How to help a friend find love when they're not equipped for it?
October 17, 2012 5:42 AM   Subscribe

How can I help my extremely unattractive (physically and relationship-wise) friend either find someone to date/love, realize he needs self-improvement, or come to terms with not finding it?

A friend of mine is in his mid to late thirties, and has never had a serious relationship. He has only dated two people in his life, both for very brief periods of time, and I believe has never had sex with anyone who actually liked him. He asks a lot for advice, and I want to help him, but I just don't know what to tell him. I want to give him advice for improvement, but I also don't want to lower his self esteem any more than it already is.

The problems: my friend is short, heavily overweight, with very bad complexion. He generally also has bad personal hygiene - teeth being the worst of it, but hair is also greasy, clothes appear to be worn multiple days in a row, and his hair and beard are massively unkempt. In addition, personality-wise, he has now gotten to a place of "Nice Guy/Nerd" resentment, where he (at least somewhat) thinks the problem is that he's just too good compared to all the jerks. He also has spent a lot of time and money on strip clubs, so he's not exactly socialized well with women who aren't paid to be nice to him. His idea of how to pick up women is to walk up to them and tell them how much he likes them physically - and he tends to only pick people who are at levels of attractiveness where he could see them at a strip club - who generally have better options. He also makes very sexist jokes and commentary that I think would turn off a lot of women.

The thing is, he is a genuinely considerate person, when you ignore this massive, massive baggage, and I would like him to be happy. This situation is causing him a lot of anguish, and it's hard for those who care about him to watch. But I have absolutely no idea what to say. Do I encourage physical improvement? Mental improvement? Is it too late? I feel like if he had a great romantic personality it might compensate for the looks, or if he had great looks it might compensate for the awful romantic personality bits, but as it stands, I don't see any reason why anyone would want to date him.
posted by corb to Human Relations (33 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Next time he complains about his relationship problems you say, "Look, I can see some areas where you need to make some changes if you want to find someone who can make you happy. Do you want me to be brutally honest or sugar coat it?" He will say, "Be brutally honest!" You then sugar coat it, focusing on his attitude towards women. If that sort of kind explanation of his faults is not enough to get him to make at least a little progress in that area, then you are probably not going to be able to help.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:01 AM on October 17, 2012 [13 favorites]

Korb, there are plenty of people like this who are unfixable - they refuse to address their flaws because to do so would require acknowledging that they've wasted most of their lives doing the wrong thing. I don't think your friend is one of those people: the fact that he's actively looking for advice means that he's fixable. People seldom change from external pressure, but if the desire for change comes from within, you can work with that.

Just be honest with him, and temper each criticism with a proposed solution. For example, for his complexion suggest a skin cleansing soap. For his weight, recommend a book with exercise regimens. For his personality, suggest he study how he behaves with his female friends, and apply that behavior also to women he is attracted to. This might all seem like common sense stuff, but most of the reason guys like this are undatable is because they're lacking the common sense fundamentals.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 6:03 AM on October 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

If he's asking for the advice then give him advice. If you're not 100% sure he wants to hear it, tell him next time he asks for this advice - "I'd like to help you, but what I'm going to say may seem harsh. I'd like to help, but I need to listen to this as constructive advice. If you're up for it let me know and we'll get started." If he agrees, lay it all out. Take him shopping for some decent clothes, drag him to a barber. Explain to him the bullshit that's the "Nice Guys finish last" mentality. Practice some conversations. Anything you can think of. Some guys just need a metaphorical kick in the head about this kind of thing.
posted by pyro979 at 6:04 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

My gut reaction - and I'm sorry because I know it's standard advice on the green but I promise you I don't say this lightly - is to suggest therapy to him. The fact that he does not care for himself appropriately (personal hygiene, etc) says to me that he has esteem issues. And for a (being blunt) short, fat, spotty man to say that he thinks he's too good to date... that sounds to me like he's covering up how he really feels about himself. And if he works on his self esteem, drops the sexist humor, learns to appreciate women as more than eye candy, washes himself (hair/teeth/body/clothing) regularly, and gets his hair & beard trimmed... Again, putting it bluntly, he'd still be short and fat, but he'd be dateable. At present he absolutely is not.

