Discover more from Ask Polly
'I'm Sick of Being Called Smart And Never Sexy!'
Get smart and call *yourself* sexy.
The Mountain (1933) by Helen Lundeberg
Thank you, first of all, for being you and having such a strong, clear, loving, no-bullshit voice. You've helped me through some tough times in my life over the years.
I'm 31, female, single, successful, and part of a loving family and friend circle. I've been single for eight years now and while it hasn't been easy, I find it kind of wonderful? I've gone on a whole journey of pouring love and nourishment into all my relationships, building a successful career processing childhood trauma, and understanding my pain from past relationships. I think for a long time my trauma would make me say things like "I'm so ugly, no wonder no man likes me.” But as of today, I think I'm way better at my self talk, and I'm learning to own my sharp mind — while making peace with the fact that most men in the country I live in don't like women with sharp minds.
The one thing that I haven't been able to even remotely process is why the men I want never want me.
I'm thinking about a few men in my life that have made me feel this way. A few years ago I was very into this man who grew up in my city and moved away for university and has lived abroad since. He was full of respect for what I do, and the kind of person I am, except I found out from a common friend that he had started dating someone around the time he and I began to chat. So I forgot about him although I did harbor some pain. Recently (two years after all of that) I was visiting his city and we caught up for a meal and had one of those nights befitting of a movie. At the end of the night, I told him that I would like the chance to explore something romantic with him. He listened, was nice about it for a few days, and then disappeared. I bumped into him in our hometown over Christmas and it was just awkward and painful and full of polite smiles.
The one that really pains me though is a man who has been a kind, gentle, supportive, loving friend for years. The first time we made plans to meet, we had a great night but he ended up telling me he had a crush on my best friend. Recently, he told me about many other women he is kind of interested in and they're all social-media pretty and maybe perfectly wonderful badass women, they're just not me. What kills me is that this man is the type who will text me after a drunken night saying "Please don’t wake up anxious tomorrow, you were wonderful and everyone had a great time.” He sees that I've published a new investigative report and texts me to tell me he's proud of me. Acquaintances who meet him and figure out I'm a common friend tell me he's full of praises for the person I am, my work, my personality. My question is: Why the fuck won't this man ever hit on me? How can I change this? Should I want to?
The chip on my shoulder is that my best friend, the women he's into, his ex —they're all cute, conventionally pretty women and I'm not. I do deal with anxiety and depression and a fun sprinkling of body dysmorphia, but I ACTIVELY work through these. I don't think I'm being unreasonable to say "this man isn't attracted to me" but everyone in my life keeps asking me why we aren't together. What do I do, Polly? Do I ask him? Do I tell him what I want? Do I just give up and move on and tell (in your words) the romantically tepid possibility to fuck off?
Please help :(
Sick of Being Called Smart But Never Sexy
I’m sorry for what you’re going through. I know it’s frustrating and awful and it torments you for very good reasons. When I was younger, I always felt like the funny soundtrack that the hot girls around me used to lure the hot guys into relationships with them. My best friend in high school was voted Best Looking, was the homecoming queen, and always attracted the dudes I was after. Like a pilot fish eating up the shark’s leftovers, I would resign myself to make out with my crush’s friend, since my crush always liked my best friend instead of me. And let me tell you something, no make-out session in the entire world is worse than the one that goes down late at night between TWO PILOT FISH. One dude complained bitterly to me that he was in love with my best friend right before we made out. It’s pathetic but it makes me laugh now, so that’s something.
I value humor over hotness now. If I met a gargoyle who made me laugh I’d take my clothes off immediately.
Sexiness to me is presence, self-possession, humor, and attitude. I’m 52 years old and I had a double mastectomy three years ago, and I still feel a lot more attractive than I did when I was 25 or 35 or 45. I’m not saying that I’m objectively exciting to the average human on the street. Hell, I’m not making any claims at all. All I mean is that I feel sexy at this point in my life.
What a stupid word!
I’m sexy (to myself, heh) because I understand how absolutely ludicrous the word sexy is, and how completely arbitrary it is to fall for people because their features line up in some predetermined way that someone dumb decided was exciting.
So many dumb motherfuckers out there try to tell us what’s exciting and what’s not. I think it’s sexy to say so out loud. I think many varietals of ugliness are hot. I think people who don’t realize that their weird, awkward bodies are actually juicy and delicious are hot. Confidence and swagger are also hot, when they’re paired with a good heart. I love it when people are honest without flinching. It is sexy to hold your ground without apology.
