what am I doing wrong?
January 4, 2013 7:44 AM   Subscribe

Guys keep rejecting me; am I hideous?

Well, the question was rather abrupt- I will try to explain more fully.

My situation is that over the past several years, I have developed close friendships with guys and then developed romantic feelings for them; however, every single time I tell them of my feelings, the guy tells me he only thinks of me as a friend.

I always read/hear that when men and women become friends, often the guy will harbor feelings for the girl, unless she is physically unattractive. Yeah, I know that's a sexist oversimplification, but it still nags at me and makes me wonder if I am just not physically attractive.

Some relevant information:

1. (this is kind of huge) So, I have a lot of younger friends (I am now 34). I've had younger friends for several years due to the fact that in the country I live in (of which I am not a citizen) I am often around schools and teaching, and people my age tend to be married with kids already. So...and this will probably jump out at a lot of people- I have befriended male coworkers, classmates, tutorees, ad (in one case) a student) who were all much younger than me, like 4, 8, 10, and 12 years younger. But in all of these cases, honestly, the guy and I became close friends and related mostly like peers...well, but sometimes the relationships did not start off as peers, they were more mentor-mentee type. I look younger than I am. But there you go- by and large, these are the guys I am talking about here and feel free to comment on why I am going after this type of guy.

2. I know the age difference is probably a huge thing and some people may even think I am creepy because of it. But with all of these guys, we eventually became really close, talking about every topic under the sun. Often they would want to be physically close in small ways like sitting near me, leaning on me, etc. Sometimes they would stare at parts of my body at different times. (yet all were clear in the end that they were not interested in a romantic or physical relationship)

3. There have been other guys who have shown interest in me, but never guys that I was friends with.

4. I know this situation sounds really weird. I think may of you will say I should stop interacting with this younger guys in such intimate ways, and I think you are right. But can you help me figure out why I do this? I think I like helping them and almost being a mother figure to them. That's sort of my personality type. I have read that putting others before yourself can actually be a turn-off in terms of sexual attraction.

4. Then I think, well, yeah, they're younger, but they're all adults technically and guys are visual, if I were sexy enough they would be attracted, right? Or perhaps this is just coming from the sexist, always-horny guy fallacy.

5. How I look: Hard to objectively describe this. I care a lot about my health and I work out' every day , but I don't have the body many people associate with that. I am an hourglass US size 12. I wear very little to no makeup. My hair type is frizzy and curly and hard to manage, although I try. I wear glasses. I have some pleasant facial features but I'm not sure most people would describe me pretty. I have nice skin and a large chest.

Last part of question: why do I keep thinking these guys are romantically interested when they are not? In the last case, which was pretty devastating, the guy and I knew each other for over 2 years. He had a girlfriend during that time. He recently broke up with her, and I told him how I felt,and he said that he never had romantic or sexual feelings for me. But if you asked me whether he did before, I would have replied that surely he did. I thought i knew, based on the way he looked at me, was around me, touched me in small ways...I really thought the feelings were mutual. And now tat I know they were not I feel like I am a little bit crazy. What made me think the feelings were mutual for so long and how can I prevent that from happening again? In the other cases, I always thought the feelings were mutual as well! I feel so confused by this. What's wrong with my inuition??

thanks for reading my question.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (45 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
It could be a question of cultural differences. These guys, they're all natives of the country in which you're living? Is it possible that they only date women of their own culture, women they might end up marrying? Where are you from and where are you living now?
posted by mareli at 7:52 AM on January 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't know where you live, but maybe try online dating- that way you'll know that the men you go out with are definitely looking for some sort of relationship, and it should be clear pretty quickly whether they're interested in seeing you more. It sounds like it could just be the unusual way that you're meeting people rather than any innate unattractiveness.
posted by three_red_balloons at 7:52 AM on January 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


sometimes the relationships did not start off as peers, they were more mentor-mentee type

I think this can be a very easy relationship to convert to friendship, but a very hard one to convert to romance. Perhaps you should spend some time and effort in attempting to meet people in another setting.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:53 AM on January 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


I have developed close friendships with guys and then developed romantic feelings for them; however, every single time I tell them of my feelings, the guy tells me he only thinks of me as a friend.
...
There have been other guys who have shown interest in me, but never guys that I was friends with.
...
I think I like helping them and almost being a mother figure to them. That's sort of my personality type

You are dressing up a lot of stuff in a bunch of insecurities about your looks, when these are pretty much the main and important points. This isn't about whether you're hideous or not. It's about the fact that you are "looking for love in all the wrong places." Men are, clearly, attracted to you. You're just falling for the men that you haven't formed a romantic chemistry with because they are long term friendships where you adopt a sort of "mother figure" role.

A better gauge for whether you're attractive to men would be to meet people and flirt with them and see if they're romantically interested in you. Given the second point I extracted out of your post, clearly, some of them are.
posted by deanc at 7:53 AM on January 4, 2013 [22 favorites]


But in all of these cases, honestly, the guy and I became close friends and related mostly like peers...well, but sometimes the relationships did not start off as peers, they were more mentor-mentee type.

