As with so many things in life, the answer to this question really depends on which type of Redditor you ask. One guy suggests it’s when you’re dating a woman who plays in a basketball league while you’re playing in a football league; another seems to think that if she isn’t blind, she’s out of his league. And finally there’s this guy, who claims that no woman is out of his league.
Stating the obvious: None of these proclamations are based on any scientifically derived evidence — at best, they’re mostly based on personal experience (or lack thereof). Recently, however, researchers from the University of Michigan were able to quantify exactly what it means to be out of someone’s league, so let’s take a depressing data dive into the sad reality of all of our lives.
Using data from a popular dating site, researchers found that, generally speaking, heterosexual men and women tend to reach out to potential dating partners who are roughly 25 percent more attractive than they are. To figure this out, the researchers used the same algorithm Google uses to rank websites in their search results — users were ranked as desirable on a scale of 0 to 1 (that’s not a typo — the least desirable men and women in each city were given a score of 0, and the most desirable were given a score of 1, with everyone else in the middle assigned with a decimal number somewhere in between) depending on how many first messages they received, and depending on how desirable the senders themselves were.
“The scientists found that men and women sent initial messages to potential partners who were more desirable than them — men went 26 percent higher on average, while the women aimed 23 percent higher,” reported the L.A. Times.
In short: Yeah, everybody is trying to score with someone objectively hotter than them.
Needless to say, this endeavor of trying to level up — to find the Esmeralda to your Quasimodo — isn’t a new one. In spite of the infamous Dove campaign that suggests we’re all more attractive than we think, the opposite is actually true: In one study from the University of Chicago, researchers took pictures of participants of the study and, using a computerized procedure, produced “more attractive” and “less attractive” versions of those pictures.
“Participants were told that they would be presented with a series of images including their original picture and images modified from that picture. They were then asked to identify the unmodified picture. They tended to select an attractively enhanced one,” reported Scientific American.
Once again: No, it’s not just you (or your embarrassing friend, if you’re astonishingly short on self-awareness): We all think we’re way hotter than we really are. So we all try to score with someone way hotter than us not because we’re consciously faking it, but because we all think we’re way hotter than we really are.
Still, as MEL staffer Tracy Moore noted in her Jezebel article advising people to date their equal, there’s a stark difference in what it means to “level up” depending on if you’re a man trying to date a more attractive woman or vice versa. “When men date down, it’s a woman who isn’t good looking enough,” Moore writes for Jezebel. “When women do, it’s a man who isn’t of means or ambitious enough.”
To that end, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that the majority of forums on the subject of how to date someone out of your league are written by heterosexual men, and for heterosexual men. Case in point, in one particular post titled, “How to get a man/woman truly out of year league,” written from the POV of a man: Even though the title suggests it can be applied to both men and women, the advice is clearly one-sided. “Attractive women, more often than not, are friends with more attractive women. Getting rejected and becoming friends with a bunch of different circles of attractive women only increases the number of attractive women you interact with on a day to day basis… Let me spell it out for you, that’s a GOOD THING,” the author writes.
On Urban Dictionary, meanwhile, the top two definitions of “out of your league” both suggest that the phrase only applies to when a “girl is just too hot for you.” Ironically, the earliest usage of the phrase — which is likely from the 1950 book Wait for Tomorrow by Robert Wilder — suggests that the phrase was initially said by a female character.
Today, with nearly 50 percent of Americans dating online, it’s never been easier to at least fire off an ostensibly witty message to someone who you’d consider to be out of your league. But, y’know, should we even be doing it in the first place? Probably not! “When a person becomes dependent on the feedback from others for self-evaluation they’re possibly objectifying themselves, which is quite harmful because you become overly conscious of the body and overall appearance,” says Jessica Strubel, a professor at the University of Rhode Island.
You’re also more likely to spend the rest of your life miserable and alone. Just sayin’.