How do people overlook physical unattractiveness with romance and sex?
May 14, 2016 11:48 PM   Subscribe

I do not understand how physical unattractiveness can be overlooked by people when they meet a stranger and consider them for a romantic or sexual partner. I apply this more to myself than to others. I know this is not a good viewpoint. I need help from people who see this right, as adults do.

I am in my early forties and have never had a romantic or sexual relationship. Because of this, I know my understanding of relationships is significantly undeveloped, probably stuck in the viewpoint of a teen or pre-teen.

I don’t understand how unattractive people – of whom I consider myself one (quite morbidly obese, with skin problems) – can ever be considered by anyone as potential sexual or romantic partners. Because of this, I consistently "rule myself out" as any sort of sexual partner; it becomes impossible that anyone could look at me with romantic or sexual interest, because of my ugliness.

I know that society partially reinforces this view, but if you were to take this to a logical extreme, no unattractive person would ever partner up, marry, or have sex. The way I'm seeing this can't be the way that society actually operates. So.

I know that people learn more about their partner’s personality as they interact with him or her. But how do people who are unattractive ever get to that stage? I ask this not only as one who considers himself ugly, but also as one who finds himself predisposed to judging upon appearance as well.

Since anons can’t really threadsit, I will say that there may be an urge to comment that me believing I am unattractive is a confidence issue, and that confidence is the real problem. I acknowledge confidence may be a partial issue, but one can be confident and still really quite ugly. How do confident yet ugly people get past their ugliness with others?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (41 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

It's easy to get sucked into the idea that looks are what matters. Nearly every piece of media is pushing that. But only a great fool picks a life partner based on nothing but looks. Being kind, interesting, a good and supportive partner, a good cook, being funny, making a sincere contribution to the world, all of these things carry more weight in day to day life than looks. But everyone, and especially men, have been sold this idea that the first thing of importance is whether someone makes you tingle in your pants.

You get confidence by recognizing all the ways in which you are more than what you look like. From building up your other skills. By knowing you are awesome enough that what you look like doesn't matter. And you do that by recognizing that about other people first. If what matters to you most about women is that they're pretty, of course you are going to feel that what matters most about you is that you're not.

I'm not going to lie or lead you on. You have the life experience to know it's harder if you don't have an automatic foot in the door by dint of your looks. But by no means does that rule you out. People are made beautiful by what's inside. I know it sounds like a cliche, but good character and making an effort really does count for so much more than looks. You do have to be braver and take more chances and put yourself out there more than other people. But you can. And there are plenty of people who would leap at the chance for a thoughtful kind partner who bends over backwards for them.

Part of your problem may be in that you're asking about strangers. And yeah, if you're gonna cold ask someone out on a date never having met them? Being a 10 in looks is going to be a help. But really? Mostly people don't date strangers. They date acquaintances that they have had a chance to get to know and are excited to know better. If you're not in situations where you're exposed to other people enough to make friendly acquaintances, that's something to look at. You get to "that stage" as acquaintances before you're partners.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:18 AM on May 15, 2016 [5 favorites]

Have a big enough personality - funny, engaging, considerate - that no one has time to notice you're ugly because they're having so much fun. Seriously.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:20 AM on May 15, 2016 [10 favorites]

Some of my best sexual experiences have been with guys that I don't find attractive at all.
posted by yesster at 12:24 AM on May 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

I see several factors in play here:
- People have very different opinions on what is or isn't attractive. There isn't one gold standard of attractiveness, there is a whole range. Some people find a certain hair colour very attractive, others simply never feel attracted to anyone with that hair colour. There are also people who really don't care about hair colour and hardly notice it at all. This goes for all aspects of appearance.
- People interact with other people in a lot of ways, not just romantically, and most of these ways have nothing to do with attraction. So it's very possible, and in fact it happens all the time, for people to get to know each other well without that being a factor at all. They get to that stage by functioning in society.

