I’m a 5, He’s a 10January 5, 2017
“I would always equate his hotness to, like, a CBS show protagonist.” Mary H. K. Choi
Opposites attract. But do they endure? In this episode we explore what happens when confident women date someone much better looking.
Spark a new conversation with DTR—a branded podcast from Tinder, produced in partnership with Gimlet Creative.
STUDIES REFERENCED IN THIS EPISODE:
Newborn Infants Prefer Attractive Faces by Alan Slater, Charlotte Von der Schulenburg, Elizabeth Brown, Marion Badenoch, George Butterworth, Sonia Parsons, and Curtis Samuels
Leveling the Playing Field: Longer Acquaintance Predicts Reduced Assortative Mating on Attractiveness by Lucy L. Hunt, Paul W. Eastwick, and Eli J. Finkel
Hey guys, before we start the show, a warning that on DTR, we talk about adult themes and sexual content. Sometimes, we swear. So if you’re listening with kids, maybe put in your headphones? Thanks! Now on the with the show!
FRANCES: So, if from a scale of 1 to 10, 10 is the absolute hottest person you have ever seen, 1 is the opposite of that, what number would you give yourself?
PERSON A: Um, I dunno. I’m trying to think of something that’s modest and also gonna not hurt my self-esteem. So I’m gonna say, 7.
PERSON B: Average? 5?
PERSON C: I think I was 9, but I got a couple pounds, so I would say eight and a half?
PERSON D: If I got a haircut, I would say I’m a strong seven.
PERSON E: 6.5? 7?
PERSON F: I would say he’s like a 10. [laughter]
Hey, I’m Jane Marie, and this is DTR — a branded podcast from Tinder and Gimlet Creative about defining the relationship in the digital age.
If you ask people to rate themselves — how hot they are — everyone chooses a number. And I think everyone chooses a number like roughly around 7 because 5 would make you seem insecure and 10 would make you seem like an asshole but anyway! That’s what today’s show is about: our numbers and how they affect our relationships.
And we’re going to talk specifically about what it’s like when your number is a lot lower than the number of the person you’re dating.
Ok, so right off the bat, I can hear you starting up your computer to write me a strongly worded email, chastising me about how there’s no such thing as objective hotness. How do we even begin to measure something that ridiculously subjective?
Well, let’s start here, with the shallowest humans on earth.
ROB: Babies, um, their pupils will dilate when they look at photos of their mothers but also when they look at photos of attractive people.
This is Rob Sidelinger, professor of communication at Oakland University.
JANE: So, what is the baby responding to?
ROB: Well it could be a couple of things. Attractive people typically have symmetrical faces.
Jane: That’s interesting that babies know what a good looking person is.
Rob: Right. Or, well, we don’t know that but at least something’s happening when they’re looking at photos of attractive people compared to what we often just like to call plain people. We don’t call them unattractive people.
Jane: Is that right? Like?
Rob: Yeah. [laughs] Part of that could be explained through the golden ratio, so the symmetrical face. So your eyes, your nose, your chin, your forehead are all kind of evenly symmetrical. And that is something we find attractive.
To scientists who study this, there is something called mathematical beauty. Sure, we all have different tastes when it comes to personality, or hair color, or height or whatever, but there’s math. Math doesn’t care about your tastes.
The Golden Ratio has been used since Ancient Greece, to quantify “beauty.” When people say someone is a “classical beauty,” what they’re really saying, whether they know it or not, is that “their face and body conform to a ratio of 1 to 1.618.”
What am I even talking about?
So picture Megan Fox – you know the Transformers lady – picture her mathematically perfect face: two eyes, a nose, lips. If you measure the distance of Megan Fox’s features from one another and in relation to each other, the golden ratio pops up over and over. 1 to 1.618.
The width of her eyes to the width of her nose, the width of her nose to the width of her lips. And it’s not just Megan Fox, it’s also The Mona Lisa the bust of Nefertiti and the statue of David. Math has a cold hard definition of a perfect 10. So whether we’re attracted to people who are “mathematically beautiful” or not, the concept is real.
So maybe this is why it jumps out at us when we see a couple who just don’t add up — a mathematic beauty with one of us normals. We have been conditioned though to accept one version of this scenario — what we’re calling “the Kevin James effect.” That’s when you see a schlubby dude with a hot lady. No one even questions when a perfect 10 lady winds up with a meh-to-middling-5-ish dude.
