Why do so many good-looking women date bad-looking men?
December 16, 2003 1:14 PM   Subscribe

Why do so many good-looking women date bad-looking men? [more inside...]

My partner and I have been mulling this one over for a while. It seems that we see a great number of couples who are made up of a good-looking woman and a much-less-good-looking guy.

Why is this? Why is it that women seem to be more inclined to go out with less attractive men, while one rarely sees a stunning looking guy with an ugly girl?

It can't be just about money - the men in the couples we're talking about are not all stinking rich. And I don't believe that it's as simple as saying that women are more attracted to a sense of humour than to good looks.

Are there less good looking men to go round? Or do women simply pay more attention to their looks, which gives the impression that there are more gorgeous women than gorgeous men?
posted by skylar to Human Relations (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Most times I've run into that, it's about how the women prefer to be treated. People generally don't value what they can easily get, and highly value what is difficult to get. That applies to mates as well as objects.

So, because she's so clearly "better than he deserves", the guy will go to extremes to keep her happy, since he likely can't replace her with anyone of similar desirability. It's a lot more difficult to get that kind of power over an equal, because they -can- replace her... and since the guy knows that, he's nowhere near as malleable.
posted by frallyth at 1:39 PM on December 16, 2003 [2 favorites]

Eh, because there aren't as many societal pressures on men to look and act a certain way, therefore women are more open to the idea to dating a man not typically physically attractive than vice versa.

(This is verrry general statement. Obviously, this doesn't apply to everyone.)
posted by Zosia Blue at 1:42 PM on December 16, 2003 [1 favorite]

1. It's much more important for a man to be confident than good looking.

2. Women are much less visually-oriented, and, I daresay, more forgiving about appearance
posted by scarabic at 2:08 PM on December 16, 2003

I think it's at least somewhat because of what Zosia Blue says. It's also that (GENERALIZATION ALERT!) many women generally tend to look beyond physical appearances for attraction, especially in long-term relationships, and care more for who a person is than what he looks like (physical attraction is important, but it seems to be less based in "Hollywood ideal" land for many women, as compared to many men, there seems to be a wider range of what "attractive" is for men than there is for women). And it's more socially acceptable to be not-fabulous-looking if you're a man, you can still be considered attractive even if you're not conventionally good looking if you've got confidence, intelligence, humour, education or something comparable. Many men who aren't so hot physically are more confident in themselves because of their other good traits and are therefore attractive. Also, most women don't seem to give each other the same kind of peer-ribbing about dating a plain man that men give each other about dating a plain woman (especially if she's overweight - I've yet to see a "no fat guys" t-shirt). Also, there are still people out there who date/marry for reasons other than relationships (men who just want a good looking wife, and aren't interested in her brain or her friendship, women who just want a husband with a secure job, that sort of thing).
posted by biscotti at 2:12 PM on December 16, 2003 [2 favorites]

Maybe people care about more than outward appearance? How shallow.

(yeah, like biscotti said.)
posted by Vidiot at 2:25 PM on December 16, 2003

[Obligatory generalization warning.]
It's not just money, it's power/confidence. A man who either has power or acts like he has power -- of almost any kind -- seems to be attractive to women. Rich? Great! But also: strong, talented, confident or cocky, tells a good story, is connected to the mafia, is a senator, is a musician, is well-liked by his peers, etc.

Those are merely the qualities which subconsciously attract many women. The smart ones look past all that to the real person inside. Or so we hope. ;)
posted by callmejay at 2:33 PM on December 16, 2003

Well, are good-looking men jerks?

In my opinion a lot of women in general have a wide range of what they find attractive in a guy. For example, my mom thinks I am nuts but I am not in the least attracted to Tom Cruise. My list of attractions would be-cute, not handsome;not musclebound (Guys with a sixpack gross me out in general); and most important to me, have a quirky sense of humor. (of course I am married so this is all academic.)
posted by konolia at 3:00 PM on December 16, 2003

exactly, trharlan, which is why Aragorn, as portrayed my Viggo Mortensen in Lord of the Rings, is the sexiest man on earth.
posted by Mars Saxman at 3:00 PM on December 16, 2003

A lot of what Zosia Blue said.

I think another big consideration is that women are attracted to guys who aren't just attracted by looks. I've got a lot of very attractive female friends, and it's never a good idea to let them know that you're physically attracted to them. In fact, it's sometimes a good idea to let them know you're *not* attracted to them phyiscally, or to otherwise call attention to the fact that their features are less than perfect.
posted by SpecialK at 3:14 PM on December 16, 2003

I'm not going to ask her again because it'll seem like I'm pestering her for ego strokes -- "gosh, what's a cute chickie like you doing with a lumpen prole like me?" -- but the last I heard from my wife on this subject was that it had something to do with my being funny and smart. I'd assume similar though varied answers could be had from most of the women you see in similar situations.
posted by majick at 4:02 PM on December 16, 2003

Sorry, but I dispute the whole notion that it is common for attractive women to go out with unattractive men. In my experience, in the overwhelming majority of couples both members are of similar attractiveness. I think you are more likely to notice "mis-matched" couples because they are in fact so rare.
posted by TimeFactor at 5:17 PM on December 16, 2003 [2 favorites]

I'm going with TimeFactor here, maybe there is some kind of confirmation bias occuring in your observations. As a meme, however, the idea has legs, as unattractive men need to have hope.
posted by elwoodwiles at 6:18 PM on December 16, 2003

The answer is balance. Everyone knows that men age more gracefully, becoming more handsome over the years as wo... *ducks*
posted by Dick Paris at 6:44 PM on December 16, 2003 [1 favorite]

I've been through this conversation many, many times, and the conclusion that it has always come to is that women are, in general, more attractive than men.

