Do You Care What Others Think About Your Partner?

It was 2001. I was at the W Hotel bar in Westwood. And from across the spacious, dimly lit room, I saw her:

My ex-girlfriend. Hottest woman I ever dated. Most tempestuous woman I ever dated. Yes, I held on to my perfect 10 for four months – four months of being left at restaurants, holiday parties, and weddings following an outrageous fight over virtually nothing.

Why do men date sexy troublemakers? Because we can’t help ourselves. It’s a drug – and, like all tales involving drugs – it never has a happy ending.

Why do men date sexy troublemakers? …It never has a happy ending.

Our relationship was no different. And the break up (the last break-up, anyway,) was ugly. The nasty emails she sent me were proof positive that it was healthiest to move on. So why was I so panicked when I saw my ex at the W?

Because I was on an online date with an unattractive woman. And she was with a guy with dark skin, dark hair, and light eyes – a guy who looked like me – but MUCH, MUCH better.

I share this story because it’s the only time in my memory that I actually cared about what anyone thought of who I was dating – and it was fundamentally irrational because it was a woman who had no role in my life whatsoever.

Yet the crux of this study shows that both men and women very much care what others think. And I’m not surprised in the least.

It seems that men’s interest in a woman increases if a man of greater attractiveness is also interested in her, and that women’s interest in a man decreases if other women seem uninterested in them.

Looks like grade-school habits die hard. And not just in terms of how friends react to our partners. I’ve had three clients in the past month who were concerned with the opinions of others: judgmental Persian family, judgmental Asian family, judgmental Christian family.

To which I say: who cares what anyone thinks? You’re an adult. You’re living your life for you. And if you put true love on hold because of how it looks to others, you’re sacrificing your own happiness for no reason whatsoever.

If you put true love on hold because of how it looks to others, you’re sacrificing your own happiness for no reason whatsoever.

Someone who loves you will love your partner, too. Why? Because you love him and because he makes you happy. Anyone who can’t fall in line to support your choice in mate is putting her needs/desires/prejudices before what’s really important: your happiness.

Have you ever ended a relationship because of what your friends and family thought? Not because they’re protecting you from a player/jackass/abusive guy, but because they selfishly wanted you to marry someone just like you? If so, how did you reconcile this?

For what it’s worth, I’m a Jewish guy who married a Catholic woman, and despite the emails that compared me to Hitler and the anonymous book I received called “Why Marry Jewish?” I’m quite confident I made the right decision.

Your thoughts below are appreciated.

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  1. 31

    @Cat: How is it clear? Also, I wouldn’t alpha an exe’s new BF to get back to her, there’s probably a good reason why I dumped her in the first place. I mean, unless she needed me to have sex with her, then I’d consider it.

  2. 32

    Hmm, I am confused as to why you feel the need to interact with them at all, Lance. 😐

  3. 33
    Karl R

    Lance said: (#31)
    “I wouldn’t alpha an exe’s new BF to get back to her,”

    Why would you bother “dominating” the new BF at all?

    Women prefer alphas. I can understand demonstrating that you’re an alpha in order to attract a woman that you’re interested in. I can’t see a point in deliberately doing it for a woman you’re no longer interested in.

    Lance said: (#29)
    “It’s even possible to befriend the new guy, which is proof positive that you’re over the ex and totally moved on.”

    If I befriend the guy, it’s because he’s the kind of guy I enjoy being friends with. Doing it to “prove” that you’re over the ex … if you were really over her you wouldn’t need to prove it.

  4. 34

    Heheh now see Karl, you’re being logical.  It’s a pissing match.  Ain’t no logic to it.

  5. 35

    I love Karl. 🙂

  6. 36
    John N.

    I have a situation where it isn’t what people in my life think of my partner, but what my partner might think of some people who are (or were) in my life.
    Three years ago I went out with an average looking girl with an average job. I did my best on the date, but she cut the date off after only one hour. (I did nothing ungentlemanly)  I’m not scarred, but it was my shortest date ever and overall a demeaning experience.
    Fast forward three years and I have a girlfriend who is three times more beautiful, funnier, and way more successful.
    I’m planning on going to a MeetUp this weekend that the 1 hour girl will be at.  I’m thinking of bringing my girlfriend too.
    Thing is, I don’t want my girlfriend to find out what happened with me and the one hour girl.  I don’t want my girlfriend to know that I was rejected by a girl who was, come to think of it, borderline ugly.  Will my girlfriend wonder about me if thinks that the caliber of girls I dated before her was really low?
    I realize I’m being needlessly anxious here.  The 1 hour girl probably has tact, even if she was rude, but still, it’s something in my mind.

