Ok L&L, I’m gonna do something I rarely do with letters like yours. I’m going to be bluntly honest with you. So brace yourself, it’s Chair Leg of Truth time:
You’re doing something a lot of folks do: you’re talking a lot of self-pitying shit. I’ve picked your letter in particular because, frankly, it’s an example of an entire genre I get on the regular: guys who are miserable and lonely and want me to sign off on the idea that they’re uniquely fucked by the universe.
And I won’t do it. Sorry. My job is to help folks and give people solutions. So if you’re writing to me for permission to give up, that’s on you, chief. Because I’m not willing to say “yup, time to give up.”
Why? Because, quite frankly, most of the things you’re talking about are confirmation bias. You believe that you’re ugly and hopeless and, as a result, only pay attention the things that confirm what you already believe. Someone looked at you and looked away? It must be because they couldn’t stand to look at Quasimoto, not that they were looking at things entirely unrelated to you. Someone didn’t respond to your dating profile? Had to have been because of your looks, not because the two of you had conflicting interests or they were so inundated by messages that they never saw yours.
None of these have anything to do with your looks or your “value” – more on that in a second – but it’s incredibly easy to write a narrative that just confirms what you think of yourself. Regardless of any evidence to the contrary.
You’re “pretty sure” you’re ugly and you hate photos of yourself. As for the second: hey, welcome to the club. I hate 99.9% of all photos and videos of me that are out there. The ones I don’t mind tend to be taken by professional photographers, and even then I zero in on the things that I can’t stand. And y’know what? Those are things that literally only I see. To everyone else, it’s a non-issue or something so minor and nit-picky that it’s downright absurd that I get fixated on them. And yet, I do. I recognize it intellectually, but it still gets me on a gut level.
So y’know. I sympathize.
But let’s talk about the first for a second: you’re “pretty sure” you’re ugly. That’s an important distinction. 9 times out of 10, when I hear from someone who tells me they’re ugly, what they’re actually saying is “people don’t look at me the way folks look at Channing Tatum.” And when I see pictures of them? I can see why. Not because they’re ugly – they aren’t – but because they don’t put any effort in. Their hair is limp and lifeless, their grooming is entirely off and they look like they haven’t slept in a week. Their clothes are sloppy and ill-fitting, their body language screams “go away” and they look like skin care is something that happens to other people.
And here’s the thing: these are all easily fixable. These are all issues that could be taken care of in a matter of days, if not hours.
Making even absurdly minor changes can drastically affect how you look. All you have to do is watch any random episode of Queer Eye and see how a simple hair cut, beard trim and change of clothes can transform a person. But you have to want to put the effort in. The problem is that when guys declare that they’re ugly, they are giving themselves permission to not do anything. After all, what’s the point? You can’t polish a turd and putting lipstick on a pig leaves you with an annoyed pig. So it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. They’re ugly, so why do the things that would make them not ugly? Alternately, they don’t want to step outside of their comfort zones – they don’t alter their hair and skin care routine because that’s not something they “do”. They don’t change their hair or their clothes because it’s “not them”.
But as I always ask: how’s that working out for you?
That’s the first step, by the way: putting some care and effort into your appearance. Even if you don’t have Michael B. Jordan’s face or Chris Evans’ chin, that doesn’t mean you can’t be more attractive. You want different results, you have to start doing different things You have to put the work in.
And, incidentally, I’ve seen burn victims with massive facial scarring find love. So can you.
Then there’s this: what’s the point of hobbies or interests if you have nobody to share them with? Well, to start with, you have things that you enjoy and bring you comfort and satisfaction in your life. That, in and of itself is valuable, even if you’re just doing them on your own. I love talking books with people, but even if I didn’t have anyone to talk about them with – as I didn’t for years – I’d still be a voracious reader.
But just as importantly: you can have people to share those interests with. We call them “friends”. Yes, I realize that you’re talking about wanting a romantic partner, but that is actually part of the problem. One of the reasons why we are dealing with an epidemic of loneliness is because of how men have consistently isolated themselves emotionally. We are taught to equate emotional intimacy with sexual intimacy and that to be emotionally open and vulnerable to other men is gay and effeminate. So we end up expecting our romantic partners to be our all-in-one source for our needs. We treat our girlfriends and wives as not just sex or romantic partners but to be our best friends and the sum totality of our emotional connection. And not only is that not sustainable within a relationship, it contributes to that isolation. Most relationships end, after all, and when they’re your only emotional connection, you’re left feeling even more alone than before.
