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This Woman Thinks She's "Too Unattractive" To Find Love — What Would You Tell Her To Do?

"Plenty of men want to be friends with me. Nobody will date me."

Hello, world. My name's Stephen LaConte, and this is Hey Stephen — a cozy little corner of the internet where BuzzFeed readers like you can DM me for advice.

Today we're hearing from this woman, who feels that she's too unattractive to date. At 40 years old, she's still single, and it's starting to take a toll on her self-esteem. Could the problem be her looks or something else? Here's what she wrote to me, via Instagram:

Woman who lives a "rad life" and does "awesome things" for herself and others and has a good job says she can't get a response on dating apps and she wants a partner but wonders if she's too unattractive to date

My reply...

No, it's not possible for someone to be "too unattractive" to date. That would imply there's some singular definition of "attractive" that all 7.8 billion people on Earth agree on. Sure, we live in a world with some conventional standards of beauty, and it can be way too tempting to compare ourselves with them — but conventional beauty doesn't really correlate to physical attraction, anyway. I bet if you asked everyone reading this to describe their ideal "type," most wouldn't end up describing some Abercrombie dude or Victoria's Secret model. And I don't have to know what you look like to know that many people out there would describe their type as someone just like you.

In your DM, you ask whether your lack of dating success so far is because of your looks or something more. But I think there's a strong possibility that the answer is "neither." Being single is not a failing; it does not inherently mean that you have made mistakes, and there isn't necessarily any "reason" for it — except that you haven't met the right person yet.

Person sitting on a window seat with their head resting on their raised legs

But that doesn't mean you're helpless to change your circumstances here. Even if you aren't doing anything wrong, maybe there's more you could do proactively to put yourself out there. As you write in your DM, the typical advice for people in your shoes is just to focus on yourself and trust that eventually the right person will come your way. Honestly, I hate that advice. Of course it's important to invest in yourself and to be able to find happiness on your own. It sounds as if you've already done those things! But if finding a partner is important to you, I think you should put some time, energy, and focus into that. Not everyone stumbles backward into the love of their life. Sometimes, finding the right partner takes real determination and work. And, as with most things in life, the more you put into it, the more you're likely to get out of it.

So, having said all that, here are five things you can do when you've hit a wall in your dating life and it's making you question your worth. (And none of them are going to be about ~focusing on yourself~ instead.)

1. Enlist your social circle to help you. In your DM, you mention having some quality friends in your life — that's great; put them to work! Make sure the people around you know that you're looking to date and that you're open to being set up if they know someone who might be a good fit. I think most people enjoy playing matchmaker for their friends; they might just need a little prompting to do it. And if you'd feel comfortable, you might also ask those friends for some honest feedback on your dating app profiles. It's hard to be objective about which photos best represent us and how to best describe ourselves in a handful of sentences. Sometimes, having an outsider weigh in really helps! Your friends know you well, and they can help make sure that your profile is really reflecting all the wonderful things about you.

Person lying on a bed and looking at a phone

2. Step outside of your bubble. You say that none of your friendships have romantic potential, so now is the time for you to meet some new people. Look around your community. What's there for people around your age? Is there a dodgeball league, an art class, a book club, a hiking group, a local theater production, or a volunteer opportunity that would introduce you to some new (and hopefully single) folks? There are also so many local meetup groups you can find online, centered on a common hobby or interest. It can be hard, as an adult, to actually meet new people, but it's not impossible! You just have to be a little more intentional about putting yourself into new situations.

3. Take note of the things that make you feel attractive, and carve out time to do them. The goal here is not to improve your outward appearance; it's to improve how you feel about yourself. And so much of attractiveness, by the way, is a feeling. Pay attention to those moments when it's there for you. If there's an article of clothing that makes you feel extra confident, wear it. If there's a fancy skincare product that makes you feel a little more glowing, splurge on it. If there's a tattoo you've always wanted to get or a wild color you've always wanted to dye your hair, book that appointment. If there's a workout that makes you feel ready to kick ass and take names, do it. Again, none of this is about changing your looks — looks, honestly, are not that interesting. Do things for yourself that make you walk through the world with your chin held high. That is attractive.

4. Let go of whatever deadlines you may have set for yourself for finding a relationship. You may feel self-conscious about being single at 40. But remember that everyone's journey is unique, and uniquely challenging. A lot of 40-year-olds are in unhappy marriages because they settled for the wrong person too soon. Heck, many of those 40-year-olds will get divorced and wind up single at 50! Life really isn't as linear as we think, and a lot of the expectations we set for ourselves ultimately do nothing but make us miserable. So instead of pursuing arbitrary benchmarks, pursue happiness — however and whenever it may come to you.

And finally...

5. Try to detach your sense of self-worth from the success or failure of your love life. Dating is often a frustrating, maddening, heartbreaking process. Those challenges are not evidence that you must be unattractive or undeserving of love. You write in your DM that you feel that you're missing out on half of life by not having a partner. But that's not true. Your life right now is whole and complete — you yourself describe it as "rad," full of people you love, a good job, and awesome adventures. For what it's worth, that's actually pretty rare. Hold on to that. Be proud of it. And use it as a reminder that you don't want just any partner; you want the right partner, someone who is worthy of joining you on this successful life you've built for yourself. I think that mindset will make you happier now and set you up for a healthier relationship in the future. Good luck. I'm rooting for you.

