Science makes a strong case for dating your friends

Here’s a little something to brighten up your day:

“You are the peanut butter to my jelly. The water to my ocean. The glaze on my donut. The spring in my step. The twinkle in my eye. The blue in my sky. The cherry to my sundae. The sweet in my dreams. The flip to my flop. The beat of my heart. The cheese to my macaroni. The salt to my pepper. The best to my friend. The love of my life.”

Aw, shucks, isn’t that perfect pillow quote super-duper sweet? Also, that whole “best to my friend” business? The quote is also super filled with wisdom.

We know all too well that the best relationships often times bloom out of fabulous friendships. As the saying goes: “Lovers face to face, friends side by side.” Now science is backing up that whole date your friends thing, reporting that initial periods of platonic friendship allow couples to overlook the less desirable physical attributes of their future partner. Meaning, you might end up with someone who you actually really, really like but wouldn’t have given a shot if it were all based on looks.

In a new University of Texas study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, researchers have found that our perceptions of beauty in a romantic partner change with time as we allow ourselves to get to know the other person better.

“Having more time to get acquainted may allow other factors, such as another person’s compatibility as a relationship partner, to make that person appealing in ways that outshine more easily observable characteristics such as physical attractiveness,” says lead researcher Lucy Hunt of the University of Texas at Austin. “Or perhaps another person might actually become more attractive in the eyes of the beholder by virtue of these other factors.”

The study is all about the physical attraction of love at first sight and what happens when friends become lovers — which BTW, are hotly-debated romantic topics. In order to better understand why individuals tend to be paired with mates who have similar physical, behavioral, and psychological characteristics (a.k.a. a well-documented phenomenon psychological scientists refer to as “assortative mating”), Hunt and colleagues Paul Eastwick (UT-Austin) and Eli Finkel (Northwestern University) looked at data collected from 167 couples — 67 dating and 100 married. The couples had been together for as few as three months to as long as 53 years, with an average relationship length of eight years and eight months.

“Given that people initiate romantic relationships both with strangers and acquaintances in real life, we were interested in how time might affect how similarly attractive couple members are to one another,” says Hunt.

The results were stunningly simple: The longer the romantic partners had known each other before dating, the less likely they were to be matched on attractiveness.

One possible explanation for this pairing pattern comes from a competition-based perspective. Since an individual’s success in the mating “market” is limited by his or her own desirability, people who are physically attractive tend to be seen as very desirable and therefore, are better able to win over highly-desirable partners themselves. However, the study also found that as people get to know each other “more intimately and across various contexts,” opinions about the other person’s desirability change, making “object physical attractiveness less relevant.”

“Having the time to interact with others in diverse settings affords more opportunities to form unique impressions that go beyond one’s initial snap judgments,” Hunt says.

Well, I hate to be Debbie Downer here, but um… thank you Ms. Hunt and modern science, but we kind of already knew that. When it comes to long-lasting romantic relationships, it’s safe to say that while physical appearance (or attractiveness) is extremely important, it is personality that’s usually first, foremost, and key. We really don’t need charts, graphs and complex statistics to tell us to, ‘Never (ever) judge a book by its cover.

Then again, it’s nice to know that good old science has just given us yet another reason to pursue finding love amongst friends. It’s also great to know that there may be much more truth to this all-too-often-used saying after all: Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. Especially if you get a chance to take a long, hard look at your partners first!

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[Image via Shutterstock]

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