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How much does beauty matter?
June 11, 2012 9:45 PM   Subscribe

“You’re gonna like the way you look… I guarantee it..." My long term partner thinks he's better looking than me, and admitted it.

Beauty is a weird thing. With the right person, looks don’t matter, or they aren't supposed to. But they can be nice to have and nice to be with. I’ve always really found my partner really beautiful looking as a human being, in addition to being really beautiful inside. So I just tell him that when I can. But my partner doesn’t do this to the same extent, and maybe he can’t.

Some background: Not long ago, we were watching that Louis C.K. skit where Louis C.K. is explaining how he’s not the kind of guy that women like for his looks alone, I turned to my partner and I pretty much told him how cute I thought it was when we first met and had our first date. He didn’t really reply or anything but when pressed, he said that he liked me. But the sense I got was that he wasn’t as impressed—which had actually been my impression during that first date.

By the same token, I’ve noticed that when I complain about looking bad, he never says, “you look great,” he just says, “don’t worry about it.” Which is technically the correct response—I shouldn’t worry—but sometimes I just want to know that he’s out there and he cares.
So I asked him about it, up front, especially since I no longer have time to do my hair and whatnot like I did when we were first dating, because I’m busy actually living my life.

To my horror, my partner confessed he tries to say he finds me pretty and beautiful, and he feels attracted to me, but it's not an important aspect of our relationship. He said that it’s not that he “definitely thinks of it” as “I’m not as objectively good looking as him. “ Thus it's hard for him to say how he feels about how I look. He said he is very attracted to me, reminded me of times that he has said I’m pretty. He asked me, if he were slightly better looking than me, would it really matter if he was still attracted to me?

There are two issues here. 1) The security that I felt that my partner was happy with me.... Sort of lessened now. Seriously, before this, I completely assumed that my partner was as into me as I am to him. I did not ever guess that there were issues like this—him liking me despite my looks instead of because of them.

2) I feel this is a weird element of unbalance that has been introduced to the relationship. It’s like if one of us had 20 more IQ points on the other or grossed 1,000,000 dollars more per year.

Is there any way I can let go of the anxiety and insecurity this is causing me? How do I talk to him about this? And how common is this?

Any thoughts would be appreciated.
posted by kettleoffish to Human Relations (64 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think a lot of people will say that if he is really into you then you shouldn't worry about it. But from what you wrote it sounds like you had the inkling even before this that he wasn't quite into you. For example, like how you noticed he only says "don't worry about it" when you ask how you look. And that was the inkling that prompted you to ask flat-out what he thought. Also how you brought up your first date and got the sense he wasn't impressed, which you had felt at the time.

I think this kind of low-level, weird feeling is not something to just ignore. I think you're noticing a lot of little things that are adding up, not just this one statement that he made. It sounds like even before this statement, you just didn't really feel 100% secure that you KNEW without a doubt that he was super into you.

I would say that this is a kind of unhappy way to live. I don't know. The 100% secure feeling is really nice. The other feeling, when there are all sorts of weird, not-quite-right comments made, when there's a sort of lack of enthusiasm where one would expect lots of enthusiasm to be, really just kind of sucks.

I would say just pay attention to how you feel, and if you don't FEEL like this is someone who is into you in the way that would make you happy, then it might be worthwhile to think about your other options.

I don't know about talking about it. I don't think any amount of talking would change how he feels, or how you feel about how he feels.
posted by cairdeas at 10:01 PM on June 11, 2012 [20 favorites]


and he feels attracted to me, but it's not an important aspect of our relationship

If this is exactly how he phrased it, I can see how it would bother you. Basically he said "being attracted to you is not important to me". Well, being attracted to your partner is very important to *most* people, so when someone says "looks don't matter", we tend to only half heartedly believe them. Thus, I can see how you would only half heartedly believe his response. Looks are certainly not everything, but claiming that "it's not an important aspect of our relationship" seems suspect.

Two possibilities that I would like to bring up:

1) What he meant was: "Looks are not the most important part of our relationship". Which is reasonable.

2) But the sense I got was that he wasn’t as impressed—which had actually been my impression during that first date. Maybe your gut instinct is correct and he doesn't think that you're smoking hot. Are you okay with that? There is noting wrong with wanting a partner who sees you as the finest thing in town. There is also nothing wrong with not putting looks first in a relationship. It's up to you if this is a deal breaker.

Personally, I expect that the answer to "am I attractive to you" should not be followed by a "but..." clause. I want they guy you says "Yes! You're gorgeous!" not "Sure, I guess you're pretty, but...".
posted by Shouraku at 10:05 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


He may think to himself privately that he is "objectively more attractive than you" but saying it out loud is completely dickish and unnecessary.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:08 PM on June 11, 2012 [27 favorites]


He may think to himself privately that he is "objectively more attractive than you" but saying it out loud is completely dickish and unnecessary.

Perhaps--but I would observe that directly confronting one's partner about this isn't strictly necessary either. Once you've asked the question, his choices are to lie about it, or to tell the truth. If you want to put a positive spin on it, you might consider that at least he told you the unvarnished truth.

I would also argue that there's no such thing as being "objectively more attractive", but that's a whole other question.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 10:17 PM on June 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


If you believe what he says that his relationship with you doesn't depend a lot on how you look, it sounds like your anxiety is unfounded and so it should dissipate.

But, if you find satisfaction in how he perceives you physically, and that is the source of your anxiety, then this is surprising:

I no longer have time to do my hair and whatnot like I did when we were first dating, because I’m busy actually living my life.

Isn't your relationship a part of your life? Another way to release your anxiety is to respond to it. Why are you so dismissive of the possibility of putting more effort into your appearance?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 10:18 PM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


What disturbs me is that he's compared himself to you in his mind at all. That's kind of weird. Most people probably wouldn't think that way unless there was a significant disparity. It makes me wonder if that difference is more important to him than he's letting on.
posted by timsneezed at 10:18 PM on June 11, 2012 [8 favorites]


There are two issues here. 1) The security that I felt that my partner was happy with me.... Sort of lessened now. Seriously, before this, I completely assumed that my partner was as into me as I am to him. I did not ever guess that there were issues like this—him liking me despite my looks instead of because of them.

There is nothing in his statements that says either of these things. Je ne sais quoi is real. You bagged a hottie for goodbrea son.

Others may disagree with his "objective" assessment. Sounds like he loves you.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:25 PM on June 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


Yeah, what the hell. I'd be very upset by this, too. Sounds like you need to decide how important it is to you to feel beautiful to your partner, and since it sounds like he doesn't have any filter, talking this through with him may not help to alleviate your discomfort any, either.

I think one of the most unfortunate side effects of our constant media bombardment with a pretty standardized idea of beauty is what it has done to people's ideas about what they should desire, and feeling the need to perform appropriate desire and partnering for the crowd.

What do you need to hear from him to make things okay?
posted by OompaLoompa at 10:30 PM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


He said that it’s not that he “definitely thinks of it” as “I’m not as objectively good looking as him. “

I'm confused by this sentence, with the multiple quotations and multiple negatives. What exactly did he say?
posted by John Cohen at 10:38 PM on June 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


To my horror, my partner confessed he tries to say he finds me pretty and beautiful, and he feels attracted to me, but it's not an important aspect of our relationship. He said that it’s not that he “definitely thinks of it” as “I’m not as objectively good looking as him."

That last part, in bold, is really confusing. I keep rereading it, but I keep not getting it. It might be how you wrote (it's not that he thinks of "it?" What's "it?" Compliments to you? Your physical beauty? Eh? This is especially puzzling in terms of the last sentence of that paragraph; I just don't get it...perhaps you could clarify), but if that is really what he said...maybe he felt cornered and starting flailing?

You know, yeah: if he really did state that he is objectively more attractive than you, then that is a dickish (or, maybe dumb, depending on what he was really trying to say) thing to say. But he did say that he is attracted to you, and the fact that that is not the most important part of your relationship is a good thing. Looks are awesome, but looks fade, looks change. If the most important part of your relationship is your scintillating conversation, or how he loves how he feels when you're together, or his admiration and awe for your sexy, smart brains...then I think your relationship actually bodes better for the future, you know?
posted by vivid postcard at 10:40 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I....sort of understand him? I'm kind of the same way - I genuinely and sincerely don't pay attention to looks as a priority for attraction; I can't point to any one thing and say "it is this that I am physically attracted to about this person". However, once I am seeing someone, then specific parts of that person become attractive to me. It's something that happens after the fact - I don't fall for you because you've got X kind of body or Y kind of hair or whatever, but once we're dating, then things like your crew cut or the shape of your hands or that particular color of the skin on your neck drive me wild, because they're parts of the physical package that make up you. So I get where your boyfriend says that looks "aren't important," but if I'm dating you I sure as hell let my you know that I am attracted to you and that I think you look good. Especially if you ask, for God's sake.

