Long distance relationship with unattractive boyfriend who knows too many people from my past
August 10, 2012 1:45 PM   Subscribe

How do I get over the fact that people find my boyfriend unattractive, how can my boyfriend and I make our long-distance relationship more romantic and interesting, and how do I deal with/get over the fact that he knows people from my past that I wish I didn't ever have to run into?

Hi, guys. First time posting a question. Well, three questions.

I'm dating a wonderful guy. He's a nice person... a bit of a busy schedule, a little cocky, okay body, and I am okay with his looks, but I just feel like I can't flaunt him. When my friends see him, they act surprised that I'm dating him. I know, this is so shallow :( but I'm just wondering how I can get over it and truly, truly understand that it's not about what others think, but about me and him. I've always dated attractive guys and am considered very attractive myself. I think he'd look a little better if he brought out certain features, maybe grew a beard, maybe switched his ordinary glasses for a sexier pair, thankfully his fashion sense is more than okay, but I am afraid to bring this up to him because it might seem like I want to change him.

Secondly...it's a long-distance relationship, and I'm starting to get restless about the lack of romance. Aside from daily phone calls and texts, I don't feel like I'm in a relationship. In my opinion, since we can't see each other every day, we should be able to do things to fill that gap, so to speak. It's getting to the point where I'm not feeling loved, etc etc. How do I broach this subject, what exactly do I say, and what are some suggestions for making it more interesting? My love languages are quality time and words of affirmation, so I don't even know why the heck I feel bad that all I ever get in the mail is bills.

Finally, in the past, I got involved in friendships that ended in a lot of hurt. I moved on, or so I thought, but then realized that my boyfriend is close or acquainted to and/or in touch with many of these people, including two of my exes. I am thinking that I might have to interact with these people, e.g. he might want to invite some of them to our wedding if we get married. Actually I'm also thinking that if these friends and exes see him, they'll be surprised that HE was the one I ended up with.

It might help to add that:

- I'm pretty blunt and I'm still learning how to speak tactfully;
- I'm in my late 20s, he's in his 30s;
- We're planning to end the distance in a few more months.
posted by lilacp to Human Relations (43 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
He's a nice person... I am okay with his looks... I'm starting to get restless about the lack of romance... they'll be surprised that HE was the one I ended up with

Are you attracted to him? I'm not sensing an attraction in what you've written.
posted by the jam at 1:53 PM on August 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'll address #2: If we were in a relationship with you, and you said "Aside from daily phone calls and texts, I don't feel like I'm in a relationship. In my opinion, since we can't see each other every day, we should be able to do things to fill that gap, so to speak." I would have absolutely no idea what you were asking for (in fact, I don't have any idea what you're asking for). You are allowed to have wants and needs in a relationship, but it is your job to ask for them or to make them happen. He can't read your mind, and it's not fair to make him guess.
posted by brainmouse at 1:53 PM on August 10, 2012 [8 favorites]

Why are you with him? Nothing in your post speaks of love, affection, or attraction. Do him a favor and break it off.
posted by murfed13 at 1:55 PM on August 10, 2012 [22 favorites]

Yes, please do this person a solid now and break it off. If I cared about someone I would never ask strangers these kinds of questions about them.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:59 PM on August 10, 2012 [11 favorites]

Three totally unrelated questions, one unhealthy relationship. Well, I'll take that back; the two possible answers to all three are the same. The first is to break things off with the poor guy, and the second is to TALK TO HIM. If you were actually "pretty blunt", he would know how you feel about all three issues, but I'm guessing he doesn't.

For the first, yes, tell him, "Wear this, not that. Grow a beard." If he's okay with it, great. If not, status quo is maintained and you get to decide if it's a dealbreaker. For the second, it sound like you want permission to see people on the side. You need to tell him that, and then decide if the outcome is a dealbreaker for either one of you. For the third, you need to tell him how you feel about these people, and his interacting with them. He might change, or he might not, but keeping it bottled up isn't doing anyone a favor.
posted by supercres at 1:59 PM on August 10, 2012


1. You think that other people think that your boyfriend is unattractive and this is a problem for you.

2. You don't feel loved in the relationship.

3. You're worried about having your boyfriend invite your exes to your wedding, and you still give a shit about what they think, and they'll judge you because they're cuter than your boyfriend (at that point, groom)?