On today’s episode, though, we are flipping the script and looking at what happens when the scenario is reversed. What happens when one of us civilians — a normal looking lady in that sweet 5 to 7 range — gets into a relationship with a mathematically beautiful man?
It can cause a lot of drama. Just ask my friend Melissa.
MELISSA: My name is Melissa. I’m, uh, living in LA. Single. I’m a musician, as well as a cannabis-based therapy sales rep.
JANE: I love that that job is a real job here.
MELISSA: It’s a real, real job.
JANE: Like you’re not a weed dealer.
MELISSA: No. Account manager, actually.
Melissa has this problem. Let’s call this problem Mark.
MELISSA: He’s beautiful. He is tall. He used to be a male model.
JANE: A real model?
MELISSA: Like, a real male model.
JANE: Could you rate him on a scale of 1 to 10, just physically?
Mark, this former male model, keeps trying to take Melissa home. Well, when you’re a male model, you don’t have to try that hard.
MELISSA: We were out at the club dancing and that sort of sparked my like “oh are we flirting, it seems like we’re flirting?” and then he said, “this is boring let’s get out of here.” And then I realized that he was definitely flirting with me.
MELISSA: But I mean it was clear to me by his approach that he was very used to just getting whatever he wanted. Like, him just being like, “OK, it’s time to go”.
JANE: So, what happened that night?
MELISSA: Oh, I laughed and said no.
So, this has happened the last two times that they saw each other. And Melissa can’t decide if hooking up with and maybe even getting into a relationship with this guy is a good idea or not.
On the one hand, he’s a fox. On the other hand, she says he can be a brat. He lights up joints at the club even when he knows it’s not allowed. He’s so good-looking that he acts like the rules don’t apply to him, and he gets away with it. She’s seen him with a different girl every Friday night all summer long.
And the crazy thing about all this is that Mark isn’t even Melissa’s type. He may be mathematically beautiful, but her type is a nice guy, regardless of what he looks like. Take her last boyfriend, for example.
MELISSA: He’s very interesting. At the time, he had like a pretty serious perm but like balding up top, super lazy eye.
JANE: Wait. A perm and a lazy eye?
MELISSA: Yeah, yes.
And here’s why a perm and a lazy eye may be superior to mathematical beauty for Melissa.
DAN GOULD: Guys have what we’d call a “unifactorial model of women.” Whereas women tend to have a much more of a complex model.
This is Dan Gould, head of technology at Tinder. And let me translate what he’s saying. He’s saying that the vast amount of data he’s seen at Tinder shows that when men rate women, they tend to do it on a single scale: 1 to 10 based on looks. That simple! Whereas women tend to have multiple scales, so their swiping behavior isn’t as straightforward.
DAN GOULD: Guys are incredibly easy to predict. Women are much harder to predict, as you’d kind of expect. Women if they have a more nuanced model of how they’re deciding on guys, may choose to swipe right on a guy for a reason you wouldn’t expect.
JANE: So your research has found that women are better than men. Is that what you said, is that what you’re saying? Or smarter? More thoughtful? (laughter)
DAN: Maybe more thoughtful! The rest of it, I don’t have data on… and uh… I’m not going to betray mankind on this, so.
Men like mathematical hotness.
But the problem is that most men aren’t like Kevin James — or, well, they’re a lot like Kevin James except they’re not rich and famous, so they won’t end up with a bombshell. Dan’s job is to create algorithms that give everyone access to the objectively hot people — because they’re fun to look at — while also gently steering us toward people who we’d have more of a chance with. It’s like going to a bar. There might be a supermodel in there, but also lots of normals, and it’s nice to see both.
DAN: One of my most important beliefs is that serendipity is too important to be left to chance. We want to make sure that we’re showing you a mix of people and what the algorithm is really doing is just slightly pushing things in one direction or the other. It’s not constraining. It’s not limiting.
And that brings us back to Melissa’s conundrum. Being a woman, she’s already doing the work of Dan’s algorithm: trying to figure out if this super hot guy is a match for her. But it’s not just the hotness that’s giving her pause. I mean, what’s his deal? He’s also younger than her. What if she gets hurt — won’t she feel silly? That she let herself think this mathematically gorgeous guy would ever be into her, for real?
I, as her friend, I want her to go for it.
So I started looking around for examples of these “broken equations” — mathematically beautiful dudes and regular ladies getting together.
HARRIET: I’m Harriet, I’m 27 years old, and I’m a writer.
