Happy New Year, Awkwardtown! I apologize to RSS readers- this post prematurely went up before I was done with it. I’ll be letting comments through again shortly.
This week marks the 1 year anniversary of this blog (January 4th!), and to, uh, celebrate this milestone I will be posting a ton and gently directing readers toward the Donation Page all week as part of a twice-yearly pledge drive (in lieu of running ads). If you enjoy yourself here and can spare a few $, I appreciate them and put them to good use.
If you can’t contribute financially, I completely understand and hope it doesn’t make things weird between us. The readers and commenters contribute so much to the community here. I didn’t know back when I started this thing that I was, you know, starting A Thing, with Jedi Hugs and FEELINGSBOMBS and African Violets. Thanks to you we have one of the best commentspaces on the Internet, and letter writers can always depend on you to support them and help them out.
On to today’s question, which is about how you seek a romantic relationship when you are insecure about some aspects of yourself.
Dear Captain Awkward,
I really enjoy your blog and the comments. I found my way here after reading this series on depression: That made me realize how depressed I’ve been, and around my birthday a few months ago I decided to do something about it. Part of my problem is I haven’t been in a relationship in many years. So I signed up for some online dating, but it’s been tough. Once I found your blog I took a couple weeks to read through your old questions, some of them were very relevant to my issues.
http://captainawkward.com/2011/08/22/guest-post-how-do-i-stop-letting-my-terrible-self-esteem-sabotage-my-relationships-reader-question-99/ (comment: “Sure, they notice if you are sloppy, or not practicing basic hygiene and grooming…”)
http://captainawkward.com/2011/06/28/reader-question-67-my-wonderful-boyfriend-has-horrible-hygiene-and-a-disgusting-house-how-do-i-talk-to-him-about-it/ (one comment stuck out: “Poor dental hygiene to me is a total, permanent deal-breaker.”)
About me: I’m a hetero male, nearing 40 years old. Mentally and socially I’m a mess, but I’d go way over 500 words if I tried to describe it all. Physically I’m about 80% happy with myself. I’m tall, not overweight, somewhat fit but not too obsessed about it, full head of hair (graying but that’s OK), and…horrible teeth. It’s embarrassing to talk about, but these last few months of trying online dating have kind of broken through my shyness. Years of neglect while playing video games and being lazy have screwed me up.
I hate myself for letting it get like this, because now I feel as if I’m not able to get a date. Most women want a confident man that is a good kisser, and I am neither of those. Bad breath, missing teeth, discolored smile, and never had many girlfriends when I was young, so don’t have much kissing skill. I am rather self-conscious about it, but I don’t have insurance and can’t afford to get any work done right now. Meeting women is hard because when (if) they flash a big smile (with their nice teeth) at me I just can’t do a big, natural smile back at them. I just *know* they’ll notice how bad things are and be turned off. It looks bad in pictures, too.
Reading through question 99 again…so maybe looks don’t matter and it’s mostly in my head. What about kissing, is that not important in an intimate relationship? Is this a deal-breaker to most people, or is it mostly just my lack of self-confidence that’s an issue?
Embarrassed to Smile
I did say all that stuff, so, sorry: Your teeth might be a dealbreaker for me in feeling attracted to you. But in faux-comforting news, the dealbreaker might be something else entirely!
My fat body is a dealbreaker for many people. They will not be attracted to me because how I look. No matter how
cool dorky cool I am, no matter how much fun they might have talking to me, no matter how much I might check off every single item on their dream girl checklist, it’s a nonstarter. Or it might be something else, like how I always think of the worst possible thing to say for any occasion and many times my filter does not catch these things before I say them out loud.
We talk a lot about “Rules of Dating” here, but let me throw some big ideas out there about attraction, fairness, and what people “deserve” in dating:
1. Everyone has issues.
Everyone has something about themselves that might be a dealbreaker for someone else in becoming attracted to them. Everyone is self-conscious about something. To be human is to be imperfect. I don’t believe that you must smooth all your imperfections (or what society perceives as imperfections) away to become a thin, (straight, white), wealthy, positive! blindingly-teethed Chris Traeger-bot before you deserve to put yourself out there, meet people, and try to find love. The truth is, even if your teeth were great and your life were somehow perfect, you’d still have issues about something, and if you didn’t personally feel that you did, the culture would try to make you have them. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something. “No one will love you if you don’t fix yourself” is a *great* way to sell things. It is *the* way to get us to lie down in Procrustes’s magic bed of our own free will.
2. You get to reject people (and they get to reject you) as dating partners for any reason at any time.
You don’t have to be fair. You don’t have to give anyone a chance. If you’re talking yourself into feeling it for someone, that’s a sign that you are NOT actually feeling it. Which also means people get to make snap judgments about you and decide, “Nope,” and there is no way you can “deserve” attention or affection from a specific person. That’s why I advocate for asking people out sooner rather than later and without a sense of entitlement or getting too invested. You are going to not going to connect with many people. Rejection/lack of connection is the default setting. It feels different to be passed over by a stranger than it is to be turned down by someone you’ve been pining for after you’ve made a grand gesture. You’re giving the person in the second (overly-invested) scenario WAY too much power over your happiness and forgetting that they get to make a snap judgment.
