I fail at dating
July 11, 2011 6:57 AM   Subscribe

This is embarrassing. But I could do with some tips. I freeze up around people I am attracted to. My confidence goes out the window. Can anyone help?

I'm sure I'm not the only one to have this problem but it feels like it.

I am overweight, but otherwise attractive, and overall a decent human being with the usual amount of flaws and good points. I am not intrinsically confident but have learned to fake it well enough in stressful situations like work and social gatherings where I don't know anybody. I am extroverted, social and have a lot of friends, but fail at dating.

I am very self-conscious about my weight in situations where I am interacting with people I am attracted to. I go extremely abrupt and cold with them - to forestall any idea they might have that I am attracted to them! It's a defence mechanism I developed in school when I had a crush on a kid who then made fun of me for being fat.

I'm an adult now, I should be over that. I just want to be able to interact with someone I'm attracted to in the same easy and happy way I can with someone I'm not interested in. I just want to stop the voice in my head that says "Look at you, they're never going to want to date you. Well screw them anyway. I'm just going to be cold and rude with them." Way to get a date.

Please help me stop sabotaging myself!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Do it more. Lots more.
posted by devnull at 7:08 AM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

*Everybody* gets nervous around folks they're attracted to. Without exception. You can learn to manage it over time, but it never really goes away - and frankly, I'm not sure I'd want it to. Keeps things interesting.

It sounds like you've got a good idea of the reasons you "should" be more confident - you're a decent, likeable, competent and good-looking adult. That's an excellent start. As to getting over your nervouseness, I've got a couple thoughts:

1.) Try speed-dating, or some other singles' event. Why? First, because you'll meet a lot of women who you *know* are single and looking. One of the things that's always made me nervous about talking to a woman I'm attracted to is that I'm worried I'll be seen as a boor if I even say "hi". Chatting up women at a singles' thing is a good way to get over that fear. Plus, it can lead to -

2.) Dating casually. I don't know if this is part of your problem, but one thing that stymied me for a long time was that I'd be attracted to women who were classmates, part of my circle of friends, whatever. This seemed to raise the stakes, at least to me, because if I screwed things up (and I was always convinced I would), I'd ruin a friendship.

Dating casually, though, gets rid of that fear. Maybe you meet a girl at a singles' thing, or on OKCupid, or whatever. Grab coffee, drinks, maybe dinner. If you hit it off, great - but if not, you've lost *nothing*, so there's no reason to be nervous. Does that make sense? And once you've dated casually for a while, you'll get the idea that you *are* genuinely attractive, that women can dig you, and you'll be more confident with relationships that might otherwise make you more nervous.
posted by Mr. Excellent at 7:13 AM on July 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

What devnull said. You can practice this skill every day, with something as simple as asking someone you find to be attractive for the time, or weather forecast, or something of the sorts.

Once you practice a bit you'll be over to get over the feeling of restraint or self-doubt and you'll just go for it. One corny line I remember from a bad movie of my childhood is, "feel the fear and go for it." I use this myself on occasion and force myself to act rather than think of all the ways in which it can go wrong, and am much more satisfied with the end result, even if it is rejection.
posted by masters2010 at 7:14 AM on July 11, 2011

Do you have any idea how much other people hate some aspect of their own self? Seriously, the number of people who can just sit there and think, "Yeah, I'm good. Weight is perfect, I look great, I love my successful career..." is vanishingly small. Compared to everyone else, there is nothing wrong with you. Not a thing.
posted by Etrigan at 7:17 AM on July 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

Your weight has nothing to do with it - I don't care how fat you are, there are people out there in the world who are attracted to you. The trick is finding one that's also attractive to you. This is the same trick that everyone in the dating world has to deal with, whether they're short or blond or wear glasses or whatever other physical traits they possess. So yeah, it's essentially a numbers game. The trick it to tell yourself *you are an attractive person* until you yourself believe it. And I guarantee you it's not a lie.
posted by ferociouskitty at 7:29 AM on July 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

In my experience, weight causes problems in relationships when it changes dramatically WHILE you're with someone -- the person you're with was attracted to one body, and when they find themselves interacting with a very different body they sometimes don't adjust very well.

That is not something you need to worry about right now!

As others have said, the most important thing is getting comfortable with yourself as you are, and presenting yourself with style and confidence. I know plenty of rail-thin people who've been single for years; I know plenty of "fat" people who are happily paired off. What matters the most is being a confident, positive and interesting person.

I have had that voice in my head, too. Again, as others have said, MANY OF US have that voice, and it has very little to do with any kind of "objective" measure of attractiveness, whatever that even means. The only way to get that voice to STFU is to force yourself to take a leap -- get out there, talk to people, retrain your instincts through experience. Do so in a low-risk, low-impact environment if it helps -- when you're traveling out of town, for instance, when the long-term effects of any missteps are at a minimum.