I'm with a partner who I once considered to be actively unattractive, and not a potential romantic partner for me. We got to know each other through social activities, and we developed a friendship. After years, that developed into a romantic relationship that's now been ongoing for more than ten years. I love him to bits.
Objectively, I can still see why I considered him unattractive, but those traits don't have the same effect on me anymore: I see them in a different light, because I love him. Plus, I'm attracted to him in many ways that have nothing to do with his looks.
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:30 AM on May 15, 2016 [30 favorites]

My benchmark lover was a guy that on first sight I regretted going on a date with. My first short, much older man. Years on and he still can get me going with a text. And I'm an overweight woman with wonky eye and psoriasis. We didn't end up together (that's okay) but we both feel like sex gods with each other. This appearance thing is way overrated. Date interesting people. Fuck them if you both feel like it. I've dated conventionally attractive people and for me, that's not had much to do with how I felt about them (except worried and untrusting, because cute people gravitate to other cute people, so use less attractive people during dry spells - not all obviously).
Turn the light off if you need to, shut your eyes. Consider your values. Funny thing is, for me when people tick other boxes (intelligent, interesting, compassionate, surprising) they become absolutely gorgeous to me. I am bewildered how I ever didn't find Marty attractive. He is (even with his flaws, the most obvious that he didn't choose me) one of the sexiest, most gorgeous men on the planet.
posted by b33j at 12:59 AM on May 15, 2016 [20 favorites]

It is true that many people date those who they have already gotten acquainted with, not strangers. It's not at all uncommon for people to find something attractive about someone once they get to know them, things about the person that weren't apparent at first. How do you get to the stage of getting acquainted? Get involved in things where you live with other people.

But that's just a small part of your question. You're probably still wondering how unattractive people can find romantic or sexual partners.

if you were to take this to a logical extreme, no unattractive person would ever partner up, marry, or have sex. The way I'm seeing this can't be the way that society actually operates

So, the thing that you are missing is that it's NOT that people only see more attractive strangers as potential romantic or sexual partners. It's that if someone is looking for a romantic or sexual partner, they tend to seek people who are somewhat close to their own level (or rather, how they perceive their own level) of attractiveness.

One of the implications of this is that if you yourself are looking to only the most attractive people, you are ignoring people who might well be interested in you.

Some relevant articles:
Do looks really matter? Yes and no, depending on your gender
posted by yohko at 1:02 AM on May 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

I know lots of conventionally unattractive people who have no trouble finding partners. They have big, beautiful personalities and an unshakable confidence in themselves that shines like a beacon. Honestly, I think 90% of success with sexual / romantic partners has more to do with the ease you have with yourself than anything else.

I'm attracted to, and date, plenty of people that society at large would consider unattractive. What draws me to them every time is how they carry themselves, and how relaxed they seem. I've dated a few people who were 'conventionally' attractive who had loads of baggage about their appearance, and it never went well.

It's that whole 'love yourself' thing. Or at least, love yourself enough that your natural awesomeness shines through so people can see it :)
posted by ananci at 1:05 AM on May 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

I don't mean to disagree with your premise, but I'm going to have to... You seem to be talking about ugliness as if it's a totality, something binary and objective, as if a person is wholly ugly or not... I have never met or seen anyone who didn't have some kind of beauty, somewhere. And, a person's personality and presence completely change my sense of their physicality, for worse or better. It's about what kind of light's behind the eyes. Sounds cheesy but that's really it. People's "flaws" seem to dissolve when you see that they have a brightness in them, kindness, humour, intelligence. You just stop seeing the flaws, they sort of blur, fall away. And some people who *ought* to be beautiful, by whatever aesthetic conventions, seem to have their features flattened out by their cruelty or arrogance. They look like a painting that was painted by numbers - the lines and colours are what and where they "should" be, but the total effect is a kind of emptiness, there's nothing in it - it isn't beautiful. It takes, maybe, a few minutes of talking to have an idea of what kind of light a person's got, usually less than that.
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:08 AM on May 15, 2016 [45 favorites]

there was a guy I dated briefly and who is now one of my best friends (I literally just bought him candy for a birthday gift after reading a thread on the blue). We met online and then went on a date after emailing a week or so; the exact first moment I saw him was the first time I saw he had premature male baldness and I felt a stab of disappointment. But then he looked up and saw me coming to the table and said hi, and I sat down and we started talking and the chemistry was so overpowering that not only did I quickly start thinking "oh who cares anyway" about the hair, but we actually ended up making out a few hours later.

People who get to know YOU will see past their own ideas about conventional physical beauty, and for the people with whom you have chemistry, the chemistry will take over. That is more powerful than physical conventional looks anyway.