That's all the advice I've got for today's DM'er, folks. You can follow me on Instagram and Twitter @stephenlc. And if you happened to miss my last column, read on!

Last week, we heard from this woman, who was recently asked out by a man she finds "sweet, funny, and handsome." The problem? It's her mom's ex-boyfriend. Here's what she wrote to me, via Instagram:

Screenshot of Stephen's DM

My reply...

Eek. I'd have reservations about this even if the guy weren't your mom's ex. This is not to say that someone who's fortysomething and a 22-year-old can never have a healthy relationship, but I think the younger person should always approach such an arrangement with eyes wide open and an abundance of caution. A person in their 40s is usually in a very different place in life from someone who just finished college. And if they're not in a different place, well, that's a red flag too. You say that you have so much in common with this guy — do you really want to date a middle-aged man who has a ton of stuff in common with a person fresh out of her teens?

But yes, add onto all this the fact that this man is your mother's ex, and this possible romance moves from a "probably not" to a categorical "nope." The risks of proceeding here are extremely high, the rewards minimal to nonexistent. To break this down, let's look at each of the three key players involved in this: your mother, her ex, and you.

A girl looking at her phone with her hand on her cheek

First, your mother. Your DM doesn't mention how she feels about this possible date or if she even knows about it. But I'll go out on a limb here and assume that your mom would take the typical parental position of not wanting her children to date her exes. I think this courtship would really disturb her! Even if their relationship was brief and casual, they probably shared some degree of emotional and physical intimacy in their time together. I'm guessing your mother would not want you to have any proximity to that.

You cite the fact that your mom was the one to dump this man as evidence that she shouldn't care if you go out with him. That logic might track if you were, say, a casual acquaintance of hers. But you're her daughter! The rules are different, and the stakes of breaking them are so much higher. Do not jeopardize your relationship with your mother over this guy. I promise you he is not worth it. (And for the record, if your mother actually is aware of the coffee invitation and supports it, well, I'll stand corrected about her feelings but remain firm in my advice that you should not do it. Even if your mother doesn't care about boundaries, you should. Boundaries protect you just as much as they protect her.)

A mother and daughter sitting on the couch and not looking at them

Next up: Let's talk about the ex-boyfriend. Oh lordy. I cannot imagine what kind of person would ask out their ex-girlfriend's daughter...but I know that it is not a good one. There is something profoundly creepy about wanting to date a mother and then her daughter. Whatever fantasy this guy is indulging himself in right now is absolutely not one you should participate in. Hard to imagine a redder flag.

To be fair, you do mention that you're not 100% sure whether this invitation was intended to be a date, so I guess we should allow for the possibility that all of this is just an extremely unfortunate misunderstanding. I sure hope so! But your gut tells you it's a romantic overture, and the fact that that interpretation even exists means there's likely been some degree of flirtation between the two of you. Your own description of him — "sweet, funny, handsome, and we have a lot in common" — sounds like it might be further evidence of that. Suffice it to say, if you are flirting with this guy, I think you should stop immediately.

A woman on her phone in bed

And that brings me to the person most likely to get hurt in this scenario: you. I don't fault you for being attracted to someone who is kind to you, who makes you laugh, who shares interests with you. But for all the good you see in this man, you also need to see the bad. You need to see the guy who has a complete disregard for your best interests, who very likely is violating your mother's trust, and who has put you in a terribly uncomfortable position. Those parts of him are just as real as the parts you like — heck, they're probably more real — and they should be your focus.

Remember that when all of this blows up (and I really think it will if you proceed), this man will be able to walk away from it scot-free, while you're left to pick up the pieces. It's your well-being and your family on the line here, not his. He's not looking out for you. You need to look out for yourself.

As for how to do that, well, it starts by declining his coffee invitation. Assert the boundaries that he won't. And you might want to give your mom a heads-up about the text if she doesn't know already. Perhaps she'd like to create a little distance from this man too. Worst-case scenario, you'll have misinterpreted this invitation and missed out on a purely platonic coffee with a middle-aged man. Best-case scenario, you'll save yourself and your mother a whole lot of unnecessary discomfort and hurt. Good luck. I'm rooting for you.

Got a problem you want solved in this column? DM me! My inbox is always open. Just read the fine print below first.

THE FINE PRINT:

All DMs sent to me are for publication on BuzzFeed only. I do not respond to individual messages or provide any advice one-on-one. Please don't submit a question unless you want it published on BuzzFeed. We'll always keep you anonymous. You must be 16 or older to submit. Also, please try to keep your DMs as concise as possible. Instagram has a limit of 1,000 characters per message. Try to fit your whole problem in one message if you can. It will greatly increase your chances of getting picked!  If you want, here's a handy character counter you can use to draft your question before DM'ing it to me. Thanks, y'all!

PS: If you've got any advice for today's DM'er, sound off in the comments! I'll be reading...

For more advice, check out the Hey Stephen archives.