The General Theory of Relative Attractiveness

Beautiful people fall in love every day. They spot each other in a fetid swamp of lumpy mortals and think, I'm hot, you're hot, it is on. They'll tell their equally attractive kids heartwarming stories about "love at first sight," but such pairings are about as compelling as a casting agent's daily grind. Brangelina, the Bennifers, the Hiddleswifts, the Teigen-Legends: We get it. All of your charming tales about having so much in common ("He also loves puppies! Oxygen, too!") don't fool us. We've got eyes. When you're both supernaturally fine, your personal brands are meant to be together.

Far more intriguing are couples who aren't a perfect match lookswise. Suddenly, there's a riddle to solve: What the hell is she doing with him? (And vice versa, of course. But this being an aspirational magazine for men, let's stick to the former.) The mystery intensifies when the lady in question is not only gorgeous but also smart, funny, and wildly successful, and the guy in question is a scruffy-looking dude with a dad bod, a nonexistent career, and a bad habit of showing up to red-carpet events looking like he just got off a fifteen-hour flight from Mongolia.

Before we dive into my General Theory of Relative Attractiveness, let's review the (very generalized) facts. There are unquestionably more beautiful women in the world than there are handsome men. Women are criticized for having the audacity to exist past the age of forty, but contrary to popular belief, men are the ones who really go to seed as the years tick by. In order to examine the gender/looks gap firsthand, just find your nearest gaggle of middle-aged humans: The ladies all look like they've just rubbed fancy emulsions into their crow's feet after having jogged ten miles to the chia-seed buffet (because they probably did). The guys mostly look like Gary Busey after a three-day doughnut-and-bourbon bender.


Plus, women learn from their mistakes. Like many of us—on every point along the gender spectrum—I spent my formative years experimenting with just how much stupidity, selfishness, and humorlessness I could tolerate for the sake of dating hotties. But I quickly gleaned that life spent in the company of a self-serving simpleton is no life at all. Substance, it turned out, was not overrated.

Yes, we started out shallow, now we're here: As women mature, we rarely see our partner's appearance as a measure of our own value, in stark contrast to those men who try to distract us from their deep-seated insecurities by dragging an extra-shiny, much-hotter lady friend around with them like an overpriced designer handbag. (Timely case in point: our newish president, whose ego is more fragile than a Ming vase and whose looks are ten thousand leagues under Melania's sea.)

Women are criticized for having the audacity to exist past the age of forty, but contrary to popular belief, men are the ones who really go to seed as the years tick by.

At a time when women look better, value appearance less, and don't feel the need to prop up their sense of self-worth with arm candy as men do, perhaps it's only natural to encounter mismatched-looking couples roaming about, openly challenging Darwin's views of sexual selection. But does that fully explain why goddess Serena Williams insists on keeping company with pasty boy-muffin Alexis Ohanian? Does it help us grasp the alignment of clever beauty J. K. Rowling and nerdlet physician Neil Murray? (Maybe he studied enchantment spells in med school.)

As unseemly as it may be to admit, when you survey the swath of famous women dating or married to average men, speculation about what's going on behind closed doors becomes unavoidable. If you're capable of charming the pants off any living mortal on the face of the planet—a target demographic that theoretically includes Ryan Gosling and Idris Elba—why go for a wispy-looking chump with no disposable income and Fritos crumbs stuck in his beard? Are high-quality, superfine, megasuccessful men so rare that superlative women are forced to settle? Do smoking-hot women, having been subjected to decades of douche bros pointing out their smoking hotness every few milliseconds, naturally embrace nonhotness as a means of subverting the dominant paradigm, à la Julia Roberts and Lyle Lovett? Or do women really care that much less about looks than men do?

watch now

Here's my favorite theory: These high-profile, extra-intelligent ladies have uncovered a treasure trove of sneakily sexy beasts with extraordinary listening skills, excellent oral dexterity, and a commitment to feminist principles. Such men don't mind being outshined and upstaged—or even led!—by strong, capable women. Better yet, perhaps there's a supersecret cabal of superior women who recognize that the only way to topple the patriarchy is by recruiting an army of loyal, less-than-babelicious men whose dedication to egalitarian values is self-evident. Their mission: to find and celebrate more guys like them so as to reorient a world teetering on the brink of destruction at the hands of our easily threatened, ego-driven maniac-in-chief.

If I stare at the nerf herders to your right long enough, until my eyes water and my vision blurs, they start to look subtly, subversively attractive. Here are the true faces of hotness.

Photo by Getty Images.

1| J.K. Rowling + Neil Murray

Her: Author of the Harry Potter series, first billionaire whose wealth came mostly from writing. 

Him: Anesthesiologist who looks like your freshman-year roommate with the thinning hair and the Dave Matthews obsession. 

Time together: Twenty-two years. 

What makes it work: Mutual acceptance. When they met, Rowling was a struggling single mother with a young child: "It felt as if he stepped inside everything with me," she told The Guardian in 2012. "He changed my life."

2| Cameron Diaz + Benji Madden

Her: Actor, real-life Manic Pixie Dream Girl. 

Him: Guitarist for Good Charlotte who still wears his baseball caps backward at age thirty-eight. 

Time together: Eight years. 

What makes it work: Loyalty. "He is fiercely protective of the people he loves and cares about," Diaz wrote on Instagram in 2016. 

Another theory: Sometimes—rarely—that bad-boy mystique slays well past high school.

3| Kirsten Dunst + Jesse Plemons

Her: Actor who's been charming crowds since 1994's Interview with the Vampire. 

Him: Excellent actor on excellent shows (Friday Night Lights, Breaking Bad) who specializes in playing geeky killers. 

Time together: Six years, recently married. 

Fatal attraction? They met on the set of Fargo, on which he played her husband, a geeky butcher—who kills for her.

Photo by Getty Images.

4| Cate Blanchett + Andrew Upton

Her: Legendary actor and mystical elf queen. 

Him: Australian playwright with a striking resemblance to a forlorn Frodo. 

Time together: Twenty-seven years. 

What makes it work: Collaboration. They co-own the film-production company Dirty Films. Blanchett told E! News in 2015, "It's been a great creative partnership with my husband and also a great love affair."

5| Serena Williams + Alexis Ohanian

Her: Tennis-ball destroyer, winner of twenty-three Grand Slams. 

Him: Reddit cofounder. 

Time together: Seven years. 

What makes it work: Respect. "He definitely treats everyone the same, which is really cool to see," Williams said at a press conference in January. 

Another theory: We've got nothing. From Drake to... this guy? A total mystery.

6| Tina Fey + Jeff Richmond

Her: Actor, writer, infallible human. 

Him: Composer and producer who looks like your hip history teacher. 

Time together: Twenty-nine years. 

What makes it work: Kindness. "I don't have that kind of 'I love the bad guys' thing. No, no, thank you," Fey told Vanity Fair in 2009. "I like nice people." 

Size doesn't matter: She's five-five; he's five-zero. Gents: If the emotional fit is right, it's okay if you fit into her pocket.

This article originally appeared in the April '17 issue. Minor edits and updates have been made.


FromEsquire US

View More Articles About:
More Videos You Can Watch
About The Author
Heather Havrilesky
Heather Havrilesky writes the Ask Polly advice column on Substack and is the author of Foreverland: On the Divine Tedium of Marriage (Ecco, 2022)
View Other Articles From Heather
Latest Feed
Load More Articles
Connect With Us