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Ask Dr. NerdLove: Am I Too Ugly To Date?

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Hello you electric blue angels of the abyss, and welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the only dating advice column to master the Dim Mat.

This week, we’re talking about what it takes to be more attractive. Is it all about the face? The body? The bank account? Or is there something more to it? What if you’re not good looking at all? Is there any hope for you?


Obviously I’ve got an answer for this, otherwise we’d’ve picked a different question. Let’s do this thing.

Hi Dr. NerdLove.

As someone who is in university I constantly see the most painfully attractive women in my day to day life. For most of my life I have simply accepted the inevitable, that I will never have a girlfriend, that I will never have sex and that I will be romantically alone until the day I die. However, constantly seeing the most cruelly attractive women on campus has made the idea of being alone increasingly more and more unbearable until I feel like I’m at breaking point where if I don’t try I will regret it for the rest of my life. This means that I’m attempting to put a life time of feeling ashamed of being attracted to anyone aside, overhaul my life and for the first time in my life attempt to date. This leads to the first major stumbling block.

What if there’s such a thing as being too ugly?

Going back as far as I can remember, the standard response of the opposite sex to me has always been the same and it can be summed up by the word “ew” or a slightly longer “eeewwwwww”. Even when I stopped having any hope of ever being in a relationship, it felt like I had to be constantly reminded of my place and as a result dating has always seemed like an alien concept that was only for other people.

I’ve always felt ashamed whenever I felt even the slightest attraction towards anyone, because this wasn’t something meant for me. To be brutally honest it still feels the same today. For example, you frequently make reference to getting smiles from women as an indicator that they are open to being approached, but in my entire 22 years of being alive I have never once seen this. There are only two standard responses I ever see upon eye contact, either complete and total apathy or absolute putrid disgust. That’s all there is.

It doesn’t matter whether I am laughing with friends at a bar, just sitting in Starbucks with a neutral facial expression or suffering in the university library, the response is always the same. When I say this, I don’t mean hanging around on the streets making eye contact with women like some kind of turbo creeper, but the kind of places where you have mentioned that this is appropriate in your articles. I then compare this with the ease with which my tall, good looking friend effortlessly attracts smiles everywhere he goes and even has women approaching him. This makes it very difficult to believe that it is even possible for women to be attracted to me.

This leaves me stuck in a rut. I want to believe it’s possible that I can be in a relationship but all evidence makes it difficult to believe such a thing is possible. That by virtue of the way I look women will always want me to stay away from them in any context outside of platonic friendship. I feel like if approaching women is getting your foot in the door then I can’t even get that far. Without ever experiencing a hint that any woman could ever be attracted to me gives me the fear that no matter how much I improve it’ll never overcome my facial features or my height (5'8"). Yet at the same time the thought of never being in a relationship has become too unbearable especially while I’m in university. So at the moment I’m in a sort of limbo where I feel like a strange alien man sent from another planet to never experience dating, and I simply don’t know where to go from here.

A Sexual Nothing

You know, ASN, I deal with a lot of guys with problems like yours. So many, in fact, that I may start a policy of requiring minimal standards before I can agree that someone’s actually ugly. From the letters I get, I expect grotesquerie. I expect vestigial horns, massive goiters with teeth, Kuato coming out of their chest.


Every time, however, the guy tends to be someone who’s… actually pretty average. They may not be challenging Denzel Washington for “most symmetrical face” any time soon, but they’re hardly Joseph Merrick. More often than not, most of what’s needed is some Proactiv and/or braces, not radical plastic surgery.

But here’s the thing: not being conventionally good looking doesn’t keep you from being successful with women.

The fact that hot dudes exist doesn’t mean that less hot men are left having to fight for the scraps like rabid gibbons with knives strapped to their arms. There’re veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who’ve come home with massive facial scarring who’ve since gone on to get married and have kids.

