Unlovable, undesirable, unattractive, unvalued
October 25, 2017 6:44 PM   Subscribe

I have a long history of feeling that deep down, men will just never value me at all as a romantic partner.

Cis het female here. I've had this feeling forever, even when I was thinner and more conventionally attractive. In fact I distinctly remember being a child and lying in bed at night feeling sad about the fact that no one would ever love or marry me. I've had relationships but unsurprisingly they've largely been abusive or unhealthy. My most recent one was the best so far and when push came to shove he didn't love me enough to come through for me when I needed him to. I'm still very hurt by this.

I've done lots of dating but the men I've really had feelings for did not want any kind of commitment. I'm now taking a break from online dating as it was making me feel terrible (dates canceling on me constantly etc). In every other aspect of my life I feel great about myself and have wonderful relationships but dating pushes all my buttons.

Rationally I know that this belief about myself is the real issue, but I just can't shake it - particularly as my experiences have shown it to be true time and time again. I've booked back into therapy yet again to have another stab at addressing this (loads of problematic family stuff to unpack) but was wondering if the hive mind had any suggestions.
posted by Chrysalis to Human Relations (17 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Like you said, it's not about them; it's about you. I mean, I know we're social creatures and all, but I think we have a tendency to expect from others what we expect from ourselves. So if you can learn to love and value yourself, I think that's when you'll start to believe that men will value you. But at that point, it won't matter, because you'll value yourself intrinsically.

Date thyself. Desire thyself, love thyself. I've watched people deal with this. They do things like admire themselves in the mirror, leave little notes for themselves by the door that say "you are loved." I dealt with it by looking in the mirror and realizing that I needed to be my own best friend.
posted by aniola at 7:07 PM on October 25, 2017 [6 favorites]

I could have written this question. I'm still struggling with the answer.

Therapy is the big answer, and you're already working on that - good for you.

The book Attached, frequently recommended on the green, has been really helpful to me in getting a better idea of my relationship patterns and where they are coming from and how I might be able to adjust them.

Your question also made me think of self-love and self-acceptance, and googling took me to Radical Acceptance - maybe skim the first section (viewable on Amazon) and see if that speaks to you?
posted by bunderful at 7:16 PM on October 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

So step 1: Don't date for now.

Step 2: Therapy, therapy, therapy.

Step 3: While you're doing the work in therapy, throw yourself into an activity (or multiple activities). Find something you love to do. Working out? Pottery classes? Dance classes? Hiking? Indoor or outdoor rock climbing? Tabletop gaming? Scrapbooking? Blogging about your favorite awful Netflix addiction? iPhone photography and uploading it to Instagram? Watercolor painting? Cooking? Wine paring? DO IT. Do things you like doing as hard as you can, as often as you can.

"Love yourself before you can love someone else" is super hard to live up to. I think it's much more useful to flip it into "validate your desires before you should even think about making yourself available to validate someone else's."
posted by erst at 7:17 PM on October 25, 2017 [24 favorites]

Rationally I know that this belief about myself is the real issue, but I just can't shake it - particularly as my experiences have shown it to be true time and time again.

I don't think it's a belief about yourself at all, it's your lived experience based on how (probably pretty shitty) men have treated you. Even if you have self-esteem issues, that's not responsible for other people behaving badly. I for one am really sick of blaming everything on women's self-esteem, as though some magical belief system would protect us from men. Nope nope nope. It's victim-blaming. A lot of men do indeed treat women, even young and beautiful ones, as disposable objects instead of people. THEY need to stop doing that instead of blaming it on women's self-esteem. It's like we want to make it your fault you're hurt instead of the fault of the person who hurt you.
posted by Violet Hour at 8:06 PM on October 25, 2017 [77 favorites]

Oh, and we have a tendency to make it about self-esteem because that would give us some control over the situation.
posted by Violet Hour at 8:08 PM on October 25, 2017 [36 favorites]

I'm speaking this from my own experience with having low self esteem and having come back from it - generally there are hints at what the potential partner's true personality is early on. A person with healthy self esteem won't put up with it. A person with lower self esteem will, or will make excuses for it or think they can change it. Meanwhile, the partner is pushing boundaries to figure out exactly how much they can get away with or manipulate. Pretty soon the behaviour is entrenched and getting worse while the other person is now habituated to accept it.

Example; A long time ago I dated a fellow who was always, always late. Towards the end of our relationship, he once left me waiting at a restaurant for three hours, while calling every 30 min to tell me he'd be there any minute. Eventually the last time I phoned up, he laughed at me, told me he was out with his friends and couldn't understand while I was still waiting when it was clear he wasn't turning up.

He also stood me up for my 25th birthday dinner, with my whole family literally sitting around a dinner table waiting for him to come with the meal getting cold. I rang his parents to find out where he was and they told me he was out with his friends. Horrible, right!? But the thing is, all the signs were there, he never changed who he was, I chose to ignore it - he stood me up for our very first date, gave me an seemingly legitimate excuse, asked me out again (I think he might have actually done it again, I can't remember) So he did this right from the start and figured out that I was someone who would put up with it.