Do I have this right?

So what exactly is right with this relationship? Why is it important to you?

Let's address this point by point:

1. Your boyfriend's attractiveness. You've always gone out with really great looking guys before, but this time, you're with him. Did it work out great with those other handsome guys? Or not so much? Are you attracted to your boyfriend. Do you get hot and bothered when he's in the room with you? Do you find him sexy? Then that's all that really matters.

If it bothers you that your boyfriend isn't up to your level of attractiveness, then you need to break up with him, because he deserves better than that.

2. You don't feel loved in the relationship. What do you think he could be doing, that he isn't doing now, to make you feel loved? Do YOU have any ideas of things he could be doing? Sending a greeting card every day? Calling to watch tv together? Sending little love note texts?

You need to be able to quantify what it is that you want, and then ask for it. Nobody is a mind reader and it's unfair to put this on him.

3. You're planning a wedding with someone who isn't even in the same area as you are, you're not feeling loved by and who you think is below you in level of attractivness, so much so that exes who mean nothing to you will think less of you because of it?

Good God Girl Get a Grip!

Your friends don't understand how you can date a guy who is less attractive than you are? What is wrong with your friends?

Yes. This is all very shallow. It makes you sound really immature. What exactly is it that he brings to the relationship? What do you bring?

Why do you want to have a relationship with him? What are his good qualities?

I see a lot of superficiality and selfishness in your question.

I'll say it again. Until you get your head on straight, please break up with this poor man.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:00 PM on August 10, 2012 [30 favorites]

Actually I'm also thinking that if these friends and exes see him, they'll be surprised that HE was the one I ended up with.

Nothing about this (or your other appearance-related comments) makes you sound like you feel lucky to have him--a pretty crucial ingredient for a relationship.
posted by availablelight at 2:01 PM on August 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

I think he'd look a little better if he brought out certain features, maybe grew a beard, maybe switched his ordinary glasses for a sexier pair, thankfully his fashion sense is more than okay, but I am afraid to bring this up to him because it might seem like I want to change him.

In a healthy, functioning relationship, you can ask for things like this. My girlfriend knows that I like it when she wears her hair long, so she does even though she'd probably prefer it a little shorter. She also knows for a fact that if she were to shave her head, I wouldn't love her an iota less than I do. She likes when I shave clean, so during the warmer months I shave clean even though I'd rather have a beard all the time. In the both these cases, the amount of bother the aesthetic preference of the other person creates is less than knowing the other person thinks what you're doing makes you look good. On the other hand, she isn't about to pressure me into, say, getting a bunch of tattoos even though she's fond of them, because that would be ridiculous.

Have you told him he'd look better with a beard? Do so. He might say "I don't like havign a beard" and there's your answer. He might also be like one of my friends who just needs someone to say "it's cool" to grow a beard. "It looks good" is even better impetus. And, then, hey, your boyfriend is that much hotter.

The glasses thing? When his birthday comes up, or Christmas, or just whatever, tell him you want to get him new glasses and go glasses shopping with him and pick out a set of frames you both like. Maybe he doesn't want to do that and, again, thems the breaks. But you tried.

This is a totally normal relationship thing. It doesn't always happen, I can't count how many dudes I know who started dating a lady who, after a period of time, decided to be a little more forthright in helping them not dress like schlubs and it succeeding. Asking someone to dress a little differently, or nicer, or whatever isn't some sort of horrible relationship dealbreaker.
posted by griphus at 2:04 PM on August 10, 2012 [8 favorites]

Echoing the comments above, it doesn't sound like you are very attracted to him. Even if you forget 100% what others think, you yourself seem to think he is just okay, and you're not happy, right?
posted by citron at 2:05 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

lilacp, there's a lot going on in your question, but to be somewhat to-the-point:

I would seriously address whether you want to be in this relationship. First off, you're not attracted to this person (although it seems you'd like to be). You're right that it's really not about what others think, though, and I think you'd benefit from developing a little bit more personal security, without so much reliance on the opinions of others (yep, even friends! It's your relationship, not theirs--they're not dating this person).