But can you help me figure out why I do this? I think I like helping them and almost being a mother figure to them. That's sort of my personality type.

In between the older age, the mentorship start, and the active mothering, they're seeing you as Mom Friend, and Mom Friend is rarely a source of sexual desire. Given that these men check you out and initiate physical contact my guess is it's not your age or looks that's desexualizing you, it's the mothering. Guys tend to be visual, and will look at a woman at least once whether they're into her or not (women will do this too), but they're not going to check you out repeatedly if they find you gross. And there are definitely younger guys who are into older women.

If you're becoming friends with these guys because you like mothering, and that's exactly what's de-sexualizing you, then I don't think it's going to work out unless you drastically change how you initiate friendships and interact with younger men.

I would try to initiate romantic relationships with older men, as a nurturing, giving attitude is (hopefully) more likely to be equally reciprocated without seeing you as Mom 2.0. And when you meet someone you like flirt with them from the outset, rather than trying to shove it in after the friendship is established. There's nothing wrong with wanting to be friends first, but initiating flirtation will set the first impression of you as a sexual partner.
posted by schroedinger at 7:57 AM on January 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


over the past several years, I have developed close friendships with guys and then developed romantic feelings for them; however, every single time I tell them of my feelings, the guy tells me he only thinks of me as a friend.

If you want to date that's great; stop trying to date your friends. It is clearly not working out for you and you're ending up in the Friendzone.

I thought i knew, based on the way he looked at me, was around me, touched me in small ways... What made me think the feelings were mutual for so long and how can I prevent that from happening again?

This kind of non-verbal communication can be bent to literally any interpretation. It's a bit like reading tea leaves - you can decide it means whatever you want it to mean.

There have been other guys who have shown interest in me, but never guys that I was friends with.

Great; try dating these people.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:00 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yes, it seems that they don't find you attractive. But that doesn't mean you aren't attractive. Try actual flirting and dating, not mothering and friending. The former leads to relationships/sex, not the latter.
posted by greta simone at 8:03 AM on January 4, 2013


A lot of people avoid romantic relationships with coworkers, teachers, etc because there is a serious risk that a failed romantic relationship like that would negatively impact your career. If these guys see you as a mentor and valuable business networking friend, I would guess this has way more to do with your problem than age differences, looks, length of the friendship, etc.

It is entirely possible that younger male friends/coworkers/students do in fact feel attracted to you and that is why they are touching you, staring at body parts, etc. You might be a forbidden fantasy for them. But it looks like most of the time they have the self-discipline to avoid admitting this to you and actually having a sexual relationship with a teacher/mentor/coworker.
posted by steinwald at 8:04 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Then I think, well, yeah, they're younger, but they're all adults technically and guys are visual, if I were sexy enough they would be attracted, right? Or perhaps this is just coming from the sexist, always-horny guy fallacy.

This kind of sounds like a female version of the "Nice Guy Syndrome". Basically you are assuming that since you don't have any major negative qualities, every guy that you are interested in should want to date you, and if they don't then it must be some sort of flaw on their or your part. That's not really how dating and attraction works. Relationships are more about compatibility and finding someone that wants to date you as much as you want to date them. Crushes are always about a specific person, and often that specific person for whatever reason is not all that into you. There are people out there that you could start a relationship with, it's just not the ones that you have crushes on necessarily, and you just have to get over that and focus on the ones you could have a relationship with.

why do I keep thinking these guys are romantically interested when they are not? In the last case, which was pretty devastating, the guy and I knew each other for over 2 years. He had a girlfriend during that time. He recently broke up with her, and I told him how I felt,and he said that he never had romantic or sexual feelings for me.

Signals are important to try to read but at the end of the day you're not going to know if someone is romantically interested in you until you explicitly ask. Which is why you shouldn't pine for someone for 2 years who has a girlfriend on the hopes that they will break up and you can start a relationship with him. It makes way more sense to figure out early on if there are mutual feelings, and mentally dismiss the idea of relationships with men who are uninterested or unavailable.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:06 AM on January 4, 2013 [27 favorites]


I have befriended male coworkers, classmates, tutorees, ad (in one case) a student) who were all much younger than me, like 4, 8, 10, and 12 years younger. But in all of these cases, honestly, the guy and I became close friends and related mostly like peers

For a few years, my company had an incredibly attractive intern in the finance department whom I had to interact with regularly as part of my job duties. Even though she was very likable and I'm sure that half the men in the company wanted to "hit that", I didn't befriend her, ask any personal questions, or provide any interaction beyond our job functions. In fact, from an outside perspective I may even have given the impression I disliked her. You know why? Because rule #1 is you don't shit where you eat.

Looking at your list of crushes, I see coworkers, classmates... even students?!? This is a horribly bad idea. You are using your lavatory as your kitchen and then being surprised when nobody else wants to be your dinner guest. There are plenty of other ways to meet people other than through your job and you need to try exploring those.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 8:14 AM on January 4, 2013 [19 favorites]


Romance + work = not a good idea. It can work but usually doesn't, and most people just won't go there.

