No one feels particularly special on a dating app. That’s what I want to tell her. My best friend, who looks like the racially ambiguous lovechild of Brad Pitt and Pocahontas, waves her phone at me in righteous indignation. She is not alone. Several of my “classically attractive” friends are pissed. Society tells them they’re beautiful and they’re mad at Tinder and OkCupid for not providing better prospects. They’re also mad at me. I’m the average-looking sidekick, “the one who online dates,” and it’s my fault they aren’t having a better time.
“You have no idea what it’s like to be called beautiful all the time,” a good friend once remarked. “It’s like your biggest accomplishment is something you didn’t do yourself.”
She wasn’t being rude; I’m not beautiful in the traditional sense. I have pock-marked skin, hooded eyes, and a bulbous nose. My voice is deep, which apparently makes me less desirable to men. My eye color isn’t interesting, and my hair is always feral. I’m not ugly, but I don’t have much beauty privilege (and make no mistake, beauty privilege yields tangible rewards). From grade-school dances in gyms to corporate happy hours, I’ve been “swiped left” on more than my fair share.
“Online dating is just awkward,” my cute co-worker scrunches her nose. “I get that they’re not looking for love, but aren’t they trying to hook up? Why match with me if they’re not going to speak?”
“Well you could message them?” I offer.
“That’s not my job,” she counters. “I don’t have to.”
As it turns out, my good-looking friends aren’t completely out of touch. “Classically attractive” women have more difficulty online dating. Given the competitive nature of the medium, some men assume if a woman is too attractive, she may be inundated with prospects. Thus, to hedge their bets, they may only approach women who aren’t considered unanimously pretty. This little factoid adds a layer of difficulty for some of my friends, but the unresponsiveness and awkwardness isn’t unique to beautiful people.
Almost anyone who has spent time online dating knows the disappointment is inherent in the process.
Most of us have commiserated over drinks about the countless conversations that go nowhere, the great conversations that result in terrible dates, or the amazing dates that end in radio silence. We can console ourselves with the knowledge that dating sites are marketplaces filled with choice and opportunity, and when faced with infinite choices, you’re less likely to choose. Being overlooked is unpleasant, but this is where average looks are a gift: They free you from the notion that people should fall at your feet.
As a middling, I’ve discovered that my inherent greatness won’t always be universally accepted. To be fair, I’ve also learned this by being a black woman. In an effort to preserve sanity, I discovered very early that what is good and beautiful about me doesn’t require external validation. If someone doesn’t “match” with me (online or in real life), it doesn’t mean I’m less valuable. While there are hurt feelings and bruised egos, there’s resilience in the acceptance that everyone won’t always want what I am serving. The consequence of unchecked privilege — racial, gender, economic or beauty — is entitlement. But, a side effect of being sidelined is an opportunity for ingenuity and grace.
Make no mistake, beauty is a currency, but it is merely one of many social currencies. I recognize the strength and sensuality of my curves. I honor my intelligence. I laugh like a drunken sailor, and meet people with an open heart. I worry less about pretense or maintaining some mystique, and if a suitor doesn’t get me, I can chalk it up to math. The odds might be against me, but that doesn’t mean I don’t deserve to play the game.
In case you were wondering, being unapologetically “ordinary” has implications beyond online dating. It’s essentially the reason Google started hiring outside of the Ivy League: People who weren’t bred to think they can’t be wrong have an easier time failing with dignity and poise. To find success at dating, on the Internet or anywhere else, we must possess an almost foolish willingness to fail.
That’s the real secret “average-looking” women know: Unreturned advances aren’t the end of the story. They’re the stepping stone toward finding whatever it is we ultimately desire.