Even better - same friend, fast forward to today, nearly 15 years later, and I was recently dropping something off at his apartment, but I unfortunately dropped in shortly after he'd gotten up, and he hadn't looked in a mirror yet and his hair was doing a total pointy-haired-boss-from-dilbert thing. He apologized for having "scary" hair, but I'd thought it endearing. That same hair that 15 years ago made me say "hmm, I dunno" when I first saw it, after 15 years of friendship and shared history, is now making me say "aw, that's just adorable." The same is true of all of us, I think - the physical quirks on you are part of what make you distinctive, and the right people will start out liking you despite them, but then will go on to love the quirks themselves because they are part of you.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:19 AM on May 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

female in her 30's... now married.

I have never been interested or attracted to someone based solely on their looks. Even very conventionally attractive men, tall, nice bodies, great faces etc. don't really do it for me unless they have a cracking personality. If someone has a cracking personality, is smart, funny, and we click.... then they are attractive to me, even if they are short, bald, chubby- whatever.

I always valued this in myself, I felt I had a greater range of dating prospects and I never put up with any crap from someone just because they were hot.

But chemistry and that nice personality is hard to find as well... I would focus, if I were you, on putting yourself in situations where your best shines through and you get to be yourself... then the right person might find you!
posted by flink at 3:29 AM on May 15, 2016 [6 favorites]

TBH, looks don't really register with me - heck I won't even remember your name - until I form some idea of your personality. Hopefully that will be during an interaction where I learn something about you. Generally if you have a personality - and are therefore a person - I'll fit you into my world somehow. It's a clichè, but being known is more important than being liked. Give yourself a personality and show it to others and everything will start from there.
posted by bendy at 3:31 AM on May 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

As many people are saying above, attractiveness is subjective. I'll add to this point more specifically: there are of course people who prefer, or even require, obesity as a sexual preference. Since the culturally standardized image of thin beauty is going to be more prevalent in a generic mainstream dating site, it might be worth looking into a site geared more towards fatness -- even if just to look, to show yourself that there are many people who consider your body type ideal, to shift your mental image that obesity is ugly and not erotic or alluring.
Second: there are also people out there who don't necessarily prefer or require obesity in a sexual partner, but who don't have a strong feeling about body size one way or another. Someone you might meet online through an interest group of some kind, who you begin to have rapport with, might be this kind of person. This person won't really care about physical attractiveness per se -- they will develop sexual and romantic feelings as a result of feeling close to someone. For some people, feeling safe and connected is the only way that sexual feelings can develop.
posted by flourpot at 4:07 AM on May 15, 2016 [6 favorites]

It's not all about looks. This man, born with deformed legs and a facial tumour, has written a memoir called Ugly, and he's married to a beautiful woman because he has a sense of humour and is kind.
posted by Sockpuppets 'R' Us at 5:22 AM on May 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think that you're struggling with one of the most basic and fundamental points of being human: people can be truly different from you.

For example, straight men might wonder what physical attraction a man can hold for another man, or even for a woman -- see the overboard cliches about women not caring about looks but caring about status/power/money/character/humor/whatever. Bi people can be baffled that the shape of another person's genitals and/or secondary sex characteristics could be a defining favor in attraction for gay and straight people. Republicans who really believe that the only thing keeping all men from being sexually involved with other men is stigma and laws. Etc etc ad nauseam.

So if you're a person for whom physical attraction is very looks driven, and specifically according to conventions of what constitutes good looks, of course it will be hard if not impossible for you to wrap your head around the fact that your pattern of attraction is not a universal aspect of humanhood.

But there you go. There are 7 billion plus of us now and down to the most intimate details, we are incredibly diverse. You do not embody some norm of human sexuality any more than anyone else, from the most 'vanilla' to the most 'kinky'.

Your question is asked as though everyone is the same as you, and if you would have to 'overlook' appearance to be with someone not conventionally attractive, then that must be what they are doing. But really you're begging the question with your underlying assumption.

Not to get too judgy on you, because heaven knows we're all fed this nonsense about how only conventionally beautiful people get to be romantic protagonists who are loved and desired and it's an incredibly powerful cultural narrative even though it flies in the face of so many of our lived (personally and observed) experiences.

But I think that accepting that the way you relate to things like sex, attraction, chemistry, gender, is not necessarily how others do is a great, if hard, step towards building a healthy adulthood and building a healthier culture.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:54 AM on May 15, 2016 [13 favorites]

His name escapes me, but there is a guy in his 30s who was born with no arms. He is an amazing inspirational speaker.
He is also married with, I believe, two kids.
posted by jtexman1 at 6:32 AM on May 15, 2016

It's not all about looks. This man, born with deformed legs and a facial tumour, has written a memoir called Ugly, and he's married to a beautiful woman because he has a sense of humour and is kind.