Girls can be "friend-zoned" just as guys can. Colleagues are usually not flirty and sexy, and then to evolve into friendships solidifies that low-key, no-romance interaction.

often the guy will harbor feelings for the girl, unless she is physically unattractive

You are right that this is a sexist oversimplification. Even if it were true in your situation, you don't really want a guy who harbors feelings but doesn't act on them, do you? You want (and deserve) a guy who tells you how he feels.

Go outside of work (outside your comfort zone) and meet people on a purely social level. Dating sites are a good start.
posted by headnsouth at 8:17 AM on January 4, 2013


Friends are not your dating pool. If you form a social contract with someone that is specifically not-romantic, that's the agreement and that is their expectation.

It's fine to make a move on someone who is a passing social acquaintance, but once you've started down the friend road there are very few exits to relationship town. The way you describe your situation, it seems like you actually think you're supposed to have a long friendship with someone and then turn it into a relationship. That is not true. It happens occasionally, but it's on accident.

Also, stop reading tea leaves and inventing relationships in your head. If someone's sending you what you think are signals, call them on it. If you are interested in someone, say so up front.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:26 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's really not your looks, I can promise you, unless you have a foot growing out of your forehead or something. You're just in the wrong context, as others have pointed out. You are fishing in the wrong spot.

Possibly the country you are in is part of the problem, if dating outside your race/culture is Not Done there. In that case, are there other expats you can seek out for socializing?

Date online; seek out people who are not your students or coworkers for socialization; seek out those who have a similar background to you if you can. All of that counts for a lot.
posted by emjaybee at 8:27 AM on January 4, 2013


Your MO is to become friends with younger guys, to mother them and then after doing so for a while, you want them to be your boyfriend. How's that working for you?

You need to change your MO.

The guys you're interacting with probably don't think of you as datable because you are:

a.) A mentor
b.) A friend
c.) Not in their age group

It has nothing to do with your looks. Some of the most hideous people on the planet have mates. It has EVERYTHING to do with the location and the dynamic of the guys you are hanging out with.

I suspect that you're attracted to a younger guy because they require nothing from you. Your expectation is that you'll fall into a comfortable relationship with a guy who won't ask you to do the hard, relationship stuff.

Try a dating site, and be very honest about what you want in a relationship. (You're at a deli, order your dates exactly as you want them). Really get to know prospective partners. I recommend a book with the nausiating title of How to Marry the Man of your Choice.

It's kind of old, but it has the best advice for how to engage people in meaningful, non-threatening conversations that allow you to really KNOW them.

Get a social life outside of school/work. Go to bars with your friends, take dance lessons, join a gym, etc. Do what you need to do to mix and mingle in the world. If it sounds daunting, that right there is a clue to one of your problems. You're only wading in the gene-pool, not diving in.

Also, it's okay to want a relationship, but you need to be 100% okay with yourself as you are, without one. What about your life is awesome today? How much do you love what you do for a living? Where you live? Your friends? Your family? Find fulfillment in all of these things you already have.

Relationships should be icing on your cake, not the whole dessert.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:30 AM on January 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


It sounds to me like there are several factors which may be contributing to the problem. Story time: a couple of days ago, my car broke down. I had no idea what caused it- it could have been the cold and a one-time deal, it could have been the car parts themselves, or it could have been the battery. I took it in, got a battery check, and the battery was fine, but old. The engine parts were also fine. Baffled, the guy said I could change the battery anyway. I thought about it, and decided to do it, joking, “If it breaks down again, at least I’ll KNOW it’s not the battery!”
My car’s fine, but I hope you see the analogy here. To fix your “mystery problem” under the hood, as it were, you could try a multi-pronged attack:

-Is it your age? Try dating older men.
-It it your looks? Try a makeover. (You might even break this down into smaller parts- start wearing makeup, or change your hair, etc, and see if small individual changes make a difference)
-Is it your way of interacting? Try changing your friendship style with men going forward- perhaps wait for them to ask *you* out first, since you haven’t read signals well in the past.
-Is it just numbers? Keep meeting more men, try online dating.

Don't change anything you really, really don't want to change, but if you're not attached to any of this, you might as well mix it up. You might even go for broke and try all of the above, though you won’t know which change fixed the problem. Good luck. The New Year is a good time to make changes!
posted by quincunx at 8:35 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I always read/hear that when men and women become friends, often the guy will harbor feelings for the girl, unless she is physically unattractive.

From my personal experience, that's 95% BS. None of the male friends I had ever displayed the least bit of romantic feelings towards me, even when I harbored those feelings and tried to express them. Until, of course, it finally happened, and I ended up marrying my best friend, who is 6.5 years younger than I am.

