You may have seen a recent episode of Girls on HBO, or perhaps have witnessed an example in your own life or social circle, where one member of a couple is far more attractive than the other. You may feel a bit bad about noticing such discrepancies—you're not alone. We tend to notice appearance discrepancies because we often believe that people should romantically link themselves to others of the same level of attractiveness.
To offer a meaningful comparison, I want you to think about your own life. Overall, how attractive do you believe you are? Extremely attractive? Attractive? Average? Unattractive? In terms of the people you’ve dated in the past, how attractive would you say they are? Next, ask yourself how you would feel about being with someone who is a few notches above you in the appearance department.
Let’s do a visualization exercise in which I’m setting you up with someone who is extremely attractive. The face and body are all model-worthy, and the confidence is there, too. You and said individual go for dinner at a trendy new restaurant that has throngs of people waiting in the lobby. As you walk toward your plush red corner booth in the back, you notice that several diners take note of your gorgeous date and follow him or her with their eyes all the way to the booth. As you watch others stare at your date, what’s going through your head?
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Everyone is going to think something in this situation. Perhaps you’re feeling proud and confident that the target of attention is on your arm, telling yourself that others must think you’re pretty cool, hot, or rich to get someone so attractive. If that’s not you, perhaps you’re wondering if others are trying to figure out why someone so gorgeous would be with someone like you. If you have a jealous streak, perhaps it occurs to you that countless others must take note of—or even approach and hit on—your date when he or she is not with you.
Moral of the story: You should only date someone who is much more attractive than you if you have a good, healthy ego—you like yourself, believe you’re attractive enough, don’t place much importance on physical appearance, don’t get paranoid or jealous, and believe you are a great package with many positive characteristics.
Hopefully you know what your insecurities are and you’ve reflected on how they developed. Ideally, you've taken steps to keep your insecurities in check and work on improving your self-esteem. Deep down, I believe we all know what we are capable of handling. When we take on something—or someone—that exists outside our usual comfort zone, our instincts send us a message.
Typically, anxiety develops and a wide range of symptoms can appear: You start eating more or less than usual; start drinking more alcohol or smoking more; feel preoccupied and worried; have difficulty sleeping; or feel the need to constantly talk to your friends about the relationship in order to get support. All of these symptoms are extremely unpleasant, but they have an important function: They remind you when things are out of whack or when you’re in over your head.
For people who don’t place a lot of importance on appearance and who have a good self-esteem, they would have little trouble dating someone who is much more attractive. Why? Because physical appearance isn’t one of the characteristics they value most in a prospective partner. As a result, how attractive their date is—whether beautiful or not—really isn’t that important to them. For these individuals, it’s as if the beautiful person they’re dating just happens to be very attractive, but they could take or leave the extreme attractiveness.
On the other hand, many individuals care a great deal about physical appearance. I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve had in my office who, when asked which characteristics they’re looking for, cite “attractive” as the number one characteristic. If your own appearance is extremely important to you and you care as much or more about the appearance of the person you’re dating, be mindful of your thoughts and feelings as they relate to your date’s attractiveness. If you tend to be insecure about your own attractiveness, have a jealous streak, or don’t feel confident that you are a great package with many strengths, dating someone who is much more attractive is a terrible idea and will result in anxiety, self-sabotage, and gobs of tension in your relationship.
I believe life would be easier and more harmonious if looks didn’t matter so much in our culture. The lengths women – and increasingly more men, too—go to in order to be more attractive are astonishing: plastic surgery, Botox injections and fillers, cutting and dying hair, tanning, applying makeup, applying night creams, lifting weights, trimming body hair, and so on. Not only is a lot of money spent on such activities, but they can become major time commitments, too.
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I’ve heard the argument that a lot of these activities make people feel better about themselves. My two cents: These activities do make you feel better—but for the moment. If you were to ask the average person who invests a lot in their appearance if they believe they’re really attractive, odds are that you’d get a response that includes all the imperfections they see. In other words, no one is ever attractive enough. Attractiveness becomes a surreal, pot-of-gold fantasy that we all reach for but can never truly grasp. For this reason, I believe it’s important to invest as much or more money, time, and energy in activities that stimulate your mind and cultivate real interests or skills.
The next time you find yourself talking to a potential date, make a conscious effort to tell yourself that appearance is only part of the happiness equation in relationships.