Ah, the people you meet on OkCupid. I’ve been corresponding recently with a bisexual transwoman who started off with a mention of how she’s been having trouble connecting with both men and women because of her gender identity. She said that she was hoping my interest in human sexuality would make me at least interested in talking to her, and she was right… I know a number of transmen (including my brother and sometime collaborator on this blog), but no transwomen, and I was interested in hearing about her experiences. I wrote back to this effect and commiserated about the difficulties being transgender must pose in dating. She responded with more details about the frustrations she’s had, and as I read it I started to suspect that her difficulties with dating go much deeper than her gender identity.
I’m not disputing the fact that being trans dramatically narrows your pool of dating prospects, and that someone unfamiliar with trans people and trans issues can respond pretty badly, even if they aren’t -phobic per se. But this woman, as best I can tell from a couple of emails, isn’t just trans — she’s deeply insecure, craving validation from others, unsure of what gender identity she actually has or wants to have, and has processed some traumatic events in ways I’m not sure are healthy (read: they sound pretty unhealthy to me, but I don’t want to be overly confident about a stranger’s mental health either way.) And all these things, assuming that I’m reading her right, would be offputting and red-flaggy even to someone who was totally attracted to her body and gender presentation.
Please don’t think I’m slagging on her, or anyone, for being insecure and craving validation and everything else. I’ve been there… most of us have. I’m not saying those things make you a bad or unworthy person; I’m just saying they make you even more hampered in the dating department than you otherwise would be. Confidence is sexy; insecurity and neediness not so much. And someone who’s been through a couple of drama-charged relationships with people who don’t have their personal-identity-shit together yet is going to be justifiably wary of dating someone else who vibes that way. So if I had to guess, this girl’s struggles with finding a date are partly due to her having a smallish niche of people who would be interested in her, and partly due to broadcasting I HAVE ISSUES loudly enough to scare off the people she meets within that small niche.
What’s interesting to me is that she puts all her difficulty on the former: “nobody wants someone like me.” (Meaning, someone with my particular gender presentation.) She’s blamed it all on those tangible, physical things about her, mainly things that will not change or things that will only intensify as she matures. In my experience, this is terribly common. I know that ten years ago, when I though nobody wanted me and I was someone magically repellent to all boys, I blamed it on my average-sized (as opposed to skinny) figure, and my inability to giggle helplessly and bat my eyes. The same basic idea is at the heart of the Nice Guys™ who complain that women never want Nice Guys. Short men, tall women, and anybody who’s skinnier or fatter than the Cultural Ideal will, if they have a hard time getting a date, usually blame their bodies for this. In general, it seems to me, people will fix on some aspect of themselves that’s either unchangeable (height, personality, basic body type) or a virtue (intelligence, niceness) and blame their romantic difficulties entirely on this aspect.
When you look at it, it’s obvious this approach is counterproductive. Attributing your troubles to something that you either can’t or shouldn’t change just means that your troubles are unsolvable. If, instead, the problem is due to something in your manner, approach, or maturity level, that should be encouraging, since those are things you can change. Perversely, though, I think people find it more psychologically comfortable to blame the immutable. First of all, it means less work. There’s nothing you can do about it, so you needn’t bother to try. Second, it allows you to put the actual burden of guilt onto the entire body of people you’re attracted to (who aren’t attracted back, which in your head at this point is all of them.) When I thought the boys didn’t like me because I wasn’t skinny or vapid enough for them, what I was really doing was saying that all the boys had horrible taste. It was, at bottom, their fault for not being attracted to me, not my fault for being unattractive (in ways that had nothing to do with my intelligence or body type.) Personal growth is hard; self-righteous resentment is easy.
The truth is that if you look around, you will see plenty of happily partnered people with the immutable characteristics you blame for your own loneliness. The truth is that nearly every personal quality is attractive to somebody, and even more strikingly, people are often moved to abandon their usual “type” for someone who’s awesome in other ways. (Although fixating on a single person in hopes that this will happen is usually an exercise in futility. Please don’t try it.) Everybody’s attractions are somewhat fluid, and someone who generally liked size four blondes might someday find himself falling for a supremely confident and sexy size twelve brunette.
From my own experience, I can tell you that although my period of loneliness and insecurity was long and painful, I now receive a surplus of attention, and my body type and intelligence haven’t changed. What has changed? Well. I grew up a little. I got comfortable with sexuality (being acutely uncomfortable with sexuality makes you less sexually attractive… who knew?) I made decisions that made me feel confident and attractive, even if they went against conventions of what most people like (cutting my hair super-short was the big one.) It was a slow growth process, and hearing it will be slow is incredibly frustrating to somebody in the “nobody wants me” doldrums but in the end, I’m far better off having made that slow crawl than I’d be if I’d sat and pickled in my resentment. (Also unsexy: hating everybody you’re attracted to. MRAs and PUAs, I’m talking to you.)
There’s a lot more I could say on this subject, but I want to hear from you first: do you agree with my impression that unhappily dateless people are quicker to blame unchangeable or virtuous traits in themselves than things they can or should change? Have you been there in the past? Are you there now? What say you?