#367 & #368 Am I too ugly to date?

Two letters from people who feel ugly are below the jump.

(#367 ) Dear Captain Awkward:

I’ve never had much of a social life and I’ve had exactly one serious relationship ever (I’m in my late 20s now). That ended because, after more than a year, she decided she wasn’t attracted to me and we weren’t “soulmates” and she saw me as more of a friend. So that sucked but I’m pretty much over it now. I’ve been trying to meet people with a dating website and I’ve been on a few dates but there was never any chemistry, it always fizzled out after one or two dates.

But I met someone via the site earlier this year and I thought things were going well, we went on a few dates then I got The Fade Away. I thought it was too early to tell whether we really had potential as a couple but I thought we were having a good time, and it seems like the other person just suddenly did a 180. My last e-mail, in reply to her canceling plans we’d made, said basically “that’s OK! E-mail me if you want to get together some time.” And since then, there’s been nothing from her so I think that’s a pretty clear rejection.

I’m not really bothered by this one incident – people change their mind, that’s fine – but it’s starting to bother me that there might be something wrong with me, that I’m never going to meet someone where I want to be with them and they want to be with me.

The only people who ever show interest in me are people I’m not attracted to at all. Like guys way older than I am. On the one hand, they probably do that to lots of people and it probably doesn’t mean anything about me in particular. But on the other hand, it makes me worry that they think it’s a good idea to hit on me because I must be desperate. I try to be outgoing and friendly towards everybody – because it’s against my introvert nature and I’m making an effort to be more socially acceptable – and I think that also encourages these guys.

I’ve always been introverted and I was recently diagnosed with social anxiety. That diagnosis makes sense to me; I’m fine interacting with people at school or work and I’m OK at public speaking, it doesn’t really bother me. But I get a lot of anxiety about social situations like parties. I also have depression that’s being managed pretty well. So I’m working on those issues in therapy.

I think I have a fair bit going for me: I have my own money, I had a good job and I’ve gone back to school now so I can get a better one, I think I’m pretty laid-back and good at communicating and listening, I have some interesting hobbies and I pay attention to current events and pop culture. I’m very book-smart, which can be a pro or a con depending on the other person but I’m not interested in trying to date someone who’s turned off by intelligence anyway. I seem to have some Asperger’s-y traits, though my therapist said I don’t have Asperger’s, I know I can get intense about subjects that interest me but I’m really trying to curb that. I’m in a STEM field and people show interest in my work but I wonder if they’re just being polite and they really think I’m too nerdy.

Appearance-wise, I have acne that’s not much better than it was when I was a teenager (I’ve been to so many dermatologists, I feel like I’ve tried absolutely everything except Acutane, which I’m not going to try because it has awful, permanent side effects). And I’m kind of not fat but not thin either. I work out and I’m pretty fit, I can carry heavy things!, but that doesn’t result in me being fashionably thin. And I think I just have boring, not-very-attractive facial features. I try to wear nice clothes, I brush my teeth and hair and all that, and I wear concealer and mascara (the concealer hides the acne but makes it get worse, so I avoid wearing makeup as often as I think I can get away with it) but I feel like people see that and think “who does she think she’s fooling?”

I don’t think I look especially bad, not that much worse than average, but I can look at pictures of attractive people and I can see what features society labels as “attractive” and see that I don’t have them. And knowing that the ones in magazines are all Photoshopped doesn’t help, it doesn’t change the fact that everybody is looking at those fake photos and thinking “this is what attractive looks like,” even though nobody can look like that in real life.

I’m not hoping for a partner who’s out of my league or anything. But it worries me that the only people who’ve shown interest in me are borderline-creepy older men (even some who know I’m gay…) and a couple of women with serious emotional issues where what they look like doesn’t even enter into it: I wouldn’t go out with them whatever they looked like because I don’t need all their drama.

I’m beginning to think I’m doomed to be Forever Alone because all the interesting, nice people I’d be attracted to can get partners who are better looking than I am. Help?


What If The Ugly Duckling Is Actually Just An Ugly Duck?

(#368) Hi Captain!

I’m another boring old Really Insecure Dude. But hopefully it’s different enough to be a little bit interesting? No? Well, it’s still worth a shot.

I’m a straight, young-ish guy who is pretty much completely inexperienced, and the problem is that I’m ugly. You can talk about different strokes, different people like different things, but the fact is that by any sort of conventional standard and to virtually every woman, I’m profoundly unhandsome. Just extremely unattractive and ugly, and so things are kind of tough for me. Now, I don’t blame women for not being interested… I wouldn’t be either, if I were one. But it’s still hard. Beyond my appearance, I think I’m kind of an interesting person, and I have some hobbies that bring me some happiness, and that I like to share with other people. And I don’t consider myself socially inept. So on a superficial level, you’d think that I could just follow all the advice that’s been given here and elsewhere, and accept that my success rate is simply going to be lower. But I don’t think it really works that way.

See, the problem is that a lot of advice seems to be aimed at average-looking folks, guys and girls who already have some baseline “sexual market value”, and so there’s this unspoken assumption that they have something to offer right out of the gate, to people who don’t know them that well as individuals. Since I don’t have that, in my particular case, it all seems very… presumptuous, I guess. As an unhandsome man, I’m obviously going to have to do the approaching, but who am I to impose myself when I have nothing to offer? I wouldn’t be interested in ugly Stranger Me, or even Casual Friend Me, so why the hell am I presuming to ask her? If we’re in different leagues, and everyone and their mother can tell, I feel like it all becomes awkward and creepy, almost as if I feel entitled to waste someone’s time. And since I consider most women to be out of my league, definitely women that I’m attracted to, this poses a problem.

So my question is, do you have any dating advice specifically tailored to people who are conventionally unattractive? How should we go about this?

– Wishes He Was Normal

Dear Ugly Duckling (#367) and Wishes He Was Normal (#368):

Here is a picture of me from earlier this winter. It was featured prominently in my dating profile when I had a dating profile:

Singing Nothing Compares 2U at Rory Lake's Karaoke Dreams
NoTHING compares…2U

A few years ago I might have thought that was a terrible picture of me, but after reading a lot of Shapely Prose  and other body acceptance blogs and books, I think it might be a GREAT picture. I was happy when it was taken. I was fucking killing that song. I was not thinking about how I looked or anything besides killing that song.

I share it with you guys today so you know that I’m not writing this advice from Mount Jolie-Pitt of Hollywood Beauty Standards.

So, all the dating advice (including the dating advice for “ugly” people) is here:


Check this one out, especially:


(This had a very happy ending!)

And also this:


There is some really good advice in there from General Expression, especially about breaking the habit of negative self-talk.

The truth is that some people will meet you and immediately think, “No. No way.”

Some of that might be about how you look. Some of that might be because of your personality. Some of that may be because they are already involved with someone, you are not of their preferred gender, you’re a vegan and they love meat, they don’t like the color of your socks or the cut of your jib, they’re really absorbed in their book. Whatever.

The truth is, you’re also going to look at a lot of people and think “No. Not for me.” So it would be a bad idea to set up everyone in the human race that you’re not currently dating as People Who Have Pre-emptively Rejected You Because You Are Not Good Looking Enough. That’s a lot to carry around.

Attraction is unfair and subjective. This is not a bug, it’s a feature. You get to be picky. They get to be picky. When you do connect, it’s awesome, because two picky people picked each other.

I almost never get approached in public by anyone I actually want to be talking to. It’s mostly just bored shitheads who see me as a way to pass the time on their boring public transit rides. Does that mean there is something wrong with me? I have almost never in my life approached someone in public for reasons of maybe we should date. Because that’s not my jam. But online dating turned out to really be my venue. I am awesome in writing. I could put up many pictures of myself and let people make whatever decisions they wanted about them from a distance. If people passed me up, FINE and GOOD. Plenty of people decided that I seemed neat and wrote to me or responded favorably when I wrote to them.

#367, you seem to have the assumption that because no one cool is approaching you, something is wrong. You’re doing all the right stuff by making an online dating profile and seem to have a great attitude. Maybe you’re just in a slump. Maybe you need to write to more people. Maybe some more people will also write to you. Some of them might be neat.

#368, you seem to have the assumption that you must approach people. Maybe make an online dating profile and see what happens. Write to some people. See who writes to you. Maybe bars/public spaces aren’t your venue. Maybe let go of the idea of leagues. Definitely, if you see a site that talks about people’s “sexual market value” like that’s an actual thing, close the site and maybe close your whole browser and delete it from your internet history. And definitely don’t talk about your “success rate” like that’s a thing.

What I can tell both of you is that you only get one body and one face, and you only get one life, and the most helpful thing you can do for yourselves is to learn to drive these miraculous vehicles like you stole them. If you approach people as if you have something to apologize for for merely existing with this body and that face, you are bringing a bunch of weird baggage into the interaction and making the other person do a lot of extra work to actually get to know you. You can’t be mad if they decide not to sign up to do that work within 5 seconds of meeting you.

You could do a lot worse than trying out what frequent & beloved commenter PomperaFirpa describes as Finding & Displaying The Awesome:

1. Find things to do that make you feel awesome and that you’re awesome at.
2. Go to spaces where you can do those awesome things.
3. Meet some people who share your awesome (or admire your awesome).
4. Don’t worry about “approaching” them for dating purposes like you’re plotting the D-day invasion. Just work on having cool conversations and working on your social skills in general. When and if you feel a spark with someone, pursue it, but don’t treat it like a failed outing if you don’t find anyone with whom you spark.
5. Also try out online dating. You can take a break from that whenever you like.
6. Give it some time.

To that I’d add a big general: What if you aren’t going to find a dating partner right now? What else will you do with your time to make sure you have an awesome life? Maybe do that stuff for a while and circle back to dating another time when you’re feeling it.

Because you can’t make someone like you. There is no amount of cool or suave or good-looking you can be, no magic words or lines, that will make someone be into you if they are not. So you kind of have to let that whole thing go. Liking yourself, including the way you look, is a habit. Some of us learn it way late in life, but you can learn it.

The people in movies and in magazines are deliberately chosen/designed to make you aspire to be like them. They are caught like flies in amber, at these specific moments in time, with clothes expertly tailored to fit them and expertly applied makeup. The ideal is actually extremely narrow and boring, if you think about it. They try to make you think that skinny able-bodied cis-gendered white people within a certain age range are the only people, or at least the only people worth being. And the creators make it seem like you are a failure if you don’t look like them instead of seeing themselves as boring and crappy for not including people who look like everybody. This fear or need they create in us is very useful in making us buy stuff, but is not useful to us really at all. So if those magazines make you feel bad, stop buying them. One thing that helped me a lot in having more self-acceptance was to look at a lot of images of happy people who looked more like me.

You don’t have to have a perfect face for your face to eventually be someone else’s very favorite face. I promise, promise, promise this is true.

214 thoughts on “#367 & #368 Am I too ugly to date?

  1. LWs, here is a lovely quote from Doctor Who, in which a woman discusses her husband with her future self?

    Amy’s Future Self: All those boys chasing me, but it was only ever Rory. Why was that?

    Amy: You know when sometimes you meet someone so beautiful and then you actually talk to them and five minutes later they’re as dull as a brick? Then there’s other people, when you meet them you think, “Not bad. They’re okay.” And then you get to know them and… and their face just sort of becomes them. Like their personality’s written all over it. And they just turn into something so beautiful.

    Both: Rory’s the most beautiful man I’ve ever met.

    Many of the people I’ve loved have not been “conventionally attractive” – and I would like to point out that “conventionally attractive” simply means “easy to sell products with” – but they all have been Beautiful, in the sense that they had a universe behind their eyes. It sounds like both of you do, and I wish you the best of luck.



    I shall now respectfully add a Woobly Crush to the Intellectual Crush that I already had on you. YOU ARE TOO LOVELY FOR THIS EARTH.

    1. Awwww yes, best quote. That was a great episode where my like/dislike ratio of the Ponds tipped into permanent like territory. It’s kind of true, too. In bad relationships, I tend to fantasize about being with other people; not just in a sexy-time kind of way. When I’m happy, I can be attracted to other people but not have those ‘other life’ fantasies. Online dating helped boost my confidence, and then I was able to date people in RL!

    2. That quote made me cry when I watch it the first time and even just reading it I’m tearing up. And it’s the truth. I have met some truly ugly people who could be models, and amazingly beautiful people who you wouldn’t look twice at so as not to be rude.

    3. THIS.

      I have also loved people who would be considered less conventionally attractive than I am. But I found them all attractive, sexy, beautiful. Because once you love someone, you can’t just look at them objectively anymore. Their face is connected to all the warm feelings you have about them, of course it is gorgeous. And even before love comes into the picture– there are ways of being attractive that don’t necessarily show up in a photo. How someone carries themselves, their cute laugh, the way they hold your hand or make eye contact… all of those things can be attractive.

      Don’t assume you have nothing to offer. If you have friends, that clearly isn’t true. Ask them what they like about you, and if you’re comfortable doing it ask them to help you brainstorm ways to show off those qualities on a date.

      1. My other half constantly says that he’s punching well above is weight with me, and other people have asked why I’m with someone who’s not as good looking as me. I don’t see this, but I don’t care about his face.

        You both have things to offer, and it’s not up to society to decide who’s pretty and who’s not. Personality is far more important to most people 🙂

        And I love the Dr Who quote 😀

      2. This is wise!

        Almost everyone I’ve ever fallen for has made no impact on me until we started having proper conversations, and Actual Fun together. Whether they were new people or folks I’d known for years, it wasn’t til we spent enough time together for chemistry to happen, that the mythical pants-feelings came into play. I have found myself indifferent to so many handsome men because they didn’t do anything that interested me.

        I like a guy at the moment and he has bad teeth. He knows it, but smiles and laughs a lot anyway (big, head-thrown-back belly laughs), and he makes me cry laughing, and has oodles of knowledge and opinions that make him an amazing conversationalist, and he has sexy tats all over his body, and gives the best hugs. On paper I would not describe him as handsome but I can’t stop thinking about him. I never had feelings for him til we went out one night as friends and I realised how amazingly fun and alive he is. I’ve since turned down dates with other, more conventionally attractive dudes because they just don’t have what he has. And now I would be privately sad if he went and got his teeth fixed cos then he’d look less like the person I have accidentally found myself hooked on.

        It’s not all about looks. Pursue the things you like doing, be knowledgeable about the things that interest you, seize life with both hands and be the best real version of yourself you can be. People will notice.

    4. Naww, I just watched that episode again yesterday, then ran to my husband and flung my arms around him, saying ‘you’re my Rory’. Thankfully, as a fellow Whovian, he understood my crazy 😀

  2. What made me feel good about the way I look was… Well, it took several years of hard work, actually. Two of the critical factors for me were Tumblr and living alone. When I started living alone, I could walk around naked as often and for as long as I wanted. I could wear anything at all, with no one to breathe a word about how it looked. In my apartment I was the sole arbiter of whether my big fat ass was hideous or sexy as hell. I chose the latter, and gradually some of that started to rub off on when I was out among people.

    As for Tumblr, how do I put it delicately? I got in with a community of people who are mostly filthy perverts. I mean this in the best way possible. On Tumblr everything and everyone can be sexy, awesome and fabulous. I’m a Tumblrite, which means by definition I am sexy, awesome and fabulous. Now all I have to do is iron out some lingering personality flaws and get a new job, and I will be imminently dateable.