Aside from the lack of physical attraction, there's seemingly zero chemistry here, and that to me is worrisome. You're not on the same wavelength, the communication isn't there. Further indicative of this disconnect between your ideals and this reality are your thoughts of your mutual friends at your wedding, which is, to be blunt, not realistic at all and not where things stand with you and this person.

Also, I think it might be helpful for you to let go of the concept of "love languages", since that concept sort of places your communication with this guy in a tiny box. In future relationships, it'd be more helpful, I think, to pay attention to communication in general (removed from the "love" category) and consciously examine your own feelings, apart from these external metrics (friends, "love languages", etc.).
posted by freeform at 2:06 PM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Are you a person who can't be alone, or who is always in or trying to be in a relationship?
posted by rhizome at 2:07 PM on August 10, 2012 [10 favorites]

Why not end things with the friends who are supposedly knee-jerking disgust over unsexy glasses? That would fix the problem of shitty "friends" and the problem of being embarrassed about your boyfriend in one go.

How long have you been with this guy...? I can't resolve the disdain for him crossed with the view that you are entitled to more demonstrations of affection.

This is a weird question... You are not "attractive" in any way in text, which may or may not be useful to keep in mind as you exchange messages with this fellow.
posted by kmennie at 2:14 PM on August 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

Once when I was younger I dated someone I did not find sexually attractive. I thought I was being shallow, he was a good guy and we had fun and I needed to get over myself. If that is what is happening here then I strongly urge you to end the relationship. You both deserve better then that, and it's not shallow to not find everyone sexy. It's human.

I've also dated men who I know most people don't categorize as hot. I like 'em short, hairy and on the beefy side. I think these men are smokin'. It has never crossed my mind to give a spit that other people might not. (In fact, the first guy was tall, skinny, and mostly hairless now that I think about it.)

If you don't have far deeper issues of esteem and being desperate for approval, then I would guess your fear of judgement is mostly that you don't find him attractive either and instead of facing that (relationship ending) problem, you're passing it over to the people around you.
posted by Dynex at 2:17 PM on August 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

Why do you find him attractive? My first boyfriend was one of those 'why the heck are you with him' guys. I just laughed at the people who told me he was ugly because there were things I found incredibly attractive about him: his jawline, the cut of his hair, the strong line of his legs, the gentle way he had of listening and his incredible talent for art and design. If you can't think of similar reasons you are attracted to your boyfriend, why are you with him? If you can think of those reasons, why is it that you are letting your relationship define you? Don't get too hung up on the concept of shallowness. Attraction is shallow, but an equal level of attraction in a relationship is important.

Regarding the distance, I suggest that you try initiating whatever it is you think would be nice to have with him. Start calling him at a set time and ask him to reciprocate the next day at the end of the call. Send him thoughtful letters, or a poem, or a photo of something neat you saw that day. Then ask him to do the same. There are some great threads here about creating intimacy in long distance relationships. Read through those and see if you like any of those options and try them out.

As for the friendships he has--stop worrying so much about potentially seeing them at your wedding. In a few years, the sting may have worn off those memories and you will all have moved on. Cross that bridge when you get there.

Actually I'm also thinking that if these friends and exes see him, they'll be surprised that HE was the one I ended up with.

I would also like to suggest that you stop assuming you can read peoples' minds. They might be surprised, they might not. If they aren't your friends, their opinions don't really matter.
posted by rhythm and booze at 2:18 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

WHOA, people! Here I thought I'd get hugs and love and sweet words of encouragement. I guess I really don't deserve them. Some of your comments have actually driven me to tears :(. I love this man. We were together for some time before the distance, and I don't know why I care what other people think. Ruthless Bunny you truly are ruthless, and no, we're not planning a wedding (sheesh!), I just like to extrapolate. But I'll see it as tough love. Thank God you're strangers... lol. Thank you so much, Griphus. I don't feel so evil any more.

To answer a few questions...

1) I've asked him exactly what I want him to do. Send me a gift every so often. Write me a love letter. It hasn't happened.

2) Lol, okay, so it didn't work out so wonderfully with all the other attractive guys. I AM attracted to this man. I just want to not care that other people aren't, or not feel sorry for him because they say that they aren't.

3) His good qualities: He's thoughtful, kind, not a pushover, listens to me, loves me (I just want to FEEL it, I know he does but romance is important to me). He encourages me to be my best. We have each other's backs (LOL, except today, when I obviously am not 'having his back' with this question that you all think is crazy). And he treats me way better than all the other attractive peeps I dated in the past.

