Are Looks Important in a Marriage Decision?

Guy smiling at his date, at a bar; Dating

“Hi Celes, I’ve read your soulmate series on how you met your husband. Would you have married him if you weren’t PHYSICALLY attracted to him? Personally I’ve encountered good/nice/okay guys who have expressed their interest, but I rejected them as I was not physically attracted to them.

My key question is, what if you only like someone’s character but don’t feel physical attraction towards him? Does marriage require physical attraction, or should looks be abandoned?” — Rachel

Have you ever thought if looks are important in a marriage decision? How highly should you value looks when choosing a life partner? Reader Rachel recently sent in this question and I thought to respond via a blog post.

Marriage is a very personal decision. Some prefer partners who are very good looking, while some don’t. Some like their partners to be fuller while some prefer their partners skinny. Add to the fact that beauty is subjective, it becomes impossible to give this question a definite answer.

But if you ask me, IMO, looks, in the grander scheme of things, should be a secondary criterion. That’s because looks are temporary, while our mind and soul, these are forever.

My Experience

By now most of you would know how I met my husband Ken; if not you can read my soulmate series where I detail our journey from how we met to how I knew he is the one.

So the first time I met him in school, I thought he was very good looking. Tall, well-built, and handsome, he was like a “dream come true” guy for me, though I was never looking for someone good looking. As a girl who was very self-inferior then, I didn’t think much of myself to think that I could ever have “a chance” with someone with such good looks.

When we reacquainted nine years later, he still looked good, albeit aged as he had been smoking and drinking so much in the years prior. He has since reversed the damages, looks-wise, after quitting smoking and drinking. And then when it came to assessing our compatibility in other areas, he turned out to be my perfect match, so it became a no brainer that he is the one for me.

My Husband’s Hair Loss

Now the thing is Ken suffers from severe hair loss. (I didn’t talk about this before as I didn’t think it was my thing to say, but I’ve checked with him and he says that I can write whatever I want.) Ken has premature male-pattern hair loss, a condition where men and women lose hair at their temples and/or the top of their scalps. The cause is unknown — funnily his dad is in his 60s and has tons of hair.

In Singapore, hair loss is seen as grossly unattractive, shameful, and embarrassing. If you look at the older male celebrities in Singapore compared to the ones in Hollywood, you’ll find that male celebrities in Hollywood have much higher hairlines (Leonardo Dicaprio, Nicholas Cage, Jude Law, Bill Murray) than the celebrities here. Here in Singapore, every male celebrity has lots of hair even in their 50s (Li Nanxing, Terence Cao, Thomas Ong, etc.), and their thick hair is more often than not from hair loss treatments rather than a natural thing. Many male celebrities here are also ambassadors of hair loss companies.

Add to the fact that many hair loss treatment companies here spend tons of money blasting their ads and create a lot of shame and negativity around hair loss, it perpetuates the idea that hair loss is unacceptable, shameful, disgusting. Among the general public, people generally feel that if you are losing the hair you need to fix this ASAP, even if you have to spend tons of money.

For Ken, the problem wasn’t just that he was losing hair but that he was losing it at a young age. Male-pattern hair loss hits 70% of men at some point in their lives, but for him, it started in his mid-20s and got really bad in his late 20s. By the time he was 30, he had lost over half the hair on his scalp. His hairline had a distinct “M” shape and the rest of his hair was very thin.

Male Pattern Hair Loss Scale

Male pattern hair loss scale. Ken’s hairline in his late 20s was somewhere between Pattern #2 Class 5 and 6. (Image: Alvi Armani)

Losing so much hair so quickly was naturally a saddening experience for him. This wasn’t natural hair loss over decades, but rapid hair loss in a few years. It made him look much older, like a man in his late 40s, rather than 29-30 which was his real age then. While he tried to take his hair loss into stride initially, he eventually saw a doctor who prescribed him medicine. This medicine seemed to work well as his hair started to grow back, and by the time we reacquainted (he was 31 while I was 28), he had regrown most of his hair.

What If Ken Was Balding When I Met Him?

Now the thing is, what if his hair never grew back? What if he was almost bald when we reacquainted? Would I have liked him? Would I have considered him romantically? Would I have married him, to quote Rachel’s question?

