Don't judge a book by its cover

rén bù kě mào xiàng, hǎi shuǐ bù kě dǒu liáng

The discussion in the previous chapters revolved around the traits that people desire the most in a mate. Given the importance of sex in the whole question of partner selection, empha­sis was laid on physical aspects. Yet as most couples or parents know, relationship is not only about carnal knowledge. Since love marriage[1],[2] is increasingly common in many parts of the world, the rules of engagement in the mating game are now much diffe­rent than in the past. For many men, youth and physical attractiveness are not enough any­more. Inner beauty, which includes psychological factors such as kindness, compassion, elegance, cour­tesy, intel­li­gence, wittiness, honesty, etc. have become much more important. Admit­tedly, the proverb mentioned here may appear inappropriate in a context of love and partner selec­tion, but considering its essence (namely, that “appearance is deceiving” or that one should not prejudge the worth of something or someone by its outward appearance alone), it reminds us that (physical) beauty should not be equated with virtue and that it does not gua­ran­tee happiness in marriage, at least not in the long term.[3],[4]

Various works and philosophers across the centuries uttered similar words of advice, albeit in different terms:

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting

Torah, Bible – Old Testament (New International Version), Proverbs 31:30

Beauty is indeed a good gift of God; but that the good may not think it a great good, God dispenses it even to the wicked.

Saint Augustine, City of God

Beauty pleases the eyes only;

Sweetness of disposition charms the soul.[5]


One sees clearly only with the heart;

What is essential is invisible to the eye.[6]

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince


One of the most obvious reasons why men (and also women) should not choose their part­ner based on physical aspects only, is that beauty, more often than not, fades away with age. That means that after a few years into the relationship, the aesthetic or reproductive value of the spouse will gradually decline anyway.[7] In addition, physical chemistry itself is rather short-lived.[8] After a few rounds of fleshly pleasures, the attraction quickly vanishes if it is not supplemented with chemistry in the mind, heart, and soul. Only if physical affinity origin­ates in and is nurtured by emotional, intellectual or spiritual chemistry can it last or grow in time. When a man senses sexual chemistry with a woman, he feels interested in her, he likes her, he thinks he knows her… This may lead him into believing that he loves her. However, as relationship counsellor John Gray remarks, “the real test is whether he still likes and loves her after he gets to know her.” [9],[10]



[1] Love marriage refers to the union of two people based on mutual love, or else attraction, fondness, commitment, etc. It is opposed to the phenomenon of forced or arranged marriages, where one or both families fix up the matri­mony for the individuals involved. The term has only limited distinct meaning in Western societies, where love is commonly considered as a prerequisite for marriage. This may not be the case in South Asia and the Middle East, which have strong traditional arranged marriage systems. However, it shall be noted that even in the West, love mar­riage is a relatively young concept. So is the thought that affection, rather than duty (defined by wealth or social sta­tus) should be at the base of a shared life, which was first expressed in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s 1761 novel Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse. It was not until the emergence of the feminist movement at the beginning of the 20th century that this new way of choosing one’s spouse finally became standard. (Source:

[2]    See chapter 10 “A melon forced off its vine is not sweet”.

[3]    See chapter 34 “Marriage is the tomb of love”.

[4]   The proverb is a quote from the novel Journey to the West (西游记, xī yóu jì, chapter 62) by Ming dynasty poet Wú Chéng’ēn’s (吴承恩). Widely known as Monkey in English-speaking countries (after Arthur Waley’s popular abridged translation), the work is one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature (see also chapter 1 “Men are like mud, women are like water”).

[5]    Original: “La beauté plait aux yeux, la douceur charme l’âme.”

[6]    Original: “On ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.”

[7]    See chapter 5 “Old cows like tender grass”.

[8]    See chapter 11 “A lover’s eye only sees his love’s beauty”.

[9]    Gray (2009), pp. 17-18

[10]  See chapters 3 “Men like, women love” and 11 “A lover’s eye only sees his love’s beauty”.

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