Chances are, you'll be fine. And eventually, the anxiety will fade.

Good luck!
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:44 AM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

How I perceive the way I look has a huge impact on how I feel (and thus how I act) out in the world – a recent haircut or something as simple as an at-home teeth whitening always leave me an outwardly more confident person among friends and strangers alike, for sure. Extra pounds could certainly crush your self-esteem; is losing the weight out of the question?
posted by halogen at 7:46 AM on July 11, 2011

"The trick it to tell yourself *you are an attractive person* until you yourself believe it. And I guarantee you it's not a lie."

Ferociouskitty is right! How do you think Carlo Ponti was able to attract and marry Sophia Loren? He believed in himself.
posted by Dolley at 7:46 AM on July 11, 2011

I go extremely abrupt and cold with them - to forestall any idea they might have that I am attracted to them! It's a defence mechanism I developed in school when I had a crush on a kid who then made fun of me for being fat.

Oh hi! I do this too, although I've gotten a lot better. That whole "I am so awful that people would be absolutely miserable if they were saddled with my company/knew I liked them" thing...yes, it's caused me to miss many social and romantic opportunities.

I often remind myself:

1. Most people most of the time are flattered if someone is attracted to them. Even if they're not attracted back. (There are complicating factors if homophobia or transphobia are involved, unfortunately. Which is so dumb.) I did not used to believe this, until I realized that when people were attracted to me, I tended to like them a bit more just 'cause. On one occasion, I even switched over from "wow, I am so not interested in you because you are such a dork" to being interested right back.

This assumes that you aren't stalking. But you're probably not, given the self-awareness implied in the question.

2. To practice being attracted to people. Like, the more people I find attractive, the lower stakes any one attraction has. I try to pay attention to what attracts me to people, whether that's pure intellectual love transcending the body or vaguely porny interest in their broad shoulders, etc. Being attuned to that helps me feel more in-the-body.

Also, paying attention to others' bodies make me feel more normal about mine because no one is perfect, and lots of people are roughly-as-imperfect-as-me even if in different ways.

And since I tend to blame every flaw on my weight, it's helpful to notice other bodies. I saw some girl with really pale, fragile skin like mine just the other day, wearing shorts and a tank top and everything...and even though she was a lot thinner, I realized that many of the artifacts of my skin that I'd attributed to my fatness were really just part of being pale and delicate-skinned.

3. Role models! As a fellow fat person and as a nerdy intellectual who is oddly-gendered, I have to accept that I'm just not playing the same game as a thin, happily feminine cis woman. I have to be a big craggy lumpy monster who is fascinating for my own qualities rather than because I match up to what society desires. So I remember that Emma Goldman got laid a lot, etc etc. I remember that the most attractive person I know is a stocky, graying trans guy.

It's not the same being a member of a despised category. If you're fat, you have to work harder both to attract people and to shut out the world's endless hateful chatter. I consider myself pretty good at it by this point - and I do get dates just fine - but it's tiring.

Oh hey, do you read all those fat-positive blogs and tumblrs? I wore shorts for the first time since, like, 1999 this year and I think I owe that to reading Definatalie and Fatshionista and so on. And the world didn't end, and I looked pretty dapper if I say so myself. A couple of years of a steady diet of pictures-of-fat-people-being-normal has really helped me to realize that I just look fat; I don't look like a giant cowlike advertisement for body horror, no matter what was beaten into me as a child.
posted by Frowner at 7:51 AM on July 11, 2011 [9 favorites]

I'm not advocating paying for the book, but some rejection therapy might help. Basically for 30 days your goal is to get rejected by someone daily. I've done a run of it and it's a great confidence booster. It wound up being surprising how hard it was to get rejected on a daily basis.

Note: I'm most definitely overweight, I definitely fight the feelings you have.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 8:00 AM on July 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Don't take any advice that says the solution to this is to lose the weight; when you do that, you continue to hold onto a very conditional view of your attractiveness ("I'm attractive as long as I maintain this weight only"), and you trade the anxiety you have about your weight now for anxiety about gaining it back. Which, given the failure rate of diets, you probably would.

The solution is what others have said: practice, try to see yourself as that whole package you describe, work on the confidence. A couple of tips that have helped me in the past:

1. Stop thinking of yourself as the one who needs the other one's attention and approval; instead, focus on offering other people whatever you can to help them feel attractive and at ease in a social setting. Just about everybody has some anxieties about things like this; tell yourself, "It would help this nice person feel at ease if I spoke to her in a friendly way." See yourself as an asset in a group, as a person who can help others know they fit in.