First off, this is a strange question to consider as Ken is my husband and we’ve been married for years now. I see him as a core part of my life just like PE is a core part of who I am, and it doesn’t matter if he has a lot of hair, no hair, or if he had a totally different face — I’d still marry him.

But if I am to imagine that I don’t know any of this stuff, that I am my 28-year-old single self with no awareness of what we’ve been through, and that Ken and I are just meeting for the first time again after years, then I’d say that I’d be shocked initially.

  • Firstly, I already knew him back when he had lots of hair and all, so to see him balding and looking so different after just a few years would be quite surprising.
  • Secondly, when you meet a date prospect for the first time, you’d generally expect him/her to at least look his/her age, sans good looks or smart dressing. I already knew that looks weren’t all that important to me at that time, but I did subconsciously expect that my dates would at least look their age — plus-minus a few years. Since Ken would look more like he was 45 rather than his real age of 31 with so much hair loss, this was something I’d have to “normalize” first.

However, beyond that, I don’t think it would have changed the outcome of our relationship. Why do I say that?

Firstly, the reason why I got together with my husband isn’t because of his looks. It’s because of his kindness, openness, reliability, and honesty. I remember being very impressed by him early on when we chatted as he was so selfless and giving. That he turned out to be very intelligent and conscious was a dream come true for me, so when it came down to whether to marry him, it was clear that he is the one for me. Perhaps his looks might have facilitated our connection at the beginning, as having someone who looks attractive to you would naturally pique your interest in a romantic way, but without all his other traits, our friendship would never have advanced to anywhere near relationship level.

The second and more important thing I want to say is something that I teach in Soulmate Journey, my course on finding love. During Soulmate Journey, I ask my participants to think about the kind of partner they’d like to have when they’re 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, and 100.

So imagine yourself at these individual ages. What qualities would you look for at each age? And what are the common qualities you would look for in a partner across all ages?

Couple dating in a coffee shop

What would you look for in an ideal partner when you’re 30?

Happy middle-age couple

…how about when you’re 40? …50? …60?

Elderly couple, kiss

…or when you’re 70? …80? …90? …or 100?

While there are traits that may seem important at particular phases of our life — for example, looks would probably rank higher when we’re 20 or 30 — chances are there are traits that continually appear throughout each age group, such as empathy, reliability, caringness, and so on. These are the real qualities to look out for in a life partner, vs. qualities that matter to you only right now. That’s because the latter group is transient, but the former reflects your real needs in a partner.

So when I thought about this question, I realized that the most important things to me in a partner whether I’m 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, or even 100 are someone who is (1) kind and (2) committed to his growth. These are qualities that matter most to me and that I strive to uphold, and hence qualities I’d like my life partner to have too.

My husband met this in every way possible, and after we got together, the way he would always be there for me, be patient and supportive towards everything I say/do, and be caring, reliable, open, and trustworthy in just about everything made it clear that this is the man I see myself with for life. That he’s good looking and all that were not even vague factors of consideration. Marriage is a life-long thing and physical looks will fade away with time, just as celebrities come and go when their looks fade. There will be a day when both of us will be old and wrinkly, but who he is as a person? This is who I’ll live with forever.

Engagement shoot: Reflection in the water

Now say if Ken was really ugly (as defined by society) or he was seriously balding when we met. Perhaps I might be hesitant to date him initially out of fear of how others would perceive me. I was 28 then and others would generally expect that I should date someone who looked my age. That I have a public profile due to my work didn’t help — many people were already scrutinizing who I’d date and whether that guy would be attractive (since that’s the most immediately observable part of a person).

However, as we interacted more as friends, I would inevitably feel more drawn to him because of the strength of his soul, his intelligence, and all his other great traits — kindness, compassion, generosity, authenticity, etc. I would gradually be warmed by his heart and kindness, which was what touched me about him at first. I’d start to see how attractive he is as a person, with or without hair, with or without conventional good looks. I’d start to realize that he is actually very attractive the way he is and admire his features and look for what they are. I’d also start to realize that my fears were more vanity-driven fears, borne from living in a material world like Singapore.

And I’m sure I’d start to fall in love with him anyway, just like how I did in real life.

Physical Attraction

Guy smiling at his date, at a bar

To set the record straight, I’m not negating the role of physical attraction in a relationship. It’s important to be physically attracted to your partner. It’s important that you find your partner attractive as he/she is. If not, there may be issues later on not wanting to be physically intimate with your partner after marriage, being physically repulsed by him/her as you see him/her day after day, and so on.

