Some romantic couples heat up very quickly, while others simmer and take a while. One research study found that in couples that formed quickly, the partners were similar in physical attractiveness, while slower-formed couples were less evenly matched. The study also indicated that for long-term satisfaction, how a couple came together wasn’t that important.
Eli Finkel, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at Northwestern University said, “If we start dating soon after we meet, physical attractiveness appears to be a major factor in determining such decisions, and we end up with somebody who’s about as attractive as we are. If, in contrast, we know the person for a while before we start dating – or if we’re friends first – physical attractiveness appears to be much less important, and we are less likely to be similar to our spouse on the dimension of looks.”
Finkel and his team wanted to explore why some people seemed to choose romantic partners who had similar physical, behavioural and psychological characteristics. This phenomenon is referred to by psychological scientists as “assortative mating.”
One theory on this phenomenon is linked to human beings’ competitive nature. Going by the general consensus that a person’s ability to be successful in the dating scene is determined by their own attractiveness, individuals who are physically attractive are seen as desirable and tend to be able to start relationships with other similarly-desirable partners.
According to the researchers, it could be possible that the tenure of the relationship between romantic partners could change the nature of this sexual competition. Past research has shown that as individuals get to know each other more intimately, their judgment of the other person’s desirability changes. Seeing things at face value, such as superficial physical attractiveness is no longer as relevant in deciding whether the two people want to be romantically involved.
Northwestern alumni Lucy Hunt, lead researcher of the study and now at the University of Texas at Austin, said, “Having the time to interact with others in diverse settings affords more opportunities to form unique impressions that go beyond one’s initial snap judgments. Given that people initiate romantic relationships both with strangers and acquaintances in real life, we were interested in how time might affect how similarly attractive couple members are to one another.”
Results indicated those partners who started dating soon after they met (within a month) showed a strong similarity in physical attractiveness. In contrast, partners who knew each other for a longer period prior to dating were less likely to be of the same level of attractiveness.
Several years later, the level of satisfaction in the relationship for both men and women was not associated to the level of match in attractiveness. So whether it was a matter of love at first sight or beauty getting to know the beast, long-term relationship happiness depends on other factors.
While these findings match what many people already believe, the study needs to be replicated in different settings and cultures in order to establish that this is general human behaviour. In this case, the researchers looked at 167 couples from one township in the US. There were both married and dating couples and the relationships varied from 3 months to 53 years. Multiple researchers independently evaluated each individual on their level of attractiveness.
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