2. Practice so much that any one "failure" means nothing. Flirt for the sake of flirting. Tell a person you're not especially attracted to how flattering that color is on them, or otherwise give them the gift of your attention and warm regard. Many years ago, I read a book in which the author told about asking someone how they came to have so many friends. The answer was, "When I meet someone I think is interesting, I ask them out to dinner. Sometimes we become friends." Taking that approach has served me well in the past, by encouraging me to reach out to people I liked without necessarily having the pressure of hoping for a specific outcome.

3. Fake it til you make it. When you find yourself freezing up with an attractive person, ask youself, "How would I be acting if I weren't attracted to this person?" Or, "How would so-and-so act right now?" In my early 20s, I consciously put on what I called my "Doris Day persona" when I was going to parties that made me nervous. Maybe you have a similar image of a person, or of your better self, that you can call on.
posted by not that girl at 8:02 AM on July 11, 2011 [17 favorites]

While you're practising the other skills suggested above, don't be cold - be cool. Mysterious. Give them little underlooks. Think warm buttery thoughts while you do this.
posted by tel3path at 8:12 AM on July 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Ugh, I feel you - I used to hate the reaction I would get when someone seemed to be fearing that I, the fat girl, was into them. So I'd try to make it Clear that I wasn't... and that didn't help me any, either.

First, realize how attractive you are. Yeah, you're overweight and some people aren't into that. But there are plenty of people who find you attractive exactly as you are, and others who, once they get to know you, find you increasingly attractive as they see how awesome you are.

Next, tel3path just beat me to it, but be cool. Try to treat them As If you're not attracted and they're unavailable to you (I'd assume they were attached), so you can just be your awesome self (if slightly more reserved) with them.
posted by ldthomps at 8:16 AM on July 11, 2011

Freezing up occurs when you are worried about your own needs, how you will be judged by others. Put them first. Don't treat them like celebrities, but rather like your good friend or family. Don't worry about yourself or your image, just be hospitable and genuine. Some people will like you, some may not, just go with the flow.
posted by caddis at 8:19 AM on July 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's a defence mechanism I developed in school when I had a crush on a kid who then made fun of me for being fat.

Switch out "being fat" for "having scoliosis" and I was in this exact same situation. The kid read my "love letter" aloud for the whole class to hear. I didn't date until I was in my 20s.

As an adult, at some point I realized how ridiculous it was that a 14 year old boy was running my life. I suggest you really spend some time thinking about that kid, about how insecure and unhappy he or she was to make fun of you, and how WRONG he or she was. Teenagers are full of hormones and their brains aren't fully developed. They say stupid shit that doesn't mean anything.

I think once you're able to reflect on that and forgive this kid, you'll have a much easier time connecting with others.
posted by desjardins at 8:36 AM on July 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

I agree with the previous posters who said that your weight doesn't matter here. I struggle with the same exact problem and I am not and have never been overweight. In fact, up until a few months ago I had been skinny with a low BMI all my life.

Words can hurt and stay with you forever. No advice to offer but just wanted to let you know that you are not alone and your weight alone is not what is holding you back from dating!
posted by lovelygirl at 8:43 AM on July 11, 2011

I second the whole "try casual dating thing." It helps to practice!

I'm going to move past the whole "don't think of them as Super Special People" and move right to the basic stuff. We do this so naturally when we aren't trying, that when we get all kinds of froze up we forget that there IS actually a formula to aimable, polite conversation with anyone.

Practice in casual ways! Get a few go-to questions together, like "are you from the city?" to get the conversation moving, and then just go from there. Formulas make it so much easier to get past the freeze-up. When I feel a bit intimidated by someone, i focus on a shared experence (this shit works wonders) and then ask a question and KEEP ASKING positive questions. Cheesy is just fine. "Is that your go-to sandwich here at subway?" "Do you love how much better the wind feels here on the beach?" When trying to rid myself of shyness I would go to places I didn't know anyone and play this game.

Example: We're in a bar. I go to stand next to a complete stranger/famous person/hottie.
Me: (making an opinion based observation about our shared experence- ie the bar) Whoa- I think those are REAL deer horns! Have you ever seen a real set?

You fall on your face sometimes- but it won't kill you. you just have to suck it up and move through the motions until you can stop the "oh-my-god i can't stop thinking about Pretty Them not liking ME" Loop that is screwing your talk-functions.
posted by Blisterlips at 8:57 AM on July 11, 2011

Nthing practice and faking it.