The Friendzone thing, from what I observed among my own friends, when the male friends harbored romantic feelings towards the women, eventually made advances, and were rejected, seemed to work in a fairly consistent way. In those cases, what I figured out (later, with the benefit of hindsight!) was the women behaved towards the men in ways similar to interactions with their female friends--touching, hugging, intimate conversation and advice-giving and asking--that the men misinterpreted as romantic interest. So, really, a gender-based culture clash more than anything.
posted by telophase at 8:40 AM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Often they would want to be physically close in small ways like sitting near me, leaning on me, etc.

Just one datapoint but I am a very huggy/physical person with my friends (male and female) but I assume that because they know I would never cheat on my partner that they recognise I am not sending out "date me" signals. Your friends may have also felt that since your friendship is so clearly established as a friendship, that physical touch would not be misconstrued by you.
posted by saucysault at 8:47 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


What everyone else said.

Honestly, the idea of befriending people at work at all is ill-advised. The idea of forming a mentoring relationship with them and trying to use that to groom them into having the hots for you is not only unlikely to work, it's actually creepy so you better be glad it hasn't worked so far.

I don't know if you are attractive or not. However, you describe yourself as rather a dumpy, frizzy person who makes no especial effort to increase her attractiveness. Just by seeing yourself that way, you are probably ensuring that you do in fact come across that way. If your self-description corresponds to objective reality, you sound like you have chosen a very plain, unsexy appearance for yourself. It's very unlikely you are "hideous" but people tend to look as good as they set out to make themselves look, and you don't actually seem to be trying very hard.

Creepiness aside, why would you put all your romantic/dating effort into looking plain and sitting next to work associates like a bump on a log and expect that this would ignite teh sparkz? That sounds like a literal match for the description of the dreaded "Nice Guy".

So, here's my advice:
1. Completely separate your personal and professional lives. You talk about the weather with your colleagues, nothing more.
2. Improve your appearance (includes dressing work-appropriate for work and date-appropriate for dating).
3. Go on a dating site, there you will find guys who wish not only to date women of your ethnicity, but you specifically.
4. Stop discounting guys who do hit on you because they do so outside of work (?!?)
posted by tel3path at 8:47 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


a.) A mentor
b.) A friend
c.) Not in their age group


Yes, this! By happy coincidence, I too am in my thirties and spend a lot of time in a [political] scene that skews young and where I tend to take on a lot of certain kinds of responsibility as the "adult". It does make things confusing.

What I've noticed, having been young in this scene, is that when you're in your twenties age differences seem much, much vaster looking up the age range than they do when you're not in your twenties and looking back down. I remember, for instance, thinking that 28-year-olds were all older and mature and shit when I was, like, 24. The idea of dating someone on the other side of the "thirty" barrier would have seemed rather strange unless the person was just perfect.

I mean, there's probably some sexist crap going on here - dudes are more likely to date younger women and are less likely to date women they see as equals in terms of authority, skills, smarts, etc - much less date someone who they see as having more skills, experience and smarts. That's not to say that you will never meet guys like this - I have a friend who is in a serious relationship with a younger fellow who likes dating older and more confident women.

I think that being in the habit of having crushes for years is really harmful. (Unless they're super lightweight crushes that you enjoy having.) You end up putting way too much weight on one situation, for one thing, and it can slowly eat away at your own sense of your possibilities and desirability. Ask people out right away and move on - if you want to ask out younger dudes, ask them out. Don't nurse a passion - that was all right for, like, Dante but it's not required for you.

Also, there's so much stupid stuff about "men" out there and it can really erode your self esteem: all men are total horndogs so if they're not into you it's because you're gross looking, all men have insatiable sexuality and one foot out the door, men are incapable of love, men get bored, men shouldn't be expected to do any emotional or social work because their poor testosterone-driven brains just can't....this stuff is so pervasive culturally that it can actually trump your actual lived experience of men. I mean, I know guys who are jackasses, one foot out the door, can't love, etc...but even though I've known enough men well enough long enough to be confident that patriarchal stereotypes are bullshit, I still find myself making assumptions about men based on them.

You're getting good advice here about OKCupid and so on - also learn to separate your dating from your mentoring milieu, learn to build a life outside it. I know very well from personal experience how hard this can be, but I think you have to. You don't want to be 45 and in this same boat. Start doing some kind of hobby, book group, class, etc that takes you away from this milieu. Do it even if the only people you meet there are boring workadaddies with terrible politics - you have to start somewhere and you rarely find yourself instantly transported to the Land of Age-Appropriate Dates on your first venture out into the world, plus you rarely recognize age appropriate dates when you see them because you're used to this other milieu.
posted by Frowner at 8:48 AM on January 4, 2013 [17 favorites]


This is a recurring "disconnect" some women have with men - it is very difficult for a man to go from friend to lover. And, it is very unlikely you will be The One to change this reality. There are always exceptions.