Lots of “ugly” guys have girlfriends—so many, in fact, that it’s a trope in fiction and real life. Fat guys have wives. Short guys have long, happy relationships. Hell, I’m 5’8”, same as you, and I’ve dated women who tower over me. Not being concerned about being short is intensely appealing, especially to women who’ve gotten stick from dates and boyfriends about wearing heels. Good looks may help when it comes to dating, they’re not the end-all, be-all that people think they are.


To start with: “good looking” is incredibly variable and personal. Matt Smith looks like a statue from Easter Island but he gives fangirls the screaming thigh-sweats. Some folks will swear by Chiwetel Ejiofor’s smile, while others could care less. Vincent Cassel is sex on toast to many other women, while others would never touch him with a borrowed vagina.

For example, pull up a photo of Geoffrey Arend. He’s not going to win any beauty contests anytime soon. Possibly ever. But he’s also married to Christina Hendricks. Now look at Steve Buscemi. Really look. I want you to look deep into those baggy, hangdog eyes, gaze long and hard on those crooked teeth… and remember that he’s married with kids. Mick Jagger’s got a face like a bulldog chewing on a wasp but still banged his way through half the women at the Ford Modeling Agency. Hell, Serge Gainsbourg looks like a damn Deep One and still got European ass like a drunk man with a stolen credit card at a St. Tropez donkey auction.


But, I hear you cry, they’re famous actors and musicians! They’ve got stuff going for them besides their looks!


Guys frequently confuse “being attractive” with “good looks”. While the looks and attraction do go hand in hand, they’re not synonymous. Being attractive is about more than just your face or your height or your physique; it’s about the whole package. People who seem to date folks who’re “out of their league” get that there’s no such thing as “leagues”; there’s people who dig what you bring to the table and people who don’t. Sometimes that’s looks. Other times it’s an ability to make someone feel special, or to sing like an angel. Still other times, it’s the ability to make people laugh.


Before someone brings it up: yes, money can help attract women… it attracts women who like money. It’s also clearly not necessary, seeing as “broke, couch-surfing, unemployed musician boyfriend” is a cliche that’s older than steam.


Being conventionally good looking is certainly a help in the short term, especially since they work to create attraction of the bat. But science has found that looks aren’t the long-term advantage you would think. In the paper “Relational Mate Value: Consensus and Uniqueness in Romantic Evaluations”, researchers at UT Austin found that personality and uniqueness were more attractive than looks.  While people might rate hot folks as being more desirable at first, after three months, the people with desirable personalities - warmth, openness, friendliness, etc - were the hottest dating tickets around. Why? Because getting to know someone makes them more attractive to you.

This works to your advantage, ASN. You may not be able to do a straight cold-approach at the bar, but that’s fine. We very rarely date someone we’ve just met; 9 times out of 10, we date people we’ve gotten to know, whether over days, weeks or even months. Playing long game means you get to play to your strength. As long as you realize that your problem isn’t on your skull, it’s inside it.


As woo-woo as this may sound, a lot of your problem is attitude. Reality is subjective and our beliefs control them. Believing you’re ugly and unattractive means that you’re going to act as though you are. It’s going to permeate every aspect of your life. You put less care into how you dress or how you groom yourself because what’s the point? Your body language is going to be closed off and unappealing. You hunch over and fold in on yourself in order to take up less space. You try to avoid making eye contact or drawing attention to yourself. You’ll see people looking at you and assume, absent of any evidence, that they’re repulsed by you. How couldn’t they be?

Change that belief, on the other hand, and you’ll get entirely different results. Adopting a more positive attitude actually improves your life on a practical level. To start with, people prefer to associate with positive individuals. Negative people are energy vampires who suck the life out of folks. But a positive, confident attitude also increases your emotional resilience, so that not only does failure not destroy you, but you’re more willing to take risks. It puts you in a position to take advantage of opportunities as they arise instead of wringing your hands and thinking there’s no way you could go for it.


It affects you on a physical level too. Feeling more confident gives you more confident and open body language, which is more attractive. You’ll dress better. You’ll be more likely to actually talk to people instead of just assuming that they couldn’t stand you.

So how do you get there?

