There are many unspoken understandings about attraction in our culture. Reasons for couples getting together are guessed at by almost everyone, and many people claim to have understandings of coupling. One prominent theory that is seen in both social psychology and the general public is the Matching Hypothesis, where couples are presumed to pair up based on an equivocal physical attractiveness. When a couple is not equally physically attractive, we assume (often rightly) that the less attractive individual has other compensating qualities.
A good illustration of this principle is the general reaction BYU students have to wedding announcements. As a wedding announcement is a single photographic depiction of the couple, the primary thing we see is the physical attractiveness of the two. When our friend in the engagement is the more attractive one, we often initially think things such as “she must have a great personality” or “he must have an amazing sense of humor”. And when our friend is the less attractive of the couple, we will think things such as “Good for him, he’s marrying up!” or “She really scored a good one!”. And when they are roughly equally attractive, we think that they are a good couple. Superficially speaking, we are very tuned into the slight attraction differences between couples. We base our assessment of the couple compatibility on physical attraction, and, if we sense a imbalance, we assume there must be other qualities that person has to ‘make up’ for their lack of attractiveness.
This example illustrates our basic understanding of the matching hypothesis. When evaluate couple compatibility, we assume that person should/should not be in a relationship with another based on their relative physical attraction. We are all familiar with this ‘matching phenomenon’, whether or not we are consciously aware of it. Receiving a wedding announcement, we judge if that couple is appropriately matched. And we are surprised when they ‘are not’.