JANE: Today, Harriet May de Vere is a fashion writer based in London. But about a decade ago, she was a teenage punk with a thing for guys with tattoos. And that is where her story — about a relationship made entirely possible by technology — starts.
When Harriet was in high school, she used to spend hours googling “tattooed male models” and saving her favorite pictures. And then one day, she found a photo of the most beautiful guy she had ever seen. He had long, dark hair styled in a slick, rockabilly pompadour, arms covered in tattoos, big Bambi eyes and a face so pretty, he almost looked like a girl. Harriet was obsessed.
HARRIET: Um, so, he was the wallpaper on my phone for probably about 10 years and saved in every laptop I had for the period at that time. It swapped constantly between other people, but I often came back to him.
Then, one day, one remarkable, divine day a few years ago, Harriet was scrolling through a dating app on her phone when a familiar face popped up.
HARRIET: I went through the pictures and I was like, “Must be his brother or something, he looks so similar.” So I think that was my first thought. And I was like, oh my god, maybe I’ll get to date his brother! So, that’ll do. That’s interesting. Same face, that’ll work.
A little Googling and Facebooking and she discovered, it wasn’t his brother. it was him.
And he was single. And they had a mutual Facebook friend in common, who kindly offered to set them up.
So, that’s how she found herself staring at his beautiful face, and his beautiful mouth, as it talked and talked and talked and only stopped to drink. He told her a story about how he got arrested and how he made his modeling agency pay for the bracelet that the police cut off his wrist. He was the definition of a hot mess. But, he was also the face from her phone. So when he wanted to go bowling, four tequila shots in on a weeknight, she shrugged and said, fine.
HARRIET: I’d been in it for 10 years, what’s another half an hour?
JANE: Yeah. [laughs]
At the bowling alley, they found themselves in a booth with another couple, strangers who were marveling at the spectacle of Harriet’s date.
HARRIET: He was like, dancing around, talking to everyone. Then he took his top off, um, and went over to her date, and picked him up and started slow dancing with him. And I sat next to the girl and I was a bit like, “Um, this guy’s pretty mental,” and she was like, “Yeah, I can see.”
HARRIET: At this point, I should’ve been like, “No, no, he’s nuts.” But I was also like, “That bod is very interesting, so…” Yeah, this is a problem. The bod was great.
So, Harriet stared at said bod until it was time to leave. She was finally outside, waiting for a taxi, her escape imminent, when…
HARRIET: He went to me, “So we’re going back to yours?” And I was like, “What part of this do you think has gone well?” And he just shrugged and walked off. It was just ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous.
Harriet went home alone that night and went to bed. When she got up in the morning, her phone was blowing up.
HARRIET: So, we had 18 missed calls. And then we had, “You okay babe? You home now? Sorry for the calls…” and then this was 5 hours later, at 5 in the morning. “Sors for the drunk calls. I was a bit drunk lol.” And then another text, “Another time” with a thumbs up. And then in the morning, “Sorry I got a bit over the top lol. Can I see you again? Do something chilled?” Just ridiculous.
JANE: So this sounds like the end of the story to me. What happened?
HARRIET: Um. I guess I saw enough in it that we got on. We were dying laughing all the time. He picked me up at the bowling alley and like curled me into a little ball, and I’m 5 foot 11. That’s not easy to do. And, like, rolled me down the bowling alley.
JANE: Wait, are you doing somersaults?
HARRIET: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I was proper somersaulting down the thing.
Hot and fun is hard to resist. So, ignoring all the bad stuff — of which there was a lot — Harriet went on another date. And then another one. And then another one after that. And then, they were dating!
Sure, he was kind of mental, as Harriet would say — he told her that he loved her nine days into their relationship — but Harriet kind of liked how unpredictable he was. Plus…
HARRIET: So, yeah, it was kind of flattering and it was kind of my — probably my 16-year old self being hugely flattered that this boy was into me, kind of just loving that and it all a bit like — a bit of a whirlwind.
The whirlwind lasted for a very intense couple of months. And it ended as explosively as they had started: with him stealing her debit card and 100 dollars. They haven’t spoken since.
In reality, Harriet’s dream man was a total nightmare. Because while he was mathematically beautiful — that didn’t make up for the negatives. So, obviously my friend Melissa, she shouldn’t go for it right?
HARRIET: I’d say definitely do it. [laughs] She should go for it!
JANE: Get those beautiful model arms around you.
