Dr. NerdLove insists that there is no such thing as “out of your league.”
I’ll be honest: the cultural phenomenon that is Girls has more or less passed me by.1 However, I will absorb the occasional moment from the show through sheer cultural osmosis – usually when it stirs up another controversy that ends up plastered all over the blogs that I
steal from mine for topics read. So while I may be a little behind the pop-culture curve, there are certain issues that I find fascinating from an outsider’s perspective.
One of the more infamous moments was an episode where Lena Dunham’s character Hannah hooks up with an attractive, older doctor played by Patrick Wilson for a weekend-long sex-spree. Of course, everyone on the Internet took this in without even blinking, accepting that people are complex and varied in their desires and understanding that attraction is a complicated beast.
Nah, I’m totally fucking with you. The Internet lost its collective shit over the idea that someone who looked like Lena Dunham could stand a chance of getting within spitting distance of hottie Patrick Wilson’s cock. Evidently to even suggest such a thing is tantamount to sacrilege. To judge by the collective outrage over the episode, you would’ve thought that Dunham had murdered Ned Stark while dressed as Hitler and simultaneously shooting kittens out of a cannon that was also on fire.
Now, late to the party as I may be, I have to say that this does bring up the ever-popular topic of whether it’s possible to date someone who is “out of your league”. After all, many of us know someone who punches above his or her weight class, dating people who they – by all rights – should have no chance with.
Fortunately for you, I know the secret to dating outside of your league. Ready?
There is No Such Thing As “Out Of Your League”
When someone is referred to as being “out of his/her league”, it is almost always based on the flawed idea that the only thing that people value is looks. Whenever we see someone who isn’t conventionally attractive dating somebody who is more attractive we often dismiss the relationship as somehow invalid; clearly he has money, or a high-status job or some other external quality that the more attractive partner desires enough that she is willing to put up with having to toss the cave troll a handy every now and then. It’s impossible – or so the assumptions go – that perhaps she’s legitimately attracted to him, that attractiveness and desire are about more than just the accepted definitions of good looks.
We get so hung up on beauty privilege, the halo effect, the value of facial symmetry and waist-to-hip ratios and the idea that only 20% of whomever get 80% of the fucking that we tend to ignore things that don’t fit the accepted narrative. It’s a self-reinforcing story; we don’t accept the idea that someone who looks like Lena Dunham could score with a guy who looks like Patrick Wilson2 because we never see it in the media. We never see it in the media because nobody accepts the idea that it could happen and so like an oroborous with an eating disorder, the cycle perpetuates itself. Amazingly enough in the real world, models do sleep with mere mortals. Incredibly hot dudes with six-packs, perfect teeth and manes of hair that would make Chris Hemsworth growl with envy cheerfully date – not just fuck on the sly, date – fat girls. Sometimes the cheerleader does go for the nerd instead of the jock.
It’s About More Than Looks
Shockingly enough, attraction is about more than just whether you look good naked or not. In fact, what’s considered “good looking” is incredibly variable and influenced by a ginormous number of factors including personal preferences, cultural upbringing, social class, even ecology. The archetypal good-looking modern man, for example, is depicted as having a long, lean swimmer’s build and lacking nearly any body hair… and yet not that long ago ago the hot dudes were considerably less chiseled and Burt Reynold’s hirsute chest was the ne plus ultra of manliness.
Thinness is associated with feminine beauty now… but in the Renaissance, a woman with a more zaftig frame was the ideal; body weight was often a class-marker, as the indolent upper class was able to eat richer foods, while the peasants toiled at manual labor (and, ironically, ate a more nutritionally sound diet).
Humans as a rule have a tendency to assume that their society is the default paradigm, universally applicable to all cultures and people; Western society holds typically Caucasian features to be the highest standard of beauty, for example, and we have the media hegemony to enforce our beliefs on other cultures through sheer exposure. It’s easy to say that Jennifer Anniston3 is the definition of beauty when every country with a satellite dish gets saturated with Friends re-runs.
