I have no clue what makes us attracted to the people we find ourselves attracted to. I’m sure there must be studies, but to me, it’s a total mystery. Why, for example, are all my friends super stoked about Adam Levine (who I think is a total dud), and instead I’m all gaga over this idiot:
That’s right — Dr. Reid from Criminal Minds. Every little nerdy, socially awkward, gangly, uncomfortable bit of him.
So as I delve into the world of online dating, I started to ask myself why I still respond to messages from hunky, muscly guys who take shirtless pictures of themselves in all their tattooed glory. And I came up with a theory.
But first… let’s rewind.
I was a really awkward kid. Really awkward. Like, this awkward:
Let’s just take a minute to analyze my calves. Where are they? My thighs are the same width as my ankles. And that Daffy Duck shirt? I wore that every day. And by “every day,” I mean my parents had to wash it while I was sleeping so I could wear it the next day, which I don’t understand because I don’t ever remember being into Looney Tunes. And why is Daffy Duck so angry?! I will say… excellent sock-to-shirt color coordination there. Man, this whole picture is so 90’s-rific.
I was the super tall kid in class who always had to be in the back of the line behind even the tallest boy. I never ate anything (except Kraft mac & cheese) so I was really skinny. I had giant, frizzy hair which took until college to tame. I had a giant gap between my two front teeth, so big I could fit a sideways popsicle stick in the gap. I remember I once told a boy in elementary school that I liked him, and the whole class teased me for weeks. And the boy told me I was icky. ICKY! I didn’t have my first boyfriend until my senior year of high school, and my first kiss shortly after. Trust me. Awkward.
So despite my propensity for wanting to date similarly awkward boys, I feel like I owe it to that awkward kid to respond when I get an online dating message from a dime. It’s what I like to call… (pause for dramatic effect…)
The Ugly Duck Theory
Now look, we all know the story — the ugly duck turns into a beautiful swan, blah blah. And I totally get that some of the most gap-toothed, big-haired Hermiones turn into beautiful, elegant… Hermiones (oh, J.K. Rowling, you make sense on so many levels). But, sticking with my Harry Potter analogy, just because we plan to settle down with Ron Weasely doesn’t mean we don’t want to go to the Yule Ball with Viktor Krum.
So when I open my online dating account(s) and see a “hello beautiful” message, it’s more than an ego boost. 25-year-old Carin might be rolling her eyes and saying, “ew, what a line,” but 13-year-old Carin is shouting “oh em gee, someone LIKES me! Someone thinks I’m pretty!”
It’s not my lack of self confidence — c’mon. We all know I’m pretty much the belle of the ball. Please.
It’s that those “hey beautiful” messages aren’t directed at me. In my mind, they’re directed at the pre-teen with her trapper keeper and her Lisa Frank unicorn folder. Her glitter pens, too-big glasses, and mushroom hair cut. And for that girl, being called beautiful is brand new territory.
So I respond. I respond to the guy with his Camaro, the guy with his weight-lifting pictures and his “I’m too serious to bother smiling” pictures. The guy whose profile mentions how much he exercises and how rockin’ his bod is. I respond, not for Carin today, but for Carin a decade ago.
The conversations are always short-lived. After all, we don’t actually have anything in common. His interests are himself, his body, and himself. My interests are tacos, wearing sweatpants, and binge-watching Netflix movies from the ’80s. His day consists of gym, tan, laundry. My day consists of going to work at 4 a.m., Facebook stalking my sisters, and trying to figure out how I’ll pay off my Master’s Degree debt (just kidding, I know I can always panhandle in the city to pay it off). His friends consist of ‘roided up meatheads and girls who have never heard of the fingertips rule for shorts and skirts. My friends have long conversations about “Gale or Peeta?” and listen to Ke$ha songs on repeat. And not the good songs. The weird ones about Dinosaurs.
But I respond anyway, for the brief, strange conversations that they always seem to be.
And one day when I find the equally socially awkward fellow who loves science or computers or something, the guy who wears glasses and has a goofy haircut and doesn’t know how to carry on a conversation, I’ll be able to wink back at adolescent, pimply Carin, because she had her moment in the sun.