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Relationships

4 Challenges of Being With a Beautiful Partner

4. Research suggests they may be less committed.

Key points

  • Being physically attractive makes people more likely to respond favorably to other romantic options and to value their own relationships less.
  • Four pitfalls of beauty in romantic relationships are their brief duration, being envied, the misidentification of traits and lesser commitment.
  • Both partners tend to behave more positively in relationships where wives are more attractive than their husbands, but not vice versa.

"All the carnal beauty of my wife is but skin deep." —Thomas Overbury

When you're in love with a beautiful woman, it's hard… Everybody wants her, everybody loves her, everybody wants to take your baby home.” —Dr. Hook

We may claim that beauty is only skin deep, though the fact remains that beautiful individuals enjoy many benefits that others do not. However, this of course, comes with a cost. What, then, matters most in romantic relationships?

The benefits of being beautiful

Familiarity is a magician that is cruel to beauty but kind to ugliness.” —Ouida

There is much evidence that beautiful people enjoy many benefits in life, including in the romantic realm. Although most would argue that “what is beautiful isn’t necessarily good,” preferential treatment of beautiful people is easy to find, as is discrimination against the unattractive. Beautiful people are treated better and viewed more positively: they find sexual partners more easily, are more likely to be treated leniently in court, and are more able to elicit cooperation from strangers. Conversely, physical unattractiveness leads to major social disadvantages and discrimination (Etcoff, 1999; Langlois et al., 2000). In light of this, there has been a cry for "equality for uglies."

4 pitfalls of beauty in relationships

George O'Hearn: Beautiful women are invisible.

David Kepesh: Invisible? What the hell does that mean? Invisible? They jump out at you. A beautiful woman, she stands out. She stands apart. You can't miss her.

George O'Hearn: But we never actually see the person. We see the beautiful shell. We're blocked by the beauty barrier. Yeah, we're so dazzled by the outside that we never make it inside.” From the movie Elegy

In the context of close relationships, beauty or physical attractiveness consistently emerge as a highly desirable trait of ideal partners. However, beauty is a two-edged sword: It is a gift that bites. In addition to benefits, there are several disadvantages for beautiful people in relationships. They suffer from (1) brief and superficial judgements, (2) envy-related hostility, (3) misidentification of significant traits, and (4) lesser commitment (see also here).

1. Brief duration. External appearance plays a major role at the beginning of any relationship but its value fades with time. Time is a thief of beauty (and sexual desire). First impressions of external appearance tend toward the extreme: The new person is often viewed as either strikingly beautiful or strikingly ugly. However, as the rose-tinted spectacles fade, our impressions begin to moderate, and the very same beautiful individual may be perceived as less handsome, and the ugly one as less ugly.

2. Envy-related hostility. Envy, which is based on the feeling of underserved inferiority, is likely to be generated toward beautiful people. Arguably, they put less attractive people in an inferior position and the benefits bestowed upon them are indeed undeserved.

3. Misidentification of significant traits. Beauty’s great impact creates bias and it is easy to overlook a person’s real character, or any traits beyond their good looks. Indeed, romantic breakups are often traceable to significant traits, such as a lack of kindness and patience. These characteristics are less obvious at the beginning of a relationship but are crucial for enduring suitability (Ben-Ze’ev, 2019).

4. Lesser commitment. Christine Ma-Kellams and colleagues (2017) show that beautiful individuals are often tempted by alternative romantic choices, resulting in poor relationship satisfaction and more romantic breakups. A physically attractive person may be targeted more often, in turn making them more likely to respond favorably to appealing alternatives.

Beauty as a factor in choosing a partner

My old lover makes me feel great and more wonderful than Brad Pitt would. I think beautiful men are like a Prada handbag: women want them to make other women jealous, but in the long run it’s not really satisfying.” —A married woman

There is robust evidence that attractiveness has a positive impact on new relationships. However, concerning enduring relationships, such as marriages, the impact is more complex. It has been found that both spouses behave more positively in relationships in which wives are more attractive than their husbands, but behave more negatively in relationships in which husbands are more attractive than their wives (Agthe et al., 2010; McNulty et al, 2008). Maria Agthe and colleagues (2010) found that this bias is not observed among highly attractive participants but holds only for moderately attractive participants, who can be compared to most people, and hence generate hostile envy.

It seems that physical attractiveness of husbands is less important to most women; wives are rather looking for supportive husbands. Husbands seem to be more committed and more invested in pleasing their wives when they feel that they are getting a pretty good deal. Women, on the other hand, feel more stressed and unhappy if they have an attractive husband. A major reason for this difference is that men place greater value on beauty (McNulty et al, 2008).

Too beautiful to find love?

Dating is hard for me—guys are scared because I'm so beautiful. I've been told that I'm intimidating to guys because I'm tall and I'm beautiful and I have a very intense personality.” —Elizabeth Marie Chevalier

Most beautiful but dumb girls think they are smart and get away with it because other people, on the whole, aren’t much smarter.” —Louise Brooks

The difficulties of beautiful people finding love stem from both prospective partners and their own attitudes. The stunning beauty of a person is a great obstacle to properly knowing them and realizing the extent to which they are suitable for us. Hence, there are various biases concerning these people, especially when they are women. These biases are expressed in sayings such as, “She is beautiful and dumb,” or, “You are too pretty to be smart.” Moreover, many suitable people may be intimidated by such beautiful people who are seen as unapproachable.

The difficulties of finding a suitable match for beautiful people also stem from their own attitudes. Often, they are aware of their great attractiveness and accordingly, are less willing to settle on a ‘good enough’ partner, believing they have a lot of other, probably better, options. Hence, they may become too picky, overlooking suitable options and focusing on unsuitable ones. Moreover, after a partner is secured and a romantic bond is established, beautiful people are very likely to be less committed, believing they are entitled to invest less in enhancing the romantic bond, deserving a privileged status in the relationship (Ben-Ze’ev, 2019).

The impact of beauty is more than skin deep. This is bad news for romantic relationships, as it may harm both beautiful people and those interacting with them. Attractive individuals enjoy great benefits but an enduring romantic relationship may not be one of them. Beauty may be a marvelous soundtrack to a romantic relationship, but if the music is not supplemented by loving and considerate, committed behavior, its value, if not negative, will remain merely in the aesthetic realm. Attractiveness is only one factor in generating profound romantic love. The most crucial step for lasting, loving relationships is developing an initial sexual attraction and a general desire to be with the partner for a significant duration.

Facebook image: Dean Drobot/Shutterstock

References

Agthe, M., Spörrle, M., & Maner, J. K. (2010). Don't hate me because I'm beautiful. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46, 1151-1154.‏

Ben-Ze’ev, A. (2019). The arc of love: How our romantic love changes over time. University of Chicago Press.

Etcoff, N. (1999). Survival of the prettiest. Doubleday.

Langlois, J. H., Kalakanis, L., Rubenstein, A. J., Larson, A., Hallam, M., & Smoot, M. (2000). Maxims or myths of beauty? A meta-analytic and theoretical review. Psychological bulletin, 126, 390-423

MA‐KELLAMS, C. H. R. I. S. T. I. N. E., Wang, M. C., & Cardiel, H. (2017). Attractiveness and relationship longevity: Beauty is not what it is cracked up to be. Personal relationships, 24, 146-161.‏

McNulty, J. K., Neff, L. A., & Karney, B. R. (2008). Beyond initial attraction: Physical attractiveness in newlywed marriage. Journal of Family Psychology, 22, 135-143.

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