I am super shy and awkward, but kind of getting over it by practicing interacting with new people. I try to pretend to be a regular, socially-competent person who doesn't hate talking to strangers (I smile a lot and make reasonable eye contact and ask small-talky questions); sometimes I am more successful than other times (I learned a while ago that a couple of my more recently-met friends don't even think I'm awkward, and it blew my mind), but either way I've gotten way more comfortable with both talking to people and also the idea that it's all right if I'm awkward sometimes (or often).
posted by Vibrissa at 9:12 AM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

also, there is a flawed logic in your brain that you have to recognise. You finding someone attractive is in no way an insult to these hotties. Them not finding you attractive back would not be proof that they are insulted, and it would not mean you are not attractive in general.

That "but what if they are horrified that i like them?" is broken head logic. repeat it to yourself a zillion times if you have to. It aint real. It's a bs that got grafted onto your brain by some weiner in highschool.
posted by Blisterlips at 9:37 AM on July 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

I do the same thing. There are always going to be people out there who are more awesome/beautiful/funny/better at life than you--but really, who cares? Because you're still pretty damn good at life, and when that's obvious it's extremely attractive.

Two tips:
I like to adopt the faux-fatalistic approach that ferociouskitty mentions: people are attracted to all kinds of different things, and weight may or may not be a factor (and if it is, it's their loss). Mentally classifying people as "out of your league" is a self-fulfilling prophecy, that in my experience is often surprisingly wrong. You never know unless you try, and people are complicated and unpredictable in all sort of ways, so it's worth trying.

The other thing is to get an opinion from a disinterested party. Honest opinions from other people can be convincing in ways that bathroom-mirror-pep-talks will never be. Have one of your no-bullshit friends of the opposite sex (preferably a newer one so they see you with the same fresh eyes a potential sit you down and tell you the way it is.
posted by ropeladder at 9:57 AM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, look what was just posted today! How timely for you.

Five Tips for Fat Positive Flirting
posted by ferociouskitty at 11:31 AM on July 11, 2011

What you look like on the outside has nothing to do with your personality. You can look like Angelina Jolie and still have a lack of confidence. Be your wonderful self. You are absolute perfection just the way you are and you must own it. Do not give what others, especially ones you like, a second thought of what they're thinking. Look in the mirror everyday, smile and have faith in yourself. Have faith in others.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 4:57 PM on July 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm also fat. Up until about two years ago, I was an anxious, shy mess with no confidence, especially when it came to situations where I was romantically interested in someone and had that "what will he do when he realizes the FAT GIRL is into him" fear. Here are the things that turned my life around:

1.) Wear nice clothes that fit well. I have a distinct hourglass figure, even with the extra weight, but I hid my waist in sweatshirts and sweaters for a long time. No more -- I learned to respect the curves. ;) There's got to be at least one feature of yours that you think is great. Study yourself in the mirror or take some pictures to figure it out. If you don't have a feature you love, cultivate some love for a physical part of you that is beautiful. Play it up.

2.) Acquaint yourself with the fat-positive movement online. Tumblr is great for this (NSFW; some nudity). Frowner is right, daily immersion in some sort of community where everyone looks like you goes a long way towards the kind of normalization you need to be secure as you are now.

3.) Look for the attractiveness in other people. This one is most important of all. Learn to free yourself from thinking any mainstream opinion is an objective judgment. Look at other people who you're not attracted to and if you ever feel your brain criticizing them or thinking "ugly," stop it immediately; no bodies or features of bodies are ugly. They just are part of a greater person. Be charmed by the way people carry themselves, their physicality and the way they treat others. Their voices. Their unique mannerisms.

There is no physical standard that you have to meet to be beautiful. But retreating from others and being cold to them always, always nets the same result. You're not giving yourself a chance. Find the beauty in you and others will see it too.
posted by houndsoflove at 5:35 PM on July 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

I have learnt that repeating mantras in your head is surprisingly effective. If you think about it, most of what your self-talk is telling you (over and over again) is that you're unlovable. Hear it enough times (even from your own head) and you'll believe it.

But - if you deliberately repeat over and over again that you are lovable and confident, then your brain *has* to believe it because that's all it's hearing. Tell the negative voice in your head to feck off and replace it with high rotation affirmations about how much you rock.
posted by mleigh at 5:44 PM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't take any advice that says the solution to this is to lose the weight; when you do that, you continue to hold onto a very conditional view of your attractiveness

As a guy who gained a lot of weight in 2010, I am going to disagree. Lose the weight, you will feel better, it is more healthy and your self-esteem will get a significant boost.
posted by mlis at 9:28 PM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Change your values. We make this big deal about whether the person we're attracted to, feels an equivalent attraction for us. That's natural but comes with a huge price in anxiety. Change your values so that whether someone likes you is not your central reference point. One idea is to make helping your central value. Help people, be good to people. Take back the power to be your own awesome self.
posted by storybored at 7:17 PM on July 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

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