I’ve recently become a fan of the Living TV show Dating in the Dark which sends young singletons on a series of dates in complete darkness and watches the sparks fly, only to have them put out by the light reveal when they finally see what each other looks like.
Typically one dater is even more enamoured once they have seen the light and the other is somewhere between disappointed and abjectly horrified. It’s car crash TV and slightly sadistic but it does reflect some well-established psychological principles.
Studies show that we typically mate with people who are on a similar level of attractiveness to ourselves. With the exception of rich footballers and ageing rock stars, most of us normal folk do not bat massively above or below our average.
This obviously requires a certain ability to judge our own and others’ levels of attractivenss. Beauty, it turns out, is no so much in the eye of the beholder but in certain aspects of facial symmetry, alignment, height and waist-to-hip ratios. And many such determinants of attractiveness are consistent across cultures. As humans we are actually very skilled, whether on a conscious or unconscious level, at judging beauty. It is, after all, relatively easy to identify when watching Dating in the Dark who will be turned off when the lights turn on. And that is what makes the show so excruciating and so entertaining to watch.
It also goes some way to explaining how we can find ourselves waking up to a nightmare when even our unconscious ability to judge the attractiveness of the bloke chatting us up in the bar has been drowned out by pinot grigio.
My aunt told me years ago that I should only date ugly men; they’re less arrogant and will treat you better, she said. It’s not uncommon practice, to deliberately date below in order to feel further above (or perhaps, if you’re a bloke, to get further in bed). But studies also show that reachers are typically more satisfied in their relationships than settlers. Ultimately, we are boosted by someone who pulls from above, rather than pushes from behind.
So what is the moral of the story? Don’t be afraid to reach a little; you just never know the heights it might take you to.
Just don’t reach too far; it makes for a hard fall.