Yes, I remember watching a news story about a firefighter who was horrifically burned in the line of duty. The guy looked like the Crypt Keeper except he didn't even have that scraggly hair and also his ears had been burned off. He had a wife and a daughter, and the part of the story that stuck with me is that he and his wife got pregnant unexpectedly in between the fire and when he got his prosthetic ears and nose (the point of the news story, in fact). He and his wife had sex - for fun! - while he still had little to no facial features!

The point being that you can like someone enough to marry them regardless of how they look, but you can ALSO be sexually attracted to someone regardless of how they look. Chemistry is a mysterious and wonderful thing.
posted by chainsofreedom at 6:33 AM on May 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Good looks do not help with anything useful. I have an unusually attractive daughter who is subject to a constant stream of comments on her appearance; our take on this is "but that's all it is. You are pretty. It's nice, but pretty does not make you a better person -- who you are inside does." For what that is worth as far as explaining this at a young person's level goes.

> as one who finds himself predisposed to judging upon appearance as well

You are missing out if you do this. This question got me to thinking about people I know and like/love who are, objectively, not great-looking. I really had to do some thinking about it because it's not as though they're filed in my head as "Gregory, the ugly guy; Laura, the fat girl," et cetera. They are just people I am friends with who I am friends with for the usual reasons one wants to be friends with people -- because they are awesome. They are witty, kind, intelligent. Their personalities are much bigger, much more important, than their appearance.

I have had objectively not very handsome dudes as boyfriends; the relationships have ended because of their personality problems -- I can lose physical attraction to somebody over them being churlish, mean, petty, angry, stupid, et cetera, just as I can build physical attraction over wit, kindness, intelligence, empathy, generosity, knowledge, et cetera.

It's really hard to be truly hideous -- you have to mix incredible bad luck genetically with real disdain for grooming and fashion with a terrible personality to really make people recoil from you. Work on what you can change. This would probably include the part where you judge others on their appearance. What's weird about this question is why you are not trying to find a partner who you feel might be your physical equal. Do you think your being fat and having skin hassles makes you unworthy of love? If yes, that's something to work out in therapy.

I met my SO when I was not at all looking for a SO. He was, straight off, awesome to talk to -- I was with a friend who he was picking something up from; he was supposed to bounce in and out, and next thing I was going "No, no, relax, here, order some beer with us..." because I just wanted to hear him talk more. This was almost two years ago. Since then he has made me nearly literally fall off my chair laughing, and has spoken eloquently about things he's knowledgeable on, and I still want to keep listening to him... Recently a skilled photographer took some photos of him and I was actually given pause by how handsome he looked -- he is nice to look at, but it's not what attracted me and it's not what keeps me attracted. If he ends up paunchy and bald as he ages I'm not going to mind in the least -- a personality change would be a dealbreaker, though.
posted by kmennie at 7:17 AM on May 15, 2016 [7 favorites]

I know a couple in which the man is a paraplegic, in a wheelchair for life, and has minimal sexual function. He married a woman who is beautiful by any standard. They got a sperm donor and they're a happy family now.

A man is more than a body.
posted by deathpanels at 8:15 AM on May 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

It is about looks, you're right. The thing with looks is.. it changes. Age takes it toll. Illness does too. Sometimes the dangley bits don't work right.

You need to separate the idea of romance/love from sex. There are people in the world who are married, in romantic relationships, who don't have sex. Some of that isn't by choice, but some of it is. It's not about wanting to bang bits together - it's about wanting to spend time and effort with another person.

Don't get me wrong, sex is fun and wonderful and feels great - but it isn't the end-all-be-all of a relationship with another person.

As an aside, you're never going to gain confidence describing yourself like you did. It's not partially a confidence issue, it's a full on 100% confidence issue. 1. talk to a therapist. You can't learn to love someone if you don't love yourself. 2. consider weight loss surgery, many insurances cover it (even if documentation from your employeer says they don't) there's just hoops you have to jump through.
posted by INFJ at 8:20 AM on May 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nobody is perfect. I remember when I first starting getting intimate with my now-husband. I was terrified my body wasn't good enough. That was when he lifted up his shirt and showed me the scars from a childhood surgery. The idea that he might have hangups about his body too had somehow never occurred to me and to be honest, it kind of blew my mind.

