Every week, Dear Prudence answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. What’s my malfunction? I’m seeing someone new who is incredibly sweet and generous. We definitely have chemistry, but I’m insecure about the fact that she is not conventionally attractive. I’m nothing special myself, but I’m distressed that I can’t figure out if I’m just not as attracted to her as I’d initially thought, or if I’m running into some internalized misogyny. My family has a tendency to comment on folks’ bodies and looks, and as much as I’d like to think my queerness has exorcised that influence, I’m concerned that it’s actually been more harmful than I realized.
To compound things, she’s also got a really distinct, loud laugh that I find makes me blush whenever I listen to it in public. How do I figure out if these are my own anxieties—I am prone to many!—about a new relationship rearing their head in a particularly ugly way, or if I’m actually just not attracted?
A: The fact that you two “definitely have chemistry” pretty solidly answers the question of whether you’re attracted to her. It sounds like you are! The problem is that you’re worried that other people, particularly members of your family, will judge you for being attracted to her, and that your anxiety over their approval will override that instinctive, natural chemistry you feel with her in private. I’m of the opinion that a loud laugh isn’t something worth trying to change in someone else; it’s not like chewing with your mouth open or forgetting to cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze. The questions you should ask yourself, I think, are: “How can I commit to my own values, my own choices, my own autonomy in the face of an unsupportive family? How can I make sure I treat my date with respect and care even as I realize I’ve internalized more of my family’s shame, repression, and judgment than I knew? What additional support or resources can I avail myself of as I reckon with the damage my family has caused to my ability to trust my own feelings?”
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