If someone did that now, I'd never answer their phone call again, much less make another date with them! So you basically teach people how to treat you and if they send up yellow or red flags early on, when they should be on their best behaviour, don't wait around for the behaviour to get worse. It's not your fault for having low self esteem but it's very attractive for men who want to take advantage of it. Make a literal list of your dealbreakers and a list of what you're looking for in a man and check these things off when you start dating against how they are acting towards you. Looking back, most people's bad behaviour is generally hinted at early on, if not downright explicit, like mine.

And yes, it's not your fault, it's their fault for exploiting you but that doesn't mean you shouldn't look to protect yourself and learn to recognise the bad ones.
posted by Jubey at 8:44 PM on October 25, 2017 [29 favorites]

I’ve had this feeling a lot and through working with my therapist and she suggested that the “voice,” the “narrative,” is an artifact of being emotionally neglected growing up. Please explore this idea - my book recommendation is Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.
posted by bendy at 9:47 PM on October 25, 2017 [7 favorites]

Your self-esteem is, as others have noted, not to blame for the way men treat you, but you definitely deserve to hold yourself in higher regard. And yes, the "I don't deserve better" mindset will always be a favorite pheromone among the kind of guys who mistreat their partners. I recommend faking the attitude of deserving better until it comes naturally.

A bad-analogy meditation:

Imagine you're living someplace with occasional swarms of biting insects that carry awful diseases. You learn that a local yam releases chemicals that make your blood more appealing to the bugs. You hate the taste of the yam anyway, and it's expensive, and it gives you horrible gas. But somewhere way back, someone convinced you that this yam is the only thing you would ever deserve to eat.

You will have to think about other things to replace this dietary staple, how to source them, which utensils to use. If you eat pizza or strawberries or flan instead, you'll feel like you're breaking some divine law this person handed down, especially at first. But most likely none of the ordinary people around you will think that -- not the server at the restaurant or the clerk at the store or even the passersby gnawing on their own awful yams. And even if they're weirdly invested, or disapproving, or judgy, it won't mean that you actually deserve the yam. That feeling of breaking an honor code will diminish as time goes on. You might even find yourself getting a secret rebellious thrill. Let THAT chemical flood your system instead.

This idea that only other, "better" people deserve love or respect in their relationships is a nasty-tasting, bug-attracting, gas-inducing yam. It will take time to retrain your brain, but you don't have to eat the yam.

Take care with your "diet" in the days ahead -- media, for instance, and the company you keep. Whatever is dished up, give yourself permission to take it in, or not. You're worth it, and then some.
posted by armeowda at 10:04 PM on October 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

Here to agree. I actually also have an ex who strung me along for 3 hrs before admitting he was drinking with friends after sending 'on my way!' texts every 15 minutes all evening. Fucked up a night with friends who'd come from overseas and I hadn't seen in 5 years, and still haven't seen again in the last 10. Come to think of it, there was another time he was really late, when he eventually arrived (with drunk entourage) his friends laughed in shock that I waited. Looking back it was definitely a power/control thing, the idea that he was SO attractive and valuable he could treat me like this and I'd take it cos I felt so lucky to have him.

In reality he was an unremarkable below-average looking dude with below average personality. But I was fresh from a breakup, hot off the heels of a serious, chronic illness that had hospitalised me several times a week for years, which had led to unstable employment, and not having many friends who wanted to stick around for that, add to that awful/indifferent parents. So, in a very very weak, exploitable position. I think that because I had so many issues I thought that I should give whoever dated me a lot of slack. I wasn't really capable of much myself, after all, and I was constantly disappointing my workmates and friends with my bad health, so how could I enforce a lot of strict rules on a stranger, right?

Unfortunately every single problem I had with this man (which were a multitude, from the tiny to oppressively massive) could be traced back to the the first 3 or 4 dates, and I wish to god I'd cut him off right then and saved myself two years of totally avoidable non stop grief. Literally - didn't care enough to meet up, damaging my belongings and joking about it, replacing them with cheap crap cos he was "poor", hitting on people in front of me (didn't even get this for a while bc it was so out of leftfield), lying, not caring about issues I was having, it was all there, like when you re-watch Breaking Bad and realise Walt was a piece of shit from the first episode.

What I'd advise any woman now is to be harshest right at the beginning. That's when your partner should be on their very best make-a-good-impression behaviour, so if they're not making that effort, or if they're not capable of decency in that initial period, you must cut them off because nothing good is going to come after that. For what it's worth, I don't think you are inherently unloveable. I don't know you, but I do know plenty of people of all varieties of looks, body shapes, and character who are happily coupled, so I don't believe any of that affects much. But I do think we live in a world where men treat women very badly in aggregate, and as well as actual predators who actively seek women with low self esteem, there are plenty of guys who'll take advantage of it if it's there. The best thing to remember is that even when you feel like you don't 'deserve' to ask for a lot from others, you need to have these rules as a sort of safety and security mechanism, they're there to protect you from real harm. (The harm that men can do to women is serious - it includes physical and sexual assault and murder - if you think I'm being melodramatic look at murder rates of married women and who is likeliest to kill them). And if we don't deserve anything else, we deserve not to be harmed, right? Everyone at minimum deserves that. I also suggest counselling/self esteem workbooks. And I cannot fave enough Violet Hour's comment about not taking on the blame for other's treatment of you. It is NOT your fault.
I'm here if you ever need a chat, please remember you're worth taking care of.
posted by everydayanewday at 10:06 PM on October 25, 2017 [28 favorites]