    1. Finding a community of pervy people who think people who look like you are hot is like, the best thing. I have done a similar thing with a story website where there are threads devoted to pictures of ladies who look like me! And then people saying really nice things about them! It is the best ever use of sexual objectification.

    2. Tumblr is pretty awesome. I’m not on Tumblr, but I read a bunch of fatshion blogs on there. Regularly seeing pictures of real people with real bodies makes such a difference.

  3. LW’s, I started dating people who I was VERY physically attracted to, yet the relationships fizzled out because there was no chemistry. I also dated people who didn’t really turn my crank physically at first, but we really clicked and then OH MY GOD THE CRANK IT IS SPINNING.

    I have yet to see anyone who is truly ugly. No, really. (I doubt you are truly ugly, LW2.) You are attractive to other people who will find your face/eyes/hands/body type/walk/smile or something very attractive. And then when there is chemistry on both sides, you become even more attractive to the person whom your dating and who’s into you.

  4. LWs, let go of the idea of leagues. It is stupid and it will block you from having good things. I met my current partner four years ago. You know what I thought when I met him? “Wow, he’s really attractive and interesting and nice, totally out of my league, no point in making my interest known.” You know what he thought? That *I* was out of *his* league and there was no point in making his interest known. It took THREE YEARS for either of us to say anything. Three years of sharing a house as friends, of seeing each other every day, three years of secret crushing to say a damn thing because we both thought the other one was out of our league. Leagues are dumb. It’s not a real thing.

    Attraction doesn’t work in the way you two seem to think it does. You know all those cliches about how the most attractive thing about someone is their personality? It’s actually true. I had an instant attraction to my partner when we met (meaning I thought “oh, he’s cute”) but I found him much more attractive when I got to know him. The way he holds his body, the way he speaks, etc etc all those cliched things are true, and better than someone’s physical appearance in a photograph.

    Stop relating to your body in terms of the thing that everyone sees first. Your body is not an object or an ornament, it is an *instrument* for you to be part of the world. Use it like an instrument. It is your vehicle, it is not you. The way you use it will show people you, and people will like you, because you both sound nice. Your body is your instrument for exploring the world. Go, explore, meet people, don’t ignore opportunities or feelings because you think there is something wrong with your physical body. Because, goddamn it, your physical body is made up of both how it looks and how you use it. And I promise, what’s attractive – real, relationship long sustainable pantsfeelings attractive, comes from how you use your body.

    1. I agree with avoiding thinking in leagues for most purposes. Not to say it does not exist at all, but the only cases where it matters particularly much is 1. among people you probably hate anyway, 2. in high school (see previous) and 3. for public figures.

  5. One of my favorite boyfriends was fairly unattractive (acne and all) while I probably would have been considered “pretty” back then. AND he was smart and funny and treated me like a princess. Our relationship ended only because I left for college. Life is an adventure with ups just as surely as there are downs. Certainly there are ups coming your way LW’s!

  6. Just to give some encouragement to the person with skin problems, as someone who has been through two courses of Accutane AND every other prescription for breakouts and knows just how painful intractable acne can be. My heart absolutely goes out to you.

    First, about the drug: Yes, some of the side effects are pretty awful, although most of them go away. My lips never really recovered but the joint pain disappeared. Recent research has shown that the drug is not linked to depression or suicide and in some cases eases depression. I was depressed prior to taking it and still am today, so your mileage may vary. There is also a different way of taking it now: you take a much lower dosage, basically every day for as long as you want clear skin. It’s maintenance, not a cure, but the side effects are much less severe, if you experience them at all. The larger doses that you only take for several months CAN very nearly cure someone with severe acne, although it doesn’t happen all the time – it didn’t for me. But it improved things substantially to the point where I look at my reflection with much higher esteem.

    I completely understand being afraid of the drug, though. There still may be other things you can do that you haven’t tried. For myself, I maintain things with a fairly time consuming regimen of Paula’s Choice skin care products (her website is an incredible information resource, too), completely halting consumption of dairy products, and working on reducing/eliminating other things that, I have read anecdotally, can worsen skin problems, like gluten and carbs.

    If you’re anything like me you feel like you’ve tried everything and it can just be so tiresome. I just wanted you to know that pharmaceutical and skin care technology, not to mention advances in our understanding of how nutrition affects the skin, is improving all the time and that maybe there’s still something out there that can help you on this point.

      1. Third! Paula’s Choice is great. I took Accutane in the early 80’s and it DID clear up my acne (those horrible, painful cysts on my face and back!). I only remember dry lips as a side effect. At the time (at 19) I would have given up a lot for clear skin.

      2. I was just wondering if that website would be relevant for rosacea – thanks for answering my question! 🙂

  7. Letter Writers, when I met my partner he was not my type. He was, however, warm and funny and self-confident, and smart as a whip. When we first started going out, I thought my not being instantly attracted to him might become a problem down the line, but it never did, because …well, he’s warm and funny and self-confident and smart as a whip and that is SEXY. I think the Captain summed it up perfectly when she talked about your face being someone’s favorite face. You don’t need your face to appeal to the masses, so much as you need your whole self to be appealing to people – friend people, potential date people, potential dates who don’t pan out and become friend people, people on the bus, purple people eaters, the works.

  8. I had the kind of terrible acne that not even Accutane (and man, were those some fun side effects) really made a difference for. I finally stumbled on something that worked–I found a medical spa and started getting maintenance facials every three weeks. This isn’t the frou-frou kind of beauty treatment, this is the trained esthetician doing serious extractions and using exfoliation and heat pulses. The results are really amazing. It was well worth it to pay cash (about $70-120 a time) than the years and years of antibiotics, and concealer (I also can’t wear any kind of makeup, no matter how much it promises not to cause breakouts). This was really for my peace of mind and comfort–those big pimples really hurt!

    1. As a 30-something lady still battling fierce acne, I’d really like to try this option. What should I be looking for when seeking out this kind of treatment? Does it go by a certain name? Thanks!

      1. Just google a medical spa or a medical esthetician and make an appointment for a consultation. They’ll help you figure out what combination of maybe light micro-dermabrasion, chemical peels, moisturizers and extraction will work best. I found out that my obsession with drying out oily skin made things much worse, and that regular exfoliation prevented breakouts weeks in advance. Once I discovered this, I really resented the dermatologist I’d seen for years (no-nonsense guy, made me feel bad to complain about acne when he would go work in Africa with lepers).

        1. Ugh, no one in a medical field should be making you feel bad about asking for help. I work in post-disaster aid myself and yeah, I deal with people whose lives seriously SUCK now, but I also deal with people who seem on the surface like they shouldn’t have many problems – but that doesn’t mean they don’t. We’ve actually learned to just not believe anyone who says they don’t have it that bad because we hear that from people who’ve had this idea pushed on them their whole lives that other people have it worse so they’ll say that even when they are in an objectively fucked up situation. “Someone has it worse” is never a good reason not to complain (though complaining TO someone who has much worse problems when it’s not their job to deal with yours might be a bit insensitive), because if that were true, there would only be one person in the whole world who was allowed to complain, and it would probably be someone who wasn’t even physically able to or something.

          alfjlsajlfkasjlkajsf that was slightly incoherent lol. I’ve had a very long day at work and I feel kind of strongly about this as you can tell! tl;dr YOU’RE ALLOWED TO COMPLAIN EVEN IF YOU THINK YOUR PROBLEM IS SMALL.

          (Also as an illustration, my two favourite examples: one nice elderly lady who told me, “Oh, my house isn’t too badly damaged, they’ve propped up the kitchen wall now so it won’t fall down.” and an application form I processed that had in the section for describing any repairs that have been done, “piece of black plastic placed over hole in wall so the rain won’t get in.” Occasionally my job is pretty hilarious.)

          1. when I used to work with homeless people, nobody ever thought they had it the worst. Which is kind of a nice feeling, right? I’m better off than some people? Except people would be all “Oh, that’s nice fruit, save it for someone who really needs it.” or “Is it OK for me to eat here? I’m not really homeless, we broke into a house to sleep in last night.”

          2. God I’ve spent so long trying to convince people that yes, they qualify for aid. We’re just tying up a winter heating assistance grant for homes that are still damaged and we also have a one-off payment for anyone with a significant, long term disability (defined as over 6 months) who still lives in the area – though we made an exception for someone who had to leave to get treatment for cancer because it couldn’t be done here – and has had problems with damaged infrastructure etc. There’s always a few applications where it’s really marginal or you’re just like “um sure nice try” but there’s also the people who start out, “I don’t know if I really qualify…” and then start explaining their medical problems and you almost want to interrupt to just go “Yes you do, where can I send the forms, please take our money.”

  9. #367: I can understand that you’re discouraged, because online dating can be frustrating sometimes, but I think you’re forming your conclusions based on a really small sample. First dates have a high failure rate, and it’s worse if the people haven’t known each other beforehand. Having a few where there is no chemistry is par for the course.

    I’ve been on both the receving and the fading ends of The Fade Away, and I don’t think it’s a signal that there was no interest at all. If there’d really been no interest, there wouldn’t have been several dates. I think it’s more likely a sign that the other person met someone they connected with just a little bit better, or isn’t in a place where a serious relationship is a great idea or a very likely possibility, or suddenly got distracted by non-dating things. That’s not great if you’re left missing the person, but I don’t think it’s a confidence-shaking verdict on your desirability.

    Basically, it just seems like you need to meet some more people and perhaps do some of the approaching yourself if it’s been a long while since someone you found interesting approached you.

    #368: I agree that it would be a good dual strategy to both put yourself out there in an explicitly romantic way by writing an online dating profile and then also work on meeting people in person in a less high pressure way, but I do have a question about something that was said.

    Why wouldn’t you be interested in Casual Friend you?

    That made me wonder if you’re either not open to forming friendships with women unless you have some amount of pantsfeelings for them, or that you have some concerns with what you can offer others even in relationships that don’t have much to do with physical appearance. I think it might be worth thinking about that a bit and seeing if you’ve put up some mental blocks that are making it harder for you to meet new people, generally.

  10. You can never know what another person will find attractive in you. I like potbellies, deep voices, sleepy eyes, callused hands, facial hair, body hair, big noses, greasy hair smell, masses of eye wrinkles and laughs that are made of snorts and gasps and tears that make the face drool and crinkle and turn bright red. Any one of those things is enough to make me feel attraction for another person on a physical level, and if even a single one of those traits exists in conjunction with a personality I like, I’m hooked.

    I don’t know what either LWs look like, but I do know that it doesn’t matter. There is no such thing as too ugly to date.

    1. Certainly true. I can definitely think of “ugly” folks, or fat folks, who are happily married. Almost every friend of mine who’d be considered fat is in a good relationship, and I’m thinner and don’t, so weight doesn’t make everything better. And one of my friends is apparently attracted to the same dudes that you are. Typically good looking is no guarantee of true love, and ugliness doesn’t always mean you don’t get to have it.

      Back to #367, dear god, the same dudes that come on to her are the same ones who come on to me. It does freak me out that I am a waaaaay older man magnet (40’s-80’s), especially since I look like a teenager and I really think they’re all looking for “barely legal” or not legal at all. So I hear ya there.

      1. Yeah my uncle and his wife are both pretty overweight, but when I’m staying there it’s just so OBVIOUS how they feel about each other. They got married probably seven or eight years ago? So, you know, not in their twenties or anything, but he’s a fair bit younger than my dad, so it’s not like they were decrepit before they found each other.

    2. Tangential thought.

      Also, physical attraction isn’t necessarily a barrier even when someone doesn’t match another’s preferences. I’ve crushed on, dated and enjoyed the sexual company of men and women who had NONE of my favourite physical traits, and I still found them attractive even if in some cases it was purely on personality. My other half likes (as individual things or together) dark hair, small breasts and tall women, and he’s spent the last decade loving short, fat, blonde, large-breasted me. Because the things he has a particular appreciation for aren’t the only physical features he appreciates, and because there is so MUCH MORE to attraction than physical.

      Just to say that, there is something about you physically that WILL attract some people to you, but even if you never happen to encounter the people who like noses like yours, or eyes like yours, or a butt like yours, you might still meet someone who just thinks you’re an awesome, amazing person.

    3. Just wanted to second the callused hands, here. But what I really find attractive is the ability to do things well. Often doesn’t matter what it is, although being a scientist of any kind is a plus. I’ve also been attracted to artists, a landscape designer, a rodeo rider and an environmental engineer, not one of which fit the profile of “good looking.” Proficiency is hot. Do what you do, and do it well. That’s very attractive.

      1. Oh hell, yes! My geology professor (who looked like the sort of person you could identify as a geologist from 200 yards away, if you know what I mean) was the source of quite a powerful crush of mine, pretty much entirely because of all that sexy, sexy knowledge.

        I’d also say that doing what you do, doing it well, and doing it with a sense of humour is good. Geology classes that involved renditions of “Oh graptolites, your stipes, your stipes are calling” and endless “useless lingula” jokes.

  11. All of the stuff about the eye of the beholder? Totally true. (If you’re a big nerd like me, let me point out that I’m not talking about THAT kind of beholder.)

    When you look at the people you care about, what do you see? Probably you see a lot of history, or maybe a lot of things that (only) you know about that person. When I look at [close-friend] I see years of political conversations. When I look at [other-close-friend] I see silly alliterative jokes and marathon phone calls about nothing. When I look at [other-close-friend] I see things she’s knit for me, bearhugs and more bearhugs, and how happy I am to help plan her wedding.

    People become beautiful to specific other people over time. People also become ugly to specific other people other time. “Beautiful” and “ugly” are words like “friend” that are inherently relational; they don’t have meaning in a vacuum.

    1. Also– it’s not just that people will bring their history with you to how they see you; they’ll bring their history, positive and negative, with other people. When I’m in one of my let’s-try-this-dating-thing-again phases, I do sometimes pre-reject people on OK Cupid solely on the basis of their pictures– because they look like a long-lost relative, or like the dude who put crayfish in my locker, or like someone else who I am never going to find sexy, even though someone without my history might find them very attractive.

      But I will always look twice, or three times, or just stare in helpless longing at a man who reminds me of one of my English professors, a man who could only have aspired even to plainness with the help of serious orthodontia but whose shiny, shiny brain I had such a crush on.

    2. (If you’re a big nerd like me, let me point out that I’m not talking about THAT kind of beholder.)

      Hee! That’s always my first association with the word, too. 🙂

  12. LW2, I’m sure without even seeing your picture that you are not too ugly to get a date. I have one small piece of advice, if you don’t mind, and maybe you do this already, but I think it is worthwhile for men to put a little care into appearance. I don’t mean you have to go out and buy a haute couture wardrobe or an expensive line of skin care products or any of that malarkey. I mean, dressing up a little bit from time to time, getting a haircut that looks good on you, having at least one pair of shoes that aren’t sneakers or hikers and a few shirts that aren’t convention-wear giveaway t-shirts, just in general finding a style that makes you feel good and puts you out there a little.

    I’ve seen many a conventionally handsome man minimize what would otherwise be good looks with sloppy dress and grooming, and many a less handsome man play himself up with tasteful dress and grooming. I’m more attracted to the second than the first because I like people who make an effort — it says something about who they are and how they might be in the relationship. Putting some effort into basic grooming is so easy to do, I wonder why so many men don’t bother.

