Men who marry women who are out of their league — that is, significantly more attractive than they are — may have less committed wives and a higher risk of divorce, experts say. “A variety of research suggests that couples who do not match one another in their approximate levels of physical attractiveness tend to have less successful romantic relationships,” Madeleine Fugère, a professor of Social Psychology at Eastern Connecticut State University, wrote in Psychology Today.
People are understandably attracted to others who are out of their league—one recent analysis of online dating data indicated that men and women pursue prospects up to 25 percent more attractive than they are. Nonetheless, most people seem to have a fairly good idea of how attractive they are and whom they can expect to attract, research suggests, and largely maintain relationships with more similarly matched individuals. Most men don’t bat out of their league.
But when couples do mismatch, the outlook is bleak. Women who report that their partners are significantly less attractive than they are, one study found, are more likely to flirt with others and report feeling less committed to the relationship. Other research suggests that physically mismatched couples may have shorter, less successful relationships, not because the more attractive party is less committed, but because the less attractive one is more prone to jealousy.
There is some hope in the research, however. When Benjamin Karney of UCLA interviewed 82 newlywed couples about the challenges in their relationships and day-to-day lives, he found that men who had married much more attractive women (as rated by a panel of brutally honest undergraduate students) were doing better, overall. “The interesting thing is that those husbands were happier than the other husbands,” he said in a statement. “And those husbands were more helpful. And they were more effective and more positive when helping their wives with their problems.”
Furthermore, Fugère suspects that couples who were friends prior to becoming romantic may be able to get away with greater disparities in attractiveness. She cites one study that found that “longer acquaintance predicts reduced assortative mating on attractiveness.” In other words, “if you have a long friendship before you begin dating,” writes Fugère, “then physical attractiveness may be less important to relationship initiation or maintenance.”