I'd have a serious talk with him about how he may not set much standard on looks, but you need to know that he finds you attractive, and you need that reinforcement. Otherwise he comes across as profoundly self-centered.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:41 PM on June 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


If he's being honest, what's unbalanced is that he's a little conceited and slightly cruel, and you're not. Another dickish possibility is that he would like you to do something about your appearance that you aren't doing, and he's taken the opportunity to put you a little off balance and manipulate you.

Either way, tell him to cut this shit out. Maybe he used to think he was slightly more attractive than you, but now's the time for him to rethink that perspective and find ways to praise you and pump you up--unambiguously, no waffling. But if there are also things he'd like you to be doing that aren't deal-breakers for you, that's something you might be able to work out.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:41 PM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


ok, if i was put on the spot with the landmine of a question you presented to your boyfriend, i'd just white lie through my teeth - seems like it would be the nice thing to do. but hey, some people value honesty over tact - it seems like something that's sort of ingrained in american culture. i live in indonesia where tact and sparing peoples feelings is 100 times more important than telling the truth, even in situations where you really really just want the damn truth already! this seems like a situation tailor made for feelings-sparing, but some people are just all "give me honesty or give me death!" and you did ask.

so maybe he thinks he's better looking than you. so what? he's still with you isn't he? maybe he also thinks you're smarter than him? or funnier, or that you have a beautiful heart, or that you're a zillion times better in bed than all the other girls he's been out with, and he values these attributes way more than something as unimportant as looks? lord knows i put looks fairly far down the list of priorities when looking for a partner.

i kinda suspect you're overthinking this. outside of this one (weird to ask? hard to answer? did he even actually say that he thinks he's better looking than you?) question, do you feel like he really really likes/loves you? if so then just let it go. on the other hand, if you feel strongly that this is just the tip of a lack-of-attraction-overall iceburg, then you may want to think about where this is all heading and stuff. but personally i wouldn't get all bent out of shape over this one conversation.
posted by messiahwannabe at 10:44 PM on June 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think my boyfriend's definitely more attractive than me. He also used to fail at giving me compliments, because he didn't think it was important. I explained to him that I want him to compliment me more, because otherwise I end up feeling unattractive (and stupid but true, more insecure). But to simply ask for more compliments wasn't going to be fruitful. I asked him instead if he ever looked at me and think to himself "she looks good in that" "she looks very pretty today" "damn she looks hot in that" etc. When he said yes, I told him that's when he should say it out loud, not just to himself. I want to hear it too.

Now that he's complimenting me a lot more often, I don't worry about who's more attractive, because I feel like he is indeed attracted to me and that's what I want. Also, positive feedback means I know what stuff he likes on me, and I tend to wear that more often. I feel prettier, I get more compliments.

I complain about looking bad
Don't do this. It's a trap for the both of you. You want him to disagree, he fails to respond the way you'd like (lots of guys will fail here) and you get mad/sad/self-conscious. Force yourself to stop it.
posted by lizbunny at 10:45 PM on June 11, 2012 [19 favorites]


I think there's a huge difference between "My long term partner thinks he's better looking than me, and admitted it." and what appears to have actually happened.

I think my husband is more attractive than me. That's fine. Maybe he agrees! That's fine, too. I have bad days with acne or weird hair. Sometimes I forget to shave my legs or wax my unibrow. The whole "objective beauty" thing is BS; but there's something to it. You mention that you haven't kept up the standards you first had when you met your SO. The problem is that, in general, men don't have to do all that much to be attractive. Maybe fuss with some hair product and have great overall hygiene, but it's a totally different ball game for women. Unfortunately, society expects women to have< certain standards and upkeep of beauty. This is BS, too, but it's a real thing that happens. If your SO met you based on the assumption that you had a baseline of feminine upkeep that you no longer have, that could be a game changer for him. I'm betting that this really what he means, and it's a worthy conversation, much like the issue of weight gain. Some people are healthier with more weight on, much like some women are happier and healthier with a minimal to nonexistent beauty routine, and there's nothing inherently wrong with that. But I think it becomes a legit issue when someone goes into a relationship with the expectation that things will generally remain the same for a reasonable amount of time and that turns out not to be the case.

Also, stop complaining that you look bad. I agree with others; it's a trap!
posted by two lights above the sea at 10:48 PM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'd be upset too, since the only possible answer to this question is, "Honey, you're beautiful." There is no other answer.

But, the question isn't whether he should have said something else, the question is how much to read into what he said. And you know that best since you're the one who knows him. Is this type of awkward honesty typical?

If it is, yes, it was a bonehead thing for him to say, but you could choose to interpret it in positive ways--it shows that he's not superficial about appearances, and it shows that he's willing to be very honest about what he thinks and feels.

But if this is wholly out of character, you might draw other, less favorable inferences.

Also, although he'll probably say, "But you ASKED!" you might want to think about disclosing to him that this hurt your feelings. At least that way he'll know this and you won't have to carry this around and let it weigh you down. Just consider asking in the way that lets him off the hook as much as possible to avoid an inevitably defensive reaction on his part. You're not telling him to make him feel bad, you're telling him so this won't fester.
posted by MoonOrb at 10:56 PM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Jesus, this guy is in a no-win situation, sortof a "Honey, does this dress make my butt look big? No, really -- you must tell me!" deal, he's screwed no matter what he says.

Let him off the hook. He's decent enough, he trusts you enough to talk to you honestly -- remember, *you're* the one who asked, who pursued this, who forced this issue. He has the jam -- and the respect for himself, and for you -- to tell it how it is.

Part of living life is combing your hair, btw, or so it seems to me.

Good luck.
posted by dancestoblue at 11:00 PM on June 11, 2012 [12 favorites]


The first thing I thought of when I saw the question (but before the fold) was a How I Met Your Mother episode when Marshall & Lily dealt with the "someone in the relationship is usually more attractive" thing. They are a couple who clearly love each other & have the hots for each other, but technically, if you asked someone who didn't know them, Lily would be the "more attractive" partner. Might be worth watching, I don't know.

I know the societal ideas of "being in someone's league" or numbers is awful, but it exists. My guess is that when your partner (I almost just wrote ex for what it's worth) says, "I’m not as objectively good looking as him," he is talking about if people randomly met you, had no knowledge of your personalities, & had to "rank" you on looks alone, he'd come out ahead. Whether that's true or not (& it very well may be you are the "hotter" one), it sucks that he said that. Then again, you pressed him for an answer. So, maybe he gets more of a pass than he would in other circumstances.

The red flag for me is that he doesn't make you feel sexy & attractive in the day-to-day of your relationship. My experience with relationships is that everyone has something beautiful about them, and those one or more features become more intoxicating and pronounced as I get to know the person. While I may know that someone else may not see what I see, what's important is what I see & that is a whole lot of beauty; I unabashedly, truthfully, without hesitation or qualification can say how attractive/sexy/hot/beautiful that person is. Unfortunately, your partner's comments have undermined that basic premise, which smarts a lot. Is this a dealbreaker? Not knowing much else about your relationship, it depends on your own issues of self-esteem and worth, I think. For example, I have a lot of body image issues & so, if I knew a partner thought he was better looking than me, I'd have huge problems with that & it would interfere with our relationship (make me self-conscious, less eager to have sex, etc). Maybe couples counseling would be a good idea. Also, a concentrated effort to share compliments and provide affirmation (as long as it is sincere) couldn't hurt.

For what it's worth, I do not think your old conception of the relationship where he was just as into you as you are into him was wrong. You injected another factor, however, some random person, who doesn't know either of you & can only assess you on typical, classic ideals of beauty, & he answered you honestly from his perspective (which may not actually be the truth, keep in mind). Most importantly, beauty is subjective. Also, men tend to have healthier egos about their attractiveness than women (I am making a huge assumption about your gender here). If everything else about your relationship works, I'd say this is an issue to take to counseling. It may not seem like that big of a deal, but if not addressed, it could poison an otherwise strong relationship. I'm guessing you feel like crap & need a real boost. Indulge yourself with self-care and presenting yourself in ways *you* feel attractive regardless of what anyone else thinks. If there is something you would like to improve about yourself, regardless of what anyone else thinks, such as a refreshed wardrobe, a new haircut, a better moisturizer, by all means pursue that, but make sure you are doing it for you. Best of luck! This is a tricky issue, but I think you'll be just fine. Also, I bet your partner is super regretting any asinine comments he made right about now.
posted by katemcd at 11:20 PM on June 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


Give the guy a break. You forced him into a corner and he forgot to lie.