Right now, we're in a bit of a shall we say dry spell due to some both emotional and practical aspects relating to me being pregnant. A good friend told us to remember that there are many ways to connect physically. We've been exploring some of that to still feel intimate even if the 'sex' is temporarily different. Your question really does over-simplify things.
posted by JoannaC at 8:55 AM on May 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

In addition to the truth above that personality is a big part of attractiveness, it is also true that different people find different characteristics attractive. Society presents attractiveness as if there is one way to be attractive--in fact, there are as many ways to be attractive as there are individuals perceiving attractiveness.

I have one friend whose self-described type is "funny looking guys" who have something "a bit off" about their looks. It's not that she doesn't see the physical quirk, it's that she sees it and likes it. She's not the only one whose tastes aren't as dictated in societal scripts. Folks above have already mentioned that weight is a prime example; but it's not the only characteristic that works that way. Just as some people are attracted to thinness and some people are attracted to fatness, some people will have tastes that are the opposite of our societal script for attractiveness in all sorts of other ways.
posted by snorkmaiden at 9:11 AM on May 15, 2016 [5 favorites]

Human attraction is immensely complex. For some, conventional good looks can even be off-putting, for a number of very different reasons. When I was still dating, I was generally interested in and curious about people of all forms and shapes - literally no one was excluded from this interest. Even today, when I have no interest in relationships, I rarely meet a person I don't find attractive.
posted by mumimor at 9:13 AM on May 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

It's extraordinarily painful that so many people are equating disability with sexually unattractive and ugly. The idea that a wheelchair makes one ugly outside of everything else is common. But I'm still surprised to see it so casually tossed around here.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:15 AM on May 15, 2016 [24 favorites]

I'll offer some insight about the converse. There are tons of very attractive people who can't seem to find love.

Jennifer Anniston for example. She is quite beautiful yet a fulfilling relationship eludes her. Someone cheated on Halle Barry!

Unhappy people seem to have a harder time connecting than happy people. If you are happy and comfortable with yourself, you'll find people attracted to you.

As a fat person I was NEVER going to be the person getting hit on in bars. But once people got to know me, I found that I was attractive, to people of discerning tastes.

If all you think you have to offer is a fat body and a skin problem, yeah that WOULD be a oroblem. But if you're kind, love cats, are deeply into Dr. Who and funny, you've got something to work with.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:32 AM on May 15, 2016 [8 favorites]

Here are a few things that matter. Some of the time, all of the time, more or less at different times, only for some people, to everyone a little, to some people not at all. What each bullet "means" is different for everybody. And each person on this thread has a different range of acceptability which they respond to. That also varies over time and circumstance!

+ gender
+ orientation
+ looks
+ pheromones
+ hormone cycling
+ good sex
+ health
+ wealth
+ social connections
+ personality
+ humor
+ shared values
+ common interests
+ great conversation
+ intelligence
+ skills
+ language
+ right time and place

Think of attraction as a threshold. All these points stack into a ladder. You just need to get over the wall of likability. Each person's wall is different. How about instead of hitting all the bullets 100%, you hit 8 of them 80%?

And if you hold your dates to a different standard than yourself, well. That's pretty fucked. You say you're "ugly"... would you date someone as ugly as you? If not, you should think about why. Go date some great ugly people and see how good life can be.
posted by fritillary at 9:32 AM on May 15, 2016 [9 favorites]

Real, deep attraction is really more of a mix of things rather than just looks. There are people who are really hot by society's standards, but they've got such vile personalities that most people will be physically repulsed upon spending time with them. No amount of facial symmetry or glossy hair can hide an ugly heart.

Being truly attractive means a hell of a lot more than being conventionally good looking. It means playing on whatever strengths you have(and you DO have them even if you don't know it yet), being kind and empathetic, and being passionate about the things in life you enjoy.

Also, physical attraction is always going to vary from person to person. Society says there's features that everyone should like, and while many people follow that, many people don't. Despite being thin myself, I have never been attracted to a thin person physically. I also like "weird" features in people, and what people usually think of as their worst feature is often the feature that draws me in. Being "ugly" is a hell of a lot more interesting than looking like a magazine ad.
posted by InkDrinker at 9:43 AM on May 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

I am a relatively thin person of probably average attractiveness and I am attracted to both thin people and fat people, probably leaning more towards fat people. I absolutely do not feel like I'm overlooking something unattractive about fat people when I consider them as potential partners.