    1. I second this: hygiene and a reasonably put-together presentation portray self-respect, as well as a certain level of basic social competence and willingness to meet the world halfway, which can make up for the fact that you were not naturally blessed in the looks department. In contrast, a rumply, dug-this-shirt-out-of-the-laundry (and it passed my not-very-particular whiff-test!) presentation can come across as “I know you’re not going to be attracted to me, so I’m not bothering,” or worse yet an extra-special “I’m going to be aggressively unattractive and then resent your shallowness for crinkling your nose!” It’s not the particular style that matters as much as hygiene and evidence of some effort to look sharp, by whatever aesthetic you prefer. A look that conveys self-contempt and despair is not likely to draw romantic hopefuls your way.

      1. Actually, I need to retract, or at least seriously revise. Around where I live, you don’t even need to be clean. But you do need to convey that you’re trying to make a good impression, given what you have to work with…

    2. I too second this. Not to mention that if you wear complex or unusual clothing there is the possiblity of A) suggesting something about yourself or B) standing out.

    3. Yes! This is so true.

      American women get told that our appearance is entirely under our control – that we can spend, starve, wax, and color ourselves into beauty, so we’d better look like Kate Upton or it’s all our fault. And that is a lie, and it sucks.

      But I think most (straight) men get the idea that there’s nothing they can do about their appearance, and that’s also a lie.

      Here is a list of things you can do that are neither expensive nor soul-crushing, but will likely make you look more attractive:

      Figure out which colors look best on you. Everyone has some colors that look terrible with their skin/hair/eyes, and some colors that make them glow. Bonus – once you work out what colors are best for you, clothes shopping is way easier.

      Figure out your optimal facial hair configuration. Some men look way hotter with full beards, some clean-shaven, some, shockingly, with mustaches (helloooo, Nick Offerman). Sideburns can also contour your face nicely. Grow out a full beard, consider how it looks, then shave it off in stages – full beard, sideburns & mustache, mustache only, clean shaven. Take pictures at each stage, or get feedback from a friend you trust.

      Never, ever wear pleated pants. They are the devil and make everyone look worse. Flat front only.

      Everything everyone else has said is absolutely true – that people are attracted to many different types of features, and that once you like someone, you see their beauty. But while you’re looking for a person who wants what you’ve got, it might help to take a few simple steps like these so that you feel more in control in the meantime.

          1. Properly *creased* pants indicate someone who can iron and/or has a good cleaner. Pleated pants are flattering on no one.

    4. I gotta say, I feel super swanky when I wear my business shirts and ties, especially paired with a waistcoat, pocketwatch and fedora! Obviously that particular style isn’t for everyone, especially considering I’ll wear that stuff with black jeans, but finding a style you DO like is so important. You feeling awesome in what you’re wearing will make you more approachable.

      1. ” especially paired with a waistcoat, pocketwatch and fedora!”

        swoons … 😉

        My beloved wears a fedora (it looks superb on his long hair) and I think I’m going to have to mention waistcoats and fob watches in his hearing now!

    5. Yes, exactly. Wear clothes that fit! If you wear clothes that fit you can look smarter without them being uncomfortable. They shouldn’t be tight/restrictive anywhere, and they shouldn’t be billowing out from your body like a sail anywhere either. I see so many men wearing shirts that are too big for them – what is going on with that? The shoulders should not hang down your upper arm…

      LW2, as some specific advice (which could be completely wrong, as I have never seen you): start by getting a good haircut. Possibly, if you are like many of the men I know, when you get your haircut you go to a barber/Cheap Cuts R Us place and just get it cut shorter. I suggest you go to a hairdresser and get a fashion cut. This will cost a fair bit more, but it’s worth it in my opinion.
      Where to find one? Either a) ask some of your friends/colleagues/acquaintances who have a nice haircut where they went to get it done (you could ask your female friends too – my hairdresser does men’s cuts as well as women’s). Or b) find a hairdresser who is geographically convenient and give them a shot. Hey, the good thing about haircuts is that you always get another shot at them if you don’t like the one you just got. 🙂

      Then! When you go in, the hairdresser will ask you what you want. If you don’t know specifically, you can say that. Also specify how much effort you want to go to in the morning – no point in getting hipster hair-across-the-face if you don’t want to style it each day. (Or if you are not a hipster.) Consider some styles you might go for – professional? Smart casual? Are there any celebrities with hair you like? I’d also suggest googling something like “men’s haircuts” and seeing what results come up. They’ll show you a lot of different haircuts and trends and you can see what you like. (Note: most probably you will hate some of them. This is the joy of fashion. Feel free to ignore the trends you don’t like and enjoy the ones you do.) The internet is a great resource in times like this: use your nerdy skills. 🙂

      After you have your new haircut, bear in mind that you’ll need to get it trimmed to keep it looking its best – much like your lawn. For me, that’s every 6 weeks or so. Your milage may vary. Ask your hairdresser, and see how it goes as it grows out. The cut you get will also influence this. (You can ask for a cut that will look good as it grows out.)

      Anyway so, I hope that helps! Probably the second thing I would do after getting a good haircut is to get some good shoes, as you can get a lot of wear out of them and they smarten up any outfit.

      Also I would confirm that it’s not really the haircut itself that will make you more attractive to other people – it’s the fact that you’re showing that you put some care into how you come across. It says, hey! I take care of myself! And that’s an attractive trait. (Also it shows style, which shows that you’ve got a bit of a personality. Another attractive trait.)

      1. You guys, can this be the last of the makeover advice? Yes, there is a lot of things you can do to look your best and build confidence. None of it is wrong, exactly, but it’s been said and I don’t want to go further into it. We’re not that kind of joint.

        1. Thanks. The whole angle of, ” maybe if you work hard enough to be pretty someone will love you,” is one of the major things that discouraged me from looking for a long time. I don’t need to be told that if I make myself into a new person someone will find that person great, I need to know that the person I am most naturally is also attractive to a segment of the population.

        2. Thank you. Fashion and grooming tips are all well and good if you’re interested in them, but they’re not the answer to “I feel too ugly to date.” If anything, they reinforce the idea that the LWs are unattractive and need to change their appearance to be dateable.

        3. It shouldn’t be about being other than you are, but it is also true that a lack of love for oneself is often reflected in not taking care of oneself. Conveniently, taking care of oneself (by which I mean exercising, doing things you enjoy, much more than “get a haircut”) also generally makes it easier to love oneself. This is the best kind of feedback loop!

      2. my boyfriend is super-sexy and he wears ginormous clothes and baggy pants that give him plumber butt.

        I used to think it was a body-image issue (his parents are kind of crazily anti-fat) but it turned out it was a sensory thing – he doesn’t like fabric touching many parts of him, and he doesn’t think my pleasure at looking at him in fitting clothes outweighs him having to actually wear the clothes. And he’s right.

    6. Yeah, as a guy this is my current concern. Not the grooming/hygiene aspect, but my total lack of fashion sense. I live in t-shirts and jeans, with only a couple “nice” shirts and pairs of khakis. One of my signature “things” I’m known for is my large variety of tie-dye shirts, and I’ve wondered how offputting that could be – it’s at least a lot more unique and less Nice Guy than fedoras, but still. I also own one pair of sneakers and nothing else for footwear.

      Guess I should work on some of this with Christmas money…

      1. I know I put the kibosh on makeover advice, but:

        Buy more shoes. Not just for fashion reasons – it’s unhealthy and gross to wear the same shoes every day. Invest in some shoes.

        Normal clothes that look really good on you and fit well and are clean are a great place to start. If you want to dress differently get a fashionable friend to take you shopping and try out some different things.

  13. Hey LWs,

    Re: online dating. Though I am currently in a “no, I HATE online dating!” phase, I still believe passionately that it works, especially for non-type A “pick up people in bars”/nerds/not-conventionally attractive people. Most of the couples I know met via online dating, many of them “unconventionally attractive.”

    If where ever you are is not working for you, change sites. Venue is super important for online dating, and some sites have more unconventional/open-minded people than others. And some of those very same sites also have the most trolls (OK Cupid, I am looking at you). But it’s still worth trying the different sites. You never know. (for the record, I’ve heard the most positive feedback about Match.com, in terms of people getting married.)

    Now that said, it sounds like both of you could perhaps use an online dating break. A series of fizzled potential relationships and/or facing lots of rejection/back and forth/trolling in dating can be emotionally draining, and sometimes you need some time to recharge before trying again. Part of recharging should be building up your self-esteem. It sounds cheesy, but seriously: online dating (and dating in general) can both build one’s confidence and wreck it (LW #1, I totally relate to the whole “only people I’m not interested in message me.”). I always feel fatter and uglier when I’m in “dating mode,” and as soon as I’m out of it, I remember “oh yeah, I’m AWESOME, f*!k them!” You don’t have to be gorgeous and perfect to find love. None of the people I know who were successful in online dating are “conventionally attractive” (or have “conventional” personalities).

    Now, when it comes to getting back in the game, I believe in the power of good photographs. It’s not about how “pretty”/attractive you are, but about what your pictures say about you. I love the Captain’s picture above — it shows her having fun, confident. If you don’t have many good pictures for your dating profile, during your break, make an effort to take some. Have your friends snap some pictures of you doing what you love. Put together a repertoire of good photos (headshot, some “action” shots; photos that show off your personality), and try again.

    1. You know, everyone is pretty different, but overall I agree with a lot of this. When I start noticing negative cognitions creeping back in (like that there is a pattern and it means there is something wrong with me), I’ve learned that that means it’s time for a break from online dating and for some work on myself. That can mean therapy, or focus on activities, or getting some work done in my house or my job, or taking some baths and eating lots of delicious food, or extra time with friends. But, a real break from focusing on romance/sex/partnership/whatever. I especially think this sounds like a good move for the first LW, because if you are going on dates from the internet, some people like your pictures and profile, period. If your brain’s response to it not working out is that you aren’t attractive enough, there’s an illogical cognitive skip going on there that deserves attention, maybe before stepping back in. For the second LW, I think there is already a whole lot of illogical thinking going on in there independent of dating sites (like that romantic matchups are controlled by some kind of social hierarchy, which is demonstrably untrue; or the difficulty saying anything just straight-up positive about yourself), so a break may or may not be helpful, but maybe some thinking through those circular and self-defeating thought patterns would be.

  14. This:

    the most helpful thing you can do for yourselves is to learn to drive these miraculous vehicles like you stole them.

    …is exactly what I needed to read today. So, thank you!

  15. oh my gosh Ugly Duckling, you sound so much like me (nerdy, queer girl, in a STEM field, in grad school, anxiety, very little relationship experience, self doubts about my own attractiveness, uncomfortable about getting hit on by creepy older dudes, I could go on)

    so I mean, keep in mind that I’m still working on this myself, and I so do not have all the answers on how to find people I want to date who also want to date me.

    but, a couple things jumped out at me in your letter. for one, you said you “try to curb” your tendency to talk really intensely about certain subjects. for another, you mentioned that you “try to wear nice clothes” and that you avoid wearing makeup when you think you can “get away with it.” which suggests to me that you’re doing a bunch of things to your personality and appearance that you feel like you have to do in order to be more standard/acceptable/closer to the mean.

    so, okay, I’m not suggesting you stop showering and spend hours explaining the riemann hypothesis and its implications to every random who says, “oh, you like math? that’s cool.”

    but you know what? maybe be weirder. just for a little while, consciously decide to say “fuck it” to the makeup and wear some oddball clothes and talk for a little longer than necessary about that cool scientific american article you just read. do it as a way to kickstart yourself out of the habit of editing yourself down.

    the idea is to train yourself to be comfortable letting a bit more of your authentic self shine through when you interact with the world. that’s what the people you want to date (or jeez, just the people you want as friends, who by the way, might have friends of their own you’d want to date) will be attracted to.

    1. I gotta say, I’m in the humanities but I find science totally amazing, so I would love someone to rave about science at me. Especially bioscience. Or zoology.

      I had major issues with acne as well that hit worst in my late teens. The birth control pill eventually cleared it up. I tend to think my face is fairly plain-featured still, but I’ve found a style that works for me and have learned to worry less about what I look like and I think that comes across – if you’re noticing what you look like other people will as well. Yeah, sometimes they will anyway, but there is no one person who is your true soulmate. There will be other people who think you’re awesome and look fantastic.

    2. Wise words on the letting-your-authentic-self show.

      I am unlikely to be attracted to people who are constipating themselves. The last person I had a huge crush on was physically attractive, but I didn’t CARE because I couldn’t see who she was. Once she relaxed a little and I got to know her better, she became extremely attractive because I could see her personality in her features instead of a look of vague panic.

    3. I had the same thought! That what the LW needed was to let herself be herself, instead of trying to conform to some idea of what she’s supposed to be.

      Yes, LW, there are lots of conformist people out there, who would only be attracted to you if you muted half your personality and passion. But then it wouldn’t really be YOU they were interested in, would it? It’d be some watered down facsimile. And why would you want to be with someone who only wants whatever mediocrity you can muster?

    4. Absolutely agreeing with this. People who are trying too hard to fit what they think other people find acceptable end up seeming uncomfortable in their own skin, which just makes me think that they’re either going to be difficult to deal with because of insecurity or that I have no real sense of who they actually are. Someone who is maybe really different than I am but is excited and works their own awesome like they’re at Paris Fashion Week is a MILLION times more appealing. I am totally not a numbers person (unless we’re talking about baseball statistics) and my last boyfriend was an economics/finance person and he was FASCINATING and SUPER SEXY to talk to about that stuff even though it is entirely out of my wheelhouse.

    5. I do think that the whole ‘Be Yourself’ thing is a bit of a problem. It only works for people who have selves that are at least a little bit desireable. And don’t try to “have faith in yourself” me.

      I think that being yourself works for a fair number of people. However, for a lot of us, it means either be useless and shy WITHOUT the interestingness that culture and conformity gives, or be completely absurd, and not at all in the likeable way.

      1. Engineer,

        Ok maybe you are ugly and also have a terrible personality and “just being yourself” would be bad and if you did it no one would like you. That happens. If you can’t name a single good quality about yourself or think of a single thing you have to offer someone else, then it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy and I have nothing for you. There are no tricks to get around that. Go work on your shit and get cooler and happier with yourself and come back later. I’m not really up for a pity party in my comments section tonight.

      2. I don’t happen to find conformity interesting, and the people on OkCupid who only answer questions the way they expect people to want to see come across to me as boring.
        I am a firm believer in getting all the potential deal breakers out in front! My second sentence in my profile is that I am polyamorous. If the person reading can’t deal, they can stop there and look alsewhere, and I wish them well.
        If you really care about something, odds are that there are others who do as well. Include pictures of your hobbies. If there is something that you enjoy doing, whether it is hanging out with your cat, or fixing cars, or LARPing, include a picture of you doing this thing!
        The bonus of pictures that show you doing something? They give a potential match something to ask you about.
        I’m dating a guy. He’s shorter than anyone I have dated before. I hadn’t really realized until he showed up for the date that he was that short….but the date ended up being 5hours of really fantastic conversation, and now? I don’t notice the height thing except when I think back to that first date. I have been seeing him for over a year and a half. He’s nerdy! He isn’t conformist! He occasionally talks about programming or science stuff that I don’t know about, but, OMG is it sexy.
        I am not going to say that there is some perfect person out there for everyone, but, sometimes the things that set you apart are NOT DRAWBACKS. There may be someone out there looking for a Magic the Gathering playing punster, who plays Guildwars2 and likes cocktails. Someone else may be looking for someone who plays football, can fix anything, and drinks beer. People are different!