Never ask a question unless you are prepared for the answer.
posted by LarryC at 11:23 PM on June 11, 2012 [8 favorites]


Never ask a question unless you are prepared for the answer.

seriously this. you kind of had a suspicion and he confirmed it. what were you expecting to get out of him? that he lie, and then you would suspect he was lying bc you already suspected how he really felt? or be honest—which is what he was—and then now you're all upset bc he confirmed what you suspected? the guy can't win in this situation. so again, never ask a question unless you can handle the answer, regardless of what that answer is.
posted by violetk at 11:43 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Such good answers.

John Cohen, yes, it was confusing syntax. That's how he said it. I'm not sure.

Re: just being honest.... 1 year into a relationship is the opposite of honest. If my partner secretly believed he was compromising on looks, it was in both of our best interest for him to leave me, immediately. He knows this.

Objectively (I'm exasperated by the "comb your hair" comments on here), ok, I'm not a ball of fur. Everyone says we "look" really well matched together, and I've had plenty of partners appreciate my looks. I know he's not dating me out of pity.

Here's the clincher. I'm not saying that he's wrong in his assessment. Let's say I'm not a 10. Ok, well, I feel like he's a 10. In intelligence, a 10. In potential, a 10. In wisdom, a 10. In humor, a 10. He is off the charts in everything. We are equal in every measure of every good thing known to man. Guess why? Because I love him that's why.

When I asked my boyfriend that question, guess what, I wasn't expecting him to say what he did! I thought he would say, "you look great." Aka, I love you and will protect you, and you will never feel gross on my watch.

I could brush my hair a googleplex of times, but I don't think I could come up with a better answer to the problem of couples having unequal "things," whether it's intelligence, stamina, wealth, or whatever. People simply have to overestimate their loved ones. That's why they call it "love being blind." Love means thinking the best of the person you are with. There will come a time in any couple's relationship where all the hair will fall out anyway.
posted by kettleoffish at 12:06 AM on June 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


one night, a decade or more ago, having pillow talk with an ex of mine - i talked about the first time i found him attractive, when he first caught my eye, a year or more before we started dating. he talked about the first time he found me really beautiful, and then he went on to describe something that happened 2 months into our relationship. i was basically crushed and will never forget just how shitty it felt.

there were so many other awful things about that relationship that i'm not going to tell you that's why we broke up or it planted a seed or anything - but i will tell you i never forgot it and i never really felt secure in my attractiveness with him after that (and i did seek that out by cheating on him). i agree with you about love being blind and partners overestimating good qualities in their partners. i would have a hard time feeling secure if my partner told me he thought he was cuter than me.
posted by nadawi at 12:24 AM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


When I asked my boyfriend that question, guess what, I wasn't expecting him to say what he did! I thought he would say, "you look great." Aka, I love you and will protect you, and you will never feel gross on my watch.

After your update, I can see where you're coming from. I've told this story on here once before, and I don't mean to trot it out all the time, but I will just one more time because I want to tell you about the time I first had a real inkling I wanted to marry my husband. I was sick and disgusting and had been puking all day in the hospital and he had been holding the bowl. My hair was stringy, my complexion was an unhealthy waxen hue, and I probably smelled about as fresh as an old pile of gym socks stuffed inside a dirty trash bag. Gross. And after he tucked me in in some clean pajamas, he kissed me and told me that I was still beautiful. I knew he was a keeper.

I, objectively, was the total 100% polar opposite of beautiful that day. But he thought I was anyway, or at least I was dear enough to him aside from my objectively unattractive appearance that he still wanted me to feel beautiful. That's what love is.

I think you're right--it's the Love-r's job to love and protect, and not let you (the Love-e) feel gross on his watch. His job isn't to lie to you, but it is to be kind. You deserve that. If your boyfriend can't give that to you, and if telling it like it is is more important to him, then maybe there's a different one out there for you who will think that making sure you feel as beautiful as he knows you are is more important than being blunt. Life is messy and hard and gross, full of embarrassing parsley on the teeth and unfortunate bedhead. And that's not counting what comes if somebody gets frail or sick. You want the one who will hold the puke bucket and still tell you you're a looker later.

Trust me.
posted by anonnymoose at 1:12 AM on June 12, 2012 [39 favorites]


I do not think this is that big of a deal. I tend to think it is a really positive thing that he is being honest here because it shows he is with you for the right reasons.


I was in a four year relationship where I was lukewarm on physical attraction with my partner. During the relationship we were very physical and genuinely cared about each other. Although I could have found a more attractive partner, I was really happy with her because she had such a great personality. In retrospect maybe it isn't surprising that she got paranoid and broke up with me. Although looks matter, they are just one factor to consider among many. Even if you find a person who is equal on physical attraction, you may never again find the same connection in other areas. People are much more than who they are on the outside. The guys I know who are genuinely good people put a lot of emphasis on things like character and personality.

It's rather unfortunately that honesty is not more valued. I have a fair number of friends who will tell a woman whatever she wants to hear just so they can sleep with her. I swear these sleaze balls have this down to a science. The attitudes these guys have towards women is terrible, but yet women keep falling for them. I know one guy in particular has a great Latin accent and says "You look AMAZING" to every girl he meets in order to sleep with them.

I guess you can always break up with your partner over this, but be careful what you wish for, you just might get it!
posted by Jurbano at 1:21 AM on June 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


What a dick. What does "objectively good-looking" even mean? What could be more subjective than that? To me this is a huge red flag.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 2:34 AM on June 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I would find this upsetting and it would make me seriously question whether I wanted to continue in the relationship. Not because I think looks matter above all else, but because it's important to me that my partner finds me beautiful and says so. A partner who didn't feel that way, or who could only tell me "it's hard to say how I feel about how you look", or who was so hung up on the idea of superficial 'objective' beauty and his own attractiveness that he couldn't even tell me I was pretty without feeling it necessary to point out that I ranked below him on some attractiveness master-scale (wtf?) - well, that would not be a good partner. Not for me, and I suspect not for you either.

I would also advise against making this a flattery-vs-honesty issue. Firstly, because "you're not as objectively good-looking as me" is a weird and unkind and self-centred thing to say to your partner in response to being asked whether you're attracted to them, and does not become less so because he genuinely thinks it (I don't know about you, but I've long since grown tired of the 'Every Dickish Thing I Say Is Fine As Long As It Comes Straight From The Heart' approach to human interaction). Secondly, though, and more importantly, because it's setting up a false dichotomy. Your choice is not between a flattering lie and a harsh truth; there are all sorts of people out there who'll tell you they find you gorgeous and mean it.
posted by Catseye at 3:19 AM on June 12, 2012 [14 favorites]


I think you dug for this amswer and you got it. You cornered him.

Maybe he is better looking than you- I used to have a boyfriend wayy better looking than me. We both thought he was better looking and I was smarter, and we were both fine with that. (In retrospect, he turned out to be smarter than me too in the long run, but there you go.)

If you feel he's not attracted to you, or doesn't treat you appropriately then that's different but that doesn't seem to be the case. You just pushed a topic, he was honest about it and you didn't like the result. That's how it reads to me. It definitely doesn't seem like DTMFA territory!
posted by bquarters at 3:42 AM on June 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


Let's dissect this statement.

To my horror, my partner confessed he tries to say he finds me pretty and beautiful, and he feels attracted to me, but it's not an important aspect of our relationship.

OK, what he expressed here is a very valid viewpoint. Some people don't think looks are the end-all and be-all of a relationship. In fact, as you get older, you may find yourself greatly appreciative that your partner feels this way.

He said that it’s not that he “definitely thinks of it” as “I’m not as objectively good looking as him. “

OK, you did notice the "Not" in your statement, right? When he said he does not think of it that way, that means he noticed your insecurities, felt that you perceived it that way, and was trying to directly address that. If he had left out the word "Not" then this would be a serious problem, but he said it. Maybe you should take him at face value here.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 4:36 AM on June 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's true, beauty isn't the important thing, and you kind-of nudged the answer out of him . . . but my hunch is that something in you was already having some insecurity about this based on his earlier reactions. I suspect you'd complain about feeling unattractive to give him opportunity to re-assure you, and he didn't -- so then you pushed the issue the other night and your suspicions were confirmed.

Now, it's mostly your responsibility to your self esteem to learn how to be THRILLED with yourself. However, I think that, if he's your partner, it's a little bit his responsibility to make sure he doesn't leave you much room to feel insecure about that. Like 70% your responsibility, 30% his or something. And only you can know if you're keeping up your 70%, but (based on one tiny snippet posted to AskMefi) it sounds like he's not quite keeping up his part.