I think in general the natural spread of what people are sexually attracted to is probably spread out more evenly across the spectrum of weight than it seems, with some folks being attracted to fat people and some folks being attracted to thin people. But the media and current trends condition people to privilege thinness (and perfect skin, and so forth) and that sometimes masks people's innate preferences. So perhaps people who date or sleep with people who do not look like Jennifer Aniston or whatever are ignoring the media rather than ignoring or turning off their own feelings.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:55 AM on May 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm unattractive per conventional standards. What helped me was learning, and then embracing, the concept of jolie laide particularly, in my case, as applied to Isabella Blow, who was Alexander McQueen's muse and lived life large. I've strived to have an interesting life, to dress well (interesting clothes that fit my body) and to be sure that I'm well-groomed and evidence thoughtful hygiene. The receipe: be the best me I can be, add personality, brains and stir. Moxie, confidence and the above vault me from a 2 or 3 to a 7 or 8, which is plenty.
posted by carmicha at 10:19 AM on May 15, 2016 [13 favorites]

Just sticking to your base question of how can people overlook unattractive appearances, there are two things i want to say:

1. People are strange and it seems that for every possible thing i find squicky/unappealing (lots of chest hair, muscular hard bodies, just for two examples) there is someone out there who find it appealing. So that's a big part of it - there isn't universal agreement on what's attractive.

2. We become desensitized to appearance, including what we think is ugly, over time. More than once I have met a guy, found him extremely to moderately unattractive, spent a lot of time with him in a non romantic context (friends, coworkers, etc) and then seemingly randomly see him one day and think, he looks really good in that shirt. he's kinda hot. It's like my brain got used to his face and it didn't seem ugly anymore. (This same phenomenon happens with JLo and Taylor Swift songs them enough and for even the worst ones something clicks in your brain and they start to sound really good).

So, to be brutally honest, if you feel you are truly "ugly" and you've done all you can to mitigate it with dressing well and good hygiene, your best bet for landing a romantic partner is to put yourself in situations where you will be around potential partners frequently and they will become desensitized to your appearance and their brains may be able to find you appealing.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 12:17 PM on May 15, 2016

Here's a quote about Cleopatra, who was probably not "objectively" ugly, but not objectively beautiful either (she was probably more or less average, but is remembered as a "great beauty" because of her love affairs and influence in history):

""For her beauty, as we are told, was in itself not altogether incomparable, nor such as to strike those who saw her; but converse with her had an irresistible charm, and her presence, combined with the persuasiveness of her discourse and the character which was somehow diffused about her behaviour towards others, had something stimulating about it. There was sweetness also in the tones of her voice; and her tongue, like an instrument of many strings, she could readily turn to whatever language she pleased..."

Plutarch, Life of Antony (XXVII.2-3)"

In general I think it is true that straight women are concerned less with looks than straight men are, overall. However, there are definitely exceptions even to this "rule."

It's important to remember that most people are average. Most people are not ugly or beautiful, bad-looking or good-looking, but somewhere in between. And the good features come to the fore while the bad features fade away, the longer you know someone. Do you love your mother? Is she "objectively" beautiful? Probably not, right? I realize that the relationship with your mother is not one of sexual attraction, but that sort of familial or friendly love, combined with a person who is somewhat attractive (has flaws, but has good qualities) can lead to sexual attraction. Actual sex with real people involves a lot more smell, touch, taste, and texture rather than just visual stimulus. In fact, you're so smushed up together visual stimulus is somewhat compromised anyway!
posted by quincunx at 12:30 PM on May 15, 2016 [5 favorites]

There is a great scene in the movie "Six days, seven nights" where Harrison Ford tells the much younger female love interest "I think you deserve someone fresher." and she says "Shouldn't that be my decision?"

If you look around, there are porn sites devoted to, for example, plumpness. The existence of BDSM should clue you that what floats someone's boat can be quite unconventional and have nothing to do with looks.

I think perhaps a more pertinent issue for you is how to read those signals. Because I doubt that at your age you do not already know that some men like a BBW and women typically prefer a man taller than themselves and are often less hung up than men on looks per se. So your size is not a show stopper, even if some people would balk at it.

It might also help to check out a variety of porn and erotica and survey some of the vastness of "to each his own" that exists sexually for the human race. Seeing is believing.

