There is a perception among some men and some women that men are first and primarily interested in looks. Some provide evo-bio-psych reasoning for this or attribute it to social conditioning. Though there may be something to the notion that looks are broadly more important to men than to women, I think that this effect is greatly exaggerated when it comes to men pursuing anything beyond a cheap and easy lay.
I personally learned the limits of beauty the most straightforward way: I briefly dated a conventionally beautiful woman several steps above me in terms of popular perception and found the whole thing far less fulfilling than advertised. Yes, it’s neat to be seen with a woman that is your better. It’s neat to be able to show her picture to your friends and have them be impressed.
But… relationships are work. The person you are in a relationship with is a partner in an endeavor. You don’t have to be particularly deep to recognize that this is a person that you want to be able to get along with. Now, for a limited time you can get along with anyone. For actual staying power, though, you need more.
Though I may have been confronted with it in a particularly straightforward manner, I don’t think I am at all unusual when push comes to shove. I have seen, time and time again, guys leave women for conventionally less attractive ones. And it’s not a matter of the latter being more up their alley (physically speaking). I’ve known guys that have said that they could never date a fat girl end up foregoing more attractive options for a girl that’s overweight.
I admit, though, that sometimes I do forget these things. I’ve been watching Grey’s Anatomy lately. Earlier in the show, everyman George O’Malley manages to hook up with the super-hot Izzy Stephens (Katherine Heigl’s character). As the relationship dissolves, by mutual consent, I am sitting there saying “Dude! You’re never going to do better than her!” And as far as the beauty criterion is concerned, he never does. But… if you’re not happy, you’re not happy. The difference between being with someone that you’re genuinely good with and being with someone that you’re mutually attracted to is significant.
Stephens later contracts cancer and is bed-ridden. Yeah, that’s soap opera kind of stuff, but variations of it are always occurring. The superficial attraction runs dry when the hot girl comes home, day after day, tired and angry at work. Or relies too much on you. Most of the time, there is a reason that the girl is dating down, and when you discover that reason, and the luster fades when you discover it.
I fought to save the not-really-a-relationship mentioned above until the bitter end. And then when it was over, I was relieved.
More broadly, one of the things I’ve discovered is that people that have never been in a position to achieve X, which they’ve always wanted, vastly overestimate what they would be willing to put up for it. And this is true when it comes to securing an attractive woman. You may think you can put up with obnoxious behavior, or regular emotional breakdowns, or any number of other things for the sake of their beauty… but more often than you think, you’re not. Or if you try to stick it out, like I did, it doesn’t make you happy like you think it will.
One of the things that I have come to notice is that relationships generally work better between relatively equally-yoked people. People in the same general level of attractiveness, same league of intelligence, same economic background, and same general age bracket (though what that bracket is varies with age). That’s not to say that relationships outside these things can’t work. They often do. But they often tend to be the product of people with a general lack of options. That’s not to say that their affections are insincere. People with a lack of options can (though do not always) have a better appreciation for the options they do have. But it’s generally the resort of people that have specific relationship needs, have some key drawback, live in a place where options are limited, and so on. And sometimes things that are less likely to work do actually work.
Opposites may attract in some contexts, but I think on the basics when it comes to things that can generally be sorted into “more desirable” and “less desirable” categories, it leads to more problems than it does complimentarianism. The complimentarianism part comes in the intangibles and the neutral. Being laid back and being particular are relatively neutral traits, for example. Being gregarious and being reserved are also more along those lines (though as a reserved person, it sometimes doesn’t feel that way). Generally, for those that seek to rise above their station (be it in terms of looks or money) pay a price for it and those that go low wonder what kind of better they might have done.
Perhaps I am merely universalizing from my own limited experiences and preferences far too much. But as, over time, I have moved further and further away from being surrounded by people that have limited relationship options that drive them to cast a wider net or fuel insecurities that they believe can be solved if they can just get that one hot girl, the more hollow that sounds. Somewhere along the lines I became a romantic optimist. Not only because I found someone, but because so many of my friends have. And there seems to be a lot more in the way of similarities of background and station than differences. And I think a lot of the “thinking outside the box” was really “wasting a lot of time.”