However, I’ve found that initial physical attraction is usually the result of conditioning since young. For example, perhaps you were taught to perceive X look as beautiful or handsome, and hence you gravitate towards guys/girls who look that way growing up. Perhaps you were taught to perceive Y look as attractive, and therefore you gravitate to guys/girls with Y look.

Yet, physical attraction isn’t something set in stone. In my experience, I’ve found that physical attraction (or non-attraction) towards someone can change over time, and it’s usually molded by the person’s character, heart, and soul.

I have in various instances found very attractive men repulsive looking after discovering a very ugly trait about them, such as them being very materialistic, judgmental, or fake.

I have (in the past) also met guys whom I felt were totally unattractive but later on grew to like them and actually found them very good looking — more so than conventionally attractive guys.

Of course, those connections didn’t work out, and I’m glad they didn’t because I’d never have found my true soulmate otherwise.

To You

Now I understand some of you may have a preference for a certain type or look and you won’t find someone attractive unless he/she matches this type or look. That’s perfectly understandable.

All I ask is that you be more open-minded in how you perceive someone’s looksBeauty comes in all forms, shapes, sizes, and colors, and the reason we would perceive someone as attractive or not right away is because of how we’ve been conditioned to see beauty. However, if we would be more open in how we perceive beauty, I’m sure we’ll start to see beauty in all kinds of looks: tall or short, muscular or “scrawny,” sharp chin or round chin, double eyelids or mono eyelids, tall nose or round nose, sharp face or round face.

If you currently know someone who has a nice personality but you don’t find him/her attractive, don’t rule out this connection just yet. Here’s what I recommend:

  1. Get to know him/her better as a person. All great romantic connections tend to start off as friendships. As opposed to judging this person by his/her looks at the onset, I suggest you look at him/her as just a friend you’re trying to get to know more first. This way, you can focus more on the connection as opposed to focusing on his/her looks. Spend some time to chat with him/her. Hang out as friends. Get to know him/her better.
  2. Invite him/her to group outings. If you feel awkward going out solo with the person too often, invite him/her to group outings where both of you can meet other people while hanging out together at the same time. This will allow you to see other aspects of him/her too as he/she interacts with other people.
  3. Explore areas of commonality. Do you have any common interests? Explore them. If you have any new goals, activities you want to explore, share with him/her and invite him/her along too. You want to build on your commonalities together and see if there is potential for this connection to go further.
  4. Broaden your definition of beauty. As I mentioned, true beauty comes in all forms, shapes, sizes, and colors. If you really don’t find this person attractive in any way, then try and see the person for who he/she is and how he/she looks, without mentally benchmarking him/her to certain images of beauty. There is beauty in every physical feature and look. We just need to learn to see that. Read this article: The Beauty of Self
  5. Assess your connection over time. After some time together, assess your connection. Do you see the potential for this to develop, be it as a friendship or romantic relationship?

    If yes, then continue to nurture it and see where it goes. There’s no need to put a timeline such as, “I’m going to cut this person away if I don’t feel attracted to him/her in 3 months.” Even if you don’t feel attracted or romantically interested in this person, keep him/her as a friend. (Unless you’re not even interested to have him/her as a friend — then let him/her go.) Many great relationships develop organically. I know a couple who only fell in love with each other after 1 year of being good friends. Before that, they were always only going out as friends, enjoying each other’s company, and never thought of each other as romantic prospects at all. In fact, they were the opposite of what they were looking for in a romantic partner.

    On the other hand, if this person is not even compatible with you as a friend and you’re not interested to stay in touch at all, then let him/her go. There’s no need to force something to happen. Think of it as a necessary step to attract more of the right people into your life.

All the 10 tips in 10 Steps To Attract Authentic Love will apply as well.

As for my husband, his hair loss has slowly returned as we agreed for him to stop taking his hair loss medication. That’s because I don’t think that it’s healthy to take any medication on an ongoing basis, especially if it’s voluntary vs. being medically required. It doesn’t matter as balding is just a different look, just like having a lot of hair is another look. Either way, he’ll always be attractive to me. 🙂

Much love to your love journey, and let me know how everything goes! 🙂

(Images: Dating, Young couple, Middle-age couple, Elderly coupleGuy at bar)

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