      3. The interestingness that culture and conformity gives? Wow, that is not what I find interesting. Fwiw. Take heart that many of us do not!

      4. If you have absolutely no faith in your ability to connect meaningfully to other people, your problems are a) significantly outside the norm, and b) WAY outside the ability of an advice column to handle.

      5. So basically you think the only way anyone would like you is if you trick them by lying about what a terrible person you are? Aside from being an icky thing to do, do you really want to have a relationship that requires constant deceit?

        I gotta say, I’ve met very few people who were 100% terrible. Even my abusive ex had his good points. If your problem is that you’re “useless and shy” that’s completely different from utterly unlovable, and if it really is that you’re an inherently unlikeable person that no one should ever be with, dating probably shouldn’t be your top priority.

      6. If you have an aweful personality and are an asshole, then go do something about it. Start treating people better and get some hobbies.

    6. Thanks for saying this! That caught my attention, too, but then I forgot about it. If someone is only attracted to you when you’re putting in huge efforts to censor yourself for public consumption, they don’t really know you, so they aren’t attracted to you. Plenty of us like nerds who get really excited about random shit, I promise!

    7. Oh wow, 1000 times this.

      LW #1, I’m a lot like you in some ways: intense social anxiety, giant nerd who can talk forever about my field and my hobbies (though I’m in the humanities, not sciences), maybe-Asperger’s*. And a few years ago, I was just like you in the dating front, too– I’d had one terrible relationship with someone who I wasn’t really attracted to that much, because I thought he was “in my league” (which just goes to show you how shitty and feelings-hurting the concept of “leagues” is, because that relationship was just generally a mutually shitty and feelings-hurting one). And I tried to act “normal”, like someone “guys would be interested in,” for a while, thinking that would get me success. And it really, really didn’t. What it got me was exponentially more anxiety (cause I always had to be monitoring how I acted around someone I was interested in for “normalcy”), which made me even shier and awkwarder and harder to talk to than before, and thus I got no dates or fun sexytimes.

      A couple years ago, I decided to try online dating, after a looonng dry spell, and I decided to be myself. I met some people, had some good dates and some bad dates and some good sex and some bad sex, but on every date I went on, I talked excitedly and passionately about my studies and my knitting and whatever else I’d always been told Boys Aren’t Interested In, and you know what? It made every one of the people I went out with more interested in me, not less.

      Women get told that there’s a specific way we’re supposed to act to get romantic interest (and LW, I know you’re interested in girls and not boys, and I apologize if my post comes across as heteronormative, and these cultural messages to women generally are about how to Get Guys, and being a straight girl myself I don’t know from personal experience how those messages transfer if you actually want to Get Girls, but I definitely see some of these cultural assumptions about women needing to hide parts of their personalities in the search for romance in your letter.)

      *I don’t know if this is helpful to you or not, but you could still have Asperger’s even if your therapist says you don’t: your average therapist isn’t actually qualified to diagnose Asperger’s, and Asperger’s in an adult woman is particularly hard to diagnose for a variety of reasons (for some of them, see this post: http://www.journeyswithautism.com/2009/02/22/women-girls-and-aspergers-syndrome/ or anything else on that (awesome and sadly now defunct) blog under the “women and AS” or “girls and AS” tags). For me, I don’t plan to get a diagnosis any time in the foreseeable future, but just deciding for myself that this is a condition I have really helped me to be more OK with the more unusual aspects of my personality and social interactions, and that in turn made me have less anxiety in social situations. I don’t know if that helps or makes sense or even if it breaks the Captain’s “no internet diagnoses” rule (if it does, sorry, Captain!), but just FWIW.

      1. Seconding your footnote. It’s actually kind of a continuation of the “no internet diagnoses” rule–a diagnosis is best made IF you can directly observe and talk to the person, and IF you have all the appropriate training. Most therapists have enough training to provide counselling and form general diagnostic impressions (“it kind of looks like…”) but not enough to formally diagnose, using X test and Y criteria. Diagnosing usually takes a second graduate degree. (FML.) So unless the LW’s therapist is also a neuropsychologist who did a full assessment, “It doesn’t look like Asperger’s” can just mean “I haven’t seen Asperger’s like this before and known what it was.”

        1. I went through 1 “You have a personality disorder and I refuse to do any autism-related testing because you are an adult lady [not how ID, but didn’t matter either]” and 1 “this sounds likely but I am unqualified to diagnose” before I was seen by TEACCH in NC, who told me at the intake screening that the formal diagnostic appointment would just be to work out if they wanted to write down Asperger’s or PDD-NOS on the paperwork (we ended up going with Asperger’s).

          LW1, I have no idea if you’re spectrumy or not–none of us do. But don’t take a single therapist’s word for it if you have other traits that seem to line up–for an ASD or ANYTHING. Getting diagnosed as an adult, especially a woman (or anything vaguely femme-presenting, really), especially as a GSM person, especially as one who has completed some higher education…it’s hard to find a practitioner who is comfortable working with us as a group and able to do so accurately. Getting help if you need it is what’s important.

    8. Yes, yes! I spent a really uncomfortable few years surrounded by people who told me I was weird and embarassing (A+ friends, yes, I know). This did not have their desired effect of making me less weird, it just made me uncomfortable and weird in whole new ways. We stopped speaking about two years ago and I spent a while wallowing in self-doubt and pity (“if even THEY don’t like me, how can I make any friends at ALL?”), and I still have days of that sometimes.

      But. Maybe six months ago or so I just sort of…gave in. I’m in a new country, I’m precisely that weird and nerdy, so why not be comfortable with myself? It turns out people kind of like that? And me? It’s weird and I’m still not sure what to do with my hands, but when I stopped conciously trying to rein in how awkward and/or great I am, other people see me as more genuine and significantly more interesting. It’s an ongoing process, but living as the person I want to be instead of the person I think other people might want me to be who I can’t actually manage to be for more than about seven minutes at a time is a) better, b) easier, and c) means that I can stop my enormous derailing brain from going “but what if they don’t really LIKE me?” Because they do.

        1. Being authentically YOU means you can always trust that the people in your life legitimately, honestly, truly appreciate you (give or take a jerkbrain). It can be hard work sometimes, especially if you’ve spent a long time trying to be someone else, but it seems to be pretty great so far.

      1. Yes, this! I think the single biggest step I took in my life that improved my social stuff and self esteem was the moment I thought for a second about what all the bulies and arseholes in my life had told me and decided “So what if I’m ugly and awkward and a nerd? That’s me. And I’m going to uglynerd at the whole world as much as I like!”.

        Sort of the opposite of most Ugly Duckling teenager movies, where instead of getting a makeover and the hot sports-player-boy and popular friends I gave the popular kids the finger, embraced my total lack of fashion sense and danced merrily, if clumsily, into the sunset with my cat.

        I’m so glad to hear it’s working out well for you, too. Being comfortable with yourself is something that can need regular work, what with society and people and what-have-you, but the quality of friends you’ll end up with, and the quality of life in general, is well worth it.

        Hooray for you being awesome!

        1. I’m doing something similar to this too. Because fuck it, I’m 33 and I’m tired of getting anxious about who I am.

  16. It is so, so apropos that you referenced The Ugly Duckling, LW #367! (And LW #368, this applies to you too!) The meaning of this story tends to get lost in our looks-obsessed culture, but originally the story was much, much longer and more profound. It’s not about someone unattractive who blooms a little late then looks gorgeous at the high school reunion, and take that, mean girls! Looks who’s hot now! It’s about becoming who you are and finding your tribe.

    The ugly duckling looks around at all the ‘normal’ ducklings and realizes he doesn’t belong, so he sets out to make his way in the world and find his home. Along the way he gets lost, and he’s scared, and hungry, and he’s stuck in the cold by himself. He finds shelter with someone who abuses him, so then he runs away but is so vulnerable he ends up with one abuser after another. Sometimes they kick him out because he’s not like them, or he’s not ‘useful’ enough because he doesn’t lay eggs, or chase mice, or guard the house like ‘useful’ animals do. Throughout all of this he’s changing physically and it’s so confusing because he doesn’t know what he is. Only after he’s done growing does he recognize that he’s a swan, and he tracks down the other swans who welcome him with open arms. He lives happily ever after not because he’s suddenly attractive, but because he has a family and a community.

    The Captain and PomperaFirpa are right. You need to embrace your own awesome and find your own people. Some things are cliche because they’re easy to say, and other things are cliche because they’re true. This is one of the latter.

    1. Thank you for this amazing point. There’s so much more stories have to teach us than the pat two-line story!

    2. Oh, I had no idea – thank you for sharing this! I’m going to get myself a copy of the full story to read. I had an epiphany earlier this year that is very similar to this – I realized that I was beating myself up for not fitting in with the people I happened to meet when I moved to the city I currently live in, rather than realizing that I actually just needed to keep searching for my tribe. Things started looking up almost immediately.

      1. I’m still trying to find my own tribe. When I feel lonely, I try to tell myself that my swan flock is out there somewhere. I might not recognize them if I saw them, though, because I’m still changing going through duckling-puberty, so to speak. I need to continue working on making myself awesome so I’ll know awesome when I see it.

    3. What an awesome story. Does anyone have a book title or internet link where one could find this version?

      1. I’m trying to remember where I read my favorite version of this story but the one in the 1955 Anderson’s Fairy Tales is decent. Wikipedia has some interesting insight: “Speculation suggests that Andersen was the illegitimate son of prince Christian Frederik (later King Christian VIII of Denmark), and found this out some time before he wrote the book, and then that being a swan in the story was a metaphor not just for inner beauty and talent but also for secret royal lineage.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ugly_duck) I also like the Better Myths version (http://bettermyths.com/fuck-you-too-hans-christian-andersen), but that’s because Better Myths makes everything better.

  17. there’s this unspoken assumption that they have something to offer right out of the gate, to people who don’t know them that well as individuals. Since I don’t have that, in my particular case…


    This is not how dating works!

    You don’t walk around at a cocktail mixer with your attractiveness on a plate, offering it to passers-by. “Would you like to try a bit of hunk?” After a minute of indecision, a beautiful woman picks up a bit and says, “How wonderful and attractive! Now may I try the personality?”

    What you have to “offer” is not your attractiveness. You don’t dangle bits of yourself out like bait and hope the person is hooked by the time they get close to you. Attraction works, or it doesn’t, but we date people, not faces. What you have to offer is a comprehensive mix of personality and interests, appearance and body, and then (more importantly) the ways you are willing to use all those to treat the other person in a loving and kind manner.

    I mean, this is not a dating strategy, it’s a dating attitude. Guys who message me with either crude or refined versions of “hi can i lick ur pussy” are still creeps because they don’t know how polite people speak to each other. Dating strategies abound–there are a bunch in this post, and conflicting advice elsewhere. Find what works for you.

    But no strategy in the world will bring you happiness if you honestly believe you have “nothing to offer”, and that you’re just somehow tricking the unwilling into being nice to you. You have to find a way to honestly believe that you’re capable of doing good things for and to other people.

  18. This may or may not apply to the LW’s in question, please moderate as necessary if I’ve drifted away from the accepted scope of the conversation.

    When you’re shy, poorly socialized, or insecure about your appearance (I was all three, and often still am) sometimes you have an ingrained mental script that goes, “I’m not gonna mess this one up I’m not gonna mess this one up Oh no what have I done why aren’t they calling back GAAAAAAH !!” Even if this is internal monologue I think people can pick up on that vibe.

    I had come to believe by default that anyone I had interest in would not reciprocate, and I was so caught up in my anxious headspace that I was completely mentally shut off to the idea that anyone desirable would want to be with me. Now, in hindsight, I suspect that some of the people who would No Way Ever Want To Be With Me, perhaps may have been interested if my anxiety didn’t make me so petrified of showing the slightest bit of interest for fear of rejection. On the off chance that I did ask someone on a date, I had put so much pressure on having a “successful” interaction that I wasn’t really present, and things didn’t go so well.

    I’ve had a pretty competent therapist/feelings doctor for the past few years, and now that I’m more cognizant of what’s going on in my head I realize that my anxiety/depression/self esteem issues were more to blame for my lack of romantic dates than anything inherently funny looking or awful about my face. These days I think my face looks pretty cool! I go on some dates, and so far they haven’t gone anywhere, but that’s ok. I finally have a grasp that going on more dates is the answer, not shying away from dating because the handful of past experiences I had were scary and fraught with rejection.

    I still don’t have a girlfriend, or a first real relationship, but it doesn’t bother me much these days. I’m ok with where I am, and I’m not petrified that I’ll stay here for the rest of my life, never having had a “real” romantic relationship.

    Best of luck to both of you.

    1. This is absolutely right, yes. I actually had an intense crush during college on a guy who, in retrospect, I’m pretty sure was super into me as well. But my (at the time ginormous) anxiety issues caused me to (a) re-evaluate any sign of interest from him, over and over and over again, until I’d eventually convinced myself that it was just wishful thinking on my part and not a sign of interest, and (b) because my anxiety made me less than… fluent in social interactions, and because I was convinced, for some reason, that if I actually expressed interest he would think I was “weird” or creepy, I didn’t actually appear attracted to him, despite my constant pining. The result was that, if he was in fact interested in me as I now think he may have been, he saw my apparent non-interest and, well, moved on. It was my anxiety and constant internal monologue and low self-esteem that caused me just to have regrets about not expressing interest in this person, when what I could have had was lots and lots of hot makeouts with a pretty nerd boy.

  19. Ditto to everything that’s been put up here so far.

    LWs, both of you – I married a man who probably feels like you do most days. And I feel the way you do, too. Especially since I aspired to an acting career when I was younger – so I compared myself to the Hollywood beauties on a daily basis, and deemed myself Not Good Enough In Any Way.

    The thing is… sexy isn’t about how you look. Think about it – it can’t be. If attraction were ONLY based on a physical ideal, by this point in human evolution everyone would look more or less the same – because only the pretty people would be procreating, right? And passing their pretty genes down to all their pretty little children? Like some effed-up survival of the fittest?

    Attraction is far more complex than that. We are multi-layered creatures, and we need depth and variety to survive. So you two, and my husband and I, and like 99% of the people I know and love best in this world… we are necessary in this world, BECAUSE we don’t fit the mold. We feel bad because we’re different – but the world NEEDS different. Different is good. Different is a gift.

    And when you find someone who recognizes that, they will treasure you BECAUSE you’re different. It will be what they love most about you.

    Guess what I’m saying is – hang in there. You’re on the right track, and good things are on their way. Just keep being you.

  20. I could be LW#367 (female, STEM, not attractive) if I didn’t have a boyfriend. People telling me “oh you’re not ugly” has never been something that made me feel better. I like that this response doesn’t have the typical “everyone is beautiful” answer – because logically, there’s a bell curve, and I have a feeling LW#367 shares my viewpoint on this. I know that beauty is subjective, but if you take a big enough sample pool, there will be statistical significance. I’ve embraced my ugly, but when I tell friends this, they trip over themselves to assure me that I’m not ugly. It just reinforces the idea that being ugly is a bad thing, and it would be nice if that would just stop.