HARRIET: Yeah! God, literally just go for it. Maybe don’t tell your parents about him. Don’t say you’re gonna bring him home. Don’t let him meet all your friends. Don’t let him into your life too far because that’s when it get in a muddle. But if you can get — like just have good sex with him. When you’re like, I know it’s cliched to say, but when you’re like 70, you’ll look back and be like… shit, I had really hot sex with a model. So, it’s not really a bad thing.
But what about the person on the other side of the broken equation? The mathematically beautiful dude dating one of us normals…
JANE: Do people ever say you look like a celebrity?
JAKE: Maybe when I had a shaved head I got Channing Tatum once or twice.
Let’s say this guy’s name is … Jake. And, trust me, he’s being modest when he says “MAYBE” Channing Tatum. So I’ll do the work for him: Jake looks like if Jude Law were more masculine, or if Bradley Cooper were taller, or if Chris Evans had an accent. He swears that guys like him are a dime a dozen in Australia, where he’s from, so, okay, bye! Moving to Australia! See you later.
But here’s the thing — on top of how good looking he is — Jake’s a good dude. He didn’t want to use his real name because he didn’t want to make things weird for his ex-girlfriend. They started out as friends. But when she moved to LA from another city, Jake suddenly saw her in an entirely new light.
JAKE: When it became apparent that we were both single and in the same city, my efforts at that point switched from friendship to an attempt at something more. It was someone I’d gotten on so well with for so long, that it’s not someone I may normally approach in a bar, but it was definitely someone who I was attracted to on so many other levels and I thought, this was someone that could be a great life partner.
There’s data to support Jake’s experience. One study out of University of Texas at Austin called “Leveling the Playing Field” found that when there’s a big discrepancy in looks, it’s often because people started out as friends.
But making that switch from friends to a couple out in the world, that was tough. First off, other people were weird about it.
JAKE: People thought, um, she was a relative or a friend, as opposed to a girlfriend. Whether it was a waiter or a waitress asking, you know, “Does your friend want some water, as well?” or something like that.
I’m cringing on her behalf . Dealing with their reactions was awkward for both of them, but — let’s face it — it was obviously harder on Jake’s ex. Over time, these constant reminders started to make her feel insecure and jealous.
JAKE: She did mention times where she felt insecure and she didn’t like it when I went out, not that she was worried that I would cheat, or being disloyal, just that she would see the way other girls would observe me, I guess, and that made her naturally insecure.
JANE: Clearly, it was a subtext in your relationship, this disparity, but did you guys ever have a direct conversation about it?
JAKE: Yeah, we definitely spoke about it. And that was part of the efforts to try and quell those insecurities, but that she felt there was an inequality in terms of that department. And I did go through efforts to try and calm those insecurities, but it’s understandably difficult when you’re worrying about small things like that.
JANE: Well, I mean, deep down she was correct.
JAKE: Well, she may have been correct about how other people or women were looking at me, but there was nothing to worry about at the end of the day.
It wasn’t really either Jake or his girlfriend that struggled with his debilitating mathematical beauty. It was everyone else around them.
It was hard because other people made it hard. Like, no thank you. My friend would not like a glass of water, because she’s my girlfriend. Assholes.
So Jake tried. He really, really liked her, and he stayed in it for a year. Eventually, though, he gave up trying to reassure her that everything was okay. It was just too stressful and complicated, so they went back to just being friends. The world around them treated them so differently — they didn’t really have a chance.
My friend Mary H.K. Choi can relate to this. Mary is amazing. She’s like, the most intimidating girl at the party because she’s stylish and outgoing and she’s super smart and she always knows what to say and she’s a writer and a producer and a cultural correspondent — and actually, I kind of hate her. Just kidding, Mary! But yeah, on top of all that perfection, she used to have this really hot boyfriend.
MARY: I would always equate his hotness to, like, a CBS show protagonist.
JANE: And you’re usually just an 8 kind of girl?
MARY: I’m an 8 or a 7 kind of person. In fact, like, let’s be honest, like I fucking solidly love like a 6 that I can 8 on, you know? Because then we’re really, like, cooking.
So, when Mary first met this guy, she didn’t really care that he was so good looking.
MARY: He wasn’t my type. I just don’t like hot guys. I know that that sounds completely asinine, but I distinctly recall thinking at the time like this person is like comely in the way that like a tree is like fucking statuesque or whatever, and it’s not like you’re ever going to be like, “Oh, I recognize that tree in a line up.” Like his face didn’t make an indelible impression on me or anything like that. It was just like that guy’s attractive and then moving on.
