How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!
Every week, the crew responds to a bonus question in chat form.
Dear How to Do It,
Not your usual question, but here goes: I have only gotten clear “someone is sexually attracted to me” signals … like twice, in my entire life? I’m talking open flirting, compliments, being approached—that kind of thing. This makes me feel like crap. I have perfectly decent looks, though I could make more of an effort (I’m nonbinary and assigned female at birth, so finding anything that fits my androgynous style and that is also sexy is difficult). I am intelligent, kind, and pretty passionate about life in general, all supposedly attractive qualities. I’m on the freaky end of the pool (both in terms of relationships and in bed), but I’m not exactly advertising that and scaring people. I’m at a pretty intense college, I do great with my job, and I am career planning, so it can’t be that I come off as a loser. I am pretty reserved-acting and I have some acne I guess? A lot of people I know just seem to get attention. I never felt actually wanted even in my two relationships. But it’s not even that; I just want to feel like I could dress up, dance, and someone would act like I was desirable. Compliment me! Is the getting-lots-of-attention thing rare? Is there some glaring red flag in my list above? Or do I not see it because I’m self-conscious?
—Why Does No One See Me as Sexy?
Rich: Let’s take our writer at their word—they have many subjectively attractive qualities and yet no external validation. I wonder here if there is something intimidating or even off-putting that is obstructing connection. I mean, it could be so many things. Stature. Resting bitch face. The timbre of one’s voice.
Stoya: They do say they act pretty reserved.
Rich: Yes, and that can be read as icy. And this is sometimes just how it is: It’s no judgement on someone’s appearance, it just seems like some people have to go for what they want to happen, whereas with others, it comes to them.
Stoya: As a person who gets a lot of attention, that can be a major liability too—dudes trying to follow you home—and I still have to be active about approaching the people I do want to interact with.
Rich: That’s a terrific point. I know that men’s idea that women’s bodies belong to them is pervasive in our culture, but it blows my mind each and every time I hear a woman articulating it.
I think maybe our writer should focus on proactivity.
Stoya: Everyone has to take action.
Rich: It’s nice when something or someone suitable falls into your lap, but simply waiting for it is a total crap shoot.
Stoya: But it doesn’t seem our writer wants anyone in particular as much that they want to be wanted.
Rich: Which is, by the way, a very human need. This is not outrageous on their part.
Stoya: It’s so foreign to me. Like, maybe-I-should-have-passed-on-this-question foreign.
Rich: How do you process, though—the people who want you and show you that via the money they spend on your OnlyFans, for example?
Stoya: I get a false sense of control out of the boundaries. That’s very comforting.
Rich: And it’s not about you wanting that wanting, it’s about being able to direct the inevitable.
Stoya: Yep. I’ve made my whole career out of a desire to feel some control over the way I’m sexualized. And the few OnlyFans members who think they’re going to develop anything inappropriate with me—trying to meet up, sending me unsolicited penis pictures, developing unhealthy attachments—are given a warning and then blocked if they persist. I feel jealousy toward our writer’s situation, much like they probably feel toward mine.
Rich: The grass is always greener.
Stoya: If they do simply want attention—not attention from specific sorts of people—they could ask their femmiest friend to help them into high-femme style, and hang out at a mainstream club around 1 a.m.—after COVID is sorted, of course. (It sounds like they’ve already tried queer spaces where androgyny might be more appreciated.) The point is they can get a taste for what that’s like. And, if they enjoy it, problem solved.
Rich: They should make a conscious effort to display the confidence they express in the letter. Confidence is something a lot of people find attractive.
Stoya: This is generally true.
Rich: I definitely relate to this writer more than you. I have received my share of unsolicited attention, but I’ve had nights where I feel like no one has looked at me. And in my 20s, I’d beat myself up about that. But it’s really like anything in my life: I have no one to blame for inaction but myself. And instead of blaming myself, I do something about it.
Stoya: What do you do?
Rich: I consciously smile and attempt to appear more inviting. I make eye contact. I lean into whatever enticing connections seem to be building from across a room. The reason not to do so is a fear of rejection, so I just try to put that out of my mind. I realize that I have an easier time with this because I’m a cis man of a certain height and amount of musculature, but I definitely spent a long time feeling insecure and then just sort of … decided to not let that voice guide me so much.
Stoya: So, from me, the grass is always greener, and from you, try to be more proactive. I’d add that desire to feel attractive is almost never attractive.
Rich: You mean projecting such a desire might read as desperation?
Rich: I agree.
Stoya: People in superficial environments—dance clubs, for example—aren’t usually there to validate the needs of others.
Rich: And no one is entitled to attention, per se.
Stoya: Approaching people and telling them why you find them attractive generally has a better success rate. Especially if it’s something they achieved themselves, like their style or their moves.
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