Dennis, the guy behind the counter at my local chicken shop is large. Very large. He’s also what my mother would refer to as a ‘rather plain’ young man (my mum is nothing if not diplomatic). He is, however, a lovely person and I enjoy having a chat with him when I come in to buy dinner for the kids (using ‘dinner’ in the sense of ‘hot chips’). Frequently, Dennis’s sister is in the chicken shop with him. She is equally large and equally plain and remarkably similar in appearance. Except that she is not his sister at all. She is his girlfriend, and – apart from the fact that his parents deny it – they could be twins separated at birth.
Now, Dennis and his girlfriend fascinate me, because they are clearly in love, and clearly extremely physically attracted to each other. I know this because I’ve seen them fondling, which – until I was alerted to the fact that they were not actually related – made me more than a little uncomfortable.
What interests me about Dennis and his girlfriend is the evident synchronicity of their appearances. Now, obviously there is no such thing as a universal scale of attractiveness, otherwise how can I explain the fact that not everyone in the world finds my husband irresistibly gorgeous? However, I think it isn’t too far a stretch to suggest that on a scale of One to Ten - where Brad and Angelina are a Ten, and your ancient ex-history teacher with the bulbous nose and yellow teeth is a One – then Dennis and his girlfriend both score around a Three.
Now this is clearly not a problem for them, as they are totally hot for each other. But if Dennis was an Eight or Nine - if he had been blessed with a fabulous face, went to the gym occasionally, and stopped eating all of that fried chicken - in other words, if he looked more like Zac Ephron, and less like Homer Simpson - would he still be as madly in love with his obese girlfriend?
I know this is going to be a contentious issue, because we all like to believe that it’s what’s on the inside that counts, and that looks just aren’t important. Really beautiful women ‘want to be loved for who I am, not what I look like!’, and less genetically blessed women want to be found attractive for the same reason. We all want to think that Dennis would have chosen the same girlfriend even if he was gorgeous himself. But the proof is in the pudding.
I know there are always exceptions, but very frequently people end up with partners who are remarkably similar in appearance – either in their degree of attractiveness, or quite literally in terms of facial structure and features. In fact, looking at photos taken of a recent dinner party with seven couples, I can see that five couples could have passed as brother and sister, and the remaining two would certainly have been rated as good looking (or not) as their partners. I would guarantee that, had I shuffled the pictures of each of the 14 participants, a stranger could have matched each woman to her correct spouse.
Now, we can all think of examples of exceedingly stunning women married to remarkably unattractive men. Generally in these cases there are compensating factors, like money, fame, and…. well…. just money or fame, really. And when we occasionally see very plain women with really attractive men, no doubt the same pattern is at work. As an acquaintance commented to me recently, ‘When my friends meet my husband, they assume I’m really rich’.
Now I know some of you are going to be squealing about how cynical I am: “Love is blind!”, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”….. but come ON! How many couples do you know where one partner is incredibly attractive and the other incredibly plain, with all else being equal? REALLY????
And why is this? Why are we attracted to what is similar? Was my husband’s face comforting because it reminded me of my family of origin? Was it a narcissistic attraction to myself in male form? Or was it an attempt to continue my own genetic line in my offspring? You know, so that even if they looked exactly like their father (which they freakishly – and, quite unfairly - do) they’ll still end up looking a little bit like me?
Well, I’m sure these factors do play a part, but certainly not consciously. Consciously, I fell in love with my husband because he shared my love of West Coast Coolers and looked cute in a white suit (not, mind you, the criteria I would have today).
But why did I fall in love with him and not the captain of the varsity basketball team? Well, firstly because it wasn’t High School Musical, and if there was a basketball team, I didn’t know the captain. But even if I had, I suspect he would have been off kanoodling with the head of the cheerleading squad (if there had been a cheerleading squad, which there was not, given as it wasn’t… you know.. High School Musical) instead of giving his attention to me.
You see, when it comes to the game of love, I think a very large part of our choice boils down to access.
I don’t mean to be cynical because there are always people who love others for who they are no matter what they look like. But the reality is that most people are conscious of looks when meeting potential partners, which means that a good looking person simply has a wider pool of potential mates from which to choose. In other words, I – with my slightly daggy looks and great personality – had to compete with the totally stunning girls with great personalities. And my husband - with the white suit and West Coast Cooler – had to compete with… well… guys with even greater assets.
So it’s not a deliberate decision to seek a partner at your own level of attractiveness; it’s just that the field is narrowed down for you. Which is helpful, really. If I’d been bombarded with all the fabulously wealthy, famous, and gorgeous basketball stars, I would not have noticed my future husband in his lovely white suit. (Well, actually I probably would have, the thing was practically fluorescent. But you get my drift.) And I’m glad I did. My husband may only be an 8 (okay, 7.5), but he’s MY 7.5. And one woman’s 7.5 is another woman’s 10. Just as one man’s 3 is Dennis’s 9, and clearly the love of his life.
Unless she really is his sister. I’m still not 100% sure.
originally published in TRIBE magazine