Do not conflate physical attraction with dating desire. A male friend can find you perfectly attractive and at the same time, have no desire to date you. One is physical, biological - the other is cerebral decision making. To date a female friend, we would need to go out of our way over several hurdles to consider doing so - be happy your friends are not easily converting over to BFs.
posted by Kruger5 at 8:54 AM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've said it before:

Remember that you are the product of literally millions of individuals successfully attracting a mate. Your physical attributes are the product of eons of genetic sorting and shuffling to produce offspring who will themselves be likely to reproduce. Unless you're way, way over on the left of the attractiveness curve, it's not your looks.* It could be how you are dressing those looks, or how you are carrying yourself -- in other words, it could be choices you are making around your appearance -- but the good news is that you can make different choices about those things if you want to.

*And if you were, you'd know it.
posted by gauche at 8:59 AM on January 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


Oh, another thing: I've found that when interacting with younger guys (I'm a queer person who occasionally dates guys, so my situation is different from yours) that very often they want a close, supportive, non-sexual relationship with an older woman. They like being around women and it's a huge relief to be around and be close to someone where there aren't a lot of sexual expectations, someone who is able to listen and give advice, someone who maybe they can talk about sex or relationships with. This is actually a very rich and valuable kind of relationship for both parties to have - it's not "creepy" or anything. It's just that often the very guys who really want that friendship seek it out because it's not going to be sexual. So one thing that's probably happening is that the younger guys who might be interested in you aren't the same as the guys who are into being good friends.

In terms of looks: do you like the amount of effort you're putting into your appearance? Do you like the way you look? I never wear make-up, keep my hair very short and simple and wear dapper but simple clothes (again, I'm pretty butch so this isn't quite the same) in part because I'm more attracted to people who don't wear make-up, have plain hair and wear simple clothes. While I wouldn't kick a person out of bed for wearing eyeshadow, glitter and high heels, those things don't really grab my attention. Basically my appearance fits in with what I look for in a partner. What I'm saying is that if you really like your no-frills aesthetic, don't change just to get dates because god knows you don't want to have to wear foundation and shapewear for the duration of your relationships - just be aware of how your appearance works in the dating world.

I am actually totally against the "make yourself over to get a man" thing - I think it's really alienating to wear clothes as a pure costume to attract rather than as a thing you enjoy, use to express yourself or simply don't really care about. I spent a few years in my twenties wearing makeup and vintage dresses and doing my hair in order to look attractive, and it was actually kind of soul-crushing, since I felt this constant pressure to perform a personality that wasn't mine and was always hyper-aware of my clothes and appearance.

One thing to consider is this: do your clothes express who you are? Like, I've refined what I wear in the past few years until I think my clothes do express who I am - I wear a sober color palette with a lot of blues, I wear clothes that hark back to various nerdy male intellectuals of the early twentieth century, my clothes are all "classic" in shape and cut, I wear natural fabrics that look like natural fabrics, etc etc. I know other awesome queer people who wear witty clothes - brighter colors, amusing vintage accessories, tighter fits, knits rather than wovens - because those people are basically funner than me, more about dancing and going out and media and exciting Queer Nation-style activism. Their clothes express them too. My point is that there might be all the difference in the world between the pink sweater and grey ponte knit skirt that someone wears because it's accessible and easy and the dotted sweater and full, woven skirt that really capture her personality. Both outfits might be equally easy-care, affordable and work-appropriate but they send different messages and feel different to wear. Think about whether you really feel like yourself in your clothes, or whether they are just limp rags that you hang on your body to avoid being naked.
posted by Frowner at 9:08 AM on January 4, 2013 [16 favorites]


The "friendzone" gets a lot of flak here on MeFi but I don't think it's a useless concept. I am a man and have decided to stay friends-only also with attractive women. When you are already friends, the stakes of getting romantic or sexual become high. The age difference can exaggerate that, as the guys may assume you want something more serious than they do.

If you are to cross that boundary anyways, you can't do it in one giant leap by declaring your love and hoping it will be mutual. Even though it's a proof of appreciation, it retroactively changes the meaning of your previous interactions in a way that can be outright creepy. The guy will think back on compliments you gave or accidental touches between you and realize that they meant something different from what he thought.

The only way I can see it happen is by gradually getting more flirty and physical, still under the mutual understanding that you are mostly friends. Each step in the transition must be easy. From being sexual friends, anything can happen, but you risk hurting yourself along the way. If you were a man I'd also feel this is potential creepiness, so it might still be even if my gut doesn't respond the same way now that you're a woman. If he doesn't reciprocate, of course you have to back off.
posted by springload at 9:11 AM on January 4, 2013


But can you help me figure out why I do this? I think I like helping them and almost being a mother figure to them.

I would be weirded out severely by someone who tried to convert a relationship like this into a romance.
posted by empath at 9:18 AM on January 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


Go out with the men who show romantic interest in you. Don't try to convert existing friendships into romances.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:20 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


The country in question and its cultural norms are huge parts of this question and it is unanswerable without them.
posted by rr at 9:21 AM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


It sounds like your approach to meeting men for dating has been to get to know men through your work and sometimes wait a very long time for something to happen with them.

This doesn't seem to have worked. I think the correct question is not "Am I unattractive?" but "What would be a more effective strategy?"