[apologies if this sounds heightist/weightist - I'm not, but many people are, and I'm thinking of the OP's friend's desire to be attractive to people who likely find height/weight important - gorgeous ladies - a group of people I don't believe I'm part of]
posted by pammeke at 6:04 AM on October 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

I knew a guy like that, minus the hygiene issue. (I think that's the most important issue to address. No-one likes people with bad hygiene around, that's not limited to potential dates.) This guy was short, overweight, balding at 23, frequently going to strip clubs and had a long list of sexist jokes. However, he also had the coolest, fasted sports car around and rich parents. He ended up with a truly dumb and shallow... porn actress. He never changed his mindset or looks (besides what nature gave him to work with, he also had a hideous sense for fashion) and they were happy. Probably for all the wrong reasons, but who am I to judge?

I'm not sure what lesson we can learn from that, but I guess it has to do with priorities or something.
posted by MinusCelsius at 6:15 AM on October 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

How about saying the truth. The truth is that people are extremely socialized and conditioned to believe that for a person to be seen as a viable mate, that consists of being in shape (not overweight), being attractive, having good skin, being clean and groomed, having a job, having decent "social skills" and being perceived as someone who conforms to all these unspoken rules. It may or not be shallow, but the closer you adhere to these conventions, the more you increase your chances of being perceived as a potential mate. All of these things can be worked on and addressed.
However, I think I would actually list social skills as one of the most important since there are plenty of people who are by convention considered non attractive that are in loving relationships.
posted by gt2 at 6:17 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not entirely sure how to answer this, mainly because you say that he asks you for advice, but does he ask you for advice in this domain? Only if he has asked you for advice in this domain would I proceed. I really want to stress this because there are many reasons that he may not perceive half of this as a problem or care.

I also would not use his "give me advice to meet women" as an opportunity to open the gates and say half of that(it may strike his confidence, and may be overwhelming).However, you could start out by saying "I have ideas for different domains (appearance, approaching women, working out, etc.)and would he be willing to pick one or two of those domains and you could work on him with those?

Here are ideas for some of the other domains, too:

To be honest, for working out (I looked at your history briefly OP), you could say how even though you are partnered/coupled, you work on physical fitness. You could also mention that it doesn't have to be "get on a treadmill and torture yourself" but what about fun physical activities"? (i.e. biking or hiking or climbing or ...if he is competitive do a couch to 5K culminating with a run....whatever sounds fun and interesting to him). If you really supportive, do i with him or point to other friends who are working on similar goals. It may have the benefit of exposing him to females in another circumstance (i.e. not strip clubs) and he will have something positive to talk to with people. It could be an entirely different type of goal "learn new activity," "Do an activity each weekend".....but I think that this would start the momentum, but to go from 0 to work out all the time is intimidating/overwhelming/and probably not fun if he has never done it.

You could comment when he talks or jokes about women in a derogatory way. I think a gentle way to do it is to say "You talk as if you perceive all women as X. Do you really feel that way because that is how I perceive it and as a female, it makes me think that you think less of me." In your single days, was it a red flag for you OP? You could share this with him(so either through empathy or realizing that for someone that he respects, it is not a good way to speak about people, it may curb that behavior).

Only tackling those 2 things because to be honest, all the other stuff...meh/doesn't seem that big of a deal. If he is overweight but passionate about X and working on it and has a good attitude is a nice person blah blah can compensate for other stuff. The talking about women in a way negative way even as a joke is a red flag for a lot of people, and I think that is what will really hurt his chances.

posted by Wolfster at 6:22 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Firstly, I think there are some aspects you must assume might never change: he will always be short, possibly have genetics against him with regards to his skin, and most people do not achieve long-term, substantial weight loss. Luckily, there are a ton of short, spotty, overweight people who find love and happiness, so I wouldn't worry too much about that being an obstacle.

