Open Gently

Musings on the introspective life.

What's the Best Sign He's In Love?

If he thinks you're better-looking than he is, bless those rosy glasses.

Don't worry if you think your honey is better-looking than you are.

Most people, in both heterosexual and same-sex relationships, idealize their beloved's looks. That’s one of the best signs of love.

If you're lucky, you’re about equally attractive and your partner thinks you’re the better-looking one.

According to a well-known theory of dating, we each give ourselves a rating on how good a catch we are, and look for someone similar.

Online dating seems to push people towards at least trying to date "up." The hotties get beseiged by emails and IMs from people who aren't in their league.

But it's still true that dating someone similar to you has the best chances of leading to a happy long-term relationship. So when we get off the computer screen and into life, we tend to choose partners with roughly similar levels of education, IQ, socio-economic background—and looks.

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That said, love is indeed a little blind, scientists say.

Once you actually meet and fall in in love, you'll probably hold illusions about your lover’s appeal. Our mates look better to us than to others—an effect that researchers call the “love is blind” bias.

One theory about why we think our darlings are better-looking than we are: the illusion may make you more likely to put effort and energy into the relationship. And if your beloved feels the same way, you'll both be working hard, with the best chances of success. 

There is some evidence that extraverted people are even more prone to this illusion and that it's linked to a greater chance of a committed, passionate, intimate, satisfying relationship.

This particular romantic illusion persists even after many years--for example, in a study of 93 heterosexual Dutch couples that had been together, on average, fourteen years. The people in the study tended to rate themselves a bit less attractive than their partner did.

“People are often more self-critical about their appearance than they need to be, at least when it comes to their partner,” report researchers Pieternel Barelds-Dijkstra and Dick Barelds at the University of Groningen, in The Netherlands.

We also inaccurately presume what our partners will find attractive. Studies have shown that both women and men tend to overestimate the importance of sex characteristics to potential opposite-sex mates. Women typically assume that men prefer a female shape that is thinner and bustier than they actually do, while men wrongly assume that women prefer heavier, more muscular and larger-chested men.

If your partner is in love, and thinks you're gorgeous, why tell him that he's wrong? You can both enjoy his rose-colored glasses.

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Temma Ehrenfeld is a New York-based science writer, and former assistant editor at Newsweek.

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