I think whatever you look like, you should think of your unique beauty as a way of holding your ground without apology. That’s how I feel about myself, and about the mastectomy, and about aging. Sometimes I like to imagine myself as a haughty snake or a lizard or a hawk. What does prettiness matter, when compared to a snake’s cold stare? What’s so good about a cute lady who makes pleasing sounds, when compared to a raptor who sits on a high branch and surveys the sad little rodents clinging to the muddy Earth?
What do you want to be, a shiny snack or a work of art? Great art is unsettling and memorable. It sinks in slowly, gets under your skin, stays with you longer than you expect. You find yourself wanting to look at it again. It’s not a fucking McFlurry you snorfle down on your way to the beach. It’s not a greasy bag of potato chips that hits the spot in the car on your way somewhere else, and then you throw the bag away.
Let these perfectly nice dudes yank it to whoever they like. Stop and think about what you are. Consider your lofty aims in life, your solid beliefs, your sharp mind, and how these things are manifested in your physical form. Look in the mirror and see the great work of art there, something unexpected that lingers long after the first glance, an unusual intensity in your eyes that is the embodiment of your robust soul.
Every day you’re alive, you’re given a new chance to manifest your power, your compassion, your optimism, and your brilliance in your physical form. When you respect your own formidable mind and feel grateful for the body you were given, you naturally move like a dancer. Self-knowledge and self-possession are sexy. Belief in what you love is sexy. Recognizing that honesty is rare and interesting is sexy.
Don’t ask these men for more. Don’t question their taste. Don’t demean yourself by saying words like “Why am I not enough?” I’m not saying don’t be vulnerable when the time feels right. I’m saying don’t walk around reinforcing the mindsets of dumb motherfuckers who will settle for any sweet, stale snack on the shelf. What kind of connection do you want? How do you want love to feel? How do you want someone to sound when they realize they’re in love with you? Do you want them to be answering your question, or making a statement of their own volition? After they proclaim their love, do you want to quiz them about whether it’s real or not? Do you want to grill them over how attracted they are to you?
Hold your ground instead. Not just with this one guy, with everyone. Experience your dignity and intelligence as a sensual force that lives inside your body. Don’t pass out questionnaires. Don’t beg for feedback. Don’t lecture anyone on what real beauty is. (Ha ha, the way I’m doing here! But bossy lectures are my calling, I can’t help it!)
If you WANT to tell him what you want, then do it. But personally, I think instead of trying to win him over, you should focus on winning yourself over. Because that’s the key to feeling good, now and for the rest of your life. When you crave approval and acceptance from others and you linger around anxiously waiting for it, it erodes your sense of self and unsettles the ground under your feet. Make it your practice not just to reassure yourself, not just to quiet your anxious mind, not just to refuse to berate yourself for not taking some supposedly perfect shape, but to elevate what you already are.
Weaknesses and strengths alike can be elevated into something divine. This is the essence of great art: intensifying both the hideous and the beautiful, teasing out the soft doubts that linger underneath the boldest answers, and revealing how seductive a flaw can be, when it’s studied to the point of worship.
Snacks are nice, but there’s a transcendent feeling that comes from rejoicing in someone else’s flaws. There’s a sense of calm that comes from taking pride in what makes you different, weird, unusual, special. Intimacy thrives on the higher ground formed by knowing who you are and what you own. When you embody your faith in what you are, you become a beacon to the ashamed and the insecure. Your calm presence and quiet poise become gifts that inspire others to have more faith in themselves. You don’t have to ask for favors. You don’t have to look for feedback. You don’t need to collect data on what pleases other people. When you attune yourself to what delights you, and you delight everyone around you effortlessly.
I know you’ve worked hard to build your own confidence, and you should feel proud of that. It’s also normal to feel angry and sad over your circumstances. I’m not saying any of this is easy. And honestly, the hard work of cultivating faith in who you are is a life-long project. It doesn’t end, and new challenges arise regularly. All I can tell you is that the more you insist on moving past the arbitrary values of our culture in order to define and embody your own burgeoning passions, desires, and beliefs, the more vivid and satisfying your life will become.
So stop forming yourself into a question mark. Stop asking for more from the wrong sources. Stop saying that most men like x and most men don’t like y. What most guys like or don’t like couldn’t matter less. Waiting to get hit on is like hoping to become a salty snack, or a rodent scuttling around in the mud. Be a raptor instead. Anything less is beneath you.
Thanks for reading! Ask Polly publishes twice a week for subscribers.