Welcome to Ask Dr NerdLove, the only dating advice column that knows how to fix things when your love-life gets the Blue Screen of Death. This week, we handle a question a lot of people have: how can a fat dude find love? Does a man have to be an Adonis before women will find him attractive?
Dear Dr Nerdlove,
I am a 40-year-old virgin (and I'm not Steve Carrell). I have a good job with a good salary in which I feel fairly secure and valued, I'm pragmatic yet not dully so, I'm clean and well-mannered, I'm a good listener and a good conversationalist, I've got a very kind heart, I routinely can make people laugh -- but I am not physically attractive, because I currently weigh 346 pounds. I used to deal with some anxiety and depression, but that problem is falling by the wayside. What I'm left with, though, is a very, very firm belief that no woman could look at me with romantic interest because of my morbid obesity. And, while I swear to God I don't desire to be a hypocrite, I can completely understand such a reaction, because I don't think I look attractive and I don't find women attractive who are proportionately as overweight as I am. (Mind you, I can most certainly be attracted to chubby or overweight women, but I do not find women attractive who are obese or morbidly obese.)
The answer, you and many might say, is to lose weight. I have been trying that for a very long time, and I will continue to do so (I am already 40 lbs. down from my highest), but I don't want to continue to abstain from dating, loving, being romantic, and having sex in the meantime. Yet threads about dating men on the r/askwomen subReddit make me feel as if no one would be interested in dating a guy who is my weight, or that I might have to receive quite literally hundreds of "no"'s before receiving even one "yes" -- a rejection rate that would be very difficult to endure.
What do you recommend? Should I continue to remove myself from the dating scene until some far future day when I am much thinner? Even then, people who lose weight often suffer from a loose skin problem (a painful surgery rarely covered by insurance), so I sometimes despair of being one of those rare men who enter their elderly years as virgins.
Not Andy Stitzer
NAS, you have an issue that a lot of other love-lorn nerds deal with: the problem you think you have isn't the problem you actually have.
But let's start with the obvious issue: your weight and body size. A lot of guys are absolutely convinced that the only way they can get a woman to like them is if they're built like a Norse God, standing 7 feet tall with abs like damn and pecs like phwoar.
Except… that's not really the case.
Men have a tendency to convince themselves that women fall for big muscular dudes - the same barrel-chested piles of muscle that we've been worshiping in video games and comics for decades. However, while the bodybuilder physique of Kratos or Jin Kazama is indeed a fantasy, it's a power fantasy… for men. When you actually ask women about an ideal fantasy body type, they tend to favour leaner builds - less Thor and more Nightwing.
You may have noticed that when you went through those subreddit threads - a lot of love for the lean swimmer's build. But that's where you make a couple classic mistakes that many people make.
Yeah, I know you've got those Reddit threads, but you're dealing with what statisticians call a "non-representative sample". Reddit isn't a reliable measure of the populace at large; it's a subsection of a subsection of a specific group. The echo-chamber effect just makes it seem larger than it really is.
Just as with men, women as a whole have a wide range of body types that they find sexy, from the skinny geek to big - not just husky but fat men. Look at how many women went absolutely bugfuck over Prince Fielder's nude pictoral in the ESPN "Bodies" issue. The man is rocking a 50 inch waistline, and there are a lot of women who want to rub themselves all over that. Hell, check out the #huskytwitter tag and see how much love some big dudes are getting.
Second: The thing that you may have missed when you were reading that subreddit thread was that women were saying that they couldn't date someone they weren't physically attracted to. And yeah, physical attraction is a vital part of any romantic relationship - we may love our partners for their mind, but we want them for their arse.
The problem is that you're assuming that women only want their ideal. This couldn't be further from the truth; just because (some) women declare one body type as an ideal doesn't mean that that's the only type they go for. A woman may think Tom Hiddleston is sex on toast, but that doesn't mean she'll only date tall skinny dudes, same as how men may declare Kate Upton the pinnacle of feminine beauty, but that doesn't mean that they will only date women with 36D breasts.
Yes, women (and men) want to date someone they're physically attracted to, but that doesn't automatically mean that anyone who doesn't meet their ideal body type is out of the running. Ideal body types are like sports cars - nice to have if you can get it, but this doesn't mean that you can't be very happy with a sedan or a compact too.
(Yes, I realise this is an awkward metaphor. Ya'll get what I'm saying, now quit trying to be Mr. Clever-Boots and pay attention.)
