If you’ve ever looked at a couple and thought about how one-half was so much more attractive than the other, you probably wondered how the hell they got together in the first place.
And then you probably thought of all the times you watched Netflix by yourself and cooked too much food for your solo dinner, which made you really self-conscious.
There’s an accepted theory that people who are of similar attractiveness will gravitate toward each other, so any time we see a couple disproving this theory, we tend to ruminate on how and why and what this means for us and our love lives.
Normally, the famous 10-point scale is used in conjunction with this theory.
If you’re an eight out of 10, for example, the theory says you’ll end up with someone who’s at or around an eight, too. If you’re a three, you’ll end up with a three. And so on and so forth.
But how true is this? Are twos “doomed” (for lack of a better word) to a fellow two? And will 10s be blessed to find a fellow 10?
A study from 2011 attempted to prove or disprove this hypothesis and discover how likely it is that we would try to date someone who is out of our league.
The first part of the study tested for dating preference.
To begin, 200 participants completed a questionnaire to assess their own mate value/self-worth — their perception of their own levels of physical attractiveness as well as trustworthiness, likability, warmth and kindness, which indicates that this study aimed to go deeper than just physical attractiveness.
Then, using these assessments of themselves, participants created a dating profile that they might use on a real dating website.
Based on both physical appearance and on the participants’ description of themselves on their profiles, researchers judged the participants as having high, medium or low levels of attractiveness.
In other words, researchers gave them that infamous rating out of 10.
(I guess if you’ve ever wondered what your own rating was, just consult science!)
Finally, participants rated each of the profiles to determine whether or not they’d be interested in contacting that person.
Participants with high self-worth tended to contact people who’d been deemed highly attractive by researchers.
Participants with lower self-worth were also more interested in contacting the highly attractive people, but because of their low self-worth, they indicated they would actually end up going for those who were deemed less attractive.
It appears as though everyone would love to go for the nines and 10s, but whether or not the person actually did depended on his or her perception of him or herself as a suitable mate.
The study suggests:
One reason higher-self-worth individuals might be more likely than lower-self-worth individuals to pursue highly desirable partners is because they are more optimistic about a successful outcome.
Lower-self-worth participants were not especially optimistic about their chances of success with the low-desirability targets (perhaps they felt apathetic about being successful), but their greater willingness to contact them might reflect the fact that they recognize, somewhat begrudgingly, that low-desirability targets are closer to being ‘in their league.’
The second part of the study tested patterns in actual dating behavior.
From a real online dating website, researchers selected profile photos from 60 random male and 60 random female users, who they called “initiators,” and looked at the profile photos of the people to whom the users reached out, whom they called “targets.”
Judges rated how attractive the initiators and the targets were. Then, researchers determined whether or not the targets responded to said initiators.
Researchers found that initiators tended to contact targets who were more attractive than they were.
While this slightly disproves the hypothesis from the first study, whether or not a response was received is a different story.
A response was more likely if a less attractive initiator sought out a less attractive target and if a more attractive initiator sought out a more attractive target.
Basically, if you stayed within your league, you were more likely to get a reply.
So, according to the first part of the study, people didn’t really try to date out of their league, even if they wanted to.
But, as demonstrated in the second part of the study, even if they did try to go for someone out of their league, they weren’t successful.
The overall lesson here is, yes, you should try to stay in your league if you want to find love — and if you’ve been in the dating pool for longer than five minutes, you probably already know this.