The majority of flowering plants relies on animal pollinators for sexual reproduction and many animal pollinators rely on floral resources. However, interests of plants and pollinators are often not the same, resulting in an asymmetric relationship that ranges from mutualistic to parasitic interactions. Our understanding of the processes that underlie this asymmetry remains fragmentary. In this Review, we bring together evidence from evolutionary biology, plant chemistry, biomechanics, sensory ecology and behaviour to illustrate that the degree of symmetry often depends on the perspective taken. We also highlight variation in (a)symmetry within and between plant and pollinator species as well as between geographic locations. Through taking different perspectives from the plant and pollinator sides we provide new ground for studies on the maintenance and evolution of animal pollination and on the (a)symmetry in plant–pollinator interactions. van der Kooi et al. review how plants and pollinators have co-evolved to balance their interests in the context of their interactions.