But even when you make allowances for defining “leagues” by modern standards of beauty, what a person finds attractive is wildly variable. No matter how much the tabloids may try to convince me that Kim Kardashian is a stunning vision, I wouldn’t fuck her with a borrowed dick and Lexi Belle doing the pushing. Other people are mystified by the appeal of Megan Fox or Anna Paquin or Kerry Washington or Morena Baccarin or Jordana Brewster. I know women who can’t get past Tyrese Gibson’s five-head, George Clooney’s head-wobble or the fact that Kit Harrington probably uses more product than they do.
There are guys who get serious wood for Rebel Wilson. Women go gaga for Matt Smith and Arthur Davil and Benedict Cumberbatch.
So if it’s not all about looks, what’s the secret then?
What Do You Bring To The Table?
Now don’t get me wrong: looks certainly help. Nobody’s denying that someone who’s conventionally attractive is going to have a leg up on getting a leg over.
But there’s more to it than that.
We don’t just date people’s faces or torsos – not for very long, in any case. We date a person, not any individual feature. Looks, no matter how spectacular, eventually become part of the status quo; as Billy Bob Thornton (no model, he) once said about being married to Angelina Jolie, eventually “it’s like fucking the couch.”
Like I said earlier, when we see someone dating somebody who’s supposedly “out of their league”, our default assumption is that it’s that the uglier of the two is rich; Anna-Nicole Smith marrying octogenarian billionaire J. Howard Marshall is the Ur example. It’s an appealing idea in many ways. It assuages our feelings of unfairness that he (or she) got someone we could never have by assuming that it’s all a ruse, a simple financial transaction – a literal manifestation of the commodity model of sex – something that we could achieve if we just work hard enough/win the lottery. For many it correlates nicely with the idea that women are instinctively hypergamous, trading sex in exchange for status or support; naturally they’re just slumming it with the rich beta males while letting the alphas rail them on the side.
And yes, money is a good way of attracting people… people who only care about money. Not, I would think, something most of us would find attractive in a potential partner. Same with fame – it’s a good way to find groupies who want to bask in reflected glory, but not a good way to find a relationship.
No, attracting a partner who is supposedly “out of your league” isn’t about looks or money. It’s about what you have to offer as a person. Sometimes it is looks – we all know people who are gorgeous but absolute wastes of space – but more often it’s something else entirely.
Take Noah Guthrie for example. He isn’t a classic teen heart throb. Nobody is going to mistake him for an Abercrombie and Fitch model… in fact, he kinda looks like a stereotypical band geek.
And then you hand him a guitar and well…
Paul Potts is another famous example of someone who isn’t conventionally attractive when it comes to looks, yet can still set people’s hearts a-flutter with the power of his voice. Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo also had more than their share of lovers; Domingo was a notorious seducer of young ingenues. It’s not just that they’re innately talented or blessed with an unexpected win from the genetic lottery; it’s that they have a way to make you feel, creating something beautiful and ephemeral through hard work and training.
Pablo Picasso wasn’t anyone’s idea of a male model, and yet he cut quite the swath amongst the young women of Barcelona and Paris, conducting affairs with women a third his age. His passion was addictive; it could carry you away. And, importantly, he made women feel. Small wonder that so many of his mistresses were also his models; he made them feel beautiful.
Dancing is another talent that often overcomes looks. I challenge you to visit any Latin club and watch the amazing dancers. Some of the most talented dancers, the ones who are most in demand when the merengue begins or the salsa music starts to play, are often the older men; they may not look like much but to watch them dance is to watch someone be transformed. The grace and skill with which they move can bemesmerizing.
So clearly if you don’t look like a Greek God, the best option is to be insanely talented, right?
Singing, art, dance… these are all incredibly attractive skills to have to be sure, but they’re hardly the end-all, be-all of attraction. It’s about how you make the other person feel. Maybe she’s in awe of your intellect. Maybe she repsonds to your passion. Maybe it’s the fact that you have so much in common, so many shared hobbies and interests. Perhaps it’s the fact that you just get her, make her feel as though you understand her in a way nobody else does. Maybe it’s that you can make her laugh.