You deserve to feel like your partner finds you irresistibly adorable, whether or not you actually are beautiful. And you're not feeling it. So you need to determine how much of that is work you need to do -- a good touchstone for me is that, if I'm loving myself properly, I'll have 1-2 days most weeks where I feel irresistibly adorable, where I feel people responding positively and heads turning to soak up the energy I'm putting off. That's your job to cultivate that. And once I felt pretty sure that I was feeling good about myself, if I routinely felt less good around my partner, I would go to them and say something like "My feelings of being attractive are mostly my responsibility, but I have the right to feel like my partner finds me irresistibly adorable, and I'm not feeling it." You could offer up a couple suggestions of how he could convey that to you, and ask him to think of a couple ideas of his own . . .

So, yeah -- I don't think it has anything to do with parsing his phrases. I think you have a responsibility to adore yourself, and he has a responsibility to make sure his adoration of you is obvious, and one or both of these things is not quite happening.
posted by MeiraV at 5:14 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Objectively (I'm exasperated by the "comb your hair" comments on here), ok, I'm not a ball of fur. Everyone says we "look" really well matched together, and I've had plenty of partners appreciate my looks. I know he's not dating me out of pity.

Here's the clincher. I'm not saying that he's wrong in his assessment. Let's say I'm not a 10. Ok, well, I feel like he's a 10. In intelligence, a 10. In potential, a 10. In wisdom, a 10. In humor, a 10. He is off the charts in everything. We are equal in every measure of every good thing known to man. Guess why? Because I love him that's why.


That's all well and good, but if you're asking objective opinions of your partner that are predicated on some notion that your relationship is equal, you're going to be unsatisfied.

Every relationship is unequal; two people with different looks, different backgrounds and educations, different jobs and different lives cannot be perfectly equal. Often times one partner is willing to do what another isn't in a relationship; that's another power inequality.

You can treat yourselves as equals, share the power and treat each other respectfully, but if you're getting down to the brass tacks of asking objective questions about your relationship, they're never going to line up with "we're equal" unless one or both are lying.

Learning to accept that maybe your partner is better than you at something is part of life; people age at different rates, succeed at different rates, and tying yourself to a notion that no matter what, objectively you're equal is not going to help you. My partner is a catch and could probably have any man (within reason) she pleases, yet she comes home to me, loves me, and that's enough.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 5:26 AM on June 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Mr Vitabellosi can't keep his hands off me. That's all I really need to know.

I find it strange that people get "credit" for their looks. That's like the one thing they're NOT responsible for. Even if they work out, the visual result of that is often controlled by their genes.
The more specific compliments, like "that sweater looks especially nice on you" make more sense. That's actually feedback I can use.

I do want to say that I find it problematic that you expect to be complimented after complimenting Him. I'd find that kind of fishing really unattractive. It's like a round of Password or $20,000 Pyramid. "you're very attractive.....? "you're....you're....YOU'RE GORGEOUS?" ding ding ding ding!
posted by vitabellosi at 5:33 AM on June 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


This will teach you to fish for compliments. Some people just can't lie, especially to their partners. Now, in relationships, there are lines you don't cross. One simply does not say anything that will underimine a partner's sense of worth, and anything other than complete approval of one's attractiveness is part of it. Your boyfriend screwed up royally.

Now, to forgive him, you need to be able to put it aside and go on with your life as if nothing happened. You can tell yourself, "He didn't mean it the way it sounded." That's a lie you can live with.

At this point it would be disasterous for you to try and discuss the issue more, you've already discovered that he's not the kind of guy who can pick up what you're putting down.

One thing I would do is say something to him, in a pleasant, jokey kind of way, "Hey, you know when I cornered you about my looks? Your answer didn't do it for me. As a favor to me, can you find something to compliment me about everyday until I feel better about myself?"

You've now given him a way to make amends for hurting your feelings, and you get the positive feedback that you crave, without making it a BFD. Plus, you are explicitly telling him what you need and giving him an action plan, which most guys need when dealing with thorny relationship issues.

If he doesn't understand why you want him to do this, then you have to re-evaluate what you think you've got here.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:52 AM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ok, I just had to respond because most of the answers in this thread are really weirding me out, and I'm going to be extremely blunt and just say what I really think because this is the internet and I'm not your partner OR your friend so I'm not going to falsely coddle your feelings.

So say that he's "objectively" more attractive than you. Objective when it comes to looks is bullshit, but okay, let's say that he is. Why on earth does that matter if he's attracted to you, thinks you're amazing in so many more ways and important ways, and has admitted that looks are not really a priority to him?

As someone said before, "je ne sais quoi is real." There are people I have been extremely attracted to that I felt were objectively not that hot or even kind of funny looking. But they possess that "something" that makes them really hot, even though if I was pressed to describe them "objectively" I'm say that they looked a bit special. Diplo is one example of this phenomenon that most of my friends and I agree on.

Maybe it's just that personally I used to worry a lot about how objectively hot I was, but then I realized two things:

1. Looks fade and being obsessed about what other people think about you makes you less attractive, so why worry about it?

2. Self-confidence is waaaaay more attractive than physical characteristics, and may even completely make up for them. There is some imbalance in every partnership, and that's AWESOME because each person brings something different and complementary to the table.

I think I'm like your partner is that I believe in honesty to a fault. But if I said I'm attracted to you, then I think you're hot as hell because of who you ARE and not HOW you look. I wouldn't be with you unless I loved so many more things about you that overshadowed the importance of how you look, and actually made how you look seem better to me than if I knew nothing about you and just saw a picture of you. And I'd rather have that kind of love than a superficial surface attraction to some objectively hot "10."

I could go out and get a model to date, but if their personality, confidence, brains, etc aren't a 10 as well, it just ain't worth it, and even though the model might be objectively hot, there's gonna start looking pretty unattractive to me. At least that's how I see it.

tl;dr: your partner is attracted to you. physical beauty is not as important to your partner as it is to you. maybe you should consider placing less importance on it too, and building confidence that your looks don't matter even one iota as much as who you are as a person.
posted by cajalswoon at 6:23 AM on June 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


People simply have to overestimate their loved ones. That's why they call it "love being blind." Love means thinking the best of the person you are with.

Sounds like infatuation or obsession to me. I think love means seeing the person you are with in as realistic a light as possible and staying in the relationship anyway because the person brings a lot to your life. My two cents.

A friend of mine told me that he proposed to his wife of 40+ years as they were both emerging from a swimming pool, dripping and red-eyed. Not "you're beautiful," which would have been horseshit at that point in time, but "will you marry me?" Meaning, I don't care what the hell you look like, I love you.
posted by Currer Belfry at 6:40 AM on June 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


I apologize for the length of this, but I have super-strong feelings about this particular knot of issues.

I think it's entirely possible that this relationship is not a fit for you, because you are particularly insecure and therefore want a lot of explicit external validation (which is fine!), and that doesn't come naturally to him. That's your basic "break up; it's not a fit." There are people who love to shower the people they love with compliments and attention. There are also people who don't. You probably want one who does.

What I think is unfair is for you to pronounce "love means feeling THIS way and expressing it THAT way, so if he can't do that, he doesn't really love me and should have dumped me a LONG TIME AGO, and he is a jerk for not admitting sooner that he was settling." Believing that is not only unfair to him, but it will leave you with a profoundly bad taste in your mouth, and you will feel wronged in a way you have not been wronged.

"Love is blind and when you really love people, you believe them to be perfect in every way" is not a fact; it is a thing you believe. (You're saying this yourself when you say he's a 10 in everything -- you're saying you consider him the absolute best possible partner in every single regard.) I don't personally believe love is blind; I believe blind love is incredibly dangerous, as a matter of fact. What I do believe is that love is generous and specific. Meaning that it causes the person who loves you to focus on the things about you that he or she likes the most, and to overlook and adjust to -- yep, to compromise on -- the things about you that he or she likes less. You seem to believe that for you, love means you like EVERYTHING about the person the absolute most, the most you possibly could. You can believe that, and you may be able to find someone else who believes that who will be a better fit for you. But many people don't believe that, and it's unfair for you to declare that these people don't understand love as well as you do.

As for this particular series of conversations, candidly, it feels to me like you have administered a series of manipulative tests designed to get your boyfriend to tell you what you want to hear, and he didn't, and your conclusion is that he doesn't love you.

I beg you: Stop putting your own looks down expecting him to contradict you -- that's game-playing, and even if you get him to do it, all it proves is that he's learned how to play the game. Stop quizzing him on his opinion of your looks and what he thought about you on your first date -- that's daring him to hurt your feelings. You acknowledge that he pointed out times when he's told you you're pretty; he's told you he's very attracted to you. If you want to hear this more, that's totally fine, but that's about what you want and it's about finding the right fit; it's not about his not getting what it means to feel love. "It would mean a lot to me if you commented on it when you think I look nice" is one thing; "Tell me exactly how hot you did or did not think I was at the moment you met me" is something else, and at this stage, I think there's some merit to his who-cares-y feelings about it.

