence whether we perceive someone as being a desirable (and attractive) partner.