I sympathize because I have my own hang ups where I have trouble accepting that anyone would think I am attractive. But, I learned long ago to not say no for them. I let other people decide for themselves if they desire me. I worry about my piece: deciding whether or not I also desire them.
posted by Michele in California at 1:11 PM on May 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've been wondering about this question for a very long time, from a female perspective. (In my experience the answer is quite different for men and women. Assuming we're talking about hetero relationships. The depressing link posted by yohko--the second link--hints at why.) A lot of the standard answers, about how looks fade and pretty people have difficulty finding true love too, are not wrong but not exactly helpful when you're 40 and have never been kissed.

In my experience a physically unattractive man attracts women by compensating. He cultivates something: big personality, humor, wealth, intelligence/education, passion, professional success, fame, notoriety, confidence (as you rightly note, even the ugliest people can sometimes be very confident), something that will get him noticed.

Others have answered to this effect already but it's worth repeating. Being a man, you might not realize that many women don't care about looks, and many other women do care about looks but not in the way you probably think they do. Some women actually really like the idea of being with a very large man. Other women really like (e.g.) tall men, and whether they're tall and thin or tall and fat isn't the least bit important. The range of physical "flaws" many women will not register as flaws or will even actively seek out in men is quite wide. They're not "overlooking" these "flaws," it's just that what they're really into is your hair color or the shape of your thumbs, so "fat" or "bad skin" simply don't enter into their minds.

Also tbh I think so many people are so afraid to be alone that they'll get with almost anyone, even if they find that person mildly repulsive and their relationship is actually pretty sexless and terrible. I wouldn't assume every couple you see (or even every couple you think you know well!) is made up of two mutually happy and attracted individuals. There's a lot of desperation and resignation and people lying to themselves out there. Not to be really negative, but maybe useful to remember when you feel like everyone has all this magical love and sex that eludes you.
posted by ocksay_uppetpay at 1:13 PM on May 15, 2016 [14 favorites]

So, you don't bring looks to the equation. What *do* you bring? Fun to be with, conversation, smart, funny, kind, thoughtful? Are you looking for someone who has looks? Maybe think about the fact that there there lots of wonderful people out there, who, like you, don't have conventional good looks.

Make the most of what you have. Wear clothing that is fashionable, deal with skin issues if possible, know how to have a good conversation, have some interests.
posted by theora55 at 1:24 PM on May 15, 2016

I mean, the expression "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" exists for a reason. Sometimes, people are just attracted to people who aren't conventionally attractive because that's what they like. It's not just looking past someone's perceived ugliness. I'm glad someone mentioned Robert Hoge above, but his wife might not like him because of his sterling character or whatever, she might just find him hot to look at. For example, I've seen him interviewed on tv, and I find him extremely attractive. You just don't know what other people do or don't see in you.
posted by glitter at 3:42 PM on May 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

>in a wheelchair for life, and has minimal sexual function... wife is beautiful....

That's a problematic thing to say:
Using a wheelchair or having a disability is not an unattractive quality; disability does not preclude attractiveness.
Being a paraplegic or having a disability in general actually does not entail having "minimal sexual function"- first of all there are a lot of tools out there that make sex possible in a lot of ways, and besides, sex is about way more than a few body parts that may or may not do whatever thing. Pretty much every living adult is capable of sexual behaviour if they are so inclined.

And describing his wife as [beautiful in spite of his disability] is demeaning to them both. People are worth more than what their bodies look like or how many stairs they can climb.

To answer the question- I'm someone who's dated some extremely attractive people who were real assholes, and some memorably wonderful people who would not be considered attractive in narrow conventional terms. I dated them because they were COOL. Great conversationalists, emotionally available, sincere, funny, unique, surprising, affectionate, understanding, supportive, insightful, romantic, lovely company, soothing, energizing... there are so many things a person can be beyond their looks. And traits that are considered ugly by some can actually be beautiful or feel great- a large person might feel warm and soft and cozy to cuddle, for instance.

People are more than their bodies.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 5:04 PM on May 15, 2016 [7 favorites]

Beauty fades. If someone makes you feel special, safe, valued, and loved, then it doesn't matter how they look, you want to be with them. If you want to have a relationship with someone, you have to do those things for that person. And if you want to fall in love with someone, you have to find someone who will do that for you. Initial attraction is great but it only lasts if real feelings are built up. Which is why people who you may find unattractive can love one another- they value each other for more than just superficial reasons.