It is my position -- not yours, not other people's, just mine -- that in fact, you will "compromise" on certain things, in that no person is going to be the absolute embodiment of everything you say you want. In fact, you're sitting here telling us he's a 10 in everything, while also telling us that he doesn't understand that "love is blind." You're basically saying, "He's a 10 in every way; he just doesn't understand love and he's inconsiderate of my feelings." So you yourself are compromising -- you wish he told you how he feels more, but he doesn't, and you're professing that you want to get over it and love him anyway.

You're claiming that you love him blindly, but you're talking about him like you think he's an insensitive jerk. It's okay to break up with him, but I would bet a great deal of money that it is you, not him, who cares and even thinks aboutwhether he's better-looking than you are. He's happy; he loves you; he's attracted to you. You're pushing and pushing, trying to get him to tell you he thinks you're "a 10," whatever the hell that means (to everyone? to him? objectively, based on evolutionary ideals of beauty?), and you're not hearing anything he's telling you about what loving you means to him.

I think you should break up with him, probably, but I also think you should acknowledge that this is a compatibility issue, not his being a jerk.

'Every Dickish Thing I Say Is Fine As Long As It Comes Straight From The Heart'

This sounds very familiar and I am trying to figure out where I heard it.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 7:20 AM on June 12, 2012 [23 favorites]


Something else I meant to add in my comment above, but forgot about until other comments reminded me:

Some people don't find looks an important part of their lives or relationships, and there's nothing objectively wrong with that. But people who feel like that don't typically spend time calculating their own objective attractiveness, ranking it above their partner's, and then telling their partner about it. That sounds like someone who values looks quite highly indeed.

Although, is your partner quite young? There's definitely a phase lots of people go through when they start figuring out what they actually find attractive and how well that meshes with what they feel society/media tells them they should find attractive, and it can lead to some confusion. (I remember one friend when we were teenagers explaining that his standards were superior to mine, because he only found celebrities attractive while I liked real-life boys from our school as well. Funny to look back on, but I can see where he was coming from - I remember how confusing it was to work out whether I was attracted to a real-life person who did real-life things and had kind of weird-shaped ears and teenage spots even though I found him really cute but then what did that mean, etc etc etc, compared to the easy simplicity of saying Matt LeBlanc was sexy.)

Most of us grow out of that at some point during our 20s, and end up with a concept of attractiveness where we can say "you're gorgeous" and mean it whether our partners have spent two hours getting dressed up for a date or have spent all day in bed with flu. But it takes longer for some people than for others to work out what and why and how they personally find attractive. Is it possible that your partner is still working through that phase, hence the belief in objective attractiveness scales and the "I find you really attractive but I find it hard to tell you that you look good" stuff?
posted by Catseye at 7:46 AM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


From a MeFite who would prefer to remain anon:
I think there are two issues going on here. One - your partner thinks
that he's more attractive than you are. Two - the way he expressed it
(and that he expressed it at all). There is, in my opinion, nothing
wrong with the first part - thinking that he's more attractive, but a
lot wrong with what he said and how he said it.

Here's the thing: the world at large finds me a lot more attractive
than my partner. I get hit on more than she does. I get different
kinds of compliments than she does. I think we would both agree that
I am, in some sense "objectively" more attractive.

BUT - I know she sometimes has a hard time with that, so I would
never, ever, ever say anything to make it harder for her. I think she
is beautiful and attractive and sexy, so I make sure to compliment her
and tell her how beautiful I think she is and how attracted I am to
her. If she asked me point blank if I think I'm more attractive, I'd
say something like "I guess some people might think so" - and then I'd
talk to her about how attractive/sexy/beautiful I think she is.

So, I think the thing is that in the long run, it really stings and
hurts that your partner thinks he's better looking, but that part
isn't a moral failing on his part, and it can still be part of a
relationship with mutual attraction. But, the way he said it wasn't
really okay, and you have to think about what that means.
posted by jessamyn at 7:46 AM on June 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


You both are comparing notes on who is more beautiful? There has to be other things that are more important in your relationship. He sounds immature to even bring this up with you.
posted by pakora1 at 7:57 AM on June 12, 2012


I think you and your partner might be coming at this differently. It sounds like you are being more emotional, while he's being more analytical. It also sounds like you place a lot more of your worth into your looks than he does.

He answered honestly, yes, but he also seems to have answered in an objective, analytical way, whereas you really wanted some emotional reassurance. I'm sure you wanted an honest answer, but you also wanted him to take care of you emotionally with it and he neglected to realise this. I don't see anything wrong with noting which partner is "objectively more attractive" in a relationship (whatever that may mean) but this conversation wasn't really the time for it. I don't think the issue is that he's not into you or your looks, but that he isn't demonstrative about your appearance in the way that you would like.

He said you're pretty and beautiful and he is very attracted to you. Do you believe him? If not, why not? Do you just need him to express it more? These are things you'll have to discuss with him. You've established that complaining about your looks will not net a compliment from him. A lack of reassurance in those circumstances doesn't mean he agrees with you. If you want reassurance in those situations specifically you'll probably need to ask him directly. He's said he doesn't find looks to be an important aspect to your relationship, so he likely is not going to prioritize commenting on that stuff. He just may not be demonstrative but maybe he'd be willing to if he knew it was important to you. Someone else said it well when they said to just ask your boyfriend to verbalize any positive thoughts he might have about your appearance (or anything else, really--it might be good to get confidence from all your positives, not just your looks). It sounds to me that it isn't that he's not as into you as you are him, but that he doesn't value looks as much as you do. It doesn't sound at all to me that he likes you despite your looks. It sounds like he likes YOU, all of YOU, and that your looks are not the most important thing to him. THIS IS GOOD.

I would be so, so relieved if I were you; most of the guys I have dated have been rather fixated on women's appearances and it is so tiring.
posted by Polychrome at 7:59 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here's the clincher. I'm not saying that he's wrong in his assessment. Let's say I'm not a 10. Ok, well, I feel like he's a 10. In intelligence, a 10. In potential, a 10. In wisdom, a 10. In humor, a 10. He is off the charts in everything. We are equal in every measure of every good thing known to man. Guess why? Because I love him that's why.

This is not how it works for everyone. Some people see the flaws and imperfections as well as the brilliance and beauty in the one they love. ANd they love them anyway.

Maybe you guys aren't well matched in your styles of love, but some people prefer honesty and open communication to flattery and pedestals.

It’s like if one of us had 20 more IQ points on the other or grossed 1,000,000 dollars more per year.

What if one of these things turned out to be true? Would that destroy the relationship? Plenty of people have disparities like these (objective disparities that can't be "white-lied" away) and still manage to love each other. If you like each other, both feel attracted, enjoy mutual conversation - does it matter?
posted by mdn at 8:08 AM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


You pressed him for an honest answer but what you wanted to hear was:

"you look great." Aka, I love you and will protect you, and you will never feel gross on my watch.

That's not 100% bad, but it can build problematic expectations. A couple things:

"you look great" likely does not have the same "Aka" to him as you describe. I'd bet he's not attaching that much meaning to that phrase. or lack of it.

(I hate the numbers but it is a shorthand hear) If he is a 10 and you're an 8. Do you want him to not be attracted to you?

It can take some time in a relationship (a long time) for one partner to ask for something explicit and the other to know that what they really want is the opposite. That is a subtlety.
posted by French Fry at 8:10 AM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


How is your sex life? Is he physically affectionate? Is he emotionally affectionate (putting aside this incident)?

I think there are a couple possibilities here, and I'm not sure which is going on. One is that you rightly sense that he's not that physically attracted to you. That contradicts what he said -- that he finds you very attractive -- but it's possible. The second is that you think he is better looking than you, and you are really insecure about that. How you approach this depends on what kind of issue you have.

Your whole "we have to believe our partners are 10s across the board even when we know they are not" thing is really confusing to me, by the way.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:28 AM on June 12, 2012


Truth be told, I'd probably have trouble dating someone who compares people in terms of "objective" attractiveness, no matter where I ranked on their personal scale. It implies a fundamentally different view of beauty and attraction than my own.

But... that's not what he said. Not quite.

He said that it’s not that he "definitely thinks of it" as "I’m not as objectively good looking as him."

That's an awfully twisty sentence. It has a whiff of "I'm not thinking of an elephant," but it's difficult to say what his real thoughts are.

Thus it's hard for him to say how he feels about how I look. He said he is very attracted to me, reminded me of times that he has said I’m pretty. He asked me, if he were slightly better looking than me, would it really matter if he was still attracted to me?

More confusion here. It sounds like he's attracted to you, but I have trouble parsing the first and last sentences. My best guess? He finds you attractive, but thinks of you in "total package" terms, and the physical attraction is present but not the first thing that comes to his mind. But that's just a guess.