    1. YES THIS. I was born with munted-looking extremities, and I worried about then when I was a kid. All the talk about ~inner beauty~ in the world does way less for me than, “Well, some people are funny-looking, but those of us who aren’t jerks just get over it and focus on the things you can help.”

    2. I once wrote this on tumblr, after getting a bit sick of “Don’t worry girls, you’re ALL beautiful” bollocks. Sadly it didn’t catch on.

      This obsession with “you’re beautiful” Really irritates me.

      It’s nice to say someone’s beautiful, no matter what they look like – but it continues to give beauty power. It makes being beautiful this thing that everyone must aspire to be, the biggest compliment is still just what you look like.

      NOT EVERYONE IS BEAUTIFUL. There. I said it. But you know what? That doesn’t fucking matter. Maybe you’re clever, or kind, or generous, or a hard worker, or good at making paper dolls, or just someone who gets through life not making waves, not stopping traffic, just living.

      And that is enough. Just that

      1. This has always been my problem with the whole “everyone is beautiful” thing, too. First of all, I don’t like lying to people; secondly, physical beauty? Is about the most useless trait there ever was. It makes life easier in a lot of ways for the possessor because of the sheer number of people who put way too much stock in it, but it doesn’t put a whole lot of meaning and value out into the world. If you’re really strong, you can help people move heavy things; if you’re really smart, you can figure out newer, better ways to do things. If you’re pretty, and that’s all you are, you can… stand there and look pretty. That’s about it. Which isn’t to say beauty is completely valueless, but its true value is vastly overestimated by tons of people. I think that instead of making everyone beautiful, like in those Scott Westerfield books, we should be trying to make it okay not to be.

        1. I think sometimes when people say “everyone is beautiful!” what they really mean is that everyone has things that are appealing about them and that make people want to be around them and love them, not that they’re necessarily always objectively, physically beautiful. It’s a problem of the language that’s prevalently used, because then it causes people to conflate beautiful with worthwhile or lovable, when what we should really be making clear is that physical appearance be damned, there are other things that make you awesome and that will, as the Captain said, make your face into someone’s favorite face.

    3. I really like “The people who mind don’t matter, and the people who matter don’t mind.”

      1. And those who mind, and somehow matter because they control your access to resources or opportunities, are usually so horrible to deal with that they have a pre-formed set of opponents who will be happy to help you in your struggle. 😀

        1. Good point! I had forgotten that, unfortunately, there ARE people who both matter and mind, but hopefully there will also be people who matter, don’t mind, and can act as backup in tough situations.

    4. Yes, thank you!

      I’m still working on embracing my own ugly (super tall, stringy hair, beak nose, terrible acne, gapped teeth, etc. – so, no, I’m not winning any beauty awards any time soon! :)), and I really wish my friends wouldn’t inadvertently reinforce society’s emphasis on physical beauty by going out of their way to reassure me that I’m not ugly in a manner that implies that being ugly is an awful thing to be avoided.

      1. I hate that, too. I’m pretty sure the statement “I’m not beautiful” is just a factual statement. When a friend feels the need to argue, it makes me feel worse, not better. Not only does it feel like she’s saying it’s important to be beautiful, it feels like she thinks I’m pitiful for seeing myself that way. When really, it’s just that I’ve never put any of my self-esteem eggs in that basket.

        1. See, this line of thinking has never made sense to me– because while saying “no, no you’re totally beautiful!” definitely does reinforce that beauty matters, saying “I’m objectively ugly and if you tell me otherwise you’re lying” reinforces that there’s actually an objective thing called “beautiful” and another objective thing called “ugly,” which I don’t really believe. And if someone I loved and found beautiful kept insisting that they were ugly despite my protestations that I found them beautiful (which is something my boyfriend used to do occasionally, actually, until I told him to stop), that would come across as not trusting MY opinions and MY tastes, because I actually DO find the person in question beautiful. Beauty and ugliness are not factual or objective qualities.

          1. Agreed. Beauty isn’t objective — there are obviously traits that are more widely desired/not desired across cultures, but those can and do change. And how you feel about someone’s looks can and often does change based on how you feel about their personality — I mean, it could be a coincidence that all my most beloved people are devastatingly good looking, but I don’t think it is.

          2. Yeah, how come the children in my family are so unusually cute and charming? I know most kids are relatively cute, but it does seem like a cool coincidence that the ones I’m closely related to and love happen to be so much cuter than average. When my first nephew was born I had a few moments when I honestly felt a little embarrassed when I saw other babies because I wondered what it felt like to have a baby that was kind of funny looking or OK looking but not really beautiful like my nephew was. I was sure the family loved them just as much anyway and didn’t care, but I wondered what it was like. Then I thought about it a bit and realized what was going on, but it was so real and strong a perception that at first I couldn’t believe it wasn’t something everyone else could see.

          3. There’s a difference between a sincere “I really like looking at you” or “I’m not lying, I find you beautiful” or a more specific compliment on your smile or hair or the shape of your hands, and a generic “no, really, you’re beautiful” from someone who doesn’t specifically find you attractive but likes you as a friend.

      2. When friends try to stop me from stating an objective fact about myself that I’m okay with and they think is trashing myself, I stop them by saying, “No, no, it’s true. I am [quality]. After all, everyone needs at least one flaw. The gods hate perfection. If I didn’t have [quality], I’d simply be too wonderful to put up with.”

        It was originally a total joke because I had NO self-esteem, but the more I kept saying it, don’t you know, the less I was lying.

      3. Eeeee, Professor SNAPE! (with what sounds like a much, much nicer personality than the actual-fax Prof. Snape.) Please please PLEASE let me bang you, you utter badass! 😀

  21. “The ideal is actually extremely narrow and boring”
    This reminded me of a conversation with an actor, I asked him is it me or do lead male/female characters seem kind of bland and even boring? Nope, not my imagination, he confirmed that the leads a.k.a “the ideal” has to be bland enough so the audience can project their ideal interpretation onto them. This also explain why non-leads no-face characters like Boba Fett are so dang popular, that used to mystify me for years to the point of nuttiness. This rule is broken is when the lead character is a real life person like Truman Capote.

    1. See also: Popularity of video games in which the player character is nameless and faceless, vs those with considerable noncustom characterization especially of the ‘why do I have to play as this jerk’ type.

  22. I am unlurking for the first time for you, LWs.

    Ms. 367: I feel you. Oh my goodness, do I feel you. Especially the whole “getting creeped on by older men” thing. That was my thing. When I was out actively looking for someone to date (and generally failing at it) the only men I was getting in bars (which may have been my problem) were older guys, in their fifties and above (I am in my mid-twenties) and no dudes whatsoever in my age range. I couldn’t understand it. “What is it about me, what am I doing, that attracts all these weird old guys and not guys my age??”

    And I, to this day, have yet to figure it out. So I like to tell myself that I am so awesome that the guys my age were just so overwhelmed by my mad awesomeness that they were too afraid to approach me, and the old creepy men didn’t care because, well, they were old and creepy and thus not intimidated.

    Is that *actually* true? I don’t know. I don’t really think I’m pretty or anything. I have janky teeth; that’s my dealbreaker, in my head. As long as my teeth are fucked up, I can’t be pretty. That’s just how I feel. But you know what? That’s just my opinion. People are going to have other opinions. I’m awesome in enough other ways that I don’t really let that bother me as much as it used to. I am my janky teeth; I might as well work with it.

    My opinion, right now? Is that you’re awesome. You’re self-reliant, and that’s pretty cool. You’re smart, you have cool hobbies, you’re in school, you’re nerdy. Some lovely lady out there is going to be TOTALLY INTO THAT, and it’s going to to have nothing do with how you (think you) look.

    Mr. 368: Let me talk to you for a moment about “conventionally attractive”, if I may. First of all, I’ve decided I don’t really like that phrase. Who decides what is “conventionally attractive?” Why is that the baseline? Who says I have to abide by that baseline? You know what “conventionally attractive” sounds like? It sounds like boring. It sounds like “I don’t have to do anything interesting whatsoever because I am pretty; all I have going for me is my face.” I don’t want to talk to that person. That person sounds boring. I don’t want to be around a boring person. I certainly don’t want to DATE a boring person.

    To me, in my opinion and my experiences, attractiveness has very little to do with how somebody looks. I have dated a wide gamut of “types”. Very much taller than me, short, tall and skinny, short and stocky, tall and fat, tall and built like a linebacker, average and skinnier than me. They all look entirely different than one another, but I have been attracted to ALL of them.

    My boyfriend right now might not be conventionally attractive, I don’t honestly know. He’s this skinny little chickenlegged motherfucker with big teeth but you know what? He’s the most beautiful goddamned thing I’ve ever seen. He’s just crammed straight through with awesome that has nothing to do with how he looks. Like Elodie’s quote about Amy and Rory.

    So I’d like to second the Captain’s advice to you; find your Awesome. Find it, work on it, mine it and cram yourself full of all the Awesome you can possibly hold, and it will work for you. People will attract to your Awesome, and your Awesome is you.

    Good luck, to the both of you. I believe in you! =D

    1. I think you’re totally right about weird older dudes. They’re way past the point of caring what anyone thinks…and I think that what they project onto younger, not conventionally attractive women is “YEAH, THERE’S A GAL WHO DOESN’T EITHER!”

      If the creepiness factor is low, I try to just take the compliment buried in it somewhere….

      1. Being hit on by creepers is like the test line on a pregnancy test: It just confirms that you’re peeing on something… Or something.

        I think I’m mixing my metaphors. My point being, “attracting”(those are some extremely sarcastic air-quotes) weirdos is not a reflection on you; it’s a reflection on our rape culture and on those specific creepers.

    2. I recall reading somewhere that while a statistically significant number of men (say they) share at least some ideals with regards to beautiful women, women share many many less with regards to beautiful men. (I suspect a lot of men have some tendency to trot out what they feel they’re expected to say rather than announcing that actually they’re into solidly built chicks, not waifs, or whatever, and also this is rather heterocentric.) And that’s just what people expect they want, in theory, before meeting someone who doesn’t look like that but rocks their world anyway.

      Also, I’m partially face blind. When I’m watching American-produced tv, I find it very very hard to tell male characters apart. (Slight exceptions for when they cast someone “average” looking – but all the Hot Young Things are studly and brown haired and have faces that to me look like they were mass produced at a clone factory.) Women have a little more variation in appearance but there are SO many actors who fit into this box where they all look exactly the same, so I think it’s just as pointless for men to compare themselves to what they see on tv as it is for women.

      1. Too true, plus the woman type they use is very unattractive to me. When I was young, rude and generally less sensitive to other people self-esteem issues, I use to call this type “horse face”.
        It was so hard (for me) to view them as beautiful that it tended to break my suspense of disbelieve (person is being called hot in-Universe, I am getting weirder out). Now I am more accepting of this particular type of face, but it still breaks my heart that truly attractive to me people try to look like them.
        So beauty’s in the eye of the beholder, and by that I don’t even mean the inner beauty thingy, but the actual perception of the so called “conventional” one.

  23. Oh Ugly Duckling, Everybody here gives good advice, and here’s just a little bit about the acne specifically. I am somebody who is conventionally fairly attractive, or was when I was younger (which is only relevant to say that where you are on the world’s scale of attractiveness doesn’t make a difference to what attracts you to somebody else), and I have had a massive crush on at least two people who had bad acne. It really doesn’t matter. You know that old one about personality being what’s important? Well that fairy tale is true.

  24. Hey LWs, I love what everyone has been saying. I have several stories, and I don’t know if any of them will help, but I wanted to let you I have been there with “everyone who’s attracted to me is not someone I’d touch with a ten-foot pole and everyone I am vaguely attracted to and message online never gets back to me.”

    I tried online dating for a bit last year, and I can’t even remember how many messages I sent out and didn’t get a reply to or how many gross people messaged me (“hey u sexy wanna chat?” not a great invitation!). For sending messages out, it actually helped me to send more out than less, because that way I lost track of who I was messaging and therefore couldn’t obsess over why they were rejecting me. Also, given the amount of people, I could tell myself there was a big percentage of people who were inactive or unavailable or whatever makes you feel okay enough to keep messaging people. I also put on one conventionally long-distance shot of myself as a profile picture but for the other two, I put up a pic of me with a giant dorky grin and my pet rat on my shoulder and then I put up a picture of me dressed as a pineapple in a fobby pose (fob pride!) looking completely sweaty and messy because I was volunteering.

    The guy I met online and have been dating for over a year and a half now is awesome and my favorite, and it was the sweaty pineapple picture that sold him because it was about being a total dork and not caring how you looked doing it.

    When he first messaged me, I nearly didn’t respond because his profile had vague hints of weirdness or dorkness, but kind of toned down. Thankfully, his message was geeky and enthusiastic enough to perk my interest, and his non-profile pictures where he is maybe not the most handsome guy ever but shoving a giant cupcake in his face or grinning dorkily while cosplaying Luigi driving in Mario Kart made me rethink my initial impression.

    We are both giant dorky dorks who are way too enthusiastic and weird and never thought we’d find anyone who would like us for us; he tried to tone down himself for the dating site on purpose. I love him because he is enthusiastic and optimistic and also critical and loves bad puns and cats and sticking it to the patriarchy. I also love his squishy belly and cheeks and his excellent hugs, and although I was kind of meh about his looks on first glance, I think he is absolutely adorable now. And he’s told me he likes how I look vaguely rodent-y when I smile (I have large front teeth) because it reminds him of my pet rats.

    And I know it is really hard to find people you like, and even harder to find people you like who also like you back. But the internet dating pool is vast and enormous, and I promise, somewhere there are someones who are looking for awkward, awesome people like you guys. And you might even like them back! And be picky! You are worth it. I had some very definite dealbreakers in terms of politics, and I quickly found out I like geeky people who completely overthink all things cultural in a left-slanting political way, which… sadly isn’t that wide a circle. But while the people not in the circle were cool, I could also tell we just did not fit that well. And that is okay too.

    I’m also guessing that both of you may be more comfortable with text than in-person, ergo the internet suggestion. Also, this might not work for everyone, but I was way happier socializing on blogs and forums and places without profile pictures and the inherent assumption of dating. I don’t thinking being on a dating site is bad—I am all for it and it worked out for me!—but I think people’s advice encouraging you guys to find your awesome is great. Worst case is not meeting interesting people, while hopefully the outcome is meeting cool new friends and finding communities of interest. I have met almost all of my best friends online being dorks, and while I know what they look like now, I could tell you much more about their brains and how they think than how they look, because I didn’t find out how they looked until years later sometimes.

  25. So, this is a little off-topic but Accutane actually does not have any permanent side effects, and the only horrible ones happen if you get pregnant (to the fetus).

    Of course, it is an annoying drug that requires that you submit to a government-mandated pregnancy test and safe-sex quiz once a month just to pick up your prescription, so I’m not saying it’s worth it. Just that if it’s something you want to do don’t worry about the side effects.

    I don’t think it’s something you have to do though. Attractiveness is subjective, and I’ve had crushes on people with acne and had people crush on me with terrible acne. Working on your personality and getting to know people is so much more important.

    1. I don’t know about the existing body of research for Accutane, but anecdatally speaking… I have taken it twice and I do think it has lasting side effects; the rest of my body got quite dry. It did do wonders for my skin… for a while. I am not sure whether, if I could go back in time, I would take it again. My skin is terrible again and I don’t think I’m interested in taking it now, though.

