The 'Beautiful Girl Effect': TikTok Explains Why Guys Date Out Of Their League

A pretty girl with an average-looking guy — it's a trope found in rom-coms, celebrity pairings, and maybe even your own love life. And, according to TikTok's "beautiful girl effect," women who date down on the attractiveness scale might be especially headed for heartbreak.

One of the earliest clips to discuss the concept was posted by user @iloveolives2002 in early 2023. Since then, a slew of follow-up videos have helped the theory go viral, often made by women who've experienced it firsthand. So, what exactly is the beautiful girl effect? As @iloveolives2002 explains, the effect occurs when a woman dates a man who is considered less physically attractive by conventional standards. Once the relationship develops and the man realizes how desirable he is in the eyes of the more attractive woman, his self-esteem soars. As a result, he starts taking his girlfriend for granted and, influenced by his boosted ego, may seek out a new partner even more out of his league.

Why men date more attractive women

The beautiful girl effect may partially explain why men who look like a "5" go after women who look like a "10." However, it's worth noting that, according to a 2018 study published in Science Advances, both genders pursue partners who are, on average, 25% more attractive than themselves. The reason beautiful women still end up with less attractive guys might come down to differences in mate selection. TikToker @lavendercashewmilklatte explains in a clip that women often value personality, while men, in general, prioritize a partner's appearance.

Though this gendered stereotype doesn't apply to everyone, experts see some truth in it. "I think that [women] tend to find men who are interesting, talented, and charismatic more engaging than someone who is completely handsome but with no substance beneath him," relationship and sex expert Dr. Logan Levkoff told Elite Daily. "[Women want] men who take responsibility for their actions and contribute to the relationship not just financially but, more importantly, emotionally."

Meanwhile, there's evidence that men may be more likely to maximize physical attractiveness when choosing a partner, even if that means dating outside their league. A 2017 poll commissioned by Comedy Central (via SWNSdigital) found that nearly one-third of men said looks were the most important quality in a relationship compared to less than a quarter of women. Similarly, one in three men admitted they were "punching above their weight" when choosing partners, compared to one in five women.

Can you avoid getting burned by the beautiful girl effect?

Breakups are bad enough, and knowing that your good looks emboldened your ex to leave is like rubbing salt in the wound. However, the beautiful girl effect might not explain every breakup scenario involving a less attractive guy. Other factors can be at play, such as "mate-choice copying," where men become more desirable to single women once they're in a relationship. Another important point: Physical attraction is subjective, and while you might think you're better looking than your beau, he might not see it that way. In fact, a 2019 study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that men tend to view their personal appearance more positively than women. In other words, your partner may have had high self-esteem before your relationship, not as a byproduct of you dating them.

Still, it's hard to unsee the beautiful girl effect, especially if you've personally experienced it in your love life. You may be tempted to swear off dating guys who are "below" your league, but keep in mind that this strategy might not be effective. A 2017 study of newlyweds published in the journal Body Image found that wives in marriages with less physically desirable spouses tended to be happier, and their partners tended to be more committed. The takeaway: Date a man regardless of his looks, and if he starts acting cold or eyeing other women, speak up or consider calling it quits.