Try dating in a focused way. Outside the office. Find a way to meet new people where you can ask them out or they can ask you out. Online dating is good for this.

(FWIW I've been in a position before where I've thought a guy was sending me signals and was hurt when I finally pressed the point and he told me he was not interested. It's possible that in these cases the guys *were* sending signals but when the push came to shove they did not want to pursue anything, and saying "I've never been interested" is easier than "I was kind of flirting for a while and you are cute but I flirt with a lot of cute girls and at this point I'm not interested in dating you." Who knows.

Regardless: for my purposes it has been better to take this as a lesson to not put too much stock in signals and flirting. They are fun but that's all. Someone who wants to date me and is free to do so can ask me out, or I can ask him out. And I deserve that kind of clarity. And so do you.)

posted by bunderful at 9:23 AM on January 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


What Frowner said - I don't want you to think I was suggesting you paint yourself up to be someone you're not.

If someone were playing you in a movie, how would you want them to look? Think of that, and work towards that.
posted by tel3path at 9:28 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Try dating in a focused way. Outside the office. Find a way to meet new people where you can ask them out or they can ask you out. Online dating is good for this.

This is totally the answer, btw. Just throw up an okcupid profile. You'll be dating in days. With guys that are looking for romance.
posted by empath at 9:32 AM on January 4, 2013


The age thing is a big red flag. 29 and 34 ok. 22 and 34? You are almost certainly in very different places in your life. I think it's a bit of wishful thinking to convince yourself that looking young and feeling young and be able to relate to younger people somehow makes your actual age irrelevant because it doesn't. You need to start pursuing men who are in their 30s.

Also the mentor mentee/mothering thing is very problematic. It's a role that is very desexualizing, as a mentor relationship should be.

So you're essentially going after men who aren't entirely appropriate age wise or relationship wise. I'm not saying these two things are absolute deal breakers or that they should be, but both are very problematic and predictably so. This should not be a pool of men you are actively and primarily pursuing.

The looks thing is a red herring, except maybe to the extent you possibly desexualize yourself and by that I mean it sounds like you might fall into the role of asexual maternal figure very easily and might find that role very comfortable. I'm not saying you need to dress like Jessica rabbit, but maybe try to put in a little more effort and be a little more "put together."

But really you need to start meeting men who are appropriate for you so you aren't just developing feelings for whoever is closest in proximity to you out of boredom and lack of other immediate options.
posted by whoaali at 9:34 AM on January 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


Also, if guys from work are being affectionate in a way that you associate with romance rather than friendship, put a stop to it. It will make your life easier if you keep the boundaries clear for yourself and for them.
posted by bunderful at 9:55 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's always really hard to tell from a short question, but the impression I'm getting from what you wrote is that you might be uncomfortable with the idea of going out on "adult" dates. That's actually really normal! However, it's landed you in a situation where you're most comfortable imagining relationships where you're in control (they're younger, you're a mother-figure, it starts as friendship) rather than putting yourself out there in the way that most 30-year-olds need to in order to date. This type of model, where you just hang out with a guy until at some point you start making out and bam! you're dating, works okay in high school and college but stops working pretty quickly after that.

People above have lots of specific pieces of advice that point to how you start putting yourself out there, but I just wanted to add that you should expect it to feel foreign and uncomfortable and not that much fun for the first couple of dates. That doesn't mean you should stop trying; rather, realize that it's a learning curve and sometimes you just have to do something for a while before it starts to feel comfortable and you start to feel good at it.
posted by iminurmefi at 10:05 AM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


On the issue of cultural differences, I'll note that in much of Latin America, there is (a) a greater expectation that women in the dating pool will make an attempt to conform to beauty standards, such that your frumpy/low-effort appearance may put you at a slight disadvantage compared to some Euro-American dating pools; (b) stronger and more traditional expectations about age differences between male/female partners; and (c) in Brazil at least (as an example--this is something that is pretty variable depending on where you are), there is additionally a more "flirtatious" culture that is accepting of more physical closeness/contact between single men/women *even if there is not underlying romantic interest/intent*--which could contribute to misinterpreting flirting or casual contact as a sign of interest.
posted by drlith at 10:20 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I always read/hear that when men and women become friends, often the guy will harbor feelings for the girl, unless she is physically unattractive.

I think this is what's giving you trouble. It's just not true. Now, it is true that guys in a friendship with a woman will sometimes want to sleep with her, and that almost all of the time the thought will at least cross his mind. But this is a very different thing from "harboring feelings." I bet you would get very different results if instead of confessing feelings for these men you instead proposed that the two of you sleep together. But that's not what you're after, so you shouldn't actually do that.

Maybe if you stop approaching these friendships with the assumption that every guy you are friends with is going to fall for you, it will be less upsetting if they say no. Also, if you want to convert a friend into something else, you should not confess your feelings, you should ask him out. Someone suddenly dumping "I'm in love you with you" on you is super intimidating and very high pressure. "Do you want to go out to dinner some time?" is a simple yes/no question that people are usually comfortable being asked.
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:26 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


First, it would help to know where you are so any cultural factors can be addressed. For example, in Japan, western women are generally not considered a top choice for a wife. Maybe men in that country don't marry foreigners of your type very often.