By the same token, I’ve noticed that when I complain about looking bad, he never says, “you look great,” he just says, “don’t worry about it.” Which is technically the correct response—I shouldn’t worry—but sometimes I just want to know that he’s out there and he cares.

Oof yeah don't do this, especially not if you're looking for compliments. Even when it works, it eventually tires out the compliment giver.

Just like it's important for many people to find their partner physically attractive, it's important for many people to know their partner finds them physically attractive. That's normal and okay. It can be right up there with hearing "I love you" or "You did well." Needing to hear it constantly can be a sign of insecurity, but most of us do need to hear it occasionally. You’re one of those people. I’d bet your partner is not, so he doesn't think to say it.

And since he’s not spontaneously giving you confirmation that you’re attractive, you've gone digging for it, both passive-aggressively and straightforwardly. He didn't really understand what you were looking for and probably felt cornered, and so it backfired.

So tell him that this is important to you, and why it’s important to you. Tell him that, yes, it matters to know that he's attracted to you. Tell him that it makes you feel attractive, noticed, and loved when he compliments your looks. You're not looking for a referendum on your "objective" attractiveness; you're looking for a particular type of conversational stroke.

Sure, it's possible he thinks you could be hotter but loves you madly anyway. But maybe he finds you gorgeous and loves you for so many other things that he just doesn't pay attention to your face or body, so the thought of complimenting your looks just doesn't even cross his mind, much less the realization that it's important to you.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:45 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


No good, and weird, and unkind (oh, the tyranny of "honesty"). He is effectively keeping his options open and sending you the message that you should not get too comfortable.
posted by thinkpiece at 8:52 AM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Re: just being honest.... 1 year into a relationship is the opposite of honest. If my partner secretly believed he was compromising on looks, it was in both of our best interest for him to leave me, immediately. He knows this.

Are people supposed to date people based on equality of looks? I don't get why it even matters that one of you is "objectively better looking than the other" or that the other party realizes this. What he said was confusing, but you're the one that brought up compromising on looks. Where does that even come from?

I am a totally average looking human being. If my husband told me I was the prettiest woman in the world I would laugh at him and then roll my eyes, because that is not true. But however I look, he's physically attracted to me so it all works out just fine. I also appreciate that he is attracted to my mind, because that's going to be with me long after my physical beauty quits.
posted by crankylex at 9:03 AM on June 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


If my partner secretly believed he was compromising on looks, it was in both of our best interest for him to leave me, immediately.

Maybe I'm misunderstanding this statement, but it sounds absolutely crazy to me. In every relationship there is some kind of compromise, no exception. And there are always inequalities because no 2 people are exactly alike. One's partner isn't as attractive as one dreamed. The partner isn't as intelligent as dreamed. Or isn't as rich... or isn't as touchy-feely... or isn't as musical... or isn't as adventurous... or doesn't share one's love of Thai food... or the SO has a better relationship with their family than you... or makes much, much more money... or one is more attractive, etc.

There's always going to be something about one's SO that isn't exactly as dreamed, or isn't 100% equal. There are no relationships that are exceptions to this. But the whole point of a relationship is that the whole is so good that both partners feel that the compromises they make and the imbalances they feel really don't matter. So if you have some kind of hard-and-fast rule that says "if you're compromising to be with me, you'd better leave," then IMO you are setting yourself up to be alone for life. Just my opinion, but it's worth thinking about the fact that you're never going to find this beautifully equal, no-compromises relationship. The important question is whether the relationship makes both of you feel good enough to stick with it.

It sounds to me like your partner likes this relationship, and has told you as such. Even better, he's not after something superficial like looks. He's attracted to you, and hopefully that should be enough. There are things about my SO that are unequal, and that can make me feel insecure, but those issues are all in my mind. The reality is we're happy together and we want to make it work. So if I were you, rather than getting obsessed with whether someone is settling on a particular topic, realize that the relationship is made up of a lot of facets and can meet a lot of needs on both of your parts, and single instances of compromise or inequality are a) inevitable and b) not deal-breakers if neither of you feels they're deal-breakers.
posted by Tehhund at 9:14 AM on June 12, 2012 [8 favorites]


While I think EmpressCallipygos gave you a good script, I somehow now think that you would not believe him or it would not be enough if he began to compliment you or whatever.

Granted I was confused as heck by your question and follow ups. But I feel like you're digging a weird hole here.
posted by sm1tten at 9:27 AM on June 12, 2012


People simply have to overestimate their loved ones. That's why they call it "love being blind." Love means thinking the best of the person you are with. There will come a time in any couple's relationship where all the hair will fall out anyway.

There are multiple ways of looking at this situation however. While I agree with your general assertion, this doesn't mean that you always think your partner is the best looking person, it might mean that they are the best looking person for you, the best fit, whatever. My partner might not objectively, by some societal beauty standards, be the best looking person in a room of people, but he's the best looking TO ME because I love him. But I can differentiate between those two things and I think it's a useful distinction to make.

So, you may have different perspectives on this and it's useful to know that. It seems that you want him to feel a certain way, even thought he felt a certain way, and through some probing questions realized that wasn't the case. And now you have to decide what to do with that information. It sounds like some clarifying questions are in order and then you need to decide what you feel like doing. If you truly believe that in order to be in a relationship with you your partner needs to tell you that they think you are the most beautiful person and your partner can't say that, then you are at a decision point.

I feel like you were fishing for an answer you suspected you'd get and now you're upset that you've gotten it. Anxiety is a separate issue from all of this but the usual things apply: get outside your own head, eat well, get lots of rest and see a doctor if you feel that it's affecting your ability to live your life.
posted by jessamyn at 9:36 AM on June 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


I no longer have time to do my hair and whatnot like I did when we were first dating, because I’m busy actually living my life.

This part of your post troubles me.

Dan Savage wrote a controversial Savage Love column in the vein of your question a few years ago. I have mixed feelings about both his answer and his readers' responses. But I do think this bit is important for you to consider:
What's that romance killer that mainstream-relationship advice gurus are always harping away at? Ah, yes: taking each other for granted. A partner—male or female, gay or straight—who doesn't make some reasonable effort to maintain is taking his or her partner for granted. In my own case, I appreciate my boyfriend's efforts to remain fit, to keep himself attractive for me, just as he appreciates my far less successful efforts to do the same for him. He was an attractive man at 23 when we met and, 13 years later, he's attractive at 36. I expect he'll be attractive at 46 and 56. And one of the reasons I'm still attracted to him—in addition to the fact that he's still attractive—is that I appreciate his efforts to keep himself attractive.

No one is going to look as good at 45 as they do at 25—except, of course, for those who look better at 40 than they did at 20—but it's not unreasonable to expect a spouse to bear some vague resemblance to the person you married 10 years ago.
Now, it's definitely not reasonable to expect you to be vigilant about your appearance at all times, like never letting him see you without makeup like a '50s Betty Crocker housewife, lest he dump you immediately for not wearing a sexy lace teddy every night. That's just silly. But if you also never take the time now and then to take care of your appearance in ways that make you feel beautiful, he doesn't get to see you expressing "I love you & think you're gorgeous, and tonight I look fancy-special because you make me feel special" and other mushy stuff. And if he doesn't appreciate the effort? He is a jerkface.
posted by nicebookrack at 9:41 AM on June 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


To my horror, my partner confessed he tries to say he finds me pretty and beautiful, and he feels attracted to me, but it's not an important aspect of our relationship. He said that it’s not that he “definitely thinks of it” as “I’m not as objectively good looking as him. “ Thus it's hard for him to say how he feels about how I look. He said he is very attracted to me, reminded me of times that he has said I’m pretty. He asked me, if he were slightly better looking than me, would it really matter if he was still attracted to me?

Argh! This whole discussion is driving me bonkers, because we don't really know what he said, as this sentence is so convoluted. I slept on it and reread it and -seriously- if this is what he said, you shouldn't jump to conclusions, because this doesn't make sense.

Parsing it out: the "it's not an important part of out relationship" part? Really, don't worry about this. Look, I understand the desire to be desired. That said, the heart of a relationship shouldn't be about looks. It's about the relationship itself, what goes on in it, what you guys do. I know my boyfriend is attracted to me, but I know the reason why we're still together is because we get lost in our (to us, at least) amazing, intelligent, playful, absorbing conversations. He stays because it's not boring, even when it's doing boring things while taking out the trash. He's sexy, but I feel the exact same way. The long term can't be sustained solely by gazing upon our shared beauty, or whatevs. That would be so dull.

On to: "it's not that he thinks about it..." this is still so confusing. Either he thinks he is better looking (and, eh, shouldn't have said it), or he thinks you think that, and be was trying to address your thoughts - and flailed wildly and horribly while doing so.