  26. @Ugly Duckling,

    I am someone who emphasizes with a hella lot of what you are going through (though with me, it’s super conservative guys who want a baby factory type creeps that keep on hitting on me instead of old guys- as in, one literally said his ideal women was “Someone who will be my wife and bear my children”. And I am probably like, a 2 on the Kinsey instead of straight up one way or the other). A couple of things happened which made me blossom, which improved my romantic life though I still have yet to go on a date (just lots of flirting. Lots and lots of flirting).

    1) I found modcloth. I know saying “I found a fashion site” sounds weird, but for the first time EVER I was picking clothes that I LOVED vs. clothes that fit some cultural narrative definition of acceptable and attractive. I have branched out and am rocking what I wear now, because I actually LIKE it, and thus don’t feel like I’m being a big phony fake or like I am wearing someone elses skin.

    2) I realized that I didn’t really care about getting married or having a relationship. I know this sounds weird too in ‘how this improved my love-life’, but bear with me. It is because I figured out WHAT I ACTUALLY WANTED. Which was “I want a epic romance to happen. Because that makes a awesome story! And I love awesome stories”. I don’t care too deeply about everything else in relationships, to the extent where I realized that I could be incredibly happy without ever having a romantic relationship. Because sure, I would love a Epic Romance (Or the girl version of a Epic Bromance), but really? It is like how I would love to be super rich and famous. I great fantasy, fun to think about, but it comes with it’s own stresses so I’m not going to sweat it if it never happens.

    And realizing what it is you actually want out of life, and thus relationships, makes you a whole lot more confident and able to handle romantic interest better.

    3) I am slowly learning to say “F-it” to “acceptable behavior”. As someone who has tested on the High-functioning end of the Autism spectrum, and have learned to suppress the hell out of many of my natural tendencies, I have discovered… it ain’t worth it. Sure, I will keep the helpful stuff (how to keep track of noticing when people get bored, the NOT FINE list of things I normally do, but shouldn’t do in public, etc), but the amount of paranoia and self-criticisms a lot of things involve is just soul destroying. This is still in process, but it’s helpful.

    And at LW2-

    I am attracted to people with incredibly sharp, rather long noses, long faces, narrow eyes, and lanky figures. Most of the time when I swoon about someone, my friends and my sister look at me like I’m the oddest person ever. Forget about attractive meters- people can like very “unattractive” things.

    1. I concur on your item #3. I didn’t even fully realize how much of my natural expressiveness I was suppressing, until I started learning to effing quit it. And then I got so much happier and healthier and more at ease around people. I don’t want to make it sound like a cure-all, but it was pretty damn great. The health effects, both mental and physical, of being that on guard all the time, are terrible for you in the end.

      I mean, I’m weird…anyone who’s going to be with me is going to have to deal with it sooner or later.

      1. Totally agreed. I just realized that I was constantly censoring myself, editing and editing until… well, I was never myself then, was I? Sure, it’s helpful to have that skill when it comes to work, jobs, and formal events. But for everyday interaction? Ugh, no. Let people think I’m super weird. It’s fine, those people don’t matter (to me, at least).

        Strangely, it was Sherlock on BBC which helped me realize this. I was sooooo envious of the Sherlock/Watson dynamic, and trying to figure out why… and then it hit me. Because when Sherlock went on his deduction spiel, Watson said that was fantastic and amazing and so on. And man, when I list random facts about something that I studied up on, or when I make random-to-them-but-apt-observations, I want someone to do that to me instead of looking at me like I just exploded in warts or something. So, since I am not going to get less-weird, and I actually like knowing a bunch of information and am not planning on giving up my voracious appetite for books and articles, I figure that learning to be myself again is my best bet.

        1. “I figure that learning to be myself again is my best bet.”

          I’ve always thought that being yourself is everyone’s best bet. Some of the unhappiest people I’ve known are the ones who did everything they thought they were “supposed” to do, or “did everything right,” and pleased all the people they were supposed to please except themselves, and now can’t figure out why they don’t like their lives.

          (I’ve had people I work with tell me that they love that I always have some seemingly random biological fact ready for any situation.)

          And I try to explain this to parents of younger autistic kids a lot–that if someone treats your kid badly because he flaps his hands or rocks when he speaks or whatever…and so you make him stop…they aren’t going to be okay with him then just because he doesn’t. They’re going to have some other reason why he’s not good enough to be treated like a real person. You just can’t appease people who *aren’t* going to accept you for who you are. You can’t ever be good enough for those people, and so you just have to keep them out of your life to the greatest extent possible so they don’t eat your soul.

  27. The first LW’s comment about social anxiety and parties really resonated with me. There are so many other ways to be social than going to parties, which can be loud, full of people looking over your shoulder to see if someone more interesting is nearby, and under the influence of way too much alcohol. There is totally nothing wrong with not liking this scene! I have a daughter who was a social fish out of water in college because she had nothing in common with the usual party scene. I can’t tell you how many tearful phone calls I got because of this, all about her anxiety feeling like she SHOULD go to these parties but really having an aversion to them, and at the same time not wanting to act like a wet blanket. She survived and now she is in grad school in a different location where she has found people with whom she has many interests in common. Parties seem to be small fun game nights rather than large numbers of people getting wasted, and other fun social events. Like the Captain often says, maybe you need to meet other people.

    By the way, I have learned so much from reading this website! I really admire the Captain’s advice and approach to life.

    1. Oh yeah, I totally agree with this. My social anxiety is largely under control, but I still hate parties, don’t do well at parties, don’t like parties. It always feels like the worst of both worlds: I get oversocialized and have to go into an introvert cave for a few days after… but I don’t even get the benefit of meaningful interaction out of it! I always feel like I’m in social overload, but I can’t even spend more than a short time with any given person anyway.*

      So I don’t go to them. Instead I do exactly what you recommend: game nights, dinners with a smaller handful of people, meeting up with a couple of people at coffee shops, etc. It feels less efficient, and I mean, technically it probably is, since I get interaction with smaller numbers of people at a time. But it works so much better.

      * – And of course some people love parties, so for them, parties are awesome. They’re just not for me.

  28. LW 1: Stop trying to kill your passions. What you’re reallyreallyreally interested in is what makes you cool. People who are super interested in stuff need people in their lives who are also super interested in stuff. It doesn’t necessarily have to be all the same stuff, but passionate people appreciate passionate people. If you’re an intense person, you’re probably going to be bored by someone who doesn’t really care about stuff, and then what will have been the use of sacrificing yourself to get them?

    Of course there’s a time and place to be a total geek about the things you’re interested in; of course you may need to rein it in a little bit in certain social/work situations or give it a rest sometimes.

    But it’ll destroy your heart eventually to disallow yourself from caring deeply about the things that you care deeply about.

    And also because the reality is that you may not wind up with a romantic partner…and you will have sacrificed your own likes and emotions and things that matter to you. And those are the things that will sustain you when you need them.

    And someone who doesn’t appreciate your intensity, probably doesn’t really appreciate *you* for who you are.

    1. +1 on this.

      An intersting thing: When I finally let out some of my interests in kind of weird ways, even the people I thought were the super-shallow, conventionalness-obsessed types LOVED it.

    2. To quote John Scalzi’s essay “Who Gets To Be A Geek?”

      Many people believe geekdom is defined by a love of a thing, but I think — and my experience of geekdom bears on this thinking — that the true sign of a geek is a delight in sharing a thing. … When a geek sees someone else grooving on the thing they love, their reaction is to say “ZOMG YOU LOVE WHAT I LOVE COME WITH ME AND LET US LOVE IT TOGETHER.”

      Any jerk can love a thing. It’s the sharing that makes geekdom awesome.

      So own your odd interests and your peculiar passions. There are people out there who will think that is absolutely wonderful.

  29. Thank you, Captain and everyone who replied! I read all the comments and they’re very helpful.

    I think the solution for me for now is going to be officially taking a break from looking for a partner – I’m not inclined to put a lot of effort into it to begin with and the online dating thing has been sort of hanging over my head like a chore I should be doing. It’s a little awkward for me right now anyway because I’m planning to move to a different city next year – luckily, a more populous one where I’ll have a greater probability of making more friends – so it makes a lot of sense to just take “find a partner” off the to-do list. …it probably shouldn’t be on the to-do list in the first place, except insofar as “do things that are fun!” is on the list, but that’s kind of a separate list. It shouldn’t be on the same list as “clean the kitchen,” and “organize my taxes file,” which I realize that’s where it’s been for me, LOL

    And I’m going to work on this more in therapy – I’m at the point where I understand intellectually that it makes sense to focus on what my body does instead of what it looks like – and hey, my body does some awesome stuff! – but I’m still working on understanding it emotionally.

    Thank you everyone, this has helped me feel better and clarify what I need to do ❤

    1. Hey LW #367 –

      I’ve been thinking of writing Captain Awkward a very very similar letter to what you wrote above. I’m similarly a fit-but-not-thin, not conventionally attractive woman in the STEM fields who shuts down a bit at large parties and I definitely have the wide variety of hobbies and interests that I can sometimes be a little over-passionate about at people. And I also have been having absolutely terrible luck with the dating thing to the point of sometimes just feeling like something about me is ridiculously unattractive. Most of the time I’m happy with everything I’m doing – graduate school and sports and hobbies and, you know, life – and then sometimes I look at all my friends who have relationships or go on dates or at least sometimes have other people express interest in them, and have moments of overwhelming self pity. (and YES to online dating sometimes feeling like a chore)

      I guess mostly I wanted to thank you for writing the letter, because it helped me to feel less alone. And to wish you good luck with everything. I know for me, working on understanding who I am (through therapy and also just existing and getting older and spending more time in my skin) has helped me get more comfortable with it all. That and meeting a wider range of people, including people who are content and forever-single and people who didn’t partner up until later in life and realize there’s still a wide range of places my life could end up. (and I hear you on the difficult transition between understanding things intellectually and emotionally, I hear you so so much)

    2. Something that can really help people to get to know and like their bodies is some sort of physical activity, which does assume ablebodiedness but even going for swims or hikes or dancing or whatever. It gets you really in touch with how it all works, which might be helpful.

    3. Hey there LW! I want to let you know that you’re probably making a fabulous choice to wait on dating until you move to your new place, as I have found changes of scenery REALLY help with that. I spent the last six years in a VERY big city which was lots of fun but dating was ironically really difficult because the culture of the city encouraged people to cultivate an aura of detached coolness that made it difficult for an overly-intense nerd like me to connect with people on a romantic level.

      Now, I am back in the city where I grew up, which is pretty big but not as big as where I was living before. And I have had lots of really good dates, and I am starting to date a particular someone on a more regular basis. And it has been two months since I moved, which is not what I was expecting at all.

  30. Anybody remember the “sexy-ugly” scene from Kissing Jessica Stein?

    (Obviously all the deep stuff everyone said is totally true, but even on the shallow level, “ugly” can be totally hot!)

      1. Yes! Thank you for the link, I couldn’t find one. (And then there’s a second scene where they both pass a guy on the street who is CLEARLY smoking-hot sexy-ugly.)

  31. I totally agree with the comments that a person can fall for someone who is not their type because of their awesome personality and smarts, but you can also be hit by a bolt from the blue for someone you wouldn’t normally look twice at.

    My current crush is Not My Type. My type is willowy, effeminate boys like me but taller. My crush is very short, stocky, bearded and slightly plain. And yet the very fist time I saw him across a crowded room my jaw dropped. I still don’t know what it was – maybe his bare feet, maybe the fact he stands like a captain at the wheel of his ship. I dunno. I am very lucky he has turned out to be a genuinely awesome and interesting person. We’re good friends (He knows about the crush, and I don’t push it.)

    So don’t worry you’re not anyone’s type, because even if you’re not, that might not matter.

  32. LWs, when I saw the headline, “Am I too ugly to date?” I kind of hoped the Captain would say “Short answer: No.”

    Because nobody is.

    Seriously. Really. I swear it. The worst possible situation, complete with birth defects, injuries, and deeply unfortunate skin conditions? Still not too ugly to date. That business about having a face that only a mother could love is just lies.

    The lack of confidence that comes with feeling too ugly to date, that’s much more likely to get you. Even that doesn’t block everyone, sometimes people are off doing awesome non-dating things and trip and fall into relationships.

    Another secret is that when you look around at all the normal-looking or even beautiful people… at least half of them are thinking they’re just horrid, they’d break the mirror if they didn’t put on a bunch of makeup before going out. Self-hatred and body-hatred are terrible, pervasive, damaging things.

    “But”, you might say, “but you don’t understand, I am actually really that ugly. I know the difference! I’ve been professionally evaluated and I don’t have body dysmorphia, I am just ugly!”

    Okay! So what? You can be ugly if you want to be. I’m fat. We can go to the bar and all the pretty, skinny people can scream and run and we’ll say fuck ’em and drink beer and eat cake together.

    1. I think that a ‘Phantom Of The Opera Is Being Counter Productive’ joke or image macro is appropriate at this point but I don[t know how to make it properly.

      1. Erik is like the ultimate nice guy. (See also Skullcrusher Mountain.) “I wrote an entire opera for you and kidnapped you to the weird labyrinth palace where I have a mannequin of you in a wedding dress! WHY AREN’T YOU BLOWING ME YET? Jeez, what an ungrateful bitch.”

  33. When I was in my 20s I was told quite often that I was beautiful and looked like Julia Roberts. I have always been attracted to men whom I’d call ugly (in the sense of diametrically opposed to pretty) and whose smell I like (not their aftershave, their real smell). So that’s unwashed, wonky teeth, acne, knobbly bone structure and usually a great big scowl accross their features. Rrr.

    I married one of them. Two courses of Accutane did him a lot of good, and I do prefer him without the acne all told, but it was a minor thing which didn’t stop me throwing myself at him. If my husband hadn’t decided he was going to tackle his social anxiety, get himself out of the house and spend time with his friends, we would never have met. So my view is that spending time with like minded people can definitely lead you to meet other like minded people who want to rip your clothes off.

  34. YAY to the Captain’s advice and the other comments.

    Here is my own little tale of ugliness, beauty and love. I had very low self esteem as a teenager and in my early twenties. It’s no coincidence that I was in a relationship with a Darth for most of this time. Once that relationship ended, I tried internet dating and totally lucked out by meeting the future Mr Device within about 2 weeks of joining the site. When I first saw him in real life I didn’t find him very attractive and our first date was rather awkward, but I had enjoyed our email exchanges so much that I wanted to see him again. As we got to know each other better the attraction grew, both physically and mentally, until suddenly the sparks were flying and we were madly in love!

    Anyway. A few months into our marriage, we were invited to the wedding reception of someone my husband worked with. We didn’t really know anyone and ended up in a little huddle with some other work colleagues and their partners. One of the others suddenly commented “ah, man! We’re the ugliest people in the room!” And it was TRUE, all the other guests were incredibly glossy and our little group was not so much. Now, Younger Me would have taken that remark like an arrow to the heart but when it happened, we all fell about laughing.

    That was six years ago and we still occasionally announce to one another “we’re the ugliest people in the room!”.

    TL;DR. Love makes you beautiful. Beauty does not make you loved.

