Something you may be wondering — but may be hesitant to ask — is if how you look will have an impact on your relationship. And if it does, well, how much?
Here’s the thing: Appearances do matter in relationships, but this doesn’t mean that looks are the most important aspect of intimacy.
Attractiveness is subjective, and many individuals will have different preferences and find different qualities attractive.
Many of us hear that physical appearance plays a role in relationships and jump to the conclusion that only the supermodels and famous actors of the world could have any luck in love. This couldn’t be further from the truth!
Even though looks do play a role in dating, what actually attracts a partner physically may not be what you expect.
Everyone has their own insecurities, and no one is perfect. However, there are certain physical traits that can make partners more attractive and carry some weight in your relationship.
Yes, a level of physical attraction is necessary for most people in romantic relationships. A notable exception is if you identify as asexual. Some people who identify as asexual feel romantically attracted to others without feeling sexual attraction.
However, when it comes to “looks” and “attractiveness,” the definitions are often confusing and vague, and can depend on the era, culture, and individual.
For many people, “looks” don’t necessarily refer to someone’s physical features. Many people find physical attributes like personal style, hygiene, or posture attractive, too.
It’s also important to note that sometimes attractiveness doesn’t have anything to do with your physical attributes. Attractiveness can include many things that go beyond the physical, such as:
- having a sense of humor
- having shared interests with your partner
- being kind
- having values and principals
- making your partner feel safe and happy
- being attractive to others
That’s all to say, looks aren’t the only thing that can attract you to someone.
Definitions of physical attractiveness have changed over history
Let’s explore the role “looks” play in the attractiveness equation.
On a societal level, our definition of beauty today is different than it was 500 years ago, according to
Most notably, in the last decade, there’s been a social media-induced phenomenon in which new standards of beauty are evolving out of the digital space.
“Snapchat dysmorphia” is a perfect example of how virtual communication has given rise to different ideals of beauty that tend to affect the nature of dating, according to one paper.
This is a phenomenon in which people who use Snapchat and other social apps develop body dysmorphic disorder. They want to look like their online selves, even though their images online don’t reflect their true appearance and have been modified using filters and visual effects.
However, some changes in beauty standards have had a positive influence, such as increasing inclusivity.
We now see many more people of color as symbols of beauty in the media. Due to the exposure effect, this increased representation may drive us to collectively recognize the beauty of different races and ethnicities in our day-to-day lives.
This may suggest we’ll see interracial dating and cross-cultural attraction and acceptance more frequently.
Thus, the idea of beauty, though very real, is subject to change and can have many different effects.
Evolutionary scientists think that some aspects of attraction and mate choice are evolved — that is, they’re in our genes, not solely a product of our environment.
For example, researchers have found that men (straight and gay) tend to find potential mates more attractive when they show physical signs of fertility. In women, one physical attribute linked with fertility is waist-to-hip ratio. Another is age.
In fact, age appears to be an attractiveness factor for men and women alike, with women consistently choosing to marry older men and men tending to choose younger women across dozens of cultures, according to one 2018 review.
Scientists believe that women’s evaluation of the physical attractiveness of a mate is influenced by indications of the potential mate’s genetic quality as well as the mate’s ability to protect and invest in her and her children.
One indicator of these qualities is men’s musculature, particularly in the upper body. Researchers have found it’s a feature women tend to find attractive in men.
Of course, these evolved preferences are complex and interact with other factors. Individual differences, culture, and environment also play a major role in shaping what you find attractive in a potential partner.
At the individual level, people can simply just have different tastes. You’ve probably heard the age-old question, “What’s your type?”
Many people find themselves attracted to a certain set of features, but what that looks like can vary from person to person.
Research shows the perception of whether someone’s face is attractive may be shaped by environment rather than genes. Furthermore, people tend to disagree about who has an attractive face as much as they tend to agree.
When it comes to physical attraction, a lot is subjective, and there’s someone for everyone.
Do looks matter to everyone?
The short answer is, it’s complicated. Research has shown that men tend to rate physical attractiveness as more critical in a potential mate than women do, on average.
Some research has shown that women tend to say they value qualities like ambition, industriousness, friendliness, and kindness more than physical appearance.
That said, this particular study concluded that, even though other qualities were more important, women reported that a minimum level of physical attractiveness was a necessity for a potential mate.
For men, looks seem to matter slightly more, on average, according to research. However, the men that were studied still valued personality traits like thoughtfulness, spontaneity, and humility.
It’s important to note that these are averages and that there can be great variation between individuals, so it’s important not to generalize about someone’s attractiveness preferences based on their gender.
Moreover, many people identify as genders other than male or female, so these research findings may not represent other genders or gender nonconforming folks and should be taken with a grain of salt.
In a relationship, personal qualities like humility and kindness may become much more important in determining the success of the relationship over time.
While looks may be important in initial attraction, what really holds a relationship together has much more to do with how two people connect on a deeper level.
You’ve probably heard of the phrase “love at first sight.” This is the idea that you can know you love someone just by laying eyes on them for that very first time. But is it actually real?
This might show that, at times, you might confuse love with physical attraction.
Love can begin through physical attraction — and oftentimes it does. However, physical attraction alone doesn’t make a lasting romantic relationship.
Can you love someone you’re not physically attracted to?
In other words, you can love someone romantically without being sexually attracted to them.
It may be less common for someone to begin a romantic relationship with someone they’re not sexually attracted to. However, many people may experience this, such as those who identify as asexual.
It’s also completely normal to lose at least some of the physical attraction toward your partner as time goes on, especially for women, according to
Does love make us see the person we love as more attractive?
Not only can being in love with someone make you see them as more beautiful, but just being around someone can make you see them as more attractive.
Like other physical attributes — height, weight, body shape, skin — pheromones may play a role in attraction for both women and men.
Pheromones are chemicals animals secrete that trigger a social response in members of the same species.
Results in this area of research are controversial. One 2015 review said that a lot of the research done to date on human pheromones wasn’t valid and that scientists had yet to identify human pheromones with certainty.
A 2019 study exposed men to the smell of estratetraenol, a hormone that is thought to be in women’s sweat and other secretions. In response, the men showed increased brain activity in an area related to sex, among other complex reactions.
So, even though pheromones don’t qualify as “looks,” they may play a role in physical attraction.
Scientists need to do more research on human pheromones to find out more.
All in all, most romantic relationships involve some level of physical or sexual attraction. This means that “looks,” in a sense, do matter.
However, appearances are not the foundation of a relationship, and they are certainly not the main reason that a relationship will fail or succeed in the long term.
If acknowledging that appearances matter in relationships makes you uncomfortable, remember that physical appearance involves more than just looks, including health, personal habits, style, and values.
So, appearances do matter, but not always for the reasons you might think.