It is also important to remember that traits you may find unattractive can sometimes be genetic. A woman from a happy family of heavyset people may be attracted to someone who reminds her of her father.

Women can tell when men are just looking at them for superficial reasons. It's a huge turnoff. I've dated men who weren't as attractive as me and I've turned down beautiful men who only wanted to see me for how I looked. We all want to be valued for who we are. If you are only pursuing women who you find attractive on the outside, and not trying to connect with someone by finding mutual interests, then you will not have much success.
posted by myselfasme at 6:10 PM on May 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

You're getting some good advice. You need a detox from the harmful messages in the media, your peer group, and your upbringing. Not only are these messages toxic with respect to how you judge others, they're toxic in how you view yourself as a potential romantic partner. As you're aware, all kinds of conventionally unattractive people end up doing fine in this area, and some actually have an easier time of it. Because human emotions and desires and sexuality refuse to fit into the boring boxes that we try to put them in, despite our best efforts. It helps to really look around you and force yourself to notice people you otherwise wouldn't, and try to ask yourself what is appealing or interesting about them (men, women, children, older folks, etc.) Force yourself to find the beauty (think aesthetically, like a photographer's eye) in wrinkles, blemishes, folds of fat. Consciously take this on as a project for the next few months. It's an important part of the detox process. Even aside from physical looks, realign the narratives you tell yourself about people. It would be very useful to try an exercise like what Juliet Banana mentions in this comment:
When I have a really negative outlook, it fucks up my social interactions and makes me judge myself more harshly. When I notice this is happening, I'll sit somewhere, say, on a bench in Chicago's Merchandise Mart, and people watch and try to come up with one positive comment/compliment about total strangers. It can be really hard, if you're used to snarking on people.

"I bet that person has a bunch of crazy stories. Those shorts are a really awesome shade of pink. I like that hat. Aww, those children made sure to hold hands as they crossed the street. That toddler is very energetic. He's a fast walker. Those shoes are cute. Dressing in that style must be very deliberate and thoughtful. That is a lot of neck tattoos, that requires dedication. Holy shit, she can really walk in crazy high heels. That panhandler has a very clear voice. That is probably the suit I would wear if a was a business dude. She's pretty. Aww, he looks really tired and I hope he gets a nap soon. Her hair is bouncy. She looks kind."

This is also a really good practice for people who obsess about their own bodies and appearance in a negative way. Learning to be less critical and kinder helps us be kinder to ourselves. On the flip side, people who are really hard on themselves also will think that gives them the right to judge others harshly.
posted by naju at 6:19 PM on May 15, 2016 [19 favorites]

More than once I have been tripped up by habitually thinking of someone as plain or unattractive, only to learn that other people thought just as habitually thought of them as truly eye-drawingly gorgeous. And then I would work at it for a while and see what they saw. (Or not. I don't want to spend the energy on Benedict Cumberbatch - I will never have a personal interaction with him that might be colored by my perception of his looks.)

(And just so you know that I'm not just a relentlessly negative person, it does happen in the other direction. "You don't think she's pretty? With those eyes and the way she glows when she talks about marine invertebrates? Huh.")

It's not that "there's no accounting for taste" - it's that other people's taste is always going to be a little different than yours, and it takes some doing to put yourself in their shoes to try to get at how that taste might work. It's usually worth doing, if only because it's good to remember, really viscerally, that the world is, as someone above said, full of seven billion people who are different from you.
posted by gingerest at 6:35 PM on May 15, 2016 [5 favorites]

An emotional connection with someone is what sustains love and an enduring relationship, not looks. Some people will rule out potential partners based on looks alone but they're doing themselves a disservice. Enough people don't do this that you don't need to worry, though. Media makes it harder and reduces a lot of relationships and romantic interactions to physical appearance and objectification and it is extremely damaging to how people can come to view and treat one another. But anyone who plans to be with someone else long-term, get married, or vow to stay together forever must know that looks are the one thing that you can count on not having throughout the relationship. It's that emotional connection that makes your partner more attractive and desirable to you than anybody else's appearance.
posted by Polychrome at 2:36 AM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Your post reminded me of this (from The Witches by Roald Dahl)
posted by intensitymultiply at 5:05 AM on May 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

It's from "The Twits", and I came here to post the exact same thing.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 10:41 AM on May 17, 2016

« Older Looking for poems, quotes relevant to the death of...   |   When Judas repents: Forgive or tell her to f***... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.