  7. 37

    @ John #36

    Are you really going to have to talk to the “one-hour girl” much beyond saying hello? It was one hour, 3 years ago – I can’t see why you’d have to say anything to your new girlfriend about it other than you met the woman, briefly, a few years back. 

    One-hour girl may not remember the occasion as well as you do for one thing, and if she does, perhaps she will be embarrased. I can’t see the topic of rejection coming up at all unless you are the one to mention it.  Be polite to the woman, but focus on socializing with others if possible.

  8. 38
    Karl R

    John N. said: (#36)
    “Will my girlfriend wonder about me if thinks that the caliber of girls I dated before her was really low?”

    I think you’re worrying about nothing.

    Your girlfriend has known you for how long? Does she know you better than the ex-date? Whatever your girlfriend thinks about you, her own experiences with you are going to vastly outweigh the beliefs of a girl who dated you for one hour.

    I hate to burst your egocentrism, but the short date probably had little to do with you. I dated one woman for six weeks, then she suddenly stopped returning phone calls or replying to email messages. When she finally showed up again (2 months later), she was apologetic, explained that she’d been overwhelmed by work and other things, and hoped that I wasn’t hurt by her behavior. She thinks I’m a wonderful person (though she’s clearly not interested in pursuing a relationship with me) and would say that to any girlfriend of mine that she meets.

    I had another woman break up with me, then later try to set me up with one of her good friends. As another woman explained to me, that means she thinks highly of me. She wants her friend to date someone wonderful, even though she wasn’t interested in dating me.

    Your ex-date was not terribly attractive, nor was she successful. So what? If you only dated beautiful, successful people, it would indicate that you were pretty shallow.

  9. 39

    If your girlfriend dumps you because you had a bad date with a woman who was “borderline ugly” then she’s obviously not the right person for you.  Take your girlfriend to the meetup, and enjoy yourselves!

  10. 40
    Katarina Phang

    Oh it’s so true!  Each time women gush “You’re so handsome” to my husband’s pics on his Facebook page, my heart sinks and my competitive radar sets off.  I want him even more!

    It’s irrational but it works.

  11. 41

    First impressions are powerful whether we like it or not, in the workplace, in social settings, etc. I’m attractive, and I’ve worked hard to be in good shape physically because I enjoy being active – swimming, biking, running, hiking, etc. And because I care about what others think of me… I want a man who is attractive and in shape for the same reasons.
    When I’ve been ‘lucky’ enough to snag a 10 for a while, I observe some of the same issues that Evan has pointed out elsewhere – arrogant, stubborn, and even rude to my friends, which really bothers me.
    Looking for more, I recently started dating a guy who is a 7 (in looks)… he’s cute, but shorter than guys I usually date (he’s 5’9), and stocky (has a bit of a belly, which really bothers me). However, we have pretty good chemistry AND he has the character, sense of humor and that intangible something that amazes me… he’s kind, attentive, patient, has a good job, good family, similar values, etc. Most of all we can both really relax and laugh together. All of this puts him in that rare category for me: long-term potential.
    Here’s the rub — I really resent the belly (as well as the overeating, bloating, and need to take rolaids on a regular basis), and worry that people will judge me by his appearance. I’m so thankful that we met, and I don’t want to draw attention to my shallow feelings or make him feel bad because it’s not the most important thing (clearly); it won’t keep me from investing in the relationship, but I do feel anxious wondering if he’ll ever get in shape, or if he’ll just gain more weight as life goes on, metabolism slows, etc. I’m sure it has more to do with my own history of body image issues, but I’ve worked really hard to make changes in my own life, to be fit and in shape. I want to encourage him to do the same… just not sure how, when (or whether) to raise it.
    Any thoughts?

  12. 42
    Karl R

    LF said: (#41)
    “I […] worry that people will judge me by his appearance.”

    If I see a couple together where one is significantly more attractive than the other, my impression of the attractive one is, “She’s not with him for his looks,” (or reverse the pronouns if he’s the hot one). In the crowds I hang with, that normally means she’s with him for his personality, not his wealth.

    In a few cases, after getting to know the couple better, I’ve come to the conclusion that the less attractive one was the better catch.

    LF asked: (#41)
    “I want to encourage him to [be fit and in shape]. Any thoughts?”

