Sorry, Ryan Gosling fans. Researchers find the key to attractiveness is how long you've known your loved one, not first date chemistry
Love at first sight—the basis of so many teenage dreams, novels, pop songs, and every rom-com ever. But researchers are here to burst our hopeless romantic bubbles (sigh, science). Turns out, real romance and finding your soulmate are based not on the feelings the first time your eyes lock, but instead on the actual amount of time people spend together, according to a new study from the University of Texas, Austin. (Would You Choose Sparks Over a Stable Relationship?)
Researchers interviewed 167 couples in relationships ranging from just a few months to 53 years (exactly who we should be taking advice from!) about how they met, how long they dated, and how attractive they thought their partner was. They then had strangers rate the attractiveness of each partner. Couples who were friends the longest before starting a romantic relationship were more likely to be "mismatched" on objective attractiveness in the opinion of outsiders, meaning that others thought one was markedly more attractive than the other. This is surprising considering past research has shown that we are more likely to couple up with someone who is similar to us in both looks and attractiveness. (So much for opposites attract!) But the longtime lovebirds themselves rated each other as equally attractive, leading the researchers to believe that it was the extra time that "evened out" their beauty, at least in their own minds. The scientists' conclusion: The longer you know someone, the more attracted to them you become.
The idea that love and attraction grow with time is especially true for women, says Wendy Walsh, Ph.D., a relationship expert not associated with the study and author of The 30-Day Love Detox. "For a woman to truly fall in love, she needs to pull back the layers and see what's underneath appearance."
Walsh says her years of research into relationships have shown her that men first look for beauty in a mate, followed by kindness, loyalty, and intelligence while women look at a man's stability first, followed by intelligence, kindness, and then looks last. "This is why it's so silly when men take a picture of their abs and post it on dating sites. Unless they're just looking for a hook-up, that's not what women want to know," she says. "The only way women (and men) can find out those important characteristics is through spending time with that person." (But once you find that person, it actually makes you healthier! Find out How Your Relationship Is Linked to Your Health.)
But when it comes to exactly how much time to give a new relationship, Walsh says it depends on the couple and their unique situation. She points out that some people may know each other for months, but have only gone out twice, while others may have met two weeks ago and talked for hours every day on the phone since. Her rule of thumb? Don't make any decisions about the future of the relationship until you've met your potential partner's tribe, meaning his family, friends, and coworkers. By the time a person introduces you to all of the important people in their life, you've likely known them long enough to allow a real sense of attraction to occur and not just lust, she explains.
Yet time is exactly what most of us don't have in our rush-rush society—which is what makes dating services like Tinder and It's Just Lunch so attractive (and there's The 5 Most Ridiculous Sex Apps too...). Walsh says that our culture of dating less but hooking up more can be a real problem when looking for a soulmate. This study proves just that.
So shelve all those Ryan Gosling movies—giving up on love at first sight may be the best thing you can do for your love life!