Well, you want to build yourself up. Take some pages from those guys I mentioned earlier. Start with your external presentation. Part of Gainsbourg’s appeal, for example, is the man had style. He may have had the Innsmouth Look, but he also dressed sharper than a tack. Dressing well, even if it’s just a well-fitted pair of jeans and a shirt, makes you feel like a million bucks. Go to a salon and talk with a stylist about an easy to maintain haircut that’ll work with your hair type and face shape. Make sure you shower and use deodorant. These are all very little things that may not change your physical shape but will change your appearance and help form the basis for changes in your attitude.


Next, you want to get more in touch with your passions and interests, the things that make you unique and special. Collect experiences, so you have stories to tell. Look for adventures and live a more active life, one that people would want to take part in. Don’t assume that because you’re not in the top 1% of something that you’re hopeless. You don’t have to be the best singer or dancer or the funniest guy or whatever. You just need to develop your passions, the things that you can do that will help people enjoy themselves in your presence. The most important attractive aspect of someone isn’t their looks or their money or their job: it’s that they’re fun to be around.

You may be an acquired taste, so give people time to acquire you. Tinder may not work for you, but going to Meetups or taking classes or getting involved in volunteering will.


But most importantly: learn to love yourself and take pride in yourself. Your attitude is destiny. Learn to realize that you’re awesome and cultivate that awesomeness and you’ll find that your dating life will improve.

Good luck.

Hey Doc,

This is my first time writing to your column but you’ve helped a lot of people and I love reading your stories on Kotaku. Let me cut to the chase.

I work as an I.T. specialist for a major theatre company. During the winter I’m insanely busy and during the summer I’m bored out of my mind.

This past summer I decided that I was going to give an mmorpg a shot. I’m a huge gamer and decided that this summer I was going to try a different genre one that’s out of my norm. So I decided to play Final Fantasy 14.

I met someone the first day of playing, joined their free company and she and I became best friends. Months passed and we were hanging out every day pretty much online. She was dating someone who happened to also be the company leader. Their relationship fell through and after a week or so she and I were dating online. We left the free company and started our own.

We texted every day, every night, and this turned to phone calls every night before bed. Before you know it not even a month in and we’re both saying I love you. It scared me a bit at first but I hadn’t been in a relationship for 3 years, so it was nice to have someone to love and to love me back. Maybe a little naive.

Things started moving really fast. We’d say things like I’ll love you forever, get into really strong and intense conversations about how deep our love is. And then something happened. I have never been possessive but this girl started saying things like, “I don’t want you talking to women,” “I don’t want you hugging girls in game, unless it’s family,” “avoid women at all costs.”

Now before when we were friends, I hugged everyone, I was the life of the party, being super nice and friendly with everyone. So I loved her and I stopped doing that, I basically cut off all women. She said that she would cut off all men but I told her I didn’t care if she talked to or hugged men in game as long as they were friends. She refused, believing it to be similar to cheating.

This all started trickling more and more into my real life. She couldn’t go ten minutes without a text, she’d get mad if I didn’t keep them coming and especially if I couldn’t call. So mad in fact that phone calls would be one sided, me talking, her saying nothing.

I had made plans to go see her, but because of my job that fell through. The reason being I got into trouble at work because I was ignoring all the females in the office. Texting and calling at work. Something I’d never do. That day she threatened suicide. And has said on many occasions afterwards she wished she was dead.

It’s no longer summer and I’m busy all the time, when we do talk it’s mostly always a fight. The times that it isn’t we’re saying I love you, I want to see you, I want to be with you, I don’t want to lose you. She hates my job and wants me to leave it. I can’t do that, I worked hard to get where I am. I’ve yet to see her in person.

I’m to the point where I’m exhausted and unsure what to do because I’m scared that if I break up with her, to end this stringing along, that she’ll kill herself. I don’t want that. I think I jumped the gun on the love aspect. It’s not that I don’t like her a lot, that I don’t insanely care about her. It’s just this isn’t working out.

I don’t know what to do, I made an immense mistake, we’ve only been dating 2 months and things have progressed to this. Could you help me?