Finally: "if he were slightly better looking, would it matter..." listen, the use of the subjunctive here would indicate that he doesn't think he's objectively better looking, but was talking about it as a thought exercise. As a hypothetical. If you were to take it the wrong way, that would be because of your deal, your issues. Because it was hypothetical.

Look: I just parsed out his sentence, which means that I'm totally over analyzing it. And I over analyzed it because it makes no sense. Not as it's written here, not as he's said it. Really, you should ask yourself how much of your reaction is your own insecurities, and whether those insecurities warrant trumping the positive things he said - and he did say he's attracted to you.

Or you could ask him to clarify; the question is whether that is an honest conversation you guys are actually capable of having.

i am voting on this being a case of him feeling put on the spot, poorly flailing at an analytical discussion on the issue, and you taking it badly, regardless of real intent. But I could be wrong, because I have no ideas how anyone could derive a clear conclusion from that verbal muck
posted by vivid postcard at 9:51 AM on June 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


To address the question in your title, "How much does beauty matter?" I find the idea of "objective" attractiveness really weird. Usually when people say that, they mean "what society finds conventionally attractive." But even that is pretty arbitrary.

A good friend of mine, "Stacy," was once dating a guy who, for reasons not relevant to this comment, tried to pit me and her against each other, usually by trying to make us compare our attractiveness. He was definitely going off the assumption that she's more "objectively" attractive than I am. This made sense to me since he was dating Stacy, not me - of course he should find her more attractive! It was also just weird. Stacy and I are similar in that we're straight cis white hipster chicks of similar ages and heights, but we have different body types and looks. Stacy has gorgeous D cup breasts and a rocking booty, which she shows off with tight jeans and punky fashions. I am a size 0 with the matching teeny-tiny-breasts and no waist or butt to speak of, which I try to rock by wearing feminine, tailored clothing that shows how thin I am and suggests more shape. So I didn't really get the basis for comparison.

A guy into T&A would prefer Stacy, sure, but what do I care? A guy into tiny ladies would prefer me. Or maybe a guy is all about blondes and would prefer Stacy (who is blonde) or all about Jewish women and would prefer my look. So then which of us is more "objectively" attractive, then? Stacy, for fitting society's requirement that ladies have plunging cleavage? Or me, for fitting society's requirement that ladies fit the smallest dress size? There is no real answer.

It's true that I could somehow end up with a guy more into ladies who look like Stacy, or who knows, more into Big Beautiful Women, or prefer redheads or something. If he didn't hide that, that would probably hurt my self-esteem and make me feel unattractive. But that wouldn't make Stacy (or a BBW or redhead or whoever) "objectively" more attractive than I am. And if I thought he was the most gorgeous guy ever, that wouldn't make him the more "objectively" attractive partner. Y'know?

Really what's troubling about this is, like others have said, that this is a weird conversation to have had, that you put him in awkward position and he responded poorly. But maybe it will help if you get rid of the idea that there is some objective way to rate how attractive people are. (Don't even get me started on how weird it is to compare the attractiveness of men and women, who have even more different standards for what is "attractive" than comparing two women like me and Stacy.)
posted by fireflies at 10:28 AM on June 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


The rubs here are:

1. whether it is going to eternally bug you if your s.o. thinks about the fact that you are not as good looking as other people - even though he has stated that it is not important to him

and

2. He genuinely means it. If he really, really doesn't care that you're not as 'objectively good looking' (whatever that is) as other people, or he moreso than you, then perhaps he's just being blunt, if not rude, depending on the kind of person you are.

Either way you'll have to decide, perhaps based on further discussion with your s.o., whether whatever he thinks is acceptable to you or not.
posted by bitterkitten at 10:43 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Even if he starts complimenting you every day from now on, reassurance alone is never going to solve this problem, it's throwing words into an abyss because you don't believe there's anything behind it. You know "the truth," which is that you're not beautiful enough, and you're going to twist anything he or anyone else says to fit that. By all means, ask for what you want from him, but it's going to be your job to trust that he's being truthful when he says you're attractive. Your level of confidence is crucial to your relationship and to your connectedness. I know it seems like he can give that to you by saying all the right things, but he can't.

One time I was dumped by a guy for another woman and I kept asking "why? what's wrong with me? why is she better than me?" He told me that no matter what he said, I was going to use it to validate whatever I already believed about myself. He was wise not to fuel that fire.

Whether you stay with this guy or not, the only way out of this is to change what you believe about yourself. He can - and should - be supportive, but the faster you realize that your self-esteem is not his job, the better off you'll be. I wish I had an easy fix but it's a lot of hard work.
posted by desjardins at 11:30 AM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'll jump in here and say that a few things came up for me reading your question:

1. I think *you* value yourself a lot based on your looks. He may not, at all, and may even be aware of this difference between you. I'd think more carefully about this before you conclude this is his problem, not yours. Why do you value yourself this way? Why do *you* care so much about it?

2. All relationships are imbalanced. I have a friend who is dating a guy who has 100 million dollars (no joke). She isn't model beautiful -- she's just an ordinary looking girl who has some traits he highly values. Think about being in that relationship. It's imbalanced, but imbalanced for reasons that are unlikely to change. There's no way she could pretend that her love makes them equal or whatever. Their love has to be based on other things than perfect balance in every trait.
posted by 3491again at 1:55 PM on June 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Don't ask questions you might not like the answer to.

I mean, that's your sweetie's opinion. He might be way off--if you polled 1,000 people about which of you was the more attractive, 999 of them might say it was you--but that's irrelevant. He might be absolutely correct, and 999 of the people would say he was the more attractive. Or, like most people in the world, it would depend on what the observer was looking for, and 499 might say "kettle of fish" and 499 might say "kettle of fish's sweetie" and 2 might say "I like pie!"

Relationships are not competitions. Relationships are not Cirque du Soleil acts in which everything has to "balance". Are your bank accounts exactly the same? Can you both run a mile in the same time? Do you hold the same title at your workplace? No? So why does it matter if he thinks he is "better-looking" than you are (whatever that means)?

Decades will pass, and eventually neither of you will turn heads on the street. Pinning your self-esteem to how you look is a mug's game, even for people who are in professions like acting and modeling where it is directly related to their earning potential. For someone who isn't a professional beauty, it's absolutely a waste of energy.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:12 PM on June 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


(Your response to the people who posted makes me feel exactly like I imagine your boyfriend might have. You asked a question, and when you didn't get the responses you wanted, you told us collectively why we were wrong.)

From your original post: "him liking me despite my looks instead of because of them"
I think a year into the relationship this shouldn't be an issue.

Anyway, there's always someone better looking, and smarter, and funnier, and who makes more money, in every relationship. If you feel secure, that stuff shouldn't matter. And if you don't feel secure, that stuff won't help you. Figure out what you're proud of, about yourself, and do more of that.

I say this as the less-attractive one in my relationship by a long shot.
posted by lyssabee at 2:12 PM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


It sounds like you showed him an open insecurity and instead of soothing it like you expected, he stuck his foot in there and made it worse. It's important that you can be naked and vulnerable to your partner, this could potentially be an incompatibility where he's not able to let you be comfortable enough to really let it all hang loose with him.

Or an insecurity for you to work on, thought in all honesty I'd consider this a significant issue if it happened to me. I've dated men who are conventionally unattractive (short, chubby, hairy) and I could honestly tell them I thought they were smokin'.

On the attractiveness level, I had a cat growing up that was the ugliest little rat thing you ever saw, with severe halitosis and a skin condition. Truly not a prize winner. I thought he was the most beautiful creature in the world, even though I could even then acknowledge he was a sorry looking thing. When I see scrawny big nosed ugly cats I feel a pang of love instantly solely because they remind me of him. Beauty really is about more then physical appearance.
posted by Dynex at 2:44 PM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sounds like the poor guy thinks he's in the kind of relationship where he doesn't have to tiptoe around your self-esteem issues. Nothing that you write makes it sound like he perceives any real attractiveness imbalance. Maybe he just feels secure and in love with you enough to not constantly have his guard up against the "do these jeans make my butt look big" trap.
If he was actively (or even passively) undermining your confidence or being hurtful, of course the answer would be dtmfa, but it really sounds like he was trying to say that he loves you for you, and your response is, "but aren't I pretty???"
posted by FeralHat at 3:08 PM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Here's the clincher. I'm not saying that he's wrong in his assessment. Let's say I'm not a 10. Ok, well, I feel like he's a 10. In intelligence, a 10. In potential, a 10. In wisdom, a 10. In humor, a 10. He is off the charts in everything. We are equal in every measure of every good thing known to man. Guess why? Because I love him that's why.

I don't think you mean this, literally. I mean, really? On a scale of 1-10, your boyfriend is a 10 on intelligence, potential, wisdom, humor? He's as smart as Stephen Hawking, as wise as the Dalai Lama, as hilarious as CK Louis? In every single measure, he is absolutely, quantifiably, THE BEST IN THE WORLD?