Your age is also a factor to the extent that the majority of men (and maybe a great majority, depending on the country you're in) want to have children. At 34, you simply don't have very many child-bearing years left, and that is going to be a considerable factor as well. This is magnified when you are looking to men ten years your junior. This is a issue that exists even if you look young for your age or are physically attractive. (we can only guess because you have provided no picture, although what you describe is low maintenance)

A number of commenters have remarked that you don't shit where you eat, so there is no need to belabor that point except to say that your coworkers are probably following this advice even though you aren't. Start following this advice.

Evaluating this in a vacuum since we don't know the cultural factors, I think you need to stop the "nice guy" Friend to Boyfriend routine. You cannot dupe your friends into becoming something more. Instead, engage in dating with men who are closer to your age. Are some of them the men who showed interest in you? Try dating them. (there are less available men of your age than ten years younger than you, for the reasons stated above)
posted by Tanizaki at 10:44 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's of course possible you're physically hideous; we really can't answer that based on a text description. However, as other people have indicated, it's not really relevant -- conventionally unattractive people the world over end up in successful relationships. In general, my experience is that (absent huge wealth, celebrity, etc), people tend to end up in relationships with people that are approximately as attractive as they are - sometimes one partner is a bit better or a bit worse looking, but generally they're in the same ballpark. This is not a rule of course, but merely a rule of thumb. So providing you are not trying to date underwear models, you should be able to successfully find someone to date when considering physical factors only.

So, I don't think it's physical. It is much more likely to be age-related or environment-related, as others have noted. The "mother' figure that you are projecting is highly unlikely to be a sexually desirable one for men in their early 20s. Moreover, men in their early 20s are more likely to be interested in casual dating than women in their mid 30s might be - again, not a rule and there are of course exceptions, but it's more probable. This means that those friends of yours might automatically be excluding you from their "potential dating partner" list because they assume (correctly? incorrectly?) that you are more likely to be seeking a long-term partner and they are not ready to begin the hunt for that person yet.
posted by modernnomad at 10:46 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Seconding taking cultural differences into account, also when evaluating the advice you get here. The date appears to be more essential in American relationships than what I'm used to. Where I am, it seems fairly common to start out as friends and then begin to have sex through a gradual and ill-defined process. Asking a close friend out for a date seems very contrived. They probably go out to do things and eat food already, so what's different this time? Does the guy put on a bowtie?
posted by springload at 10:52 AM on January 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


I don't want to be harsh. And yet: I have befriended male coworkers, classmates, tutorees, ad (in one case) a student) who were all much younger than me, like 4, 8, 10, and 12 years younger. But in all of these cases, honestly, the guy and I became close friends and related mostly like peers...well, but sometimes the relationships did not start off as peers, they were more mentor-mentee type. [...] . I think may of you will say I should stop interacting with this younger guys in such intimate ways, and I think you are right. But can you help me figure out why I do this? I think I like helping them and almost being a mother figure to them. That's sort of my personality type.

I am not sure exactly what you do for a living, and what your position is, but it definitely sounds like you are a teacher, educator, tutor, mentor, or maybe advisor of some sort. I think the issue goes even beyond the (good observations) above about shitting where you eat.

As an educator, why can't you see that what you are doing is completely and totally inappropriate, and is a direct affront to the position you are in?

I know that at universities and other institutions, there are instances of consenting adults getting together after the semester, and from a legal and administrative standpoint, they get the okay. But frankly: as an instructor/mentor, your job absolutely requires that you establish a safe learning environment for your student/mentee, and that you create a space for them to feel 100% comfortable coming to you with questions and problems. Sexualizing that space complicates it, and makes students feel uncomfortable and confused.

In my view, instructors who repeatedly try to hook up with students, even after the class ends, are abusing their position, and are undermining their work in the classroom. And even if it is on, technically, the up-and-up, students know of the "creepy professor" who has a reputation for hitting on the undergrads, and I think that knowledge impacts their perception of, and performance in, the classroom. Age isn't really even a factor; it comes from the social relationships and expectations that are established within learning environments.

Consider that you are not getting the reaction you want because, by and large, I think students come to learning environments to learn, not to be romantically poached by their instructors.

Please consider the online dating or other advice above. You may find your chances of romance skyrocket when you pursue them in an appropriate environment, and with appropriate partners.
posted by vivid postcard at 10:57 AM on January 4, 2013 [23 favorites]


I've been in situations similar to yours, and I realized later that I'd made those friends uncomfortable because I was subconsciously treating them as surrogate boyfriends (crossing boundaries) whilst ostensibly just being their friend. Nobody likes to feel like their friendship was a sham because the other friend really wanted a date.

It was my own insecurity and loneliness that made me be Such a great friend (and kind of mothering) to those guys and cross boundaries.

