In this world we reside, what we acquire depends on what we can acquire. In other words, if we have the money to, we can buy a house; if we have the necessary educational qualifications to, we can get a high-paying profession. I guess the idiom/phrase I'm trying to look for deals more with romantic relationship partners.

From what I have observed, it's common that people choose their partners in relationship based on their own quality, by this I mean for example, someone who's wealthy tends to prefer a partner who's also wealthy as well. Someone who's very good-looking tends to have higher standards and aim for a partner who's also good-looking as well although there are exceptions but that's generally the case from what I've observed. Unattractive individuals are more likely to have lower standards appearance-wise and favour relationship partners who are similar and not quite that good-looking, for reasons either maybe because they feel insecure that their partner might cheat on them or that they feel they're not worthy of them.

So is there an idiom/phrase that describes this idea, that describes something along the lines of:

(it is meant to be that) what you get depends on your own quality nothing more and nothing less, (if you attempt to be with someone who's way above your standards the relationship will ultimately fail).

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    Hum. So why is it that clever old ugly rich men marry buxom brainless bimbos?
    – The Frog
    Commented Feb 15, 2013 at 22:26
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    @TheFrog Yes, for sure there are exceptions.
    – Theo
    Commented Feb 15, 2013 at 23:04
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    A preacher once told me a nice sports-themed idiom that was quite popular in certain regions of the American South, to refer to a man marrying well above his station: "he out-punted his coverage". It's not an answer, but at least a logically connected counter-idiom.
    – BrianH
    Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 18:47

11 Answers 11


The first that comes to mind is

Birds of a feather flock together

This means that similar items (including people) are drawn to one another.

To say that "What you get is exactly what you deserve" you could use

You reap what you sow

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    from what I looked up, you reap what you sow refers more to one's consequences of their own actions. In my case, I think it's not necessarily one's actions but rather their quality. They get what they deserve based on their own quality.
    – Theo
    Commented Jan 29, 2013 at 19:29
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    @Theo, you are quite right. That is why I said "What you get is exactly what you deserve". It depends on what exactly you want to say.
    – terdon
    Commented Jan 29, 2013 at 19:34

While not an idiom, there is a name in social psychology given to the phenomenon you've observed. It's the matching hypothesis:

It claims that people are more likely to form and succeed in a committed relationship with someone who is equally socially desirable.


While I can't think of anything specific to relationships, there are a number of phrases that encompass the qualities of safety and caution.

  1. Find one's own level
  2. Play it safe
  3. Be on the safe side
  4. Make a safe bet
  5. Better to be safe than sorry
  6. Err on the side of caution
  7. It's best to take what one can

One might also consider a "potential candidate" out of one's league. One does not want to hit above one's weight either.

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    +1 for out of one's league. I think that's the most common. Commented Jan 29, 2013 at 23:39

"There's a lid for every pot"

Forgive this little editorial comment but I can also provide a very common expression that argues the contrary to your assumption:

"opposites attract"


My mother told me, in exactly this context, "Water seeks its own level."

This is explained here: A WordWizard blog entry

It is apparently referenced from the Random House Dictionary of America’s Popular Proverbs and Sayings.


I found these:

  1. A deaf husband and a blind wife are always a happy couple

  2. No Money, No Honey

  3. Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

  4. You get what you pay

Sorry if some of them sound offensive. Surely I am not a fan of stereotypes.


I Googled the phrase "you get what you can give" and I found two notable references:

  1. In Cher's cover of Bruce Springsteen's Tougher than the Rest she changes the line: "I've learned you get what you can get" to: "I've learned you get what you can give."

  2. You Get What You Give is the title of a 1999 song by the New Radicals.

So the phrase may not be quite idiomatic, but it's got some hefty pop-cultural precedents.


Some sporting phrases are used for when partners are mismatched:

  • "Punching above your weight" (ref, 2)
  • "Batting above your average" (ref)

You can simply negate these phrases.


In terms of interpersonal relationships, I have heard

Lie (or *lay) down with the dogs, wake up with the fleas.

A plowman on his legs is higher than a gentleman on his knees.

Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half shut afterward.

Nothing brings more pain than too much pleasure; nothing more bondage than too much liberty.

Poor Richard by Benjamin Franklin is the most credible reference of these phrases.

This is similar to "you reap what you sow" in regards to accepting that all actions have consequences, not necessarily bad consequences, but a scientist might add that

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.


Here are some phrases that at least superficially appear to fit your meaning, and might be at home in a discussion about the rightful rewards of life, including where relationships are concerned.

You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear meaning you can't make something fine out of inferior material. (multiple sources)

As you sow so shall you reap various versions of the Bible, Epistle to the Galatians, 6:7 This statement allows for personal achievement (in the eyes of God), rather than one's station at birth, to define one's rewards or lack thereof.

This leads to mysticism, which is often highly regarded where relationships are concerned:

Like attracts Like, the basic principle of the First Law of Karma. There is a lot of metaphysical mumbo jumbo associated with this one, way beyond its literal meaning, but if you say "That's karma. Like attracts like." with a straight face, you will sound authoritative and cooler than cool.


Don't get ideas above your station

From Macmillan:

Above your station

higher than is suitable for your position or rank

She’s getting ideas above her station even by thinking of marrying him.

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