4) We DO communicate. He's stubborn. I'm stubborn. Deadlocks and compromise often happen. I have told him, Griphus. He said he didn't want one, buuut he seems to be growing one. :)

5) I am attracted to him. I'm female. We're not that visual. And I'm attracted to his heart. I am with him despite what people say. Doesn't that count for something?

The people in my past really hurt me. REALLY, not-trying-to-get-anyone's-sympathy-really hurt me. And they're not that far back in my past. 3 years, 1 year, etc. I don't know if that matters... but that's partly why I just hope I never have to deal with them.
posted by lilacp at 2:20 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Here I thought I'd get hugs and love and sweet words of encouragement. I guess I really don't deserve them.

If you ever say things like this with your boyfriend (or anyone else) in an effort to get what you want, I would strongly encourage you to stop it cold.
posted by scody at 2:22 PM on August 10, 2012 [30 favorites]

Lol. @Scody, no, I don't.
posted by lilacp at 2:23 PM on August 10, 2012

Ruthless Bunny you truly are ruthless, and no, we're not planning a wedding (sheesh!), I just like to extrapolate.

Thank you. That's the point. I'm not going to blow smoke up your skirt.

I was clowning you about the wedding. You're not extrapolating, you're daydreaming, and your daydream is fucked up.

So you love this guy and he has wonderful qualities. The rest of your concerns are silly. You should cherish him, tell him how wonderful he is, be specific.

Be the mate you want your mate to be to you. Give him what you want. Tell him you want the same treatment back.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:26 PM on August 10, 2012 [17 favorites]

Fwiw, if you get married, it's your wedding too and you have a say in who's invited. Especially when it comes to friends. Be honest with yourself - would he put his friends ahead of your feelings on your own wedding day? I hope not, otherwise you two probably shouldn't get married in the first place. But that's a long way off.

In the meantime, you really have to work towards forgiving these exes if they're a part of his life. Forgiveness doesn't mean forgetting or being ok with it or suddenly being best friends with them, it means moving past dwelling on what happened, no longer being angry at them for something unfixable. You make your own closure, they can't give that to you.
posted by lizbunny at 2:32 PM on August 10, 2012

My husband was born with a cleft lip and palate and has noticeable scars on his face that are probably one of the first things people notice about him.

I noticed them immediately and would have classified him as unattractive. But when we started dating and were crazy about each other right away, not only did I really never think that again, but I don't think it would have occurred to me that others might have thought he wasn't hot either. If you're hot for him, he's hot! Objectively, I guess I know the scars are still there, but he's the most gorgeous man ever *because* I love him so much.

You said that you talk on the phone every day but that you don't feel loved. I'm not sure if you meant that you don't feel loved APART from those conversations or DURING those conversations. If you don't feel that someone is actively loving you when you're not actively engaged in the act of communication, either you're forgetting how great the conversations are, or you're not being realistic. Even if you lived together, you'd have to have a job and be apart, you know? Hang on for those other 23 hours, sheez.

If you're not feeling loved DURING those conversations and that's really your only contact, well, that doesn't sound good.
posted by Occula at 2:34 PM on August 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

Yes, good lord. Don't talk about the person you care about behind their back like that...it's a big red flag to others that you really don't care (even if you do). From now on, never talk about him when he's not present, except in a manner that you would be 100% unembarrassed if he somehow overheard. Period.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:38 PM on August 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

You sound like you have some self-esteem issues to work out, hon. Why don't you like yourself enough to stand up for your choices? Why are you saying "I guess I don't deserve to be loved" instead of openly saying "Hey , I'm not actually a bad person"? You're not a bad person, and you don't need us to validate that fact. You need to believe it yourself. I mean, who are we? A bunch of people you've never met. Who are you? The one person who you know will be with you your whole life.

