When does cupid strike?

And why? A recent study explores the basis of romantic relationships

Cupids arrow
What role does ‘looking good’ play in falling in love?

“Love at first sight” and “Opposites attract” are often the reasons cited for two individuals falling in love. But what’s really at work in this process of choosing a romantic or sexual partner?

Elizabeth McClintock, University of Notre Dame Sociologist, has published a study in the journal Biodemography and Social Biology that examines the role that physical attractiveness plays in such courtships.

In the study titled Handsome Wants as Handsome Does, McClintock examines the effect of physical attractiveness across various dimensions such number of partners, relationship status and timing of sexual intercourse. It reveals how men and women differ in their perspectives when choosing their mate.

“Couple formation is often conceptualized as a competitive, two-sided matching process in which individuals implicitly trade their assets for those of a mate, trying to find the most desirable partner and most rewarding relationship that they can get given their own assets,” McClintock says. “This market metaphor has primarily been applied to marriage markets and focussed on the exchange of income or status for other desired resources such as physical attractiveness, but it is easily extended to explain partner selection in the young adult premarital dating market as well.”

McClintock’s study reveals that just as good looking individuals may hook up with somebody for better status and financial rewards, they may also partner with somebody if they have control over the degree of commitment so they can control the progression of sexual activity.

  • Very physically attractive women usually have exclusive relationships and they do not prefer purely sexual relationships. They are also highly unlikely to have sex in the first week of meeting a partner. Probably, being so beautiful, these women have greater power to control outcomes within their relationships.
  • So, prettier the woman, the less sexual partners she is likely to have. Whereas the more handsome the man, higher the number of sexual partners he would have.
  • Weight, one of the key components of physical attractiveness, plays a important role too.Thin women report fewer partners. May be current social paradigms associate thinness to attractiveness and hence this finding resonates with the earlier findings.

McClintock believes prior research in this area has ignored two important aspects:

“First, people with higher status are, on average, rated more physically attractive — perhaps because they are less likely to be overweight and more likely to afford braces and nice clothes and trips to the dermatologist, etc.,” she says.

“Secondly, the strongest force by far in partner selection is similarity — in education, race, religion and physical attractiveness.”



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