  35. Hey Ugly Duckling,

    I feel you so hard on the acne front, and the parties front. (I’m also a scientist, hooray for STEM ladies!) Anyways re: the acne, I still see myself as the awkward kid with the bad skin and bad haircut, even though my skin is more or less normal now. I tried every type of prescription cream and pill that the dermatologist had and nothing worked, nothing! My dermatologist finally said to me, at age 16, “all we have left is Accutane or Birth Control”. My parents were loathe to let a 16 year old use Accutane, so BCP it was. And lo, my skin cleared up. So if you’re not sensitive or opposed to hormones, I would encourage you to consider hormonal birth control to treat your acne. Also what worked for me? ProActiv. I know it is hella expensive and full of harsh chemicals, but it will have to be pried from my cold, dead hands because it is the only skincare that has ever made a difference for my skin. Of course, these things worked great for me and may or may not work for you, but if your skin is a point of self-consciousness for you, it is more than worth it to keep trying until you find something that works.

    Also: sometimes with self-confidence, we need to fake it until we make it. If you feel more confident in certain clothes- wear them! If you love makeup, wear it! Maybe consider getting a new and flattering haircut, if that’s your thing. If you’re not into clothes/fashion/makeup, that’s cool too. There is nothing superficial or frivolous about dressing in a manner that makes you feel like a superhero, and a confident exterior can do wonders for how you feel inside. This is probably nothing you haven’t heard before, but it’s often-repeated advice for a reason.

    And with respect to house parties? Probably my favourite thing about grad school is that house parties aren’t really a thing anymore. Feel free to let go of your guilt about feeling like you “should” have fun at parties- you can have fun in many other ways!

  36. I hesitate to weigh in here, because I’ve never had any trouble getting a date. However, more than one person who is very dear to me has had that terrible problem of feeling non-date-worthy. My heart breaks for both LWs, but it’s not from lack of hope: I believe with all my heart that both of you will be fine.

    My history: I was conventionally attractive until I was in my thirties. I was, however, needy, clingy, difficult, crazy as a bedbug, all kinds of unattractive personality traits. So I managed to have lots of dates with people who were attracted by the package, but were disappointed with the contents. I married when I was 21 and left the dating scene, but was still an emotional mess and had very few friendships and little respect from the people around me for many years.

    Then I had the Miracle of Therapy, worked on my issues, gained a lot of weight, lost my conventional attractiveness status, and eventually divorced in my early forties.

    I didn’t have any trouble finding dates, but most of the men my age were single for a good reason: they were not interested in having an ongoing relationship. Even though I was now fat and old and wrinkled and missing teeth, etc, etc, I never doubted I could find somebody to date if I wanted to, because I am, despite my looks, very attractive and very sexy.

    Then I met a man who had given up on dating. Because of his looks.

    I didn’t know what he looked like for a long time. We met on a blog site where he always put up funny animal pictures instead of personal pictures and refused to post anything that looked like him. He admitted that he was “an ugly man.” So for about the first year of our correspondence, I had no idea what he looked like and only cared out of curiosity. To me, his personality, unique, intelligent, tender, funny, goofy, snarky, naive, odd, musically brilliant–you get the picture–extremely attractive in all sorts of ways, but still a big question mark lookswise. How could I not be attracted to this man?!

    I had been sending pictures of myself in all sorts of poses and backgrounds for a long time, and whereas he admitted that he was not physically attracted to fat women or older women, he liked me so much that all that didn’t matter. I felt the same about him. When I finally got to see what he looked like, he didn’t look like himself to me at all, because he really is kinda funny-looking. I’ve since fallen in love with his unconventional looks. He’s bald, very tall and squeare-shouldered, he has a big belly though he’s not really fat, he has a huge nose in a round face, skinny lips, small, deep-set eyes, bad teeth and a mustache like a scrub brush–you know, UNconventionally attractive.

    I’m 58 years old now and he’s 61, we are married and happier than either of us has ever been, and we look at each other and giggle and clink our wedding rings together–Marriage Powers Activated!–and both feel very lucky.

    But we both had to let go of that physical attractiveness barrier that really doesn’t mean much. It’s important to like who you are and not try to conceal any of it. Be yourself. Model goofiness so other people know it’s okay with you. Everybody in the world is absolutely unique, so you don’t know what combination of qualities is going to blow somebody away. This uneasy phase of worrying about who you’re going to be with is painful, but it won’t last forever. Try to set it aside and just do what makes you happy and defiantly Be Who You Are. That’s what works.

  37. Since all the it’s-about-personality and insecurity-is-probably-your-biggest-impediment jazz has already been said, I’m gonna say that whatever negative trait you’re focusing on is only one part of your body. Haircut, clothes, accesories, hygiene and default body language are all malleable. They do reflect your personality in a certain way, but there is also plenty of stuff that just looks good on you because(haircuts that suit your hair type, clothes that accentuate your body shape, eyeliner that accentuates your eyeshape, etcetera). And these do not need to cost much or fit into a certain trend(heck, my wardrobe looks more like it is geared towards theme parties than everyday wear), just the opinions of the close bros who you feel have defined their personal style.

  38. Hi LWs,

    I am attracted to a pretty wide range of body types/facial features/genders/etc. “Conventionally attractive” folks aren’t necessarily *unattractive* to me, but generally those people aren’t who I notice and get Pants-Feelings about. One thing I’ve realized recently is that I am instantly drawn to people with open/friendly facial expressions. If you have a stoneface and show no interest or friendliness in your face or voice when talking, it’s really hard for me to feel anything, but an emotionally expressive face gets my attention even if I’m otherwise only neutral about someone’s appearance.

    Sure, some folks just hit me with their attractiveness the moment I see them (although again, my metrics for “ridiculously attractive” are not always the same as other people’s), but I often find myself feeling more physically attracted to people once I get to know them.
    The Finding/Displaying the Awesome checklist is a great tool, I think. Many of the people I have dated or found myself attracted to are people I was able to connect with over some shared interest, or something they were passionate about and could express in an interesting way. Some people may not like your looks and write you off, but others could realize they dig your other Exciting Attributes so much that your looks don’t matter, or over time someone who doesn’t immediately think you’re super-attractive might find that your looks grow on them.

    I guess my point is that even if you aren’t wildly attractive (and remember that this really is subjective; I bet there are people out there who *do* find you attractive!) that becomes less important, in my opinion, the longer you know someone. Impress fantastic people with how fantastic you are and the attractiveness may very well follow.

  39. In my narrative of my relationship I am dating a super attractive guy who is unspeakably awesome in every way. In my boyfriend’s narrative, I’m dating a goofy looking weirdo who somehow conned a pretty girl into liking him.

    I’m not saying that either narrative is wrong, per say, but woo boy does my goofy looking weirdo really do it for me. As for leagues, I think the twitter feed @shitmydadsays has blunt but good advice on the concept.
    “That woman was sexy…Out of your league? Son. Let women figure out why they won’t screw you, don’t do it for them.”

    1. This! I wonder how many people see their relationships, and themselves, this way? I know my beloved doesn’t think of himself as handsome or beautiful or anything, and is a bit bemused when women (not just me) go all wibbly about him. And I don’t think of myself as the queen of gorgeousness or anything like it, but that’s how he sees me. (I don’t care how other blokes see me ‘cos I’m only interested in Mr Kitteh.)

    2. Nodding emphatically. Both of my loves figure I’m with them because of how smart they are–and smartness is sexier than anything! I have certainly never had a wisp of interest in someone who was not super-smart!–but still. Neither of them is hard on the eyes, and certainly not on my eyes.

  40. Hi LWs,

    I have two suggestions for you, both of which helped me view and experience my physical self differently.

    1) Try doing restorative yoga at an Iyengar studio with a sympathetic teacher. I have hated yoga for approximately 20 years, so this is not coming from a true believer’s perspective. Restorative yoga is designed to help you relax into poses and to trick yourself into being comfortable. That physical comfort translates into psychic comfort. If you do try this style of yoga and say to yourself, “What’s the big deal? All we did was lie around on some pillows for an hour,” give it a few months or so. It takes a while to have an effect. I have a friend who has lots of body issues. I asked her once, “So, you’ve never stretch out your leg and felt satisfied that you have a leg that works? A leg that’s strong enough to stand on? A leg that does what you tell it to do?” She had never felt like that. That’s tragic. You deserve to feel good about yourself and feeling good will help you achieve that.

    2) Have some professional/semi-professional photos taken of yourself by a sympathetic photographer. I take photography classes at the local community college and we always need models. My teacher says that to be a successful model, you have to be over 18 and breathing. I’ve noticed that the best photographers among my classmates are people who can make the subject look like himself/herself, while capturing something essential about that person and avoiding the over-corrected appearance of commercial photography. I am horribly unphotogenic, but a good photographer can make me see myself anew.

    Good luck to both of you!

    And thank you for the photo of yourself, Captain!

  41. LWs, my heart goes out to you both, and I hope the answers here help you. I just wanted to add from my own experience (and apologies if this is repeating) that our notions of ourselves as ugly can owe a HUGE amount to the sort of garbage conditioning we pick up as teenagers. I know I did, and that was thirty-plus years ago. “You’re ugly” is the baseline insult in all its variations, and it can have one hell of a lasting effect. It hurts, it can shape how we see ourselves, but it’s not based in reality. It’s just the words of people who were out to hurt us.

    I didn’t think I was attractive in any physical way at all, until I was in my forties, and my beloved made it very clear he thinks everything about me IS beautiful, because it’s part of ME. Because he knows me, not because I suddenly turned into some sort of supermodel. Yes, it’s still another person’s opinion, but it reinforces emotionally the intellectual knowledge (something which also has to be learned, I think) that the “you’re ugly” message is a load of horse hockey.*

    I don’t know if this helps at all. I hope it does.

    *Just had a Colonel Potter moment.

  42. Looks are so very much NOT the key to dating! When I was in high school, I had a friend who was plain if you went strictly by her features in a photograph, but you never noticed that in person because she sparkled. She was sweet, outgoing, with a sharp, quick mind, tons of compassion and twin knacks for connecting to everyone and for making boys feel at ease (we were in high school: they were boys). Her romantic problems were all of the “torn between two-or-more lovers” type. On the other hand, I had conventionally attractive looks but was combative, reserved, intense, and closeted even to myself, and my romantic problems were all of the “I am deeply broken and doomed to spinsterhood” type (it was the 1980’s: the was one gay-straight alliance in the entire country, and I certainly hadn’t heard of it). I think she approached the world with confidence that she would be loved, while I approached the world fairly certain that it was not a world I would find a place in, and those two senses made a much greater difference in how people reacted to us than the shape of our respective cheekbones.

    It’s worth trying to train yourself out of dissing your looks–when you find yourself doing it, try to substitute another story instead, something about your own awesomeness that you do have confidence in. There’s a power in the stories we tell ourselves, and we are especially susceptible to them when we’re making ourselves so exquisitely vulnerable by seeking love. We may make a litany of the reasons we won’t ever be loved and recite them to ourselves as a ward to shield our fragile hearts, but if someone comes along and falls for us despite our defenses, the results may not be pretty. I’ve seen that at work with one of my sweeties who doesn’t believe herself to be attractive: even though from the beginning I was wildly attracted to her and showed it in ways that were not subtle at all, she simply couldn’t believe what was right in front of her and we both wound up hurt in the ways her disbelief played out.

  43. I don’t have much to say about dating, (I don’t do it) but I do have a small exercise for self-image. My former pastor taught me this one: when you are in a public place—the subway, the line at the grocery store, waiting for a table at a restaurant—look around and tell yourself one compliment about each person there. She has great hands and he has good taste in ties and she looks wise and he has pretty eyes and she has a beautiful coat and he has a friendly smile.

    It’s not easy at first, but it gets easier, and I found that looking at and noticing all the beautiful details of the people around me made it easier to notice the beautiful details about me.

    1. I love this so much. Such a nice way to train yourself to see what’s beautiful about people and not nitpick & shame as if you are some celebrity tabloid headline writer.

    2. As a matter of fact, this is exactly what helped me with my own self-image problems. It’s funny because after awhile I realized I was silently complimenting people for traits that *I had.* Which made it pretty silly to keep denigrating myself for having them. But it’s a good habit to get into for many reasons.

  44. “guys and girls who already have some baseline “sexual market value”

    Ouch. LW, have you been reading and internalizing pick up art nonsense?

    Because there is no such thing as sexual market value, people are not things you buy and sell (that is called human trafficking). You are not a washing machine, or a pop-up toaster where you have to list all your “features” and hope that someone will buy you. This is a seriously horrible and dehumanizing way to see the world.

    Dating is not tricking some woman into liking you, sex is not something that women give up in exchange for other things.

    It makes me sad that people internalize this bollocks.

    (Also CA – you look fabulous in that photo – happy and alive and fun to be with.)

  45. Yesterday’s Dinosaur Comics seems awesomely apropos (to this and many other CA dating duscussions): http://www.qwantz.com/comics/comic2-2306.png

    Also, while I don’t want to get into the makeover territory again, since all the useful stuff there’s been covered, I will say that one great tip is to do things that make you feel more awesome in your own body, whether that’s finding clothes that make you feel great or having a massage, or doing some sport that you are good at, or whatever. I had a bad breakup a few years ago which left me feeling like I must be somehow worthless, and it knocked my confidence a lot. It really helped me to start doing the kind of self-care that would always have seemed too frivolous to me before, like getting professional manicures, because it sort of reset my way of thinking about myself – I’m special enough to deserve a treat! I can wear sparkly eyeshadow because I think it’s awesome, no matter what anyone else thinks!

    I recently met a lovely man who I adore and who loves me, so I feel like those things I did to convince myself I was loveable helped with the dating success as well as making me feel happier when I was on my own.

  46. This link may help: http://jezebel.com/5946643

    It’s a Jezebel article about a Sikh woman with quite a bit of facial hair who a Reddit user attempted to shame on the Funny subreddit (Read the article and it will make more sense). People of the Sikh faith are no allowed to alter their body in any way, so she can’t do anything about the fact that she practically has a beard. Her name is Balpreet Kaur and she is awesome. A great role model in body acceptance and with a spirit we should all try to emulate.

    1. That was a stunning article – for Balpreet Kaur’s response and the astonishing fact of the Redditor apologising. Thank you for that link!

  47. My entire notion of what “attractiveness” means got blown out of the water several years ago when a friend confessed that she found Shane MacGowan incredibly hot. Here is a representative photo of Mr. MacGowan, for those not familiar with him (though I understand he’s since had his teeth done). Even then I wasn’t really following the notion that only people who met a specific physical standard could be considered “attractive,” but that incident was really an object lesson in not falling into the trap of thinking that a culturally-defined standard of physical beauty is what leads to attraction for all people.

    What any individual finds “attractive” can vary so wildly it can’t be quantified, and it generally is about factors much more broad than what culture tells is is supposed to be “beautiful” or “ugly.” “Beautiful” is not really what to strive for. “Attractiveness” is, and that has a whole lot to do with personality, interests, passion, interaction with others, and comfort with one’s self. Those factors are valuable and worth pursuing in and of themselves; it’s a wonderful bonus that they can lead to romantic/sexual partnerships as well.

    1. It’s in the teeth post linked in the OP: Shane McGowan does not give ONE SINGLE FUCK.

      The raging alcoholism is a problem. I can’t imagine he smells very good.