Physically, his hygiene is probably the most overt, immediate turn-off. I believe a two-pronged approach is best, simultaneously being subtle (taking him to a discrete, private place to have an aside) and being direct (letting him know that you can pick up BO, and you think he would benefit from getting a good daily hygiene routine locked down). Whether he takes this advice is not your problem.

His self-esteem probably needs some help, so therapy would be a good option. Again, whether he takes this advice is not your problem.

IMHO, however, his sexism needs to be called out each and every time it happens. This is a tricky balance: on the one hand, his self-esteem has to grow before he has any luck in love, but on the other he needs to know that his better-than-thou attitude is unfounded and unattractive. I think, on a basic level, he needs to learn that in order to not be (negatively) objectified by women, he needs to not objectify women. Whether he takes this advice is your problem, it is your business, and you should not feel bad about pursuing this matter every time it occurs.
posted by dumdidumdum at 6:29 AM on October 17, 2012 [13 favorites]

Do you happen to have an extra couple of pounds you want to shed? The way women often handle helping a female friend kickstart fitness is the old "I want to start exercising/lowcarbing/swimming, and it would help me out a ton to have a buddy. Want to hit the gym/supermarket/pool with me?
posted by arcticwoman at 6:39 AM on October 17, 2012

Is there some other field of endeavor (career, hobby, etc.) in which this guy is successful? Successful people have the tools, if they are willing, to analyze why they are failing in certain objectives.

It may feel odd or clinical to say "Look at dating the way you looked building that beautiful Adirondack chair that won the blue ribbon at last year's craft fair" but it is actually a great way to get someone on the path to breaking unproductive patterns of behavior, especially if the core of that unproductive pattern is a refusal to acknowledge that what other people wants matters when what you want is in the gift of other people.
posted by MattD at 6:48 AM on October 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

Maybe you can try asking him pointed questions when he complains/asks for advice:

"Why do you think you have had trouble dating?"

"What are some things you think you can improve on?"


Sometimes getting people to say the truth themselves is more effective and less hurtful.
posted by bearette at 6:55 AM on October 17, 2012 [6 favorites]

Physically, his hygiene is probably the most overt, immediate turn-off. I believe a two-pronged approach is best, simultaneously being subtle (taking him to a discrete, private place to have an aside) and being direct (letting him know that you can pick up BO, and you think he would benefit from getting a good daily hygiene routine locked down). Whether he takes this advice is not your problem.

Correct. That's the thing on the list that will be an absolute turn-off for the most people (and that will be obvious even before he starts talking). Not only that, but things like weight loss or developing social skills take months to show real results and sometimes years to really reach a goal. A motivated person can fix poor hygiene almost immediately.
posted by atrazine at 6:59 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think if he could fix his attitude towards himself, he would go a long way towards being date-able even if he remained short, spotty, fat and balding for the rest of his life.

His attitude towards women and his attitude to himself (self-neglect, etc) I think both stem from the same thing, poor self-esteem. It's sort of a complex mental trick we play on ourselves when we dislike ourselves at a very basic level and cover that up with lots of patter about how we're awesome and it's everyone else who is a jerk for not seeing that, patter that we ourselves often believe.

I really DON'T think that if he loses the weight and starts to dress better, it will solve all his problems and the ladies will fall all over him. I mean, we are not all a homogenous mass, but it just doesn't seem that likely, not if he remains intrinsically a jerk with serious esteem issues.

But I DO think that if he starts to work out and take pride in himself, he'll like himself more, and this good attitude will start to filter across into his attitude towards other things in life, including women. It doesn't necessarily have to be losing weight and dressing better, any form of bettering yourself and taking better care of yourself can contribute to this. I mean, he must have some good qualities, you wouldn't be hanging out with him otherwise, would you?