Here's the thing: there's a difference between good looking and attractive. Someone can be objectively aesthetically pleasing and yet not do a thing for people sexually. Meanwhile somebody may not be an Adonis but goddamn there's something magnetic about them that you can't look away from.
Here's a secret: the key to attraction isn't your waistline, it's not your hair and it's not your face… it's in what you bring to the table. Are you someone who people like to spend time with? Someone who makes people laugh and feel good about themselves? Guess what: you're going to be more attractive than tall, dark and broody. The single most attractive aspect in a man isn't his body, its whether he is fun.
And this brings us to your real problem. It's not your weight so much as your attitude.
To be perfectly frank: your attitude is what's holding you back. You don't believe that women can be attracted to you… so small wonder they aren't. Don't get me wrong: this isn't some woo-woo, newage (rhymes with sewage) "wish hard enough and it will come true" bullshit. The way you feel about yourself directly affects everything else.
It affects your body language - you curl in on yourself, you slouch, you refuse to look people in the eye. It affects the way you interact with people - you hold yourself back because there's no point in flirting or giving people the idea that you're interested. And it makes it harder for people who would be into you to connect with you - you'll miss signals of interest because you'll have convinced yourself that there's no way that she could actually like you, therefore you must be mistaken.
And the hell of it is that even when you fix what you think is the problem - your weight - you'll still feel unattractive. You'll find other reasons why women couldn't possibly like you: the loose skin, the fact that you're still a virgin, the not being Idris Elba, something. And even if you do lose the weight, you could always gain it right back and end up back where you are now.
By chaining your self-esteem to external factors, you've surrendered your sense of self to others; it can be taken from you at any time. Is that really the way you want to live?
I'm going to be bluntly honest with you: the way you're going about things right now is only making things worse. Holding yourself back, intentionally exiling yourself from the dating pool until some arbitrary point in the future is actually the worst thing you can do. All you're doing is creating more and more excuses as to why you can't date someone… such as your fear of rejection.
Yes, you're going to have to be willing to suck up some rejections. Even a metric ton of rejections. Because guess what: everyone does. Show me somebody who never gets rejected and I'll show you someone who doesn't try in the first place. Nobody is immune to rejection, not Brad Pitt, not Ryan Gosling, not Michael B. Jordan, not Michael Ealy or Morris Chestnut. No matter how hot someone is, there will be people who wouldn't fuck them with a borrowed dick.
Dating is a skill. You only get better at a skill if you practice, and part of practice means being willing to fuck up. You're going to get rejected. All being rejected means is that one person wasn't into you. You're now officially one step closer to finding someone who is.
So here's what you need to do: you need to learn to love yourself. You need to recognise that you're awesome and treat yourself that way. And a major part of that means being willing to believe that women will find you attractive and acting like it. Yes, you're fat. Big goddamn deal, so is 70% of the country. Will there be women who won't date someone your size? Yes. Does that mean all of them won't? Hell no. But you have to take chances to find them and that's never going to happen unless you put the work in.
By all means, continue losing weight; exercise and a healthy diet is good for your mental and emotional health as much as your physical health. But that's not the only thing you need to do. You need to dress well - even as a man of size. You have to engage women you're interested in. You need to flirt. You need to ask people out. You need to court rejection because in doing so you'll learn that rejection isn't the worst thing in the world.
Yeah, it's going to suck at first. That's true for everyone. But when you stick with it, you'll find it sucks less and less. The more you unchain your self-worth from external forms of validation - your weight, your sexual experience, whether this person wants to date you or not - the more you'll be able to improve.
I'm not saying it's not hard. I'm not saying it won't take a lot of work. I'm not saying it won't hurt at times, or that there won't be parts that will test your soul and your resolve. There will be days that you feel lower than a snake's arse in a drainage ditch, like nothing could go right and everything is pointless, and you'll want to give up more than you've ever wanted anything in the world.
What I'm saying is that when you hold on, when you power through it all, it will be worth it.
Have some tips on how to boost your self-esteem? How do you shake off the frustrations that come with dating? Share your thoughts and theories in the comments section, and we'll see you in two weeks with more of your questions!
Illustration: Tara Jacoby
Ask Dr Nerdlove is Kotaku's fortnightly advice column for matters of the heart, hosted by the one and only Harris O'Malley, AKA Dr Nerdlove.
Harris O'Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr NerdLove and the Dr NerdLove podcast. He is also a regular guest at One Of Us. He can be found dispensing snark and advice on Facebook and on Twitter at @DrNerdLove. Dr Nerdlove is not really a doctor.