I used to go on a lot of dates with strangers. That’s how I ended up here. Now that I’m older, I embrace the pickiness. I have limited time and energy to spend on someone I’m pretty sure I won’t click with. For example:
I once met a guy who had seven cats. “That’s too many cats,” I thought. No second date.
Smokers? I’m asthmatic, and even the residue/smell on clothes triggers my wheezing. We are works in progress, so maybe a year from now you’ll be an ex-smoker and I totally missed my shot with a great guy. Whatevs! (Update as of 10/2012: Currently dating a considerate smoker who never smokes around me. Never say never!)
Want to tell me about how you love Ron Paul or your favorite book is Atlas Shrugged? Sorry, my vagina just sewed itself shut. You shall not pass.
Your profile lists 10,000 supercool books, bands, and movies and all of it was made by white men? Bored now.
You live in a place not reachable by public transit? How can we date, since I am never going there?
But 1,000s of guys are looking at my profile and thinking, “fat AND broke AND kinda sarcastic and mean? No way, Jose.” Some of those take time out of their busy lives of ”watching the Cubbies with my bros!” and “just trying to living life to the fullest” to call me names and remind me that I shouldn’t get to be picky or “judgmental” about men when I am such a fatty-fat-fatty (manatee, cow, pig, whale, she-beast, etc.) They feel “tricked” into “wasting time” looking at my profile.
What they don’t understand…I mean, one of the many, many, MANY things they don’t understand…is that I think that they get to be picky, and that I also get to be picky. I 100% defend their right NOT to date me or even spend a single second thinking about me. I’m not everyone’s cup of tea – I don’t want to be. For a handful of people I will be just what they want, and they will be just what I want, and who cares about the rest?
What we should also understand, in the name of complete honesty: If you scrape the surface, many dealbreakers stink of sexism, size-ism, classism, able-ism, and racism. As a straight white woman, I get more messages from suitors than others might. I personally privilege men who have a strong command of language, spelling, and grammar, which means I may be passing on some great people who suffer from dyslexia or who didn’t have the same educational opportunities I did. The guys who call me names are under the sexist impression that women are supposed to be ornamental in a certain way, and if we’re not we are completely worthless. Someone who rejects your bad teeth is rejecting your history of depression and the resulting poverty or lack of self-care. This is problematic, but on the micro-level, what are you going to say to someone who rejects you for an “unfair” reason? You can’t argue someone into liking you when they don’t. In fact, someone who tries to argue me into liking him has inadvertently discovered one of my dealbreakers.
So let’s talk about that lack of confidence. Everyone talks about having confidence in dating. “You gotta have confidence. People like confidence.“
It feels like a trap. I mean, how do you get or fake confidence about the very stuff you’re not confident about? Maybe think of it as less about having or faking confidence and more about not projecting your insecurities all over other people in an icky way. Like, maybe you have tons of uncomfortable emotions about your teeth, but you know how to take care of yourself around them and not make them other people’s problem (especially when you are meeting and early-stages-of-dating new people). The way I see it, people might find my fat body unattractive, but they will find me unattractive if I make it a giant issue of it and blame it for everything that is wrong. “You probably won’t like me!” “I bet you’ll reject me!” “I will try to be extra self-effacing so I become worthy of your attention!“ is not a good cologne.
So when I take this fat ass out on a date, I drive it like I fucking stole it. I make zero apologies for it. The world is full of people who will tell me I have the wrong kind of body and tell me I should hate myself for it, why should I help them with their work? I relax, I tell myself “Self, you can have a conversation with anyone for one hour and make anyone feel cool and paid-attention-to.” I try to get to know the other person, I try to figure out whether I even like him, I check in with myself to ask “Self, are you having a good time on this date?” I ask “Can this person keep up with us? Is he as cool as Commander Logic?” I save the problem of how much or whether he likes me for later. It’s not my problem, because it’s totally out of my hands. If he likes me That Way and I like him That Way, too? Dumb, awesome luck, and the exception rather than the rule. If I sat there the whole night worried about my fatness? The guy would not like me at least partly because I would be a bad date for wallowing in my insecurities instead of connecting with him.
So you’ve done some hard work at pulling yourself out of depression and getting your life together, and you’re ready to meet people. While I do want you to take care of your teeth to the extent that you can now (floss, brush, use a tongue-scraper, mints, mouthwash) and seek professional care as soon as you can, I vote that you take those mossy Shane McGowan teeth of yours out on the town. Take a page from his book (the one that is inscribed “I do not give a fuck. Love, Shane McGowan”) and meet some ladies. Some ladies may not want to kiss you, but you can’t really know which ones in advance or control it. You might as well try smiling when you feel like smiling and generally not giving a fuck.
Happy New Year! Give less of a fuck!
Thanks in advance for any kind support you can offer.