That’s the second thing that you need to focus on: you need to make more friends, closer friends… especially with other men. No, they won’t be your romantic partner. But they will add value, satisfaction, companionship and happiness to your life: things that you desperately need right now.
And then there’s the fact that “approaching doesn’t work and apps aren’t helping.” First, let’s be clear: most people don’t meet their partners at bars or clubs on a cold-approach. Nor, for that matter do most people meet their partners on dating apps, even in this day and age. Most people meet their partners either through their daily activities – such as work, hobbies or church – or through their friends.
This is no small part of why investing in your hobbies and interests and building your social circle are important. Not only do they make you happier, less lonely and more satisfied, but they help you meet other people. Don’t have any friends who can introduce you to singles they know? Cool, work on making more friends. Pursue your passions in ways that bring you in contact with other people – people who would make amazing potential new friends. These will get you out out of the house and interacting with more people. The more people you interact with, the more potential you have for making new friends – and in doing so, meeting folks who you will want to date and who will want to date you.
That’s your third step, incidentally.
And you may want to take another look at some of the women you’re meeting on dating apps that you aren’t interested in. They may not be a Kardashian or a Taylor Swift or a Beyonce, but that doesn’t mean they may not be relationships worth pursuing. Examining your own ideas of who you’re attracted to and why is important, especially if you’re basing 90% of your judgement on looks.
And then there’s this: “[I’m] aware that as a mid-thirties, low value man that it’s too late.”
Fuuuuuuuuck right off with that. That is complete and utter bullshit and I won’t have it. That’s just a way of absolving yourself from doing the work. The fact that you’re in your mid thirties means exactly two things: jack and shit. And Jack left town. Same with being “low value”. Value is neither universal nor permanent. It has nothing to do with your job, your looks, your possessions or your popularity? Want to be a high-value man? Cool… start providing value to others. Be a good friend to others. Help people feel appreciated and liked. Give of your time and emotional energy to people who need you. Work to make the world a better place.
While we’re at it? “I try to add value though it’s meaningless without partnership?” No, sorry I call bullshit on this action. Having a partner is great, but being partnered with someone doesn’t change your value or give worth to something or someone that you wouldn’t have being single. Being single isn’t a reflection of your worth or worthiness as a person; it just means that you’re single. Period.
And double-fuck “it’s too late”. Are you dead? No? THEN IT’S NOT TOO LATE. There is no such thing as too late. There’s no window of time which stands as the only point in your life where you can find love. Would it be nice if you had found someone amazing in your twenties? Sure. But you didn’t and that’s ok. That’s fine. You can start now.. but only if you actually start. You’re looking for reasons to not get started. You want to way “well, I missed out and now there’s nothing.” Which, hey if that’s what you want, then go right ahead. But you also have to accept that this is a choice you’ve made, not something that the universe has forced onto you.
Will it be easy? No, it won’t. Relationships and love are never easy, even for people who seemingly have the knack for it. You’re always going to have to put in effort and work for it. There will always be trials and tribulations, no matter how socially gifted you are or aren’t. It just doesn’t seem like it to you because, frankly, the anxiety weasels in your brain are telling you that you and you alone struggle. And you don’t. Everybody does. And if you saw their lives with the same totality that you see your own, you’d realize that.
Now here’s a truth: Some people do indeed die alone without having found love or a partner. But here’s the thing: you don’t know if that’s you until the moment when you die. Are you doomed to be forever alone? Nobody knows and nobody can know, not the least of all you.
Technically, you could be. You could line up a date for this weekend and be hit by a falling satellite tomorrow. Or you could be single into your forties or fifties until you meet this amazing person at lunch and spend the rest of your life in connubial bliss. You don’t know.
And since you don’t know, it’s better to live under the assumption that it’s possible and – importantly – work towards making that happen. Otherwise you will be forever alone because you will have chosen to be so.
This is your life, and you can choose to take control of it. It’s all up to you. The choice is yours.
And I promise you: all will be well.
