Am I Just Not Attractive Enough To Date?

By Wagatwe Wanjuki

This piece is Wagatwe Wanjuki’s first dispatch from the front lines of her romantic life for the #ItsTotallyMe dating series, which follows Establishment writers Wanjuki and Katie Klabusich as they utilize professional matchmakers and the insights of various experts to get to the bottom of their perpetual singledom. You can read the series’ introductory post here and Klabusich’s first solo dispatch here.

Wow! So the response to the inaugural #ItsTotallyMe post has been overwhelming — but definitely positive! It was great to see comments from people who said that they could relate to being chronically and involuntarily single and feeling alone. So I’m glad to be the “sacrificial lamb” of sorts and use my personal experience to dig into some of the microaggressions single folk face regularly.

I’ll admit, though, that putting myself out there in this way is a type of vulnerability I am not used to. It’s one thing to share publicly that I am a survivor of sexual violence because that isn’t my fault. But there is a level of humiliation and trepidation that I hold when participating in this series because we’re taught that being single is our fault. One’s relationship status is one of the most private things people tend to consider “fair game” to base very personal judgments and assumptions about our value as human beings on.

But as terrifying as it is, I know this vulnerability is worth it. I have been painfully single for a ridiculously long time. I am running on six (going on seven) years of involuntary celibacy. My last, short-lived relationship started after a considerable dry spell. And I’ve had a lot of those dry spells: no crushes, no physical liaisons, no dates — nada.

It’s important to emphasize that no one can say my singlehood is because I haven’t put myself “out there.” I’ve been on online dating sites and apps for 11 years — and only first dates with three men to show for it. All the while, I’ve also been attending countless events, parties, gatherings, etc.

So after spending countless hours scrolling through my Facebook feed, unfollowing nauseatingly-happy couples, I just have to find out why I’ve never had my chance to be one of them. I’ve witnessed the ebb and flow of many people’s dating lives while mine remains . . . stagnant.

How do these people find new partners so easily?

As I try to break down the different factors that might contribute to my near-lifelong involuntary singlehood, the first thing that comes to mind is looks. Physical appearance is often the first thing people — especially men — use as a qualifier for pursuing something. My internal dialogue often goes through this loop: Am I not attractive? Should I dress better? What can I do to be me while also being deemed attractive enough to have someone want to just give me a chance at a date?

This dovetails with one of the first things people like to say when I mention my difficulty with (not) dating — usually some variation of “But you’re so beautiful! I don’t understand it!” I know this isn’t a phenomenon unique to me — the canned responses to women lamenting their single status always seem to reference some sort of (often unsolicited) affirmation about their beauty.

Two questions inevitably arise: 1. Are attractive people not supposed to have trouble finding people interested in them? And 2. if I have trouble finding people interested in me does that mean I am not attractive?

Well, here’s my chance to explore the issue and get some real, unbiased answers on the matter. Knowing that people love to talk about sex and relationships, I first turned to my 1,600+ Facebook friends and followers for their thoughts. I asked, “Do you think normatively attractive people fare better [in dating] overall?” And the answers overwhelmingly said: being attractive helps with first dates because it’s easy to get that initial interest. Welp. I can count the number of first dates I’ve been on one hand.

So here comes the inevitable next question: Am I ugly?

I swear I am not just fishing for compliments. Trust me; I do not need to fish for them — I have a lovely network of friends and acquaintances who are quick to compliment me — which is a big part of why I am asking this question.

I admit that I know this is a terrible question to pose because “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and all that. And this is true in a larger sense; there’s no definitive answer about whether I rate a 90 or -90 on the attractive scale. But while the jury is probably still out on whether the world thinks I should walk around with a paper bag over my head, there is one thing that is definitely true: the more people who find you attractive, the better.

No seriously. It is well-documented that being deemed attractive can give a person quite the boost in life. Studies have shown that hot people are happier. And a look at other findings shows why: beautiful people make more money, are more likely to get hired, are deemed more trustworthy, and . . . have a lot more luck finding romantic partners.

So where exactly do I land?

When Self-Proclaimed “Female-Friendly” Apps Find You Ugly

As a staff writer at Upworthy on the sex and relationships beat (#lolsob), I get some (read: many) unsolicited pitches about different dating apps, sites, services, etc. In my humble, amateur opinion, most of them are not as groundbreaking as they claim; they simply offer more platforms that replicate the same issues I’ve had in the dating world: lack of interest from potential dates, an open door to jerks, and other demoralizing unpleasantries.

Recently, though, I thought I’d finally found an app that looked like it could deliver what it promised. A Facebook friend shared an interview with Lauren Urasek, “the most popular woman on OKCupid.” Familiar with how much of a drag it is to be inundated with low-quality messages, she shared that she’s in partnership with a service called The Grade. Her description of the app was hard to resist, saying it’s “meant to empower women in online dating” and “is the only app that will expel users if they’re being inappropriate . . .”

