I've felt it and many of you have felt it"that anxiety as you get older that you're not as attractive or fit as you once were. You worry that this might have a negative influence on your love life. You're worried your partner might decide that there are other, much prettier fish in the sea. I'm here to tell you that research suggests you probably shouldn't worry.

Attractiveness is a funny thing. In a world filled with political correctness, we all like to grasp onto the idea that how attractive we are shouldn't matter. We like to pretend that as a human race we have moved past the idea that beauty is only skin deep and now focus on the "inner beauty" that so many of us have. Yet we are bombarded with clear evidence that physical attraction does still matter. Whether it's the way almost every major celebrity looks or the clear messages sent to both men and women in any commercial getting airplay on TV, culturally we are still told that how we look matters.

But does it?

In terms of relationships this question has been asked and answered by many scholars interested in trying to understand the nature and effect of physical attractiveness on outcomes. Below is a quick overview of this research and some thoughts on if you should be worried about if you partner (or future partners) still finds you attractive.

Attractiveness matters a lot, at least at the beginning

If research is clear on one thing, it's that being physically attractive does provide certain benefits when it comes to dating. Specifically, attractive people get more dates than less attractive people. We think this is likely because attraction serves as a catalyst for contact. In other words, what makes us approach someone for the first time is often if we find them attractive. Studies have shown that physically attractive people get asked on and go out on more dates than others. However, this does not mean that hope is lost for everyone else.

Over time, attractiveness matters less"¦but not for the reason you think

What about after that first contact? Despite this initial importance of physical attraction, what happens after we start dating? Does attraction matter on the 2nd date? 5th? Once we commit to each other? Research suggests that physical attraction generally takes a back seat to other attributes once we get past that initial contact and first date with a partner.

This doesn't mean that we stop caring about how the other person looks, it simply means we start focusing on other things. By as early as a second date, most people are much more interested their partner's social values, political views, and hobbies than their looks. By the time we commit to someone in a long-term relationship we are often worried about long-term life goals, general values, and lifestyle choices.

Attractiveness in healthy relationships is in the eye of the beholder

So what is the role of being physically attractive in a stable, long-term relationship? The answer is often very little. Healthy relationships are not driven by being physically attractive nor are they based on each partner finding the other as "hot." In fact, couples who base their happiness and relationship satisfaction on physical attraction to their partner often have negative relationship outcomes.

Why? Because people get old and ugly (sorry to break it to you). As couples mature and grow, their "attraction" to each other becomes less about physical traits and more about internal connection. While attraction may have brought them together, it's not what will bind them together. What binds them is based on a healthy foundation of similar goals and healthy couple dynamics.

So the next time you're worried about that extra pound or how you don't have the six pack you had when you started dating, remember, healthy relationships are about much more than a pretty face.

This article was originally published on Relate Institute. It has been republished here with permission.

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