What about other measures? Is he a 10 at Super Mario World Playing? A 10 at tennis? A 10 at painting ability? A 10 at cooking and baking? A 10 at race car driving, and gardening, and jazz guitar?

I don't think that's what you meant. And if that IS what you meant -- if you believe that your boyfriend quite literally is a perfect 10 out of 10 in every single measure that might be considered good -- then that's probably something you should speak to a therapist about. Because your boyfriend isn't perfect; no one is. Looking at any single person (whether it's yourself or another) and seeing them as absolutely flawless isn't a healthy attitude. In order to accurately gauge your situation, you need to be able to recognize and acknowledge the humanity (read: imperfections) of the people surrounding you.

So, I suggest you stop describing your feelings about your boyfriend in those terms. If you say to yourself (or to him) something like, "YOU ARE PERFECT IN EVERY WAY -- YOU ARE THE SMARTEST, CLEVEREST, PERSON IN THE WORLD. LITERALLY." What you're really doing is putting an incredible amount of pressure on him. It's not good enough that he be smart. Instead, he has to be smartest. That's hard. And you're also setting yourself up for disappointment, as soon as you're forced to face the fact that he's not the perfect person in the world.

That doesn't mean the sentiment you're expressing is wrong. Oh no! Here's what I believe you mean to say: "My boyfriend is a perfect 10 for me. He's so intelligent and wise and funny, and he has so much potential, that he's just right for me." Notice the subtle difference there: this isn't making a claim about how he compares to everyone else in the world in some sort of objective measure. Instead, it's making clear just how highly you think about him in every way. It leaves open the possibility that he's actually not perfect (because, again, obviously he's not), but it makes clear that you love and respect him so much.

What really matters, for your particular issue here, is the distinction between the sentiment you're expressing and the words you're using. The words you use, literally, say something false. The words you used to express that sentiment are inflated, and, if taken seriously, would point to disturbing delusions. It's instead the sentiment that's wonderful and loving and healthy.

Now, notice something else you said:

When I asked my boyfriend that question, guess what, I wasn't expecting him to say what he did! I thought he would say, "you look great." Aka, I love you and will protect you, and you will never feel gross on my watch.

Again, note the difference between the words you want said and the actual sentiment you want expressed. You don't actually care about how you look -- instead, what you want is to feel loved and protected. When he doesn't say the words you wanted, you take that as a sign that the sentiment is not there.

It sounds a lot like your boyfriend is not using words the same way you are. He doesn't think of "You look great" as a way of expressing his love and commitment. Instead, he's using it as a way of just making a factual claim about your appearance. And wouldn't that make sense, for someone who doesn't put that much truck into beauty? If he doesn't care about appearances, it would never occur to him to think of the words, "you look great" as a way of expressing the sentiment, "I love you and will protect you, and you will never feel gross on my watch." He just doesn't recognize that the connection is there between those words and that sentiment.

So, my suggestion is that, when dealing with your boyfriend, you try to be more literal. If you want him to make you feel loved and protected, don't ask him if you look good. That won't work, because he'll respond to the words without realizing the sentiment. Instead, say something like, "I'm feeling kind insecure right now, and I'd really appreciate it if you could help me feel a less gross about myself." That, he should be able to understand. That will have your words match your sentiment.

In short, it really sounds like your boyfriend and you are speaking different languages. You're using your physical appearance as a way to talk about commitment and deep, intimate fondness. He, on the other hand, isn't. Try learning what language he's using, and try speaking in that language, before you start judging him or your relationship. Maybe, you can even develop a translation manual with him, so you both will be able to understand what the other means to say.
posted by meese at 3:58 PM on June 12, 2012 [13 favorites]


(I'm exasperated by the "comb your hair" comments on here)

Well, if you're still feeling pissy, you'd better skip my mouthful 'til you're ready to hear why folk (actually, only three or four out of the multitude?) might be saying that. Here's what you wrote:

So I asked him about it, up front, especially since I no longer have time to do my hair and whatnot like I did when we were first dating, because I’m busy actually living my life.

I understand busy! And I am 2000% for low-maintenance lifestyles and a general lack of vanity. But this phrasing seems like you justifying a bait-and-switch ... e.g. the appearance you were putting up need no longer be maintained once the relationship is established, 'cause, hey! Gotta live life!

Not saying this to be mean; I'm saying this because I've been there — more than once. And the conclusion I drew from ensuing wreckages was that I needed to maintain the exterior I had first presented, or be okay with my partners withdrawing because they felt this was not what they signed up for. This is what you said before that:

By the same token, I’ve noticed that when I complain about looking bad, he never says, “you look great,” he just says, “don’t worry about it.” Which is technically the correct response — I shouldn’t worry —

So, you are making your problem his problem by fishing for praise and affirmation via reinforcing a negative belief about yourself. This is a game most of us have been taught to play, but unfortunately, it is a game without winners. Intellectually, you acknowledge his answer, yet do not accept his point of view — which seems to be that pulchritude is not a reliable metric of well-being.

— but sometimes I just want to know that he’s out there and he cares.

Yes. Absolutely. Understood. Nothing wrong with wanting what you want, but notice how are not asking him if he cares, you are asking him how you look.

***

Here is my story about how much beauty matters: I trained with a total k.o. bombshell-of-a-woman a few years ago. Exotic, gorgeous, always pristine even though we were sweating during grueling physical activity, accomplished in business, and nurturing an adorable family.

One day after class she shared with me the story of her youth, wherein she had been taunted and bullied by a clique of snooty gals for — guess what? — being a total ball of fur!

How she got over it went something like this. She accepted the following things: 1) They may be right, by a certain metric. 2) So what if they're right? This metric is not an absolute! 3) My state of fur-ball-ness is not permanent, and totally alterable by me!

She then proceeded to educate herself and refine her appearance, starting from the bottom with what humble tools she could afford, and upgrading her products and services as her status improved. Eventually, she appeared before the same snooty clique, who did not recognize this elegant swan and — because her social status had improved along with her presentation — were now in a subservient position and forced to obsequiously wait on her.

She did not abandon her regime once her sweet, sweet revenge had been served up cold. Her journey wasn't about these catty women, catalyzing as they were, just as maybe your journey through your self-esteem is not about your partner, but you. The wound of realizing you're not everyone's perfect "10" might never heal, but the commitment of making the absolute most of what you have for yourself and yourself alone is the armor which allows you to move forward, even with a tender sore in your psyche.

Looks do matter — if they matter to you. If you are feeling ugly, it is up to you to take affirmitive action to improve it or unpack it, because only you can control you. Your question demonstrates this guy is not the one with the magic wand who will wave it and fix it for you, and maybe that one doesn't exist, so why wait? If looks don't matter to your partner, and that bugs you that you don't share the same values, maybe you are not well matched for the long run. If you are pleased with what you wake up to in the morning, and he is as well, then really! there's no need for a scorecard! All the best, and I hope you feel better about this soon.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 5:13 PM on June 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


it's ok for you to want a partner who thinks you're beautiful. his choices were broader than to lie or to hurt your feelings - the other option was to say you're beautiful and mean it. it's ok for you to think this is a big deal. find the guy who can tell you you're beautiful without lying and can tell you hard truths without hurting you needlessly. you probably won't be able to change your current partner into that person.
posted by nadawi at 5:35 PM on June 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


On a scale of 1-10, your boyfriend is a 10 on intelligence, potential, wisdom, humor? He's as smart as Stephen Hawking, as wise as the Dalai Lama, as hilarious as CK Louis? In every single measure, he is absolutely, quantifiably, THE BEST IN THE WORLD?

Yes. I am literally that lucky and I don't even have a personal trainer.
posted by kettleoffish at 7:27 PM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Marking as resolved! And in a very good way! :) It worked out. We talked about it. Issues were hashed out. Apologies tendered. Egos salved on both sides. Resolved, resolved, resolved! Thank you everyone!!!!!! Please Memail me if you would like some tips about how to snag a hottie despite being a big old ball of fur. And if you spot us the Halloween parade next year, do be sure to say hi!
posted by kettleoffish at 9:02 PM on June 12, 2012


Don't over think it. He isn't making you feel very good about yourself. He didn't even try because he didn't care about your feelings enough to try.

It's not that hard to say, "You're beautiful, you silly woman." He could have said, "You're hot" which is a euphemism for "I want to sex you so bad" which is the same as being attracted to you.

Either he's dumb or just with-holding. How a partner makes you feel about yourself defines the health of the relationship. He said what he thought and now you feel shitty, and may feel ugly during sex and everything else.

Unless he's particularly stupid, he didn't bother taking the time and energy to be a good friend, let alone boyfriend.
posted by discopolo at 9:09 PM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


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