You say he asks you for advice: in your shoes I would focus on the attitude stuff. "If you want dates, you can't speak about women that way." I'm sure he is already perfectly aware that he is fat and short or whatever, and these can't be fixed immediately or at all.
posted by Ziggy500 at 7:03 AM on October 17, 2012

"You're gross", for people with hygiene issues but probably also personality issues, just tends to increase the desire to avoid the problem. It's not that you can't be brutally honest, but I think people underestimate the self-awareness. Seriously. You know that your teeth are disgusting. They're in your mouth 24/7. You know you're fat and exhausted and achy. Etc. But if you've given up... well.

I think, really, it's baby steps. Not prioritizing anything in terms of "finding a relationship" but putting it in terms of "being happier". Happiness is more attractive than anything in terms of looks or height. Therapy is great, and he probably should be steered towards depression screening--there's plenty of normal variation in hygiene but "really doesn't shower" for someone who isn't a dedicated hippy is often related to that--but there's other stuff, too, that would at least be steps in the right direction. It doesn't need to be unloaded all at once.

The only place aside from mental health that I'd do some gentle pushing is getting him to a dentist and dermatologist, because those two things can benefit in huge ways from professional interventions, and the professionals are used to seeing people in bad shape. Otherwise, it's more of a guidance thing. If he seems open in a particular conversation to talking about fitness, steer it towards something you think he might enjoy. Geeky guys I know have really gotten into more functional strength training, for instance, kind of a warrior-esque thing--not to fit a particular body image to attract women, but to feel strong and healthy. If he says he feels unattractive generally, suggest helping to identify a personal style for him to aim for--and if the one that makes him happy is Hawaiian shirts and taking up competitive beard-growing, great, don't worry about what hypothetical girls will like. He needs to identify his own needs aside from female companionship, and find his own solutions, but having a friend there can help a lot to bounce ideas around. Helping him get the motivation and self-esteem to be that better person with better habits, rather than just "no, seriously, you stink and nobody likes you."
posted by gracedissolved at 7:08 AM on October 17, 2012

The one baby step I think will have the widest range of results here is addressing the sexism. It may be built on a negative self-image, but the resulting alienation will strongly reinforce that, and has to go if he's to every sympathize-with or respond-to the expectations of others.

I would remind him, persistently and occasionally with some explicit detail and force, that women are people just like him: they come in the same variety as men, face the same general challenges in life, and have the same sort of reasonable tastes and expectations in their partners. This sort of reminder from others has been the strongest force working against my own sexism over the years. It is a phrase, a thought, that is difficult to disagree with, but its implications are extensive. It sticks in your mind and plants seeds of change.

The magical thinking of sexism is that one don't have to sympathize with the real facts the opposite sex is facing (including the struggle to find a desirable mate). One can picture the sexual other living any sort of storybook existence that suits one's current emotional needs. That is fundamentally non-productive if the goal is to learn to relate well, to have one's love accepted and to be loved.
posted by ead at 7:23 AM on October 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

For those who are suggesting addressing the sexism - does anyone have ideas on how to address this particular flavor of sour-grapes sexism (or geek-sexism in particular)? When it comes to broader stuff - jobs, equal rights, etc, he's fine. It's just on the specific issue of women in relationships/women's physical characteristics that it's a nightmare.
posted by corb at 7:39 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's really kind of you to care this much about your friend, but I really think this is a journey people need to undertake for themselves. If you can only guide him in one direction I think the best direction is "therapy" because a lot of what you're describing are deep intimacy barriers that might be up for some protective measure that he doesn't even know about.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:55 AM on October 17, 2012

Over the summer there were a lot of geek blogs posting about creeps of the geek nature. He might not be necessary very creepy, although his pick-up technique sounds close, but these seemed useful:
Captain Awkward's invervention. John Scalzi's guide. There's were a plethora more besides that at the time, too many to glean for usefulness now, so do some googling.

Agreed that hygiene is an important first step. His complexion could improve if he's cleaner, too. But the weight is a non-issue if he relaxed his own particularly high standards, frankly. But if he keeps seeing women only as entertainment and eye candy, that's not going to happen. You should suggest he stop frequenting strip clubs or only go with friends, that's only making his problem worse.
I am at a complete loss on how anyone could "fix" this kind of interpersonal sexism, but I think what will make him happier in the long run is talking to a professional about his clear self-esteem issues and why he views women like he does. You can tell him how it's supposed to be and give him all the links you want, but that won't change the underlying problems here.

