Dear Kate, This is embarrassing, so I’ll just come right out and say it: my boyfriend is better looking than me. I’m good-looking but not as good-looking as he is, and I’m insecure when we go out together. He doesn