This started as a paragraph in my “nice guy” rant, but it quickly grew to post-length, and it’s really applicable to men and women alike, so it gets to be its own post. The “nice guy” rant will follow shortly.
Standard advice on “how to be attractive” goes something like this: “You don’t have to look like David Tennant (although it doesn’t hurt)… just be confident, funny, and above all, be yourself.” Which is about as useless as advice gets. They’re right that you don’t have to look like David Tennant (and right that it doesn’t hurt), but confidence and humor are not just things a person can put on like a new hat. Especially if they’re also trying to be themselves. So I’m going to try to get at what’s behind that advice, and find some more useful tips for becoming more attractive. Most of these come from my own experience: I have always been a pretty girl, but it took me until my mid-twenties to learn how to be attractive. They’re very different things.
Confidence. Don’t ever try to fake confidence: you’ll look either transparently pathetic, or assholish. The thing that’s important about confidence, the thing that makes it part of the attractiveness package, is that it expresses emotional independence. It’s the opposite of neediness. When you’re about fifteen, you can have an intense and emotionally satisfying (although ultimately devastating) relationship based around how badly you neeeed each other. After that, you and anyone you date should be mature enough to know that that’s a recipe for disaster. A mature relationship, even a mature one-night-stand, is built around the idea that both people have something to bring to the table besides their hunger for intimacy. If you approach a romantic partner broadcasting “Complete me!” on all frequencies, they’re going to be turned off. If they wanted devotion in exchange for rescuing someone from loneliness, they could go get a puppy from a shelter. You have to come with a sense of what you have to offer, and also a sense of what they have to offer.
This is easier said than done, I realize. This post is not “how to be attractive in six easy steps.” It’s more “how to be attractive after much soul-searching and personal growth.” What it took for me to develop that emotional independence, to shed the neediness and craving for intimacy that was sabotaging my attractiveness, was becoming happily single. It took a few years, and I wasn’t happily single in the “I’m so content being single I’d turn down David Tennant if he knocked on my door” sense. But I was satisfied with my life, in the present. I had close friends who gave me the emotional support and intimacy we all need, I had hobbies and activities that gave me pleasure, and I didn’t feel this sense of gaping incompleteness without a romantic partner. This did not come naturally to me: I have a high natural craving for intimate relationships, for love and sex and kisses. But my stoic tendencies led me eventually to accept singlehood, since it seemed to be thrust upon me, and appreciate the value in it. Emerging from that period, I found that I could approach potential lovers with a sense of who I was and what I had to offer, rather than a yearning desperation.
Your mileage may vary. It might take something else: a few sessions with a therapist, finding a fuckbuddy to practice and develop your sexual confidence with, traveling around the world. But if your neediness is causing problems for you, I highly recommend taking dating off the table for a couple of years, and throwing yourself whole-heartedly into other areas of life.
Humor. Trying to be funny, if you’re not, is about as disastrous as trying to seem confident. However, while there’s always something appealing about somebody who makes you laugh, the important things about humor are 1) not taking yourself too seriously, and 2) a sense of joy.
The surest way to look ridiculous, in any area of life, is to be preoccupied with not looking ridiculous. We are ridiculous creatures: we try to fathom the mysteries of the universe, and also we poop. Our method of reproduction is sublime and ecstatic and also messy and awkward. Our brains can grasp and absorb complex theories and create beautiful self-expressions, and also produce bizarre and absurd hallucinations every 24 hours. We are messy, mixed-up, slightly ridiculous beings, and laughter is an apt response to this truth. So don’t take yourself too seriously. I once read a kitschy pillow-embroidery statement to the effect of “a life without laughter is like a wagon without springs,” and it’s totally true. The ability to laugh at yourself and at the universe is essential shock-absorption for life. I don’t require that all my lovers make me laugh, but they do have to have a sense of humor, an appreciation for the occasional absurdity of life, the universe, and occasionally themselves.
A sense of joy is just as important. Just… just enjoy stuff, man. You don’t have to be Ms. or Mr. Bubbling Enthusiasm (definitely not my type, for starters), but take pleasure in the things that give you pleasure. I, being a nerd who is attracted to nerds, am turned on when I see someone’s face lit up by an idea or concept or project they’re working on. I want to go through life with someone who takes delight in the world… maybe not all of it, but certain concrete areas of it. If you communicate a sense of joy, of passion, of excitement in those things that you love most, you will attract people.
And now let’s talk about looks. Here, the most important thing is to get an accurate sense of what you can control and what you can’t. Your face and body type you’re pretty much stuck with: you can work out, you can gain or lose weight to a point, you can apply makeup and style your hair and choose your clothes to flatter yourself, but if you’re a beanpole guy you’ll never look like Arnold Schwarzenegger, and if you’re a curvy, wide-hipped woman you’ll never look like Summer Glau. And here’s the other bad news: attraction is often cruelly arbitrary when it comes to looks. I fell in love once with a man who was really only attracted to waifish, petite women, and I recognized that there was nothing I could do, either about my non-waifish figure or about his attractions. You’re not going to be everyone’s type. But the good news is, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be someone’s type. More so if you’re reasonably healthy and dress and groom to your advantage. Healthy humanity is sexy, period. As with any area of life, the challenge is to find your strengths and maximize them. Figure out what the best-looking version of you is, and present that person to the world.
Don’t be afraid to be a little idiosyncratic, either. I have very pretty hair — it’s soft and a nice medium brown with tints of red, and when it was long I got a lot of compliments on it. But I cut it short in my “contentedly single” phase, and then I shaved it because I’d always wanted to try that, and since then I’ve never let it get past about 3/4 inch long. Conventional wisdom says that men like long hair, and many men I’ve talked to confirm that. But I love my short-short hair. It makes me feel confident and strong and sexy, and I’m fairly sure that projecting those feelings has made me more attractive than long hair ever did. So work what you got. Be attractive to yourself first. Don’t fight a losing battle, and don’t be afraid to try something different with your looks.