    Generally the person has to be self-motivated to exercise. If there’s an activity that he enjoys which is good exercise, you can encourage him to do that (without mentioning why). Otherwise, he’s a lot more willing to hear that message from his doctor.

    For some men and women, exercise isn’t going to make them trim. One of my buddies cycles to work, takes a spinning class and does 40-60 mile rides most weekends. His pulse and blood pressure are great, but he’s still chunky with a big pot-belly.

    Your boyfriend’s diet is a bit easier to alter than his exercise habits. If you cook for him, you can cook healthy meals and smaller portions. You can also keep healthy, lower-calorie snacks around your place.

  13. 43

    Hey Evan; Though my friends are important, I agree, I am the one living with or dating the person and that is all that matters in the end.
    I am dating a younger man and though we are compatible and happy with on another, none of my friends would have chosen him for me and voice that opinion constantly.  It makes gatherings awkward or nonexistent and also makes me wonder why some of these people are my friends in the first place; but when it comes to family, I disagree:my grown children need to like and respect the person I am with in order for family gatherings to be successful and for us to continue to share in one anothers’ lives.  I would definitely break off with someone they found undesirable for me, with the thought that they see something that I don’t and that they have only my happiness in mind.
    Thanks so much for all you do and say in the name of love.

  14. 44

    I think caring about it for superficial reasons (will they think he’s attractive enough? His job is good enough?) is problematic.
    But I also think the people who love you can see potential problems more clearly than you can.

  15. 45
    Jenny Ravelo

    I think the reason why we care about what other people think it’s because we subconsciously care about status, both ours and theirs. 

  16. 46

    I admit to being one who cares what others think of my other half. Several times I’ve been thinking whether or not to date a certain girl who gets along well with me, but she’s unattractive, or the wrong race. People call this being shallow, but it’s one of those things which all behave like, to lesser or greater degree. It’s one reason I’m single and that I want a 8 or 9 (my version of a 8 or 9), and not a 5, even though ladies of lesser physical attractiveness are often nicer and less princessish. Totally my fault, but I’m not denying it.

    1. 46.1
      Jenny Ravelo

      I believe the secret is finding a medium point where we’re not embarrassed by the person we’re dating, but accept that not everyone likes him/her. Extremes are always bad and say something isn’t right with us. There’s always a reason why we care too much about what others think.

  17. 47

    The thought of wondering what your friends or society think of you or even your partner is really horrifying for me. I know it’s unhealthy to feel the need for my friends to at least compliment me and how “good-looking”my boyfriend is… He’s not the most attractive guy in the world, and I mentally know that I could go for a more attractive person, but I also have to think about the guy’s personality. I took my boyfriend once to a party, and one of my friends whispered to me, “Alright looking guy!”. I felt a little bit insecured about his looks afterwards, because lowkey I want my friends to be jealous that I have a great looking boyfriend.. or at least average. I think he’s pretty good, but I think the society sees it differently. I don’t know how to comfort myself to NOT CARE about what they think… It makes me really depress because first, it’s so shallow of me and two, it’s so stupid of me to even care about this.  Any advice? I just need to hear someone’s opinion about what I feel even though it is obvious that I shouldn’t be feeling down about this.

  18. 48

    Reading some of the comments made me think how preposterous some people can be. Asides from the relationship being negative or abusive, other peoples opinion doesn’t matter at all. The relationship is between you and the other person, NOT you, the other person and all your friends and family. If you’re both content in your relationship, what does it matter what people say about your so? If i accept my so as my life partner obviously its MY choice. Why bother someone else’s happiness with your negative comment about their significant other? YOU dont need to like them, you just need to tolerate them when they are around and also respect that this is MY relationship. Its definitely a perk if you guys liked each other but not everyone is like that. Not everyone likes each other, and thats ok we just need to tolerate each other.  Havent your mother ever taught you that if you got nothing nice to say, dont say anything at all? Youre entitled to your own opinion, just keep them to yourself. Not everyone is interested or even care about what you think even if you are my best friend or my parents. Its also foolish of you to think that your opinion will alter my relationship with my so.

  19. 49
    Female meerkat lover

    Perfect! I’ve been in a friends with benefits relationship with a guy 20 years younger than me for the last 3 years. We are very intimate on an emotional and friendship level as well as sexually. I know he has deep feelings for me but is worried about what his parents and friends would think about us being together. I’ve been trying to think of how to word “that he shouldn’t care what others think of us if he’s happy.” This works perfectly for me to show him.

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