Dear Dr. NerdLove:
Would it be too much trouble for you to help solve an ongoing debate between me and my friends? I’m a brand-new college graduate and the “ugly” one in my friend group, just as I was in high school and will probably always be. I’m slim, fit, tallish but not too tall, I put time into my hair, skin, and makeup, I dress probably the best of all of us despite not being wealthy, I’m a super smart, funny, unique, creative person who, while introverted, is not shy or antisocial – I’m 95% sure the main problem is my face. I would like at the very least to get a rhinoplasty on my large, bony, semi-hooked nose, and double jaw surgery to shorten my extremely long chin and midface and bring the total length of my face more into harmony with its narrowness. But I’m afraid I’ll be in my late 20’s or even 30’s before I can afford it, by which point, why bother? On top of that I have thin lips, no visible cheekbones, and small, close-set brown eyes – all of which I do my best to correct with makeup, but having seen most of my friends without makeup, my best effort still falls far short of where they are naturally. My hair is long and shiny, but takes forever to grow and two different stylists have confirmed it’s too fine to bleach without risk of destroying it, so I can’t just go blonde and get an instant hotness boost like many meh-looking brunettes can.
My three best friends (the ones I’m close enough to vent to about my insecurities) are all big-blue/hazel-eyed, full-lipped, small-nosed, cute-faced girls. Two of them have amazing boyfriends, the third does not want to be in a relationship yet (although she could get one the second she changes her mind) but seems to sleep with a different hot, often older guy at least once a week. Yet they, like the rest of my friends, all complain constantly about being hit on by guys they’re not interested in, mobbed by guys at bars/clubs where they just want to drink/dance, asked out on dates by weirdos at work, guys pretending to be their friends just to creep on them, strange men coming up to them at the grocery store or gas station just to tell them they’re beautiful. Whereas I have literally never once in my life been hit on, even in places people go specifically to hook up – never been asked out – never had any guy but my dad tell me I’m pretty/beautiful – and can’t imagine I ever will.
From age 5-6 when my reasonably cute baby face started to turn weird, through 15-16 when I finally figured out how to dress and groom myself and went on Accutane, I never lacked boys calling me *ugly*…now, other women and sometimes gay guys compliment my outfits all the time…but otherwise I have never once had an unrelated male human being comment on my appearance in a positive way. I don’t even have any non-gay male friends (as opposed to just FOAFs) – possibly because, in my female friends’ experience, any guy who’s your friend really just wants to bang you, and nobody wants to bang me. (I will say that during the height of the pandemic, I noticed strange men *looking* at me, for the first time in my life, and even being somewhat gallant toward me, when I was wearing a mask…but none of them were apparently willing to risk chatting me up without knowing what I looked like underneath.)
A couple of nights ago I had a dream I was at a big, loud, chaotic party, the kind where you can only have a conversation by shouting directly in the other person’s ear, and caught a cute little redheaded guy staring shyly at me from across the crowded room; I did the thing where you smile and look away, and looked back to see him tentatively starting toward me, and smiled again to encourage him, and felt my whole heart and body light up and glow as I looked flirtily away again, absolutely knowing he was making his way across the room toward me. I woke up well before he got to me, and immediately started crying because it’s the exact kind of thing I long for, that would never, ever happen to me in real life. I know how to give the look…I just don’t get the response.
I do get occasional Tinder matches, but those guys never message me, and if I message them (which I really need to stop doing), they either don’t reply, or make it clear they’re not really interested. So I can only conclude that these are the guys who blindly swipe right on every girl, then when we match they actually look at me, and decide I’m not good enough. I’m still a virgin because it seems my only option would be to get super drunk and just throw myself at the grossest guys in the bar until one of them decides I’m worth a pity fuck, and somehow I still have too much self-respect for that.
When I ask my friends if they’d want to trade places with me, they accuse me of being antifeminist and not having empathy for their problems, while refusing to have empathy for mine. It’s getting to be a self-fulfilling prophecy where I’m less and less able to make the right supportive noises when they complain about all these creeps and weirdos, because I can’t help thinking how awesome it would be to have a constant parade of guys approaching *me*, and be able to pick which ones I wanted to sleep with/date – or if the one I wanted was too shy to join the parade, to at least be assured he’d probably be thrilled if I approached him. Rather than always bearing the burden of having to do the approaching, and getting my emotions and self-esteem trampled in the dirt again and again and again. It’s not that I fail to see the downside or am unwilling to ever listen to them vent, I just wish they would sometimes stop and count their blessings
(Note: I promise I am not chasing guys out of my league. I realize my friends’ boyfriends would not be a match for me, and I would not feel secure with a guy way better-looking than myself anyway. I actually prefer “adorkable” intellectual guys over classically handsome gym/frat/business bro types. But it sometimes seems like all men are fixated on the same type of conventionally cute/beautiful woman, and if they can’t get someone like that, would rather be alone and bitter than get to know someone like me. In fact the guy I had the most demoralizing crush of my life on is still whining online about being a virgin at 25, which he attributes mainly to being short, which I don’t care about and never have – it’s just that he feels entitled to an Instagram model. So the last thing I want here is to come off as a female version of him.)
Sometimes they try to turn this around and tell me to count *my* blessings, because at least I get to live my life free from sexual harassment. Nope! I get catcalled almost every time I go running alone, I was groped and had my bra unhooked by middle-school bullies (some of the same ones who called me a beast, a butterface, and made barfing sounds when I walked by), and when I was walking back to campus from downtown alone one night my freshman year, before I made any friends to go out with, I was chased by a man who probably intended to rape me, only I managed to hide beneath a parked car. I thought it had been pretty conclusively proven that that kind of shit is based on power and desire to intimidate, and has little to nothing to do with beauty or attraction. I see it as a completely different category of behavior from sincere compliments or guys (no matter how gross/ugly/creepy) approaching you in ways that indicate actual desire (no matter how unrealistic) for a date/consensual sex. The way I see it, attractive women get both (A) catcalled/harassed/assaulted/raped *and* (B) spontaneously hit on/asked out; unattractive ones get (A), but generally not (B). And while this may look like the unattractive ones getting less shit overall, it can also end up being a huge loss – not only because it reinforces the fact of your unattractiveness and undesirability, but because while the guys doing (A) are uniformly pieces of shit, sometimes one of the guys doing (B) will turn out to be someone worth going out with, who gives you a fun experience and maybe even gets to value you for more than just your looks. Whereas if you didn’t have the looks, he would never have spoken to you in the first place. (This is how both my best friends’ relationships started, a fact they seem to have wiped from their minds.)
Having said *aaaaallll* that, all I’m really looking for here is an expert acknowledgment that my prettier friends are indeed privileged over me, rather than us simply having different but equivalent privileges/disprivileges. And, I guess, any hope you can realistically offer for the future. As I edit this for the hundredth time, after I first started writing it on a drunk and lonely night of spring break while all my friends were hooking up, I’m just a few days from moving away to start my dream job in my dream city, where I deeply hope but still find myself doubting things will be different for me. Am I totally off-base in thinking cosmetic surgery might improve my life, especially if I can find a way to get it done while I’m still fairly young? Or should I give up thoughts of having wild romances with several different guys while young, and focus my efforts on finding just one weird dork who cares more about bodies than faces to settle down and have weird dorky kids with, even if we’re both 25+ year old virgins by the time we find each other? How would I go about that, and if I succeeded, how would I keep from feeling forever dissatisfied with my sexual past and not appreciating the life that I had?
Facing My Future