When my DC friend D visited a couple of months ago, he happened to meet someone who I was then considering dating.
“Do you think he’s cute?” I asked.
“He’s alright,” he said.
I sighed, hearing my ambivalence validated. “He’s not as cute as me, though, huh.”
“No. But probably most guys you date aren’t going to be.”
“Why not?” I demanded, immediately grasping to tick off past interests who I thought every bit if not more attractive than myself.
“Well,” he explained, “some people don’t like to date people more attractive than they are.”
“Huh,” I said, pausing to consider the various ways in which my insecurities manifest in my love life and the fact that one might think this would be one of them. I would kind of think that this be one of them. But, strangely enough, I’m realizing–today–it’s not.
I suppose it happens that two people in a relationship are equally good-looking. But we all know that, when there’s an imbalance, it is generally the man who is less beautiful.
I’ve always attributed this to the fact that men are more visually driven: I think female arousal (like everything else female) is more complicated, and someone who is initially, physically unappealing to us can easily be rendered attractive by their personality–their humor, for instance, or brand of intelligence. (Likewise, a hot guy who turns out to be an idiot can just as quickly become heinous.)
For guys, on the other hand, a woman is either hot or she isn’t: what happens when we speak probably won’t change whether they want to sleep with us.
So I was intrigued, last night, when a friend mentioned an ongoing conversation with her boyfriend about the perils of hot men dating women who aren’t.
“Perils?” I asked. “But it hardly ever happens!”
“Exactly!” she replied, going on to relay their observations about couples in which women put up with bad behavior from boyfriends who are evidently better looking.
She said it seemed like the men took advantage of being the “hotter” one–being unreliable, flirting with other women, even acting on it–while the women tolerated it because they were thankful to be with someone so attractive.
I asked if she thought that dynamic exists when the roles are reversed–as they so often are. And she said no–because, she thinks, it’s so common.
“That’s so strange,” I said. “Why wouldn’t men feel insecure too? It happens all the time.”
“That’s just it,” she said. “It happens all the time.”
I always think of a couple I knew, peripherally, in Minneapolis: the guy was, by any standard, extremely good-looking. (Okay he was also very much my type–a category I’ve currently narrowed to the adjective “scruffy.”) And the woman wasn’t: she wasn’t horrible-looking, but she was a bit overweight and certainly not as pretty.
I always wondered how she felt going out with him: knowing that people must constantly see them together and think: “Really?” It’s terrible to admit, but I certainly did.
And it’s true: I wondered that exactly because it’s something that one sees so rarely. It’s nothing unusual to spot a middling-looking guy–heck, even a short, balding guy, George Costanza-style–with a beautiful woman on his arm. It’s annoying, but it happens: such a couple isn’t likely to attract much attention.
But a hot guy with a not-so-hot girl? Yeah, it’s unusual: people will probably stare.
Which is sad, but does make one understand why some women would prefer to date men who aren’t as good-looking as they are.
But I’m not sure it’s always such a deliberate strategy. The friend who I talked to last night said she thought most guys she’s been with are less attractive than her–but that didn’t surprise me much: she happens to be very beautiful.
I think I’ve done both: dated guys who aren’t as good-looking and others who are probably more–conventionally, at least–hot. As my conversation with D illustrates, I tend to be more insecure about dating the latter than the former: though I’d like to think that doesn’t mean I let beautiful guys walk all over me.
Though, I’m sure, at some point, I have. And frankly, it wouldn’t be so strange: all of us treat beautiful people differently. I recently watched that 30 Rock episode called “The Bubble,” in which Liz realizes that the handsome man she’s dating experiences the world entirely differently simply because he’s so attractive: he lives in a “bubble” in which his talents (many of them non-existent) are constantly reinforced and people submit to his every desire.
It’s hilarious because it’s so true: beautiful people do live in a very different universe than everyone else. That’s the culture in which we live.
And it’s also the culture in which we live that makes good-looking men feel entitled to date better-looking women, and good-looking women feel entitled to…date George Costanza.
Life is not fair.