It’s that ability to forge emotional connections that are so paramount to attraction. Looks are great, but the ability to make you feel like the most important person in the world is better; after all, someone who looks amazing but doesn’t connect with you is going to leave you feeling cold and unappreciated. Someone who makes you feel good, who is fun to be around, is going to be in demand as a lover, far more so than someone who is pretty, but distant and unapproachable.
The Celebrity Problem
Now allow me to spare you the immediate and obvious rejoinder: “So why’s Brad Pitt with Angelina Jolie instead of some nobody, then?”
Well Internet Straw Man, I’m glad you asked! It’s because she’s part of his world. The nobody would never be able to keep up with him, relate to him, or otherwise be part of his life the way that Angelina (or Jennifer Anniston or any of his other exes) could.
I’m completely serious. Brad Pitt is a working actor; this puts him in a very small and intimate community. The number of people who make a living from acting is tiny, and the work is intense. We see the glamour and the glitz, the red carpet premieres and the incredible parties. We don’t see the months of living in the ass-end of nowhere when filming on location, spending time away from one’s family and friends, the 4 AM call times, the fourteen-to-twenty hour days, the mind numbing tedium between takes and the unending press junkets to promote the film after it’s finished.
Sure, there are millions of women who’d cheerfully murder a hobo for a chance to bang him… but how many do you suppose could actually put up with the lifestyle that his career requires? How many women would understand that the vagaries of film production means that he’s going to be half-way around the world for months at a time, or that even if he was staying locally, he’d be too exhausted to do anything other than pass out on the couch?
The same thing applies to most models, pro athletes, and rock stars – it’s a rough, demanding life and it takes a very specific type of person to date someone whose career means that they may not be home for months or even years.
This is why celebrities tend to date other celebrities. Hell, this is why cops tend to date ER nurses; they exist in the same world, and understand the trials and tribulations that the job entails. They work well with each other because they can understand the realities of what that relationship is going to mean.
We’re a culture that places inordinate value on physical beauty. We associate good looks with talent, which is why everyone is so shocked and amazed that a frumpy woman like Susan Boyle can sing like an angel. The emphasis on physical beauty even over talent (see: most boy bands, idol singers, 99% of the winners of American Idol) means that most celebrities tend to be sexier than the average bear. As a result: when celebrities date other celebrities – again, the people who can most relate to one another via shared lifestyles and commonalities – you end up with pretty people dating other pretty people.
The mistake is to assume that prettiness is the only reason they’re together.
A League of Your Own
The idea of “leagues” is a self-limiting belief, a way of cutting yourself off from connecting with others by constantly reinforcing the idea that they (or you) couldn’t possibly see the value in anyone who isn’t just as beautiful or rich or whatever as they are. All the obsessing about “leagues” does is set you up for failure. Either you get complacent because you assume that you’re so far out of your partner’s league that he or she would never dare do anything to jeopardize the relationship – and thus quickly find out just how wrong you are – or you become so convinced that your partner is going to realize that they could do better and drop you like a bad habit that you end up subconsciously pushing them away.
Here’s the cold hard truth: if someone is willing to date you – whether you’re a toad and she’s a goddess, or she’s a 5 and you’re a 10 – then they’re in your league. There is something about you that they clearly value… just as there are aspects of them that attract you to them.
If you want to be in anybody’s league, you need to improve your ability to connect with them emotionally.
Be your authentic self, not some false front based on the idea of what you think you need to be. Be vulnerable by being open and honest about who you are – it shows that you have the strength to let others know how you feel without worrying about what other people think. Be the person who brings legitimate value to their life and some day people may be looking at you and wondering how the hell you managed to land her when she’s so clearly out of your league.
Originally appeared at Paging Dr. NerdLove
- Yeah yeah, obvious joke, laugh it up fuzzball… [↩]
- whose real life wife – in her own words – is a muffin-topped size 10 [↩]
- since I’m nothing if not a child of the 90s [↩]
Photo credits: (Courtesy of Paging Doctor NerdLove)
Lead photo: AP Photo