      1. Well, yeah. I wouldn’t be attracted to him because the behavioral concerns are off the charts. But it was just so illuminating to have someone say “yeah, I find him physically hot.”

        (I seem to have missed the link–apologies. I hate when I do that.)

  48. There are so many people who say beauty is skin deep and so on but if you’re ugly, and I’m in that category, then you are ugly. And I don’t mean half-a-bubble off ugly. I have a face like a potato that’s been ejected from a blender – that kind of ugly.

    BUT, a colleague (many years ago) said to me, ‘I’ll bet your wife is a stunner.’ (She is beyond stunning). ‘Because’, he said, ‘women are attracted to men with personalities and can make them laugh, you ring both bells’.
    I was walking on air for a week after hearing that.

    But I’m still ugly.

    1. I don’t see anything remotely ugly about those photos on your profile. Not one bit.

        1. That’s sort of the whole point, though, isn’t it? A whole lot of these discussions are premised on the idea that there is something objective called “ugly” when really, how attractive someone is has as much to do with the person looking as the person being looked at. I think it’s helpful for all of us to remember that ugly is a state of mind, not a fact.

    2. I think what you’re going for in this comment is that people are totally into your personality/sense of humour and this is more important than your looks and that’s cool, but I can’t help but think the underlying framework for this story is that funny/charismatic/whatever men get beautiful women. I don’t know if I can articulate it, but the idea that a funny/whatever/not handsome man’s wife obviously must be gorgeous because he is funny/other personality trait is kinda rubbish. Women are often seen as rewards, dependant on their looks, for men based on the man’s awesome personality/non-looks traits rather than recognising women’s own personality traits/non-looks features.

      1. There’s this couple that I know. They are friends of friends and I have only met them a few times. I don’t know what she does for a living, but, I know he’s a programmer. He’s the more “conventionally attractive” one, physically. When I first saw her I took in the unconventional face and slightly stooped posture and thought she looked distinctive. You won’t be mistaking her for anyone else, ever. Her voice and laugh are also distinctive, but,… she shines! Doing anything at all from listening to you to telling her stories or laughing, she shines.
        I think they are a cute couple, and great fun, but, they would never be a Hollywood casting idea of a cute couple.

      2. The funny geek being rewarded with a gorgeous girl at the end of a movie is certainly a trope in Hollywood, but I’m not reading that here. The tone I get from these comments is that people who are fun to be around, interesting and kind often find romantic partners because people want to be with someone who’s fun to be around, intelligent and kind. Physical appearance really isn’t that important to many when you weight it against something that really matters like personality.

        Maybe tone in writing is another eye of the beholder thing?

      3. Hi Dreamhouse – yes the premise is ‘kinda rubbish’ but that’s what my colleague said – it was a kinda backwards compliment to me I suppose. My wife is extremely good looking but her personality is outstanding, that’s what keeps us together (46 years last week since we first met)
        BUT, my colleague was (he died of cancer) a very observant person and he did see a correlation between men who have a certain kind of personality and the women they marry, and vice-versa.
        And I know tons of funny/ charismatic men who can’t get a date on a Saturday night. Good looks (as defined by the society you swim in) really does matter. I know more than a few women who were married to men who ‘loved them for their brains/personality/humour/kid-raising-skills’ who then decamped with the lipstick airhead from the office. You know, the one that men say looks stupid with those big breasts and short skirts.

        It’s a complex equation and not only do I not know the answer, I don’t even understand the question.

        Thanks for your insightful comments

  49. One more point to add to all the awesome already here…even if we’re still looking at superficial levels of attraction, not everyone is primarily visually oriented. One thing that made me crush on a former boyfriend was his amazing baritone voice. Deep voices just make me go all wibbly regardless of whom they’re attached to.

    1. Voices are awesome. I have something of a crush on a DJ for a niche Internet radio station. I haven’t the foggiest idea what he looks like, but, I really want to meet him.
      Also, I don’t tend to get really into someone(beyond a crush. Fall for someone) until I have talked to them. Even better if they are good at explaining or teaching something really obscure or technical.

  50. (Parenthetically, I would not go out with someone who is totally focused on appearance. People like that are often shallow and troubled in other ways. Not Worth It.)

  51. I don’t have a lot to add other than about the photos. I really don’t look like me in photos or videos, I never have. I always would tell people not to take pics of me and use the ole “don’t steal my soul” reason. Over the years I’ve realized that reason is sorta real. I am attractive to others and I believe that has less to do with my looks than with my appearance, sounds like I just said the same thing I know, but I did not. In person I am attractive because I smile with my whole face and my eyes are alive and I am paying attention to you when you are speaking and well, reasons…you are seeing ME being ME. In a photo you are NOT seeing me, all of that which makes me attractive is lost.

    The above is separate from the fact that some people look way bigger/washed out/etc in vid/photos than they really are and coloration is always an issue, that’s why you need to be made up a lot to look normal in video. I talked to my little bro about this cos he’s a photo journalist, he told me that in photo and video this is well known. His example was when you see people on a talk show and they seem to be sitting very close to one another, most of the time they really are not that close. And he showed me a vid of his wife on the same day, heavily made up and sans makeup, it was amazing how truly awful his (beautiful) wife looked without the pancake. I’m just sayin, the camera does things.

    I’m just sayin, when you see your photo, that is not how you look, not even close.

    Lastly, I am a naturist, once I began to go to places where I was around other naturists it became so obvious that everyone is beautiful, I think it has to do with the lack of barriers tho I am not sure. I have never seen a person in whom I did not see the spark of beauty (clothed or not). Sometimes that spark is extinguished when I get to know them, that is because who you are matters the most to how beautiful you are.

  52. The sort of git who only likes pretty people isn’t worth dating. You will both have fewer people to date, but once you do find people you will know that they actually like you, no wading through piles of shallow annoying jerks.

    Don’t worry LW1 older men creep on everyone, it isn’t you. Pretty girls just get young ones too. I get that all the time from men 18 ish to about 70. It sucks.

    My husband is wonderful, sharp, funny, kind. He is also fat, has lumpy facial features and had ghastly acne when we married. Some people really are not much to look at but it just doesn’t matter if they are awesome.

  53. I would also like to say that this doesn’t just apply to romantic/sexual attraction. I used to know this girl, and when I first met her I thought she was just really quite strange looking. She had crooked teeth and kind of weird hair and I just thought she was not really all that attractive at all. But she was so much fun to hang out with and we had heaps in common and the more I got to know her, the more I thought she was just a fantastic person. And even though I was never romantically interested in her at all, the more I got to know her the more her face just kind of became HER. Until suddenly I found myself thinking about how she was just *really pretty* and how lucky she was to look that great. It wasn’t that I was just, idk, overlooking her ~innate unattractiveness~ but rather that I saw her in a new light and realised that she *was* attractive.

    Beauty really is just so subjective, and once you get to know someone their life and personality really does become part of how you see them (just like how someone’s name often comes to mean so much more than just the syllables contained in it).

  54. “You don’t have to have a perfect face for your face to eventually be someone else’s very favorite face. I promise, promise, promise this is true.”

    So, so, so true.

    Look. I’m not going to pretend that humans don’t know when someone is “ugly”, if by “ugly” one means “asymmetric and/or not conventionally attractive”. If someone walked up to me and said “Quick! Name the four ugliest humans you know!” …I can do that. I know what faces look like and how well they line up with cultural definitions of beauty. BUT. Three of those people are happily partnered people with lots of friends. Those three people are only “ugly” on the OUTSIDE. It’s like in Dahl’s “The Twits” where he talks about how you can have a double chin and wonky nose and sticking-out teeth but if you have good thoughts, they will shine out of your face and you will always be lovely. One of these people has the kindest, wry-est eyes! One of them has an infectious grin! One of them looks a bit like a sheepdog that is laughing at you and that always makes me smile when I talk to him! When I think about them I think about those things, or about their funny stories, or how the one of them I don’t get along with makes my friend (her partner) super-happy.

    The fourth guy is a scary horrorshow that has nothing to do with his face. His face is no “worse”, no “uglier” than the faces of the other three. His personality is the thing that is putting off potential romantic partners (and potential friends, and strangers with a sense of self-preservation, and anyone with a functioning asshole detector).

    So if you are not a terrible excuse for a human being, there is no way you can be too ugly to date. For real. Your face is gonna be your face, but if you are a decent human being, other decent human beings are perfectly able to relate to you as YOU, not as Giant Wonky Nose Lady or Assembled From Spare Parts Man or whatever you think your particular physical flaws are.

  55. Something odd that helped me was to watch more British TV. Sure, they (and US stuff) have conventionally attractive people, but they have a lot of unconventionally attractive ones, too, and a lot more story lines in which people are smoking hot because of their minds, or their actions, or some other trait that doesn’t involve Botox, or decades of orthodontia or a perfect figure. A few US cable shows are bringing in more “character” actors for parts that are interesting and attractive in their own right. This tends to skew more tolerantly for unconventional men than women, but they’re there.

    I study European noble families, and from our commercial objective standpoint, some of these people are truly weird-looking, but at the time, their identifiable nose, or chin or pink-red hair was attractive because it identified them as who they were. So I have a funny nose, but it’s my family’s funny nose, and while it doesn’t come with a castle as a dowry, it’s part of the whole package and part of my identity.

    Also, and this is a personal true story–the point at which you get comfortable with the idea that you’d be pretty happy even if you never met anybody, because you’re comfortable in your own skin, and doing what you enjoy and complete in yourself, that’s when you’re going to be *really* attractive to other people. I swear, it was like a bug light.

    1. I agree with the British TV thing so hard. Fewer unlined Ken dolls and Barbies all around. I’ve been on a Prime Suspect binge on Netflix and it’s awesome to watch a variety of faces & hear a variety of accents on the screen.

      I wish the US would embrace diversity of all types in casting not just for justice and representation issues but because it’s BORING not to.

      1. I love British tv because I can (usually, in combination with context and voice) tell people apart! There’s just enough variation because they don’t stick to this narrow look. It’s amazing.

        1. Silly to chime in on this, but it seems the BBC hires actors who look like *people*, not actors who look like movie stars. One of the best things about the Beeb is that they trust the viewer enough to make the right judgement about the characters–they don’t feel they have to telegraph/spoon feed you with stuff like “pretty=good”.

      2. I noticed this same thing watching post-debate commentary on PBS the other night. The commentators were there for their relevant knowledge and intelligence, of course, and it was so nice to see a diverse group of people who differed from the normal set of young/Botoxed/conventionally attractive folks you see on TV. I’ve also enjoyed the same thing on Downton Abbey, which has its share of pretty young things but definitely quite a few different faces as well, and on Midsomer Murders. It’s truly refreshing.

    2. I watch nothing but British telly, and the variety of faces is one of the many things I enjoy about it. The US shows that get screened here, and Australian shows too, to a lesser extent, seem to be populated by clones. I’ve actually given up on some US crime shows because I couldn’t tell one lead from another – men and women.

      Are the Habsburgs among the families you study? They’re the ones who come immediately to mind with distinctive family faces.

  56. I just want to throw in that I am on a regular basis making out with somebody I consider visually unattractive. Because they’re awesome, personality-wise.

  57. Letter writer 368 — you seem really concerned about the acne and the inability to lose weight, and while I think you should ALSO take the captain’s advice, perhaps a visit to the doctor for some tests for PCOS will turn up some answers. I know I was exercising and taking medications and doing everything right and somehow still falling short and your story just sounded quite familiar.

  58. LW2, I’m a queer dude so I know I’m not your thang, but throughout my life I have had the most ridiculous crushes on boys and men who simply don’t have that chiseled symmetrical thing going on that qualifies as conventionally attractive. As other commenters have said, inner awesome is a magical thing. Attraction isn’t logical. You can game it a little, sure, and thousands of companies definitely want to sell you stuff to do so, but your own inner awesome is a more powerful aphrodisiac than you can imagine. Discover and develop it and let it shine forth, and look for the awesome in others.

    I was friends with my current boyfriend for a few years before we started dating and I thought he was nifty and okay-looking; he was a great guy and had some individual features I liked but the whole package didn’t particularly rev my motor. One night late around a campfire my girlfriend at the time basically dared me to kiss him, and having no particular objection, I did. And wow. One of the best kissers I have ever encountered. His looks haven’t changed since then but something in me did; now I can only tell you he is totally yummy and I occasionally stare at him while my brain burbles about how sexy he is and can’t imagine why I didn’t jump on that as soon as I met him.

    Attraction’s fun like that. It’s not like, by looking for the awesome instead of focusing on the appearance, you would be settling for a plain girl with a great personality or she would be settling for an ugly man with some redeeming features—you’d BOTH be finding a sexy person who is also the heppest cat ever.

    Best of luck to both LWs. You’re gonna rock it.

  59. I knew a guy who lost an eye to cancer when he was 18 or so. He had no trouble getting dates or getting married. After you talked to him for a bit, you just stopped noticing the eye. It was only such a small part of who he was.

  60. LW #367, just a small additional thought to all the good advice already given here. You say your depression is being “managed” – does that mean drugs? How long have you been on them? Are you aware that most of these drugs do a really serious number on your sex drive? Maybe you’re just being medicated into a state where you don’t feel enough to be motivated to act..

  61. Oh gods. I tried online dating…and it was a huge steaming bucket of fail for me. I hate being photographed, and I look awful in photos, which makes me hate being photographed, which makes me look awful in photos. The me-ness doesn’t come across. That’s me in that facebook profile, btw, one of the few decent pictures of me!

    I could never seem to write a good, engaging, fun profile. I always came across too gamer geeky, too snarky, too whatever. I went through a phase where I played up the fact that “I don’t care about shopping and won’t bother you while you’re watching football and I will never say “If you don’t know why I’m mad I’m not telling you!” (in a very misguided and sexist way I was attempting to set myself apart from things guys bitch about with women and needless to say, it failed, because I sounded bitter and cynical instead of clever).

    When I wasn’t coming across all wrong, I sounded too bland…except to the creepy pervy guys, married guys, and older (50+) men, sometimes a mix of all three. In the outside world, my steadily worsening self-esteem drove off anyone who was attracted to fat, geeky, slightly gothy women in their early forties. As a result, I endured a nearly 10 year dry spell (my last boyfriend dumped me in 1999), convinced that I was hideous and all the nice guys were taken and the ones who weren’t creeps only wanted fashion models.

    I gave up on dating in 2007. Really gave up, not the fakey sort where you pretend to give up hoping it will happen, and not the sort where you’re just too busy living life and having fun. I gave up. Said fuck it.

    Two months later, I met my partner on a forum related to the Elder Scrolls games. I’d never considered being with another woman, but I wasn’t closed to the possibility, and we clicked right away. By 2008, we were in love. 2012, we’re still together: the only distance we have is physical–she’s in New Zealand, I’m in the US. I wasn’t going to turn my nose up at a great person over distance 😀 thankfully, she didn’t either. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but we love each other, and if this country’s stupid laws against same-sex marriage ever change, I’m bringing her here (I tried immigrating to her, but long story short, red tape screwed it up, and she’s rather come here, anyway!)

    The point is, makeovers etc. are fine for boosting your confidence, if that is what you need, then go for it. But it’s the you inside that matters most, and you have to project the best and most real you out there to find someone. Also, genuinely not looking helps 🙂

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