Three years after the brief but iconic romance with Ariana Grande that thrust Pete Davidson into a level of limelight that had previously evaded the comedian, there are a few persistent narratives the star can’t seem to shake. One of them involves the size of his penis — it’s rumored to be quite large, in case you missed it. Another, less flattering narrative that follows Davidson paints him as a bafflingly lucky buffoon who somehow, against all odds, manages to date attractive, successful women — including, most recently, one Ms. Kim Kardashian. This is odd, considering Pete Davidson is a funny, famous person. I’m no celebrity matchmaker, but it seems to me that a funny, famous man who isn’t entirely painful to look at is probably operating with a respectable level of sexual market value.
Regardless, shock at the fact that Davidson miraculously, even infuriatingly, manages to date attractive famous women has followed the star into every post-Ariana romance that has made headlines — and they usually do. Since some highly publicized hand-holding with Kim K last week progressed to a few arguably PR-coordinated dinner dates in the city now known as Pete Davidson’s Native New York, the usual “How does Pete Davidson do it?” discourse has kicked into overdrive, with everyone seemingly puzzled or at least amused by the star’s ability to consistently date women “out of his league.”
This idea of Davidson dating women “out of his league” seems to have its origins in the Ariana Grande romance — in paparazzi snaps of Davidson looking scrubby in hoodies and T-shirts next to an adoring and always red-carpet ready Grande. To be fair, Ariana Grande is one of the most attractive, successful and talented women on the planet, so it’s not hard for pretty much any man to look like microwaved garbage when he has an actual goddess on his arm for comparison. But Davidson couldn’t catch any mercy in subsequent relationships either. In early 2019, the comedian rebounded from Grande with older woman Kate Beckinsale, once again attracting shock and jeers from a public who for some reason could not fathom why an attractive woman would want to date a funny celebrity. Last summer, a similar response greeted Davidson’s romance with Bridgerton star Phoebe Dynevor, with Baltimore magazine editor Max Weiss questioning how “these SNL dudes [are] always punching above their weight class” in a July tweet.
So what is it about Pete Davidson that makes us automatically put him in a lower “weight class” than any woman he has the gall to date? Davidson is funny, successful and famous. He’s not hard to look at, though he is, by most standards, probably less conventionally attractive than the women he dates. This would seem to be where the notion of his dating “out of his league” comes from, though unattractive men dating more attractive women is hardly unheard of. Why? Because in the heterosexual dating market, sexual value is calculated differently for men and women. For women, standards of physical attractiveness are much higher, while for men, career and financial success often carries more weight. This isn’t news, but it is, perhaps, part of the reason women are tempted to belittle men like Davidson.
For a woman who has spent her entire life laboring under oppressive standards of physical attractiveness, it can be frustrating to observe the ease and success with which men who are not held to those same standards move through society. From birth, women internalize the belief that our value is inherently linked to our ability to attract male attention, and that that ability depends largely on our appearance. To see a comparably less attractive man effortlessly attract a beautiful woman often feels like an embodiment of these unequal gender expectations.
As a woman who has occasionally been known to point out that most other women I know seem to be dating men who appear to have been raised by trolls under a bridge and only recently re-entered society, I can understand the impulse to knock men down a peg based on their appearance, especially in comparison to a woman. After generations of having our value as women determined by our ability to attract a man, it can feel subversive, empowering even, to look at a man in a relationship with another woman and say: “Actually, he ain’t shit. She could do better.”
Unfortunately, it’s not subversive or empowering, and in declaring anyone out of anyone else’s “league,” we’re still just reinforcing the same gross value judgment that reduces a human being to nothing more than a function of their perceived sexual market value. Also, the whole concept of being out of someone’s league feels like a dated relic from 2010s rom-coms, which, in fact, it is. Meanwhile, Pete Davidson, a funny, successful celebrity who seems to have an active dating life, obviously does not need me to defend his honor, but leave Pete Davidson alone anyway.