Hi Dr. NerdLove,
One of the reasons I like your site so much is that your discussions help retroactively clear up some things for me that have come up in my dating life of yore. Thank you!
I’m a professor at a school that puts a lot of emphasis on teaching and on mentoring students. I love this part of my job, and as I’m new-ish to the professorhood, I’m always working at trying to be firm but encouraging, supportive but clear on when I’m past my capacity (professionally and mentally) to help, etc. I refer a bunch of students to counseling and to other mental health resources to deal with everything from probable PTSD to organizational issues, though with the latter type of issue, I can also offer a good deal of advice and support.
I’ve noticed some uncomfortable moments come up with some of my male students. As a bit of background, I’m in my mid-thirties, married but my students may not know that, and they probably think I’m younger as well. I tend to have a friendly rapport with students of all genders. Anyhow, I see a bunch of male students who just don’t seem to have their stuff together–can’t start papers before the day before they’re due, aren’t really resourceful about looking things up in the syllabus, etc. I’m perfectly willing to believe that my female students are equally bad at these things, but it’s the male students who seem to end up in my office to talk about it. Usually this is all coupled with breaking up with a girlfriend, being depressed, feeling anxious, and a host of other things. Inevitably, they ask, “What would you do?” or a more intense variant, “What have you done when you feel like everything is going wrong?” And then often, they answer their own question: “You’re so together; you’ve probably never felt like this.”
So obviously I’m not going to tell them that I, too, have been a mess at various parts in my life, or at least, I’m not going to get into specifics. I try to help them as best I can, and I always say, “this isn’t about me, it’s about you and what you’re facing.”
But something about these conversations has made me uncomfortable for months, and I realized what it is: they remind me of dates I used to go on. I’d meet a guy online (usually), and we’d have a drink or whatnot, and chat about our days, our jobs, families, whatever. And sometimes, maybe in a third of all first dates I went on, the dude would say the same type of thing–they were dealing with x y or z heavy thing but “you probably don’t know anything about it, you seem perfect.” It was always frustrating–I dealt with a lot of shit but didn’t expect my dates to provide counseling! And then I would almost always delve into a really self-deprecating routine of how I worry so much about my work, I think I’m not good enough, etc. And then we would make out. Now I see: NOT OKAY, not good for me, not good for gender relations, but at the time, especially in my mid-late twenties, it felt like the only way to handle the situation. To be clear: I don’t get a flirty or sexual vibe from the students and would shut it down if I did but I do feel like gender and age are playing a role here, and they wouldn’t act the same with an older prof or a male prof.
So I guess my question is: is my feeling of discomfort that these student meetings are resembling bad dates warranted? And if so: where does this impulse from young guys come from? Why make the seemingly-together person sitting across from you into some idealized person-with-no-problems? And: do you have any possible responses to these guys, either the ones encountered on dates (not for me but I’m sure other women deal with it) or in the office?
I don’t think your discomfort is unwarranted, NP, but I think you may be mistaking the source. These guys aren’t trying to pull Schrödinger’s Date on you, they’re turning to you for support and help. They’re dumping their emotional problems on you and hoping that you can fix it for them. It’s not romantic or sexual, but they’re asking you to preform emotional labor for them none the less.
(Your dates are another story and hoo boy that’s a topic for another time because that is something that deserves it’s own full “what are you DOING?”)
This is happening in no small part because, as I told L&L earlier, men are socialized to keep everything bottled up and never open up to anyone… except women. Because emotional expressiveness isn’t “manly”, the only people that most men feel comfortable being vulnerable with are women. And in doing so, they tend to expect women to do the work for them.
Now obviously the answer isn’t to do their work. What is the right option is telling them that they can handle it and – if necessary – pointing them to the tools and resources that they need so that they can learn to take care of things themselves. That may mean pointing them towards the mental health services at your school, to sites like MoodGym or even a certain dating advice column.
But part of the point of colleges and universities isn’t just an education. It’s about growing and maturing and learning how to operate in the world we live in. And that means learning NerdLove’s First Rule: Thou Shalt Handle Thine Shit. It’s no shame to need to learn how to take care of yourself, even in your late teens to early 20s… but you still have to do it.
So take heart, NP: they’re showing that they trust you and value you and believe that you can help them. And you can… by helping them learn how to help themselves.