My fiancé and I were friends long before we got together. While I’m not saying I was much hotter than he was when we were just friends, he was definitely more attracted to me than I was attracted to him.
Now I attribute my initial lack of interest to the fact that he hadn’t grown into his face yet (we were friends in high school, and he still had his baby face going on). By the time we actually started dating, we had been best friends for a few years already, and I was head over heels in love. I thought my blossoming attraction to him was due to finally seeing his adorable cheekbones appear, but perhaps it was something altogether more internal and emotional.
A recent study conducted at Northwestern University (ironically also my alma mater) claims that attraction can in fact come out of a friendship with someone you weren’t physically attracted to at first. The study came about because the head researchers, Lucy Hunt from the Department of Human Development at The University of Texas, and Paul Eastwick and Eli Finkel from the Department of Psychology at Northwestern, wanted to examine why people are often attracted to those with similar characteristics. What they ended up discovering was that this trend disproved itself when the couple in question had a lengthy friendship before their romantic relationship.
They looked at the relationships of 167 couples who were either married or dating but who had been together for an average of 8.5 years. However, that average is a bit misleading, because the spectrum was from just three months to 53 years, which is a pretty significant gap in experience, I’d say. They asked the couples to divulge how long they’d been together versus how long they’d actually known each other.
They also had undergraduates assess each person’s level of physical attractiveness. I always feel like it’s relatively impossible for studies to pin down this variable, because the concept is so relative and based on too many different factors. However, I suppose the average college student’s opinion is as good as any other, especially considering how high judgment levels tend to be at that age.
Their results were pretty fascinating. The couples who’d known each other for shorter periods of time before coupling up tended to be closer to each other in hotness, whereas the couples who knew each other for longer before getting together were less on par, attractiveness-wise. Hunt put it succinctly, “There may be more to the old saying than was previously thought. Maybe it’s the case that beauty is partially in the eye of the beholder, especially as time passes.”
It makes a lot of sense when you think about it. If you get together with someone early on in knowing them, your initial attraction to them will likely be more wrapped up in their outer appearance rather than their inner beauty, because you haven’t experienced that yet. However, “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,” said Hunt to Psychological Science.
So in the end, the friend zone may be a perfectly fine place to end up when you’re trying to date a considerably hotter person, but you may need to put in some serious time before it becomes anything. Hunt and his fellow researchers plan to replicate the study with a more diverse pool of subjects (aka multiracial and varying in sexual orientation) in the not-too-distant future. However, it’s definitely food for thought for anyone who’s been eyeing that smokin’-hot barista at their local coffee shop.