I agree with others that you should try dating non-friends for awhile. I always thought it was best to transition from friends to lovers, until I discovered it's way better to have bright lines. Now that I'm partnered, I have better boundaries in my friendships, too.
posted by ldthomps at 11:31 AM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


I have befriended... tutorees, ad (in one case) a student) who were all much younger than me, like 4, 8, 10, and 12 years younger... sometimes the relationships did not start off as peers, they were more mentor-mentee type.

To be quite blunt, a pattern of befriending people in subordinate situations, setting up mentor-mentee relationships, and then hitting on them is creepy. "What you're doing wrong" has nothing to do with your physical appearance; it's that you seem to be most comfortable in a mother figure role with the people you seek to date. Does this make them seem more infantile? Easier to control? Or do you think that this is all you have to offer in a relationship? Please stop pursuing these friendships and spend some time figuring this out before you get into real trouble.
posted by snickerdoodle at 12:56 PM on January 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


I know guys are "supposed" to be more visual and everything, but if you're good at your job -- especially the mentor part and especially in the workplace -- chances are your personality becomes more powerful than your looks for these guys. Plus given the age difference, they may enjoy relating to you, but push come to shove... they probably want to "be men" in a relationship, i.e. engage with someone they feel they have more to offer, and on a more level playing field... not with someone who's established a Mother/Mentor role in their life and in the professional environment to boot.

That's not to diminish your effect however. And I don't think there's anything wrong with your intuition. You probably ARE picking up on fleeting moments of latent attraction. But these guys are telling you, that's all it is -- just a blip on their radar. It may even be that because of the Mother/Mentor role you have with them, they are keen to stomp out those blips as they occur in order to preserve the positive relationship already established with you, especially in a professional context, which recent comments above have addressed.

IMO your feelings for these younger guys are tending towards sexual because you are not taking charge of getting your own sexual needs met. You're waiting on an outdated courting script to take care of these needs for you, which other commenters above have made clear is unlikely to happen. It sounds like something in your romantic wiring is strung backwards... what is the false dichotomy in your head that leads you to believe that guys who show interest in you are automatically incapable of also being friends with you? What is it about a guy who's attracted to you outside of the Mothering/Mentoring context that you find distasteful? Is it the loss of control and power? The loss of security relative to your younger men, knowing in this case you're on an equal playing field with someone who expresses interest from on their own terms?

Also consider reading up on Carl Jung's animus concept -- the inner masculine complement present in all women. I don't think your attraction to younger men is pathological; I think it's more that your inner male self is stuck in a younger, post-adolescent state, and that, in part, is driving your attraction to younger men. If you want to take a step outside of this trap, consider how you can take more charge with your personal development: challenge yourself by opening up to dating opportunities, and allow your inner masculine self to mature with you. I think this approach will help reassure you that your intuition is not broken; just in need of a developmental tune up, that with aging, has become past due. Feel free to message me if you want further thoughts, as I'm also a recently turned 30 single woman contemplating my own romantic/sexual/etc existence. Best of luck, OP!
posted by human ecologist at 1:51 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I always read/hear that when men and women become friends, often the guy will harbor feelings for the girl, unless she is physically unattractive.

This is a toxic way to view friendship with men. It's bad for you and you need to change it.

It's also a pretty toxic way to view relationships: if someone doesn't want to date you, that doesn't mean that they look at you and think "ew, gross!" or that there's anything wrong with you--it just means that this particular person isn't interested in pursuing a relationship with you. I'm sure if you think about it, you can name people you don't find hideous (or even people you think are pretty cute), yet you aren't interested in them.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:57 PM on January 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


I suspect that you're right, that if they were very physically attracted to you at least one of them would have bitten by now. But all hope is not lost; there's a lot you can control about appearance.

Something I've noticed recently is that guys are highly superficial even when it comes to how they evaluate physical appearance. You would be shocked by how much guys respond to nice hair and stylish clothes. To use myself as an example, I recently got a great hair cut and color at a top salon and I bought a new wardrobe. Suddenly I am being creeped on, asked out and checked out multiple times a day.

Just something to consider.
posted by timsneezed at 2:01 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


He may have felt that you liked him and he liked the attention.

There's no such thing as a friendzone. There's a "I'd rather be celibate for life than have sex w/so and so, but I'm flattered he/she thinks I'm hot and it boosts my self esteem so I'll keep him/her around"-zone, but no friendzone. That's something angry nerds made up so they don't have to feel responsible for dressing nicely or learning social graces that would make them more appealing romantic partners.
posted by discopolo at 4:09 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I always read/hear that when men and women become friends, often the guy will harbor feelings for the girl, unless she is physically unattractive.

I'm just here to tell you that this is nonsense, and you can ignore anyone who suggests this. I have many, many friends of the opposite sex, attractive friends, and I am not interested in them for many reasons that have nothing to do with their appearance. I have guy friends who would tell you the same.
posted by davejay at 7:38 PM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


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