Ok, so, you're a little bit shallow and you feel like you're out of this guy's league. So what? We all have thoughts we're ashamed of now and then. There are very few people out there who are unaffected by presentation. It's how you treat him that matters, not the weird thoughts that you have now and then.
posted by rhythm and booze at 2:38 PM on August 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

The thoughts that are bothering you don't sound that unusual to me. They're just normal vague human worries. If you need re-assurance regarding your friends thoughts, the truth might very well be they don't give you or him any thought at all (or only a few seconds of thought a few times a year). Everyone's immersed in their own stuff (e.g., thoughts similar to yours, but about their own lives). Also, the content of your worry is something that you can talk back to: take it apart and ask yourself if there really is truth to the whole idea of a hierarchy of looks among people, with some being essentially inferior to others because of it; also whether a friend who'd say something to you along the lines of what you fear would really be a friend.
posted by Paquda at 2:40 PM on August 10, 2012

As a woman who is very visual myself, I suggest you own your own aesthetically-driven needs, because not doing so seems to be complicating things for you here. You like very attractive guys - that's okay, you know, even though you have lady parts.

From what you've written, it doesn't sound like you're smitten with him. If you're smitten with someone, you really don't give a crap what anyone else thinks. To hell with my friends - we're in love!

Maybe if he sexed up his look a little that would do the trick - but would you still be concerned about what the other people think?

I suggest you do some therapy before you go much further with this relationship because this will come back to bite you later on - what are you going to do in 10 years time when some spectacularly attractive guy flirts with you?
posted by heyjude at 2:48 PM on August 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'm female. We're not that visual.

Um, what? Speak for yourself. If you're not that visual, that's fine, but simply being female doesn't make you blind. Lots of women are attracted by physical characteristics.
posted by randomnity at 2:49 PM on August 10, 2012 [20 favorites]

How do I broach this subject, what exactly do I say, and what are some suggestions for making it more interesting?

I'd be specific. Figure out an interactive thing that appeals to you and ask him, "Hey, texting and phone calls are great, but we need more fun. Would you like to do X with me? Let's work it out." You'll get a better reaction that way rather than telling him you aren't feeling loved in general and expecting him to come up with his own solution to fix your problem. Then you're just setting a trap and he'll feel bad if his ideas are a disappointment.

- What about doing something for him so he feels loved? Put together a package for him, write a letter (text, chat and email can be so mundane - you can be flowery in a handwritten letter). Knit him a scarf, draw a funny picture, etc. The idea is sort of like volunteering, where doing something for someone else will ease your sense of neglect.

- See a movie individually and have a conversation about it afterward. Read a book in chapters and talk about it. Watch episodes of a TV series over skype at the same time (may help with your missing quality time). Play chess or another game online, with skype so you can trash talk.

- If either of you like computer/console games, MMOs can be a fun thing where you share the same "space" and cooperate to explore or meet a goal. It's virtual, sure, but psychologically comforting to see that person's avatar by yours.

Yeah, you do come off as pretty self centered in the framing of your questions.

People who are judgey about what your boyfriend looks like are jerks. Don't keep them as friends. Friends should only be concerned if you're happy with him, or not.
posted by griselda at 2:53 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

"I can't flaunt him" is a shitty and immature thing to say about a romantic partner.

Seriously, wtf. If you like him and he likes you, that's what should matter. "Flaunting" isn't part of a healthy relationship. If you are hanging out with people who think that dating is a competition, then you are hanging out with jerks.

"I am thinking that I might have to interact with these people, e.g. he might want to invite some of them to our wedding if we get married. Actually I'm also thinking that if these friends and exes see him, they'll be surprised that HE was the one I ended up with."

And? So what? Seriously, so the fuck what?
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:57 PM on August 10, 2012 [35 favorites]

If your friends actually like and respect you, then when they see how much you like your ugly boyfriend they assume that he must have qualities or attributes they can't see that make up for his looks. Of course, that only works if they can tell you like him...
posted by nicwolff at 3:02 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't know that The Internet can help you get over your need for external validation of your choice of partner, and that seems to be a pretty big problem.
posted by rtha at 3:03 PM on August 10, 2012 [8 favorites]

I've always dated attractive guys and am considered very attractive myself. I think he'd look a little better if he brought out certain features, maybe grew a beard, maybe switched his ordinary glasses for a sexier pair,

I'm female. We're not that visual.

yeeeeaaaaa. I think you actually are that visual, you're just trying to pretend you're not because that'd be 'superficial'. It's better to be superficial up front than to spend a couple years hiding it and then have a miserable breakup because it turns out you can't get over your desire for a hotter partner. You can't just pretend it isn't there in you, you need to either actively work to change yourself or accept yourself.

and this: I am with him despite what people say. Doesn't that count for something?

