American Single: The Real Reason Your “Intimidating” Appearance Scares Love Away

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Eggplant rollatini. Tortellini with pesto sauce. Breaded chicken in lemon butter. Cheesecake. Eclairs. Egg nog…

I could really go on.

I thought everyone ate pork and sauerkraut on the first day of the year … I’d never experienced a New Year’s Day feast as impressive as my friend Ashley’s mom executed last weekend. Imagine, if you will (and trust me, you will) a silver platter of fried calamari heaped in a fashion that absolutely insists you go for seconds. I did: of calamari, the tortellini, the breaded chicken (just a bite), and I’d have gone for more cheesecake too if it wouldn’t have seemed totally gluttonous. Throughout the day I took note of the curious sensation that my sweater was shrinking, and in the bathroom when I turned sideways to dry my hands on the hand towel, I caught a glimpse of my profile. I attempted to diminish, if only a smidge, the image of my tummy. That’s when my face shot me a message in the mirror: It’s probably time we do something about this.

Later that night on the drive home, I wondered whether I’ll really feel that great if I take off the 15 pounds I managed to gain in the fall. My primary motivations for dropping any weight have always been that it helps me feel sexier around men and more confident in my work, but jeez…does a woman ever get to let herself off the hook when it comes to her body? And really: have my lean summers been that much more successful, romantically, than my softer, more indulgent winters? It’s even possible, I mused, that a woman who’s less hung up on looking 100 percent beautiful all the time might have better luck with guys because maybe she appears more relaxed and approachable. Think about it: your mom or best friend might tell you, “The reason you’re alone is that you’re intimidating to men,” but perhaps the real message is, “Men perceive you as someone who requires a lot to be pleased.” For some of us there’s a fine line between being beautiful and being high maintenance, and as I age, the external beauty thing feels like it takes a little more maintenance than it’s worth.

Related: Best of 2011: 5 “Imperfections” That Guys Find Totally Hot

Indeed, demanding perfection in your self-presentation could be blocking partners from entering your sphere. In a recent American Single post, love coach Karin Knoblich explained the phenomenon that holds most single people back from finding a partner: “[Being in love] means we’re getting intimate with another human being who is imperfect … just as we are.” Accepting imperfection and learning to embrace it are necessary parts of committing to a healthy relationship, but if you’re someone who demands perfection from yourself — especially on the outside — it may be no wonder you’ve experienced difficulty in the romance department.

JD Friedman, Psy.D. is a New York City-based clinical psychologist who affirms that within the context of contemporary culture, now is prime time to look at whether an extreme degree of self-focus on your good looks is keeping you from inviting a quality person in. Your gorgeous friend who only attracts jerks? Friedman breaks it down, explaining that many men read a woman’s attractiveness and know they’re up against a lot of competition. “There’s a conventional wisdom among guys that says attractive women are so accustomed to having men bow down to them that you’ll have to act douchey or at the very least, edgy, to get her attention,” he says. Sound familiar to you?

Related: American Single: Guys, The Power Of Making A Woman Feel Wanted

Friedman goes on to explain how an attractive person might be creating their own misfortune in love. Much of a person’s identity is formed when they’re young, based on others’ responses to them. A less attractive person’s identity typically develops around factors such as their personality and intelligence, and it’s likely they’ll develop resilience thanks to having to work harder to get what they want and make a positive impression than a really good-looking person does. They’re also likely to develop what Friedman calls “adaptive priorities” — say, helping others or focusing on their health instead of their beauty — because they’ve developed strength in these areas.

But for a very good-looking person, things usually come easier. “I compare attractive people to star athletes,” Friedman says, because both are praised and reinforced for how well they show. Their sense of self and identity become so centered on how they perform externally that very little internal work — reflection, kindness, introspection — is ever demanded of them, and they’re rarely given much reason to develop the psychological and emotional substance that’s so crucial to bonding authentically and deeply with another person.

Related: Why Your Perfect-Mate Checklist Won’t Find You Love
Friedman points out that fortunately there exist what he calls “the Katherine Hepburns of the world.” Certainly not every attractive person is self-absorbed; in fact, he explains, some possess “an abundance of heart, character and integrity.” But if you’re beautiful, chronically alone and questing for a partner, a little internal work may be in order. How does a person grow more self-aware? From Friedman: “Step back in a mindful way so that you are self-observing a little more and reacting with feeling a little less.” He says it’s okay to operate emotionally (that’s natural and beneficial for many women), but it’s also important to reflect and analyze where you’ve put your priorities and how open you really are to letting someone see the less appealing sides of you. “For a person who is dissatisfied in her dating life,” Friedman says, “she could step back and think about where she’s been. Speak to a therapist, a pastor, a mentor or someone who has a guide-like quality who can help ask the right questions,” Friedman says. “Then a person can begin to ask the right questions of themselves.”

Related: American Single: 6 Ways To Support Your New Year’s Resolution For Love
Friedman also points out how deeply we internalize our culture’s insistence to put a person’s looks before any other virtue. His solution? Get back to basics. “What really matters? People want to be with their friends and family more — it’s the cultural zeitgeist. We’re thinking about relationships again because [due to the economy] we have to sacrifice. We don’t have the endless gravy train we used to look forward to that we once assumed was our birthright.”

Sure, the slimmer version of myself might draw more attention, but after years of observing, I see that’s probably more due to my openness and my animated expression when I feel hot in my body than others’ actual interest in me. As I age — and as we all pay more attention to how we perform in relationships — self-acceptance and self-esteem grow thanks to how much concern we show others. And when we’re really, truly content with who we are, that’s when we invite a healthy, loving partner into our lives. Maybe the most important change we can make doesn’t actually start with the person in the mirror. We show our best selves when beauty radiates from the heart and shows others how important they are to us.

Thanks for a beautiful dinner, Mrs. P.

[photo credit flickr, cliff1066(TM), Getty Images/Norman Rockwell]

kristine gasbarreKristine Gasbarre is the author of How to Love an American Man: A True Story and a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. Follow, friend and visit her at www.kristinegasbarre.com