I have also seen women really cling to the idea that a shitty dating life is their fault out of a desperate desire for some modicum of control. It is not. It is mostly luck of the draw and a lot of men being terrible.
posted by everydayanewday at 10:13 PM on October 25, 2017 [13 favorites]

There are a lot of emotionally unavailable, very entitled men out there who feel free to take advantage of women, especially women with low self esteem. They do this because these men are shitty people. They are responsible for their behavior. Healthy self esteem will help us to better recognize and ditch these guys early on. Among other things, that will free up room for the good guys to be in our lives. However, whether or not we actually meet a good guy who is available, datable, reciprocates our feelings, is a good fit for us, etc. is up to luck and lots of other circumstances beyond our control.
posted by jazzbaby at 6:33 AM on October 26, 2017 [7 favorites]

The day I realized love isn't measured by what people are able to do for each other, my life improved immensely. Sometimes people can't even, no matter how important it is to you. That doesn't necessarily mean they don't love you (or love you enough), it just means they can't do that thing at that moment. It's OK if you have to leave because you need them to be able to do that thing, but realizing that it isn't about love can help you understand that you can love, be lovable, and even loved and still have a relationship not work out and that it not working out says nothing about your self worth, it just means that at this particular moment that particular person doesn't have what you need them to have.

In fact, if you left over your partner not being able to meet your needs, you proved you already have the dignity and self worth somewhere in there under all the thoughts and feelings, you're just ignoring what you already have. :)
posted by wierdo at 8:33 AM on October 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

My advice whenever someone feels this way: spend a Saturday at the mall, people watching and eavesdropping. You will witness so many people less interesting, less intelligent, and less good-looking than you with (at least apparently) affectionate and devoted romantic partners. If there is someone for each of them, there are lots of someones for you!
posted by MattD at 8:43 AM on October 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

It's that someone along the way taught you that you are unlovable.

You might want to consider whether one or both of your parents was a narcissist. Or an emotional vampire of some sort.

It's not your fault. You are not unlovable. Whoever taught you that was wrong.
posted by Crystal Fox at 9:26 AM on October 26, 2017 [5 favorites]

Date in your league. If people are constantly ghosting you, or not interested in seeing you after the first date, it means you're either misrepresenting yourself in your photos, or going after people you're not in the same league with.

That said, if you're going on multiple dates with people and everything seems fine, ask why you always end up with abusive people. The only constant is you. Learn to look for warning signs and don't put up with them. For example: If someone "jokingly" puts you down on the first date, or seems flakey, don't put with with it. It's better to be alone than in a terrible relationship.

Work on your mental health, cultivate friendships, and don't worry about finding someone for now.
posted by GiveUpNed at 9:06 PM on October 26, 2017

Thanks all. Definitely yes on the narcissistic father and emotional neglect growing up.
FYI re the above comment, people are ghosting before I've even met them - haven't had a chance to disappoint them in real life haha. The dates I have been on have been fine just no match yet, mostly from my end - easy to forget that when you're in a shame spiral!
But the answers here (plus my session with my therapist today) have helped me reframe other people's behaviour as a reflection on their behaviour and not a reflectioj on something inherent to me, and to keep avoiding people who behave like that. Onward and upward!
posted by Chrysalis at 10:22 PM on October 26, 2017 [4 favorites]

Online dating has in many ways become the new bar scene. Once upon a time, only the brave, reflective souls seeking a true relationship would risk the embarrassment and shout their earnest intent to find love into the internet. Now it has lost the social stigma that kept the idiots away and you have to claw through a giant pile of losers looking for ego boosts and hookups to find the gems. It's good you are taking a break if you're over it. Go back when you are ready to handle inane, offensive messages, bad manners, and low integrity dating behavior in general. It's an inevitable part of the process and it's about them, not you.

I really struggle with the narrative that issues like this are entirely about a lack of self-love. Most people feel unloveable at least occasionally. Many MANY people who ultimately found a wonderful life partner can pinpoint a period in their life, sometimes a LONG period, where they felt deeply unloveable and questioned their fundamental value and desirability. I can't think of a more common or natural reaction to protracted loneliness. When you're at your bottom and you feel crummy about yourself, it can be easier to access self-respect before self love. Start by seeking honesty, integrity and respect from the people you encounter. Rationally assign standards and adhere to them even when it's uncomfortable and you'd like to be flexible for the sake of companionship. Eventually, it will feel natural and transform into a feeling of worthiness.

There may also be a time in your life, or at least moments, where you did feel worthy and lovable, but it's been a while and you've forgotten. Can you think of any times you felt maybe someone could and would love you?
posted by amycup at 12:09 AM on October 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

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