How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!
Every Thursday night, the crew responds to a bonus question in chat form.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m an attractive and intelligent woman in my mid-30s. To a certain extent, I know these things to be true. I’ve worked for 15 years as a successful commercial model, and I have a master’s degree and an above-average IQ. I’m in incredible shape. Also important to add: I definitely don’t come across as modest or sexually conservative. I post lingerie and bikini selfies.
I get a lot of emotional and intellectual fulfillment from my relationships with friends and family. When I date, my primary interest is finding partners who excite me physically and fulfill me sexually. For reasons I don’t understand, I rarely attract these men anymore. The men who flock to me, asking me out to the tune of several times a week (!), are average- or below-average-looking smart guys. These men have everything I’m looking for in a friend, but they aren’t what I want in a dating partner. My take is that they think my academic interests and penchant for elevated conversation will make me fall for them despite an obvious attractiveness gap. If I was looking for a marriage partner or someone to start a family with, that might be true. But I’m not! I want hot sex with semi-committed medium-term partners.
It sounds odd, but recently this non-stop attention from average-looking guys has started to eat away at my self-esteem. Instead of feeling flattered that they connect with me intellectually, I question whether interest from only this type of man means I’m not actually attractive. Again, they are great people! I just don’t want to have sex with them.
What can I do to attract the type of man I actually want to date? And how can I stop myself from feeling so insecure about the type of attention I’m getting in the meantime?
Stoya: I’m wondering if this woman has ever made the first move herself.
Rich: My thoughts exactly. She writes passively about connecting with men (“I rarely attract these men anymore,” “The men who flock to me”).
Stoya: You’re not a flower, you’re a human. You aren’t rooted to the ground. You have agency and theoretical equality in this arena.
Rich: Also, her survey isn’t scientific. It’s missing a control, which prevents a reliable determination of causality. If she’s waiting around to be courted, well, guys who aren’t considered conventionally attractive may be more inclined to put themselves out there, because they fear or experience getting nowhere waiting around for a mate themselves.
Stoya: Exactly. Average-looking men tend to know that dating is a numbers game.
Rich: Some people have figured out that they can’t get what they want without asking for it. Life has a way of teaching you that lesson.
Stoya: Haha, yes.
Rich: Also, that effort these average-looking guys are putting forth may operate like, or very well be, charisma. In a sense, it’s compensatory.
Stoya: I want to rant about hot-chick syndrome for a moment.
Rich: Please do.
Stoya: A long time ago, I went to Serbia and posted a picture of snow. (I swear I’m going somewhere with this.)
Stoya: The Belgrade Programmers Club saw the photo and reached out to invite me to visit because at least one of the members was a fan. When I showed up at the club they were like “Whaaaaat?” And then the fan, a couple of hours later, goes “I think I get it. Nobody asks pretty girls to do things.” Which is almost true.
Rich: There’s the assumption that if you’re hot, you’re busy/spoken for/otherwise unapproachable.
Stoya: Yes. Simultaneously, though, there’s all this noise. “Hey, do you want to go to Hawaii?” “Hey, can I feed you oysters?” This is where it really gets into a syndrome. We get overwhelmed by requests that we don’t want and develop this kind of learned helplessness with going after what we do want because we’re so busy saying no to activities and people we don’t want. So you end up with this “Why doesn’t anyone ask me to do the things I want to do?” moment.
Rich: That makes sense. I think it’s really about, like you said, wielding your agency. I don’t think sitting around and waiting is a very viable strategy for satisfaction. And while I believe that it isn’t unfair to consider a compliment’s worth based on its source, it’d be useful to empathize with the guys who haven’t been particularly praised for their looks. Yes, that could contribute to someone’s self-consciousness and introversion, but it could, to others, be very freeing. Without being wrapped up in their ego in terms of their attractiveness, they may feel that they have nothing to lose. Why not hit on the hot girl? Some hot guys are so brittle that they might not even want to put themselves out there to be rejected.
Stoya: Ooooooof. And some women, too. Like our writer.
Stoya: Her self-worth is tied to her looks.
Stoya: For completely understandable reasons, I’ll add, being in a professionally-looked-at career.
Rich: I’m not trying to like social-justice police her attraction—she likes what she likes, and I think she has a right to satisfaction. But I’ve had a lot of good sex with guys that might be considered average-looking, and I think part of it is that they just put a lot of effort into it. There’s sometimes a level of engagement that I find missing in some super-hot guys. Of course, I’ve had great sex with conventionally hot guys (and bad sex with not-so-hot ones), so these are generalizations, and my own data is far from scientific, but she could be missing out as a result of her standards. What if the lesson is … beauty is skin deep? Thinking on such superficial terms is a trap?
Stoya: My experience is similar. Attraction and desire can be about so much more than facial symmetry.