Does he have any female friends?
posted by Sayuri. at 8:07 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's just on the specific issue of women in relationships/women's physical characteristics that it's a nightmare.

When he does it, point it out. Keep pointing it out. Tell him why he is wrong. Get other friends, male and female, to do the same. Send him the Heartless Bitch piece about "Nice Guys". Harp on it, which isn't fun, but I've found it effective. My friends and I knew a geeky guy with a nice guy complex and we just never gave him an inch. Male friends would shut down conversations with him about women, when he was objectifying a woman or talking about women as a monolithic group. Peer pressure. It can be good.
posted by peacrow at 8:16 AM on October 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

Give him this book.

Tell him to do all the exercises.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:30 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, do not let him get away with it.

Him: Women are only interested in jerks.
You: Personally I'm interested in guys who don't make sexist generalizations!
etc. etc.
posted by chaiminda at 8:30 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Link to Heartless Bitches
posted by Sayuri. at 8:32 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

If he cannot be troubled to be hygienic then a woman cannot be troubled to reach out to him. Hygiene would improve his general circumstances in multiple ways. The other stuff takes time but start with the hygiene.
posted by jadepearl at 8:44 AM on October 17, 2012

Sometimes in order to realize that a change is needed, a person needs to hear the honest brutal truth. Sugar coating it may make them think it isn't such a big deal.

If he is asking for your advise, tell him that you have some suggestions, but you're not going to sugar coat it, and he might not want to hear what you have to say, and let him decide if he wants you to tell him or not. If he says yes, than tell him everything. Be nice about it, but don't try to make it sound any better than it is, because that will just give him less incentive to change anything.

After doing that, suggest that the two of you spend an afternoon to work on the image portion of what you had to say. Spend a little time shopping to find some decent clothes (or if he has decent clothes that just need some TLC, have them sent out to be drycleaned/pressed/whatever), get some hair products and something that smells nice, and help him to get himself all done up for a night out.
posted by markblasco at 8:45 AM on October 17, 2012

Look, this guy knows he is fat and pimply. Anything you say along those lines won't be a surprise. That doesn't make it any easier to hear. My advice is, if you want to keep this guy as a friend, suggest he see a dating coach. This stuff will be much easier to hear from a neutral third party and it doesn't have the stigma that suggesting therapy does.
posted by bq at 8:47 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

The subreddit r/seduction has several resources on the sidebar which are actionable. The subreddit focuses on Inner Game, which means successful thinking from the inside out. Point him in the direction of that subreddit and ask him to post and follow the advice.
posted by ohshenandoah at 9:30 AM on October 17, 2012

You should be honest about some of the issues he has without being ugly or trying to change him. Your goal should be to clue him as to what you feel the issues really are. You should rebut any sweeping generalizations with clear evidence to the contrary without erring on the side of "there is zero truth to that overgeneralization". To whatever extent possible, validate the piece of his observation you understand to be true and then expand his understanding of reality. Please do not ever say anything horrible like "I would totally date a nice guy like you if I were not married."

I once made some inroads with someone who was smart, etc, but made dreadful sexist remarks by turning the tables on some of them. When he asked me how I looked in a thong bikini (in a genuine attempt to be nice but in a completely misguided way), I replied "Probably better than you do." Over time, he toned it down. (And remarried and seems a lot happier these days.)
posted by Michele in California at 9:58 AM on October 17, 2012

I've been helped innumerable times by friends offering constructive advice on things I was clueless about, so I'm a fan of that. I think letting people flounder without at least checking in to see if they are cognizant of their challenge isn't very friendly and that a large part of the value of friendship is to be a reliable, compassionate sounding board to help each other navigate the social arena. Of course he may not take it well, but I think it's great that you're trying to put together an approach.

