Since high school, I’ve been defending the idea that a person’s physical attractiveness is and should be important. It has never been very popular for me to say so. Less popular than pretending that “looks don’t matter” and “what’s inside is all that counts,” at least. People scowl and write me off as a superficial materialist with a soul like a kiddie pool, but my reasoning is pretty elementary.



  1. that there are lots of people in the world
  2. a somewhat normal distribution of attractiveness in those people
  3. a somewhat normal distribution of the “stuff that’s inside that counts”

Given these three conditions, we should find that within the set of reasonably attractive individuals, there should be an ample (though not necessarily abundant) supply of {cool, fun, intelligent, comedic, outgoing, and so on} possible partners. And vice versa.

Therefore, why would someone seeking those latter and apparently more noble virtues disregard the former when he or she could potentially have both? My argument is not that one of these sets of characteristics is more important than the other, but that they both function as components of a complicated algorithm that ultimately determines how attracted or repulsed we are when evaluating one another as romantic partners.

There are, however, some critical differences in how we evaluate these sets of characteristics. Being sighted creatures (most of us, at least), we can normally tell in a matter of seconds how attracted we are to someone, at least at baseline, and on a purely physical level. The extremely low time and energy commitment of this initial once-over is of paramount importance to my argument.


If you wanted a car that was red and would last a long time, even if durability was of far greater importance than the color… don’t you think you could find something that would meet both of these criteria? If so, then why wouldn’t you immediately begin your search by discarding ads for cars that were not red? If you hope to ever end up with reliable, bright red coupe, you’ll save a lot of time and trouble by paying attention to your “order of operations.” Consider the opposite approach. Were you to first take every for-sale car you came across (or maybe even the not-for-sale ones, depending on your personal code of ethics) and first investigate its likelihood of being a dependable car in the long term, and later decide whether or not the car was red, on average you would take longer to find the perfect car than a person that first filtered with a quick and low-cost strategy.

I imagine that it would be incredibly simple to demonstrate this situation mathematically.


Don’t misunderstand me to be explicitly recommending that people discard otherwise highly desirable but unattractive potential partners. Those individuals that doubt their likelihood of enticing a partner that is both physically and otherwise appealing should pay extra attention here. The burden of evaluating an unknown potential partner with regard to personality factors, etc. is such that it can take years and perhaps tens of millions of kilocalories of energy for just one. Even this may not be sufficient. For a potential partner that is already known to be “good” in areas that are highly important, this same cost may not apply. Recognize that these individuals do not fall into the set of unknowns under discussion, and that their well established and valuable characteristics may warrant serious consideration, especially if you doubt your ability to attract a more physically appealing and similarly equipped partner.


Additionally, the corollary may be pertinent to the physicalists. Simply put, dating someone because they are physically appealing when this is their only redeeming feature is a losing strategy. While beauty is important, also keep in mind that beauty is common. If none of your partner’s (or -s’) better qualities are deeper than skin, perhaps you should consider that such characters are never in short supply. Your chances of finding a more perfect partner will be directly proportional to the amount of time you spend actively looking. So get started.