It counts for 'you should ditch whatever douchebags you hang out with who say anything less than glowing about him'.
posted by jacalata at 3:06 PM on August 10, 2012 [8 favorites]

You mentioned next to nothing in your original post about good qualities he posses, even fewer good aspects of your relationship. People are always going to notice that and react because, whether you believe it or not, that is extremely telling. People ask a lot of relationship questions on AskMeFi, and for me when I read the question I always notice what the person isn't saying about their partner and their relationship. People can be describing a fairly dire/pivotal relationship issue but still say something nice about their partner. People write usually about what they are thinking and feeling the most, so if they leave out positive aspects... well, I immediately question whether they are in the forefront of their mind. In your case, you not only said nothing positive, you also had criticism after criticism. After criticism. It took people calling you out on this to make you say anything kind about him or positive about your relationship.

This says more to me than any of your concerns about your relationship you wrote about. I think you and he need to have a very very clear and candid talk about what each of you want out of your relationship.
posted by gwenlister at 3:08 PM on August 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

I think a lot of these questions might resolve themselves--for good or bad--when you're actually living together and in the same place all the time. Right now you might have a lot of time on your hands to worry about what other people think.

I do think he needs to know that you're not feeling loved. That's important, and the longer you keep this from him the worse it's going to get. So please tell him this part. You say that you're blunt, so this could be an opportunity to be diplomatic so as to not make him feel hugely defensive.
posted by MoonOrb at 3:18 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I had a boyfriend once who seemed embarrassed I wasn't Hot Enough to show off in front of his friends. It didn't get better with time. Got a lot worse, actually. Especially after we moved in together. I would have wept if I had known he had asked a question like this about me, even though I totally knew he secretly thought those things. (Later, one of his friends confirmed it for me.) He probably still pats himself on the back for having dated a painfully unsexy person like me. And yeah, I think he did love me in his way. He just didn't think I was good enough, and it was like he was loving me in spite of my obvous, shameful flaws.

Now I'm happily married to a guy who finds me attractive, and never gives me that horrible feeling that he's ashamed of me. My ex is dating someone who looks like the female version of himself. It's a lot better this way.

Let this guy go. He deserves someone who will be thrilled to be seen with him.
posted by Coatlicue at 3:26 PM on August 10, 2012 [14 favorites]

You know, some relationships just suck long distance. I think I would have a terrible time if all I had were phone calls. My guy and I just aren't that great at them, except for basic information exchanges.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:27 PM on August 10, 2012

I dated a guy who, to put it bluntly, looked like a classic homely dork. When I was happy in the relationship, I loved to look at his sweet face. When the newness wore off and he seemed to be taking me for granted -- after a while of this, he began to look ugly to me. Wait and see how things are once the distance is no longer a factor.

You're not close to getting married now. So there's no need to think about the guest list for the wedding.
posted by wryly at 3:38 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I used to kind of be That Girl. I had to have the boyfriend, the cohabitation, the baby somewhere in the plan.

I'm not that girl anymore. But it took a lot of shit to get to this different point. Meanwhile, I fucked a bunch of good people over.

Don't be me. For your future self's sake.
posted by angrycat at 3:41 PM on August 10, 2012

I notice a lot of 'received wisdom' in your comments - ideas that are floating around in advice culture that get treated as if they are deep, eternal verities, like "women aren't visual [so what I think about my partner's appearance must be just froth on the surface of things]" and "my love language is X and his is Y [but inexplicably I also want Z]". In these instances, it's as though you've cast about for some outside system to compress your beliefs and experiences into. This seems to resonate with the whole "what will our friends think" bit - in each case, you're really dependent on external standards to determine what you ought to think.

If this rings any bells at all, here is my advice, although it has nothing to do with whether you should keep seeing this fellow: get to know yourself a little better and try to figure out why you don't have a very autonomous sense of what you think and want.

