The XX Factor

New Study Reveals Secret to Romantic Success, and It Doesn’t Sound So Hard to Achieve

Want this? You don’t have to be perfect—just a good mix.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Julie Beck at the Atlantic reports on a new study, published in Social Science Research, that tracked who was likeliest out of a group of teenagers to be married or cohabitating in early adulthood. Researchers followed 9,000 young people in middle and high school for 15 years, ending the study when the participants were ages ranging from 24 to 34. Researchers were asked to rate the participants on a 1-to-5 scale on three separate traits: looks, personality, and grooming. (As Beck notes, “personality” is maddeningly vague, but seems to be a measure of likeability.) What they found was that being a rock star on one trait doesn’t necessarily help you, but having a good combo is the way to go. Beck explains:

Of those three traits, the only statistically significant interaction was that men with an above average attractive personality were more likely to get married. Taking each of the factors individually, no other significant trends emerged. But those three factors in aggregate (what the researchers called “the personal traits index”) were linked to likelihood of marriage. Someone who scored more highly on the index overall was more likely to walk down the aisle. (The personal traits index did not have a significant relationship with non-marital cohabitation, however.)

It’s easy enough to dismiss this as saying that likeable, good-looking, and well-groomed people do better on the dating market than people without those traits. That is, after all, what they are saying. But the results suggest conclusions that are, in fact, a bit more interesting than that. If being well-balanced is more important than any single trait, it means that you don’t have to remake your body to look like Kate Upton or try to be the funniest person in any room in order to get a mate. Trying to achieve balance is a much better bet. In fact, that’s what the researchers concluded:

Though certainly not definitive, these results suggest that individuals may be able to trade-off different personal traits to enhance their competitiveness in generating offers and finding a suitable mate. The results also suggest they may be able to compensate for a deficiency in one desirable trait by enhancing the presence of another. For example, a person lacking in physical attractiveness may choose to invest more in grooming in order to become a more attractive partner.

Of course, this advice is just for people who want to eventually end up married. It seems like positive news, since being pretty good at a few things is more attainable than being perfect at one thing. I can also see how the advice could also be daunting: If you’re worried that you’re not good-looking enough to find a spouse, adding “get a better personality” and “spend more on hair products” to the list of things to worry about is not exactly comforting. Either way, this study puts to bed the idea that good-looking jerks have better luck with the ladies than ordinary guys with nice personalities, which is reason enough to be stoked about its findings.