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How Important Is Perceived Attractiveness In a Relationship?

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Attraction is a huge part of romantic relationships—duh. One thing you maybe haven't thought about? How "perceived attractiveness" affects relationships. Perceived attractiveness is exactly what it sounds like: a subjective opinion about how physically attractive someone is or isn't. While it's obvious that what the people in the relationship think about each other's attractiveness is super important, you'll be surprised to hear that what outsiders think actually plays a role, too. Just ask Jenny Slate. (FYI, she's one of nine female celebs who got candid about sexual health.)

The beloved indie actress was in the news (or should we say gossip columns) last year because of her very high-profile relationship with actor Chris Evans (aka Captain America). They've since broken up, but she recently opened up to Vulture about why. In the interview, Slate talks about what an amazing person Evans is, but says that ultimately, they were too different personality-wise to make things work long-term. Well, that, and there was some added pressure involved with dating a guy that the *entire* world thinks is pretty much the hottest person on earth. At first, she was surprised that Evans was even into her, saying that "eventually, when it was like, 'Oh, you have these feelings for me?' I was looking around like, 'Is this a prank?' I mean, I understand why I think I'm beautiful, but if you've had a certain lifestyle and I'm a very, very different type of person—I don't want to be an experiment." Fair enough. Self-confidence is important and it sounds like Slate has plenty of that, but when two people come from different backgrounds or social stratospheres, there can be an adjustment period when they're first getting together.

Slate also shared what *really* pushed the relationship over the edge, and, warning, it's a total bummer. "If you are a woman who really cares about her freedom, her rights, her sense of being an individual, it is confusing to go out with one of the most objectified people in the entire world," she told the entertainment site. Plus, she believes that in Hollywood's eyes, she's not perceived as being in the same "category" as other actresses Evans had dated previously, like Jessica Biel and Minka Kelly. "I'm considered some sort of alternative option, even though I know I'm a majorly vibrant sexual being." Oof. That made us wonder: Is this issue of different levels of perceived attractiveness something non-famous people deal with in relationships? (It's hard not to compare yourself to celebrity beauty standards, but here are 10 refreshingly honest celebrity body confessions.)

The answer is a resounding yes. "It happens all the time," says Paul Hokemeyer, Ph.D., L.M.F.T.  "Typically one party in a relationship is seen as more attractive, either emotionally or physically," he explains. When you think about it, it would probably be really hard to find someone who is your absolute perfect match physically and emotionally, right? Plus, aren't things like that totally subjective, anyway? And, LBH, if you were on the same level in every way, things would likely get really boring, really fast. "The point of a relationship is to balance things out and find equilibrium as a couple," explains Hokemeyer. "Two separate human beings join as one entity and to find happiness in the world." Yup, sounds like what a relationship is supposed to be like.

But then there's still the question of what happens when one person is specifically perceived as way more attractive than the other by outsiders (or should we say haters who need to mind their own business). According to Hokemeyer, the main issues that come up for these couples are resentment and jealousy. "Romance entails vulnerability. To be attracted to someone means there's a potential they will reject you. When your romantic partner is incredibly attractive (or, hello, Captain America), the potential to be rejected can be amplified to a deafening pitch," he says. When so many other people are vying for or interested in your partner, it can create the illusion of competition, even when there isn't really any. "In this dynamic, the partner of the 'attractive' person can feel invisible," he adds. While this can totally be dealt with, it requires a lot of honesty and strong self-esteem on both sides. (Side note—here's why a bad relationship is worse for your health than no relationship.)

In spite of those issues, it's definitely possible to have a successful partnership when one person is thought to be significantly better looking, according to Hokemeyer. So what's the fix? "People who are in the situation should try to view their partners as human beings rather than objects," he says. This goes no matter what end of things you're on. Though you've probably heard this one before, real beauty is determined by the love, kindness, and generosity you show others. Physical attractiveness matters from a "chemistry" standpoint, but it certainly can be overcome with the right emotional tools or outweighed by the strong bond between two people. As for outsiders who have opinions about your relationship? Hokemeyer puts it perfectly: "In the end, it doesn't matter what people think. Love is a felt experience, not a visible one."

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