How to do this? I once read - I think it was in an old feminist-ish humor book called Sex Tips For Girls - that you could start by asking yourself questions about what you liked and didn't like, starting small and working up. Like? Shrimp, bedside lamps, blue shoes. Dislike? Denver omelets, early morning exercise, flared pants. Etc, etc. I haven't actually done that, but it's something I half do as a little mental exercise when I find myself getting a bit sense-of-self-less. Think about what you would do and enjoy if no one were around to judge you for it.

Also, cast your mind back over your past - did you need to conform a lot to fit in at home or at school? Were women able to have their own opinions as you were growing up? Did you observe people, especially women, to be socially punished for not fitting in? Alternatively, did you grow up needing to seek status and security from intuiting the norms and conforming to them?

I say this as someone who is both glib and a little bit of a doormat - if you grow up with the idea that you must accept external sources of validation, you will carry that into adult life. And you'll always be jumping when your friends say 'frog', and that's no way to live.

The thing is, own what you believe. It sounds as though you are working out a bunch of stuff about attractiveness and this relationship. I'm not sure the internet is the best place for that, but it sounds as though you are trying to grow, which is good.

I'd say, figure out what is attractive to you - really "I want to sleep with you and look at you" attractive. For me, this has sometimes been really hard to puzzle out, crazy as that sounds. I grew up in a situation where circumstances forced me to bury all my wishes and opinions about friendships, sexuality and relationships and just accept the situation I found myself in. I ended up burying those things so deeply that it is sometimes almost impossible for me to tell whether I am attracted to or like someone. I can think 'this person is friendly' or 'this person seems into me', but I can't feel anything. I think that while I am an extreme case, a weaker version of this situation is not uncommon for women, as we are so often raised to 'be nice', 'not be visual' and so on.

So anyway, this guy. Maybe you really are very attracted to him but the ways you've learned to recognize and express attraction don't work for guys who aren't the Football Hero and you're flailing around trying to make him into the Football Hero so you can follow the old script.

Or maybe you're really not attracted to him - maybe you really do only like Very Handsome Men. If that's the case, you should own it - although honestly, attractions change over time. A youthful predilection for the football hero need not translate into a lifetime of being ruthlessly appearance-oriented and the teeny dating pool that goes with that condition.

But the point is, get wise to yourself, as a favorite novel of my youth says.
posted by Frowner at 5:41 PM on August 10, 2012 [61 favorites]

Thank you so much, Frowner, for your gracious, candid response. I think you're right, in a sense. I am working stuff out. My attractions have changed with time - from the teddy-bear chubby, to the tall and lanky, to now something else. I'm from a country where women do tend to conform a lot and are only just beginning to be free to have, let alone air, their opinions. Women were, and to an extent still are, punished for not fitting in - and not fitting in means eg being divorced, or not being married by a certain age, etc. One reason I asked this question is I was confused about why I felt this way - I always thought I was the type that never needed anybody's validation, and a close friend told me today that she finds it strange that I'm bothered by this because it's unlike me. What I get from processing all these sometimes crazy, sometimes kind responses, is instead of trying to project or find something/someone to blame, I need to own my role in this and get to know myself and what I want. If I conclude that I don't want to be with him, I'll do both of us a favor and end it.
posted by lilacp at 7:40 PM on August 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think it's totally normal to want re-assurance that you're making a good decision, that you're not selling yourself short. That's why people are on here all the time asking whether it's normal for their partner to be doing X. And for all that people say "oh, well, it's up to you whether it's a dealbreaker", when there are actual red flags it's really valuable to have someone outside the relationship who can say that you deserve better.

We all want our friends to approve of our significant other. If your friends aren't really able to meet him or know what's great about him, maybe you can tell them some of the things he does that you find really sweet or nice. That way there'll be something other than "is he HAWT" for them to know about him and evaluate in your relationship.
posted by Lady Li at 12:38 AM on August 11, 2012

Who is saying he's not hot enough? What exactly have they said? That will go a long way in identifying what the issue is here, because it will tap into other stuff that might be driving it related to the people saying this. How many have said it is also important.

Romance--bring a little to the table yourself, show rather than tell. We love others as we would like to be loved.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:17 AM on August 11, 2012

For one way of viewing this attractiveness question, try this as an exercise: Imagine that you and a person you liked a lot broke up, and s/he later married someone else, someone whom most people would consider objectively far less attractive than you. Would you think, "I'm more attractive, haha, I win!" Or would you wonder, "is that person smarter than me? More accomplished? More sophisticated? Kinder? Wittier? Better in bed? More fun? More exciting? Less needy / neurotic / demanding / insecure / self-centered / messy / boring / annoying, etc.?