But she didn’t move on. He charmed her, and they became a thing. And once she started bringing him around friends?
That’s when his looks really came into focus.
MARY: You know, just this subtle or not-so-so subtle, like “Well done!” [laughs] sort of rhetoric, where, you know, I had forded some sort of like, you know, obstacle in order to like, nab this person, and then like, you know, just tether him to me—
JANE: Oh so he goes to the bathroom and your girlfriends all give you high-fives?
MARY: My girlfriends would be like, oh like he seems to be a very competent driver, just like weird, things about like, you know, his, his skill level that has nothing to do with his, like, appearance. But then, gay dude friends would be like, “Yo, I want to ride that and then –” I was just like, okay? And it was just like, that was just like flagrant, and I was like, “Fair enough dudes.”
At the time, it didn’t feel bad. More like, weird. But whenever Mary tried to talk about it with him about it, he just didn’t get it.
MARY: He never really had like an ugly duckling phase, so he was like preternaturally hot, where that hotness was just like, was always there. And so like, I think your worldview, is — the foundation upon which your worldview is built is a very specific terrain that, I, I don’t know about. And it kind of blew my mind. And so, he was used to people being nice to him. He was used to people liking him. And that made it really difficult for him to see people’s characters, and all of the chinks in the armor, and he didn’t have that and actually that made me feel really lonely in the relationship I think. [pause] The other thing that was tricky was that I think it was also just really hard to talk to to him about the way people viewed him. [pause] You know, being in a place of privilege as being an attractive white male in the world, it does make it near impossible for you to ever think about your power being compromised in any way.
JANE: This is just, like, a very kind of tight, like, specific, amazing example of the way that men move through the world all the time.
JANE: Which is like, “we run shit, and everyone assumes we’re right, and great!”
MARY: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s just, like, men menning everywhere. And it’s kind of like how when you watch a man and he thinks he’s not being watched and he’ll try to jump up and touch something real high up or something, like, you’re like, yeah like, you have no natural predators moving in this world, you’re not paranoid at all, you’re just like, in your own head, trying to like, do a little contest with yourself. Right?
JANE: Right! No, one’s watching! [laughs]
MARY: At all! It’s amazing. It’s like, we’re always thinking about like, who’s watching us, what’s going on, like, where’s my exit, things like this?
JANE: How am I presenting?
MARY: Yeah, totally.
JANE: Am I leaving myself open anywhere?
MARY: Yup. I think that that had a lot to do eventually with what, what did end up splitting us up, which was just like a very different world view, that, the older you get, you’re like, “I just need to be with someone that I can be in cahoots with! Across the board!”
Mary and this guy stayed together for four years — four years! — and then Mary ended it. It just wasn’t working out.
Through no fault of his own, her ex-boyfriend’s looks made people treat him differently, and his worldview wasn’t going to change after a whole life of having hot privilege. So, Mary broke up with him. That’s what she chose.
And that’s the choice that Melissa faced. Remember her from the beginning of the episode? The “cannabis-based therapy sales rep” who’s being pursued by the DJ male model? She can choose, like Jake’s ex, to feel insecure about how hot the DJ is. She can choose, like Mary, that it’s too hard to bridge the divide between hot-people-world and the civilian world. Or, like Harriet, she can roll the dice. And see what happens.
And that’s exactly what she did! She took my advice!
They’ve been hanging out. They’re not a couple but they’re having a good time, and it turns out he’s really sweet. Once you get past the looks.
That’s a wrap for this week.
Coming up next week, the amazing things that can happen after you take your right swipes to the next step and out in the real world…
ERIKA: One swipe, you know, started this whole ball rolling, and ended up with me having a new lease on life.
That’s next week on DTR.
DTR is a branded podcast from Tinder, made in partnership with Gimlet Creative.
This episode was produced by me, Jane Marie, along with Frances Harlow, Nicole Wong, Katelyn Bogucki, Abbie Ruzicka, and Grant Irving, with Creative Direction from Nazanin Rafsanjani. This episode was mixed and engineered by Zac Schmidt and Dann Gallucci.
Special thanks to RMW, and Christine Driscoll. Also, thanks to Emma Pierson and Gary Lewandowski, for all the background info they gave us.
To learn more about DTR, visit DTRshow.com. DTR is on iTunes, Google Play, and wherever you listen to podcasts. If you like the show, subscribe and leave us review telling us why!
I’m Jane Marie. Thanks for listening.