Now the source of the phenomenon is clear. The handsomest men in your triangle, over on the far right, run the gamut of personalities, from kindest to (almost) cruelest. On average, they are about as nice as the average person in the whole population, which, let’s face it, is not that nice. And by the same token, the nicest men are only averagely handsome. The ugly guys you like, though—they make up a tiny corner of the triangle, and they are pretty darn nice. They have to be, or they wouldn’t be visible to you at all. The negative correlation between looks and personality in your dating pool is absolutely real. But the relation isn’t causal. If you try to improve your boyfriend’s complexion by training him to act mean, you’ve fallen victim to Berkson’s fallacy.
The fallacy works, too, as a driver of literary snobbery. Why are popular novels so terrible? It’s not because the masses don’t appreciate quality. It’s because the novels you read are the ones in the Acceptable Triangle, which are either popular or good. So within that group, the good ones are less likely to be popular, for the same reason the handsomer men are bigger jerks. If you force yourself to read unpopular novels chosen essentially at random—I’ve been on a jury for a literary prize, so I’ve actually done this—you find that most of them, just like the popular ones, are pretty bad. And I imagine if you dated men chosen completely at random from OkCupid, you’d find that the less attractive men were just as jerky as the chiseled hunks. But that’s an experiment I can’t recommend, not even for the sake of mathematical enlightenment.