A Moogle In Love

Yes, I can help you, AMIL. It’s very easy.

DUMP HER NOW AND NEVER TALK TO HER AGAIN. You get out of there like all of hell and half of Hoboken was after you. Then get down on your knees and thank whatever god you believe in that you didn’t spend the money to go see her.


Holy hopping sheep shit dude, your girlfriend is waving more red flags than a NASCAR race in a hurricane.

Let’s break it down for a moment. We’ll start with the fact that you started “dating” within a week of her “breakup” (scare quotes are intentional) with the guild leader. While people do often leave a relationship and get right into another, this behavior is suspicious at best when you’re dealing with people in the flesh.


Then there’s the fact that you went from chatting to saying “I love you” when a) you’d been dating for less than a month and b) you’d never met in person. The former is bad enough; declaring your love for someone you’ve known for less than six weeks tends to be a sign of emotional immaturity when they’re actually present with you. It’s even more true when you’ve never actually met.

While long, happy relationships can and do frequently start online, the fact is: relationships have a physical component. You don’t really know somebody online as well as you do when you see them in real life. Phone calls, Facetime, Skype… none of this can adequately communicate whether or not you will actually have chemistry when you get together in the flesh. Plus: you miss any number of signs of who they really are, from the way they smell to the way they treat the waitstaff at restaurants.


So yeah, there’s that.

Then there’s the fact that she hits toxic relationship bingo: love-bombing you at the start before demanding constant contact, demanding that you quit your job (to spend more time with her), dictating which of your relationships were acceptable (including in-game interactions, Jesus fucknuts…) and using her jealousy and threats of self-harm to keep your behavior in line. This woman is ten pounds of emotional abuse in a five pound sack and the best thing you can do is run screaming in the other direction.


The only saving grace right now is that you’re learning what an abusive relationship looks like at a relatively safe (for suitably emotionally damaging values of “safe”) distance and that learning this lesson only cost you a couple months. The potential damage she could do to your heart and soul if she had more time or lived in the same town as you is immense.


So here’s what you do: you dump her, cold. No warning, no explanations, no excuses. Any reason you give will just be an opening for her to argue why you’re wrong. You take the Nuclear Option and cut her out of your life entirely—block her in-game, on your phone and on every form of social media you have. Set filters so her email goes straight to the trash and never talk to her again. There is literally nothing to be gained from having her in your life. Excise her from it like a cancerous tumor. You may have thought you were in love. That was hope and inexperience talking, and she was leveraging it against you. That was how she ensured that you wouldn’t enforce your boundaries around her.

To paraphrase a sage: you may love her, yeah, but you love you more.

You may worry that she’ll hurt herself if you do. Don’t. This is a manipulation tactic that abusers love to exploit. It turns your relationship into a hostage situation, where they’re both the hostage and the hostage taker. She’s not going to do anything and even if she does (SPOILER ALERT: she won’t), that’s not on you. You’re not responsible for her actions, especially the ones she takes to try to manipulate you.


Once she’s gone, you’ll find that a massive weight has been lifted from your shoulders. You’ll realize just how much she was draining the life from you, even from hundreds or thousands of miles away. And once she’s out of your life, you’ll have learned some valuable lessons.

1) You’ll be better equipped to recognize a toxic relationship before it starts.

2) Next time, you’ll learn to slow your roll before declaring that you love someone just from their online presence.


Good luck.

Did you change your appearance? Were you stuck in an abusive relationship, online or in person? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments, and we’ll be back in two weeks with more of your dating questions.


Ask Dr. Nerdlove is Kotaku’s bi-weekly dating column, hosted by the one and only Harris O’Malley, AKA Dr. NerdLove. Got a question you’d like answered? Write and put “Kotaku” in the subject line.

Harris O’Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr. NerdLove and the Dr. NerdLove podcast. His new dating guide New Game+: The Geek’s Guide to Love, Sex and Dating is out now from Amazon, iTunes and everywhere fine books are sold He is also a regular guest at One Of Us.


He can be found dispensing snark and advice on Facebook and on Twitter at @DrNerdLove.