If you’re tuned into the world of celebrity romances, you have probably heard the news that Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas are engaged after a short courtship. Celebrities getting hastily engaged is neither new nor particularly exciting, but this pairing offered some fun new twists: an age difference, a tangential relationship to Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, and the perceived height difference between the two. I’ve listened to a few of my friends mourn the marriage for removing these two from the dating pool, but I’ve also seen more than a few discussions pop up around a woman marrying a shorter man.
I am just shy of six feet tall, but my hair often makes me appear 6’1.” Until my mid-twenties, I had a hard-and-fast “no one under six feet” rule. I can say that 80% of that rule was born out of an assumption that men wouldn’t be interested in someone taller than them, and that assumption can be directly traced back to puberty. I kept this rule firmly in place until I fell hard for a friend who clocked in at barely 5’7.”
At first, our height difference was an issue (for both of us), then it wasn’t (for me), then it ultimately was (for him), and became a big part of why it ended. I decided not to hold that against all short men however, because I am as benevolent and admirable as I am leggy, and also, I decided that in a world where finding someone who checks off all of your boxes is hard enough, why discount someone for something they can’t control? Since then I’ve flirted, kissed and dated a whole variety of men and women of different heights. I even went so far at one point as to share this great Esquire article by fellow tall queen, Ann Friedman, on Facebook as a sort of call to action for any short men who’d been waiting in the wings. It received little response, and I’ve since classed up to thirst trapping on Instagram like a normal person.
But the Jonas-Chopra height debate reenergized me, so I decided to email a few of my friends on both ends of the height spectrum to see how being tall (or not) has affected their love lives (or not). Most folks were very eager to talk about it, because as my friend Anna (5’10’) said, “I am fairly certain that my experience of being a tall woman — even prior to meeting/dating/marrying my shorter-than-me husband — is probably fairly representative of literally anyone who doesn’t fit any one person’s average, stereotypical picture of what a woman should look like. As soon as you don’t fit that picture, and especially if it’s in relation to a partnership or romantic situation, everyone would like to please give you their opinion instantly.”
When it comes to height and romance, I’ve personally found it hard to put the thing that I have been self-conscious about most of my life out there when I’m already in a vulnerable situation. It’s hard enough to take a step into the unknown to utter a “love me?” into the universe, but when you decide to layer on the thing that you were teased about or absorbed from pop culture as being unattractive, it can get downright terrifying. And while I support honesty in dating, “I’m an INFP who instinctively stands in the backs of photos and will fly into a blind rage if a stranger asks about basketball” feels like a bit too much for a Bumble bio.
When asked how they navigate dating apps as a tall person, most of the single women I talked to said that they lay it all out upfront. “I once went on a date with a girl who literally was 5 feet tall,” said Michelle, 5’11, “and I felt uncomfortably tall. After that, I made sure to include my height in my profile, so when people met me they weren’t terrified by the fact I was a so tall!”
(I, too, have had some variation of “tall person” in every dating profile I’ve ever had.)
“On dating apps, I am always super deliberate about posting a photo where I am standing with my shorter friends, for context,” Alisa, 5’11, told me. “In the bio sections I’ll usually name my most marked characteristics (goofy, thoughtful, kind) and include ‘tall’ right along with that. In my case, I’ve realized I am more concerned with making sure that the man is aware of my size, especially because, in addition to being tall, I am also a size 14-16, so really there’s nothing small about me.”
Middle school teasing aside, height preferences in the dating world are related to a whole host of societal pressures worth unpacking. Thanks to the patriarchy, faux-evolutionary arguments and racial bias, when it comes to romantic preferences, it’s irresponsible to simply throw our hands up in the air and say, “Well, it is what it is,” or, “I can’t help what I like.” There are serious implications below the surface.
As Ann Friedman wrote in Esquire: “Women have internalized the message that it’s better for us to be smaller. This is essential to know—it’s not just about shortness, but also skinniness. To be bigger than men is to worry that you’ll turn them off.”
For many of us, it isn’t just about height. A few of the women I asked shared a similar, imprecise equation, which factored height and width into the math of not feeling bigger. I’ve done it too; I do it too. Despite simply wanting, honest to god, someone who is funny and caring and, okay, yes, has a nice haircut, I can’t help but do a certain sexual attraction calculus around how our bodies relate to each other.
My friend Matt, 5’7”, said, “I tend to date within my height range or shorter pretty organically. I do feel that I don’t get the same attention from tall women. I also tone down the flirting with taller women because I feel like they are most likely not interested in me based on my height. I hear women talk about being attracted to taller men a lot. So I probably flirt with or pursue more women in my ‘league’ a lot more intentionally. I think if a taller woman gave me more direct/explicit attention, then I would feel more comfortable pursuing them. But then again, maybe they assume I have a height complex. And maybe we just end up missing a lot of great opportunities with great people.”
That’s exactly why, in an effort to bring as many great people my way, I’ve decided to stay open. Not just when it comes to someone’s height, but to all the arbitrary expectations we put on dating. It’s also why I’ve decided to not let bad experiences hollow out my desire to share joy with someone, or to not let the fear of being looked at funny if I find a partner that doesn’t “match” keep me from letting myself fall into something good. And for the record, Nicholas Jerry (JERRY?) Jonas is 5’7” and Priyanka Chopra is 5’5”, but best of luck on your love journey, you crazy, similarly-sized kids. I’m rooting for you.
Photos by The Hindustan Times and Mike Coppola via Getty Images.