Perform a survey of any representative sample of society, using any halfway reputable means of measurement, and you'll find that both men and women tend to consider women more attractive than men. On an abstract, aesthetic level, the curves and shapes are simply more pleasing to the human mind.

That being understood, it stands to reason that one would often see a so-so-looking guy with a more attractive gal. (I know my wife and I certainly fit into that category.)
posted by oissubke at 7:33 PM on December 16, 2003 [1 favorite]

I'm a fat, ugly slob and hot women throw themselves at me all the time. I haven't a clue why and when I tell them that they always think I'm joking. I've never been hit on by a woman who wasn't drop-dead gorgeous. My (just as ugly but not even remotely as lucky) male friends are equally baffled. Sucks to be me.
posted by dobbs at 11:49 PM on December 16, 2003 [1 favorite]

I think confidence goes a long way in both men and women. Back in college I had crushes on any powerful woman -- meaning any woman that didn't take shit from others and commanded attention when she spoke. All the women in my life growing up were doormats, so seeing them "fight back" when I left home was a huge turn-on. Some of them could be described as overweight, or crude, or "ugly rocker chicks" but I worshipped them because of their confidence.

A couple female friends came up with an experiment that works wonders in driving this point about "confidence trumps all" home. Think of the 2 or 3 most popular guys in high school. Picture them in your mind. Remember how they were the kings of campus and women threw themselves at their feet. Now go get your high school year book and look at their class photos. No, don't get hung up on the dated hair or clothes, but really look at their faces.

Sometimes you'll find the most popular guy had a huge nose, beady brown eyes, and/or horrible teeth, but they were the big men on campus because they were confident to the point of being completely cocky. I've seen the most popular guys from my wife's school and they looked fairly unattractive. Try it with your friends that didn't go to the same school, sometimes they'll have a hard time believing you ("You mean to tell me that troll of a man drove all the cheerleaders crazy? What planet did you attend school on?!)
posted by mathowie at 12:26 AM on December 17, 2003

Oh yeah, confidence and personality really has so much to do with sexual magnetism. I loved this Salon article - an interview with a professor who teaches the history of seduction. It seems Cleopatra was not at all beautiful but she was so brilliant and witty and accomplished that she charmed the toga right off Julius Caesar, a man who could have had almost anyone in Rome.

Beauty is a terrific advantage in the mating game, but it isn't the only one and in itself it's no guarantee of success. Christie Brinkley's on her fourth marriage. Elizabeth Hurley has been publicly treated like shit on numerous occasions.

I do agree with quite a few points made in this thread - that woman pay more attention to grooming and make more use of artifice and so appear more beautiful, that couples usually are fairly well matched in terms of physical appearance. But you do see "mismatched", very happy couples, and that happens for some excellent reasons that are worth thinking about. It's a mistake to rate someone's sexual magnetism solely on their appearance. You end up over-rating and under-rating people, yourself included. And this can lead to some pretty bad decisions (i.e., that gorgeous person won't be interested in me so I won't even try to talk to him/her).
posted by orange swan at 8:54 AM on December 17, 2003 [2 favorites]

One thing that is very important in relationships is resources. We discussed this in my social psych class, and basically, what makes a relationship last is the resource exchange.

Using my own relationship as an example, people might look at me and wonder why on earth I'm dating my S.O. He hasn't finished graduating college, has no ambition whatsoever, not talkative, and very introverted as a person. I'm in grad school, massively ambitious, very talkative, and more extroverted. However, he contributes resources that I don't have, and desperately need. I'm an anxious person, and he helps keep me calm. As well, he listens to me, and while our interests may not always be the same, our interests are very compatible. However, these aren't things that are easily detectable if you're not actually in the relationship.

Essentially, we provide for each other what the other person needs. While that may not be why we started dating, it is why we're still dating.
posted by stoneegg21 at 1:40 PM on December 17, 2003 [2 favorites]

I was just reminded of a girl I knew in High School. Her mother was the most beautiful woman you have ever seen in your life. She was a very dark skinned Italian woman, with long, gorgeous flowing black hair. She was incredible. All of us fantasized about her everytime we got to go to our friend's house.

My friend's father was a short, balding, rotund Iranian man. He was quite intelligent, but what he had that was the envy of everyone was the love of this incredibly beautiful woman.

My friend was not naive to the interesting coupling her parents made. She was also well aware that her own male peers were in love with her mom. Once when I was ogling her mom from afar, she said, "You have no chance to win her love. My dad spent 6 years in jail in Iran for her." And he had, for marrying a foreigner he spent 6 years in jail and then upon release they moved to the states together.

Romantic enough for ya?
posted by vito90 at 10:09 AM on December 18, 2003 [3 favorites]

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