I was so excited that my brain only absorbed those sentences.

I started doing a little more research on the app and my excitement grew. Their YouTube video (with a whopping 447 views) is titled “The Grade, A Female-Empowered Dating App!” (wow what enthusiasm!) and their About Us language sounded great:

“The Grade holds users accountable for their behavior by using a proprietary algorithm that assigns letter grades to users ranging from ‘A+’ to ‘F’ based profile quality, responsiveness, and peer-reviews generated from the opinions received from other users. With The Grade, our goal is #NoMoreCreeps. Swipe stress-free without worry of unrequited communication, hostile messaging and inappropriate photos.”

Since I was still waiting for my first match from my matchmaker for this series, The Dating Ring’s COO Emma Tessler, I figured that this improved version of Tinder wouldn’t hurt to try out. I downloaded the app immediately, hopeful that I’d at least get one date out of it. Had I finally found an app where men would be held accountable for their actions?

If only my experience with the app left me with the same enthusiasm as that video title exhibited.

The Grade’s PR focuses on the app being some sort of safe haven for women — a Tinder with a filter. If someone gets a failing grade, you’re booted. But grades aren’t just based on whether you send dick pics or are secretly married. They grade you on your looks, too, which I didn’t know until it was too late.

The results were not pretty (pun not intended):

My overachieving days are long over, so I am not upset at having an overall B- score. The mindfuck started, however, when I checked the photo stats.

Fuck. No wonder I can’t get a first date. Or even parties interested in a no-strings-attached physical rendezvous. Most people out there just don’t think I am attractive.

I wish I could say that this didn’t faze me, but it did. Seeing the hard numbers showing that singles overwhelmingly found me unattractive was a big blow to my self-esteem. To add insult to injury, the best-performing photo is one that looks the least like me. So when I had a chance to do one of my favorite things a few days after downloading the app — put on makeup, dress up, and attend a gala with food and an open bar — I couldn’t do it. I felt too ugly. I was really looking forward to attending the gala — I even rented two dresses in preparation. But I ended up being too large for them. I felt so out of sync with my body. I thought, if I don’t even know what size I am anymore, can I really trust myself to know how attractive I appear to the world?

When (Lack Of) Action Speaks Louder Than Words

This gap between my thoughts about myself and reality could explain why — even at my most self-assured — I fail to attract potential mates. People often say that I must be single simply because I am just not confident when I leave the house, but I don’t believe that’s my problem. After many years of struggling with low self-esteem, I have worked hard to build a strong sense of self-worth and a high level of self-awareness. Hell, I’ve even had therapists tell me that I am exceptionally self-aware. So I am honestly surprised that apparently I have been totally inadequate at gauging my attractiveness level.

Now all I can wonder is, in the dating world, what’s the point of having high self esteem about your looks if no one agrees with you?

In the past few years of my life, I have been very intentional with surrounding myself with a great support network. I also, coincidentally, starting taking a more active role in working on my appearance. As a result, I get a lot of positive feedback from friends, colleagues, family — even strangers — about my attractiveness and style. Yet as the number of compliments on my looks rises, the number of interested people remains just as low as ever. So if I am not as aesthetically challenged as my dismal dating life implies, what’s the deal?

I know that love isn’t just for the beautiful. If only hot folks found partners the human race would be extinct. But how do I handle this new information and move forward with a realistic approach to working with what I have? I guess I could make sure to have a great personality, but even the worst people find folks willing to settle down with them. And I am going to be honest and slightly cocky for a second: I think I have a pretty fucking great personality. My job is literally dependent on connecting with people and considering the sort of feedback I’ve gotten from friends, colleagues, and fans (?!), I am confident that I am pretty awesome.

Sigh. This is all just really hard. How do you handle external validation when your personal life fails to reflect that validation? If being pretty gives people a leg up and I am still at the bottom of the rung of relationship success, what is the natural conclusion?

Sorry, Mom — 3 Out Of 4 Men Do Not Think I’m Attractive

So in short, I guess the answer to my original question is: Yes, I am ugly — at least according to 3/4th of men using The Grade near me. While I didn’t have any issue with creepers on the app (the issue they say they exist to combat), not a single person messaged me back when we matched (and yes, I reached out to all of them).

I guess no one wants to talk to a woman whose looks are a C+ at best.

Now that I’ve written this article, at least I can delete this soul-crushing app off my phone. But what do I do next? Let’s just say I am really lucky to have my lovely matchmaker Emma with her sunny demeanor on my side, or else I would not have any dates to write about.

Happily, after spending about an hour talking about who I am as a dater — my history, what I am looking for, my concerns, my deal breakers, etc. — Emma seemed confident that she’d find someone for me. I honestly am pretty flexible (more details on what I am seeking to come in a future piece!), but I did tell her I have one hard line: only show me matches that have already seen my photo and find me attractive enough to date.

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