The question asking approach is a good one to start with, I think. If he's not getting anything out of that, having him clarify just how honest he wants you to be is the best next step. If you do choose to give him direct feedback, starting with the hygiene dispassionately and constructively will give him the most immediate results.

For the "unfair nice geek" stuff, I think the articles and other materials linked above are good things to offer...or just read for yourself on ideas to counter it. There was an older "myth of the nice guy" post I was going to offer, but couldn't find it, lost in a flood of friendzone apocrypha and the false limits of type/league/reach. The gist was that many men don't see how they have compartmentalised women and how this undermines their ability to be sincere or even share space with women who don't have to be in their presence. It also talked a bit about the unattractiveness of desperation, how it reverses even the strongest interest. But I can't find it, so maybe you can cobble something together from the previously mentioned resources and those concepts? It sounds like you could do it respectfully, and I think that's a large part of the effort.

I hope you're able to at least get the concern off your chest, but I also hope he takes interest in what you have to say and gives some consideration.

PS: the weight thing might be better brought up later down the line, if at all.
posted by batmonkey at 1:07 PM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

By no means link to anything on Reddit in an effort to make someone nicer, more attractive, and more positive towards women. The last thing he needs is to get caught up in their Men's Rights Activist/Nice Guy/"Forever Alone" bullshit.
posted by Benjy at 3:36 PM on October 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

Just to throw out a divergent thought...

It is entirely possible that he is merely fishing for you to set him up with some single women.

To my thinking, the guy obviously knows what his faults are.
posted by 99percentfake at 4:11 PM on October 17, 2012

I have to say that sometimes people can be very clueless about things that are very obvious to others - you get so used to looking at yourself that you can't see what's wrong. So, I'd say yes, do tell him what you think he should change - start with stuff that can be done immediately, like hygiene, and if that goes over, move on to the harder ones, like physical shape.

I had a friend who was otherwise a handsome, funny guy, that walked around for a few years with a badly chipped front tooth. One day he was complaining that girls wouldn't even talk to him, much less go on a date. I had to tell him "dude, get your tooth fixed, you bonehead, no girl wants to be around a guy that looks like he gets in a lot of bar fights" He had no idea that it looked bad! Next time I saw him, it was fixed. I've also had to tell a number of guys to clean their pigsty of an apartment, because no girl that sets foot there is going to stay longer than is polite. Your friend may have no idea how important things like that can be to most women, and needs to be told.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 5:58 PM on October 17, 2012

I really, honestly, think you should show him this thread. OK maybe anonymously.

And then (assuming he is not my friend Bob), you could tell him about my friend Bob. Who was brilliant, and not conventionally attractive, but I and a lot of people loved him.

Bob was an engineer, sounds like your friend, had a thing for Asian strippers. I met a work colleague of his once. Really cute, ginger hair, also brilliant and for some insane reason, enamored of Bob. Who never noticed her as a woman, because she was not an Asian stripper.

Last time any of us heard from Bob he had quit his engineering job to become a bounce at a strip club and was having no luck with the ladeez. And of course cursing his luck that he was "too nice" for them.

Fuck Bob. Your friend needs to grow up and stop blaming women for his own shortcomings.
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 8:12 PM on October 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Re: calling people on sexist behavior/attitudes/remarks.

You could, on occasion, say to this dude when he says something sexist, "Dude, when you say shit like that, it really makes me think you're stupid. You can't possibly believe that stuff. I'm not gonna talk with you when you make sexist remarks like that."

And if he says something sexist in the same context as a self-loathing why-don't-girls-like-me kind of thing, you cpi;d reply, "They probably don't like you because you say stupid sexist shit. Knock it off. It's embarrassing."

And just repeat, "No. I'm serious. You sound like a total asshole and I'm pretty sure this is majorly undermining you finding a woman that's cool." ad nauseum.

posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:38 PM on October 17, 2012 [5 favorites]

« Older Program for kids about music, hosted by an african...   |   Is soft water worth it? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.