Probably the latter, right? Most of us would think this way, because it's weird and abnormal for people to think that an arbitrary standard of physical attractiveness is the one measure to rule them all in relationships. But along those lines, you might also wonder, for example, "well, I'm taller and thinner, but maybe my ex actually prefers shorter and rounder? Maybe my ex found me less attractive than new person, even though most people wouldn't?" That would also be pretty normal.

Luckily for 100% of the people in the world, physical attractiveness is relative, and only one of the components of what makes one hot, sexy, lovable, and/or adored by any given person. (100% because even if the majority of the earth's population were to somehow agree that yessiree, BeautifulPerson is the most beautiful of them all... s/he will change and age. Do they at that point become automatically unlovable or undeserving of love? Embarrassing as a partner? If not, why not?)

One more exercise: Imagine a person you know who has always dated people that are typically very attractive according to the social standards of your shared environment. But now they are dating someone who is not of that same type. What would you think? Would you think that your acquaintance had now become sort of a "loser at life," or would you think that they probably chose the person they are with because they have something special going for them? Would you think about the not-as-attractive person, "ugh, I don't get it," and avoid them, or would you be intrigued, and want to find out more about them? If the person you knew who was now in a relationship with this not-as-attractive person seemed really proud and happy about their partner, would that make the not-as-attractive person seem even more potentially fascinating? On the other hand, what if the person you knew seemed kind of embarrassed? What would that make you think about either of them?

These are questions well worth thinking about, but ultimately you need to be able to examine your own feelings in isolation from such social concerns. It sounds like there is an end point in view for the "long distance" aspect of this relationship, which is a very good thing, because in the absence of presence, perhaps these sorts of doubts are occupying a much larger part of your thoughts than they normally would. See how you feel when you are with your guy on the regular instead of just IMing, emailing, or Skyping. Does he make your heart leap? When you see him in person, do you get a melting feeling? Does he feel like a song you want to sing all day long?

That sort of imprecise, inexplicable, and utterly personal metaphor is the feeling that all those billboards, magazine and television ads stuffed with the mean-ideal-of-beautiful people would like to inspire in us, but never will. If you get to have that feeling, you follow it to make sure it isn't a mirage, and if it isn't a mirage – if it's solid and true – oh hey! You just won the Cosmic Lottery! ... and you laugh and laugh at anyone who thinks it's about whether your beloved is or is not as pretty as some other person you might have been with in the past.

Good luck, OP, I hope you and your fellow will soon be together, and everything will become much clearer!
posted by taz at 3:36 AM on August 11, 2012 [7 favorites]

If it helps at all, I can tell a minor family anecdote.

My maternal grandmother was nasty and judgmental, especially towards women, and especially especially towards her daughters.

My aunt kind of learned that attitude and internalized that shame about appearance, and at family get-togethers she could never really go more than a day or two without making comments about weight, hair, clothes, etc.

She said something to me one year in my teens and I got pretty angry about it and went to my mom, and she had the same conversation with me that she'd had with my older sister a few years before. The thing she pointed out was that the father of my aunt's son hadn't stuck around to even see him born. I don't track her relationships that closely, but none have been particularly long-term.

My mom has been married to my dad for over forty years.
My sister has been married to her husband for twelve or thirteen years and they have two kids.
I've been with my boyfriend a hair over six years.

And I know for me personally that I've tried sort of more casual sex and regardless of how conventionally attractive the dude is, it doesn't work with me. Sexual attraction, for me, is inextricably bound up with emotional connection. So I'm sure that some people don't think my boyfriend is very attractive. Well, wtf-ever, they're not sleeping with him. And I really can't imagine a scenario short of death where we're not together 20 or 40 years from now.

I am really happy with my life at a basic, pervasive level. I think that trumps everything else.
posted by kavasa at 6:43 AM on August 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

your problems in the past are the shallow assholes you hung out with in order to build up your low self worth. You've grown, they haven't, don't allow yourself to regress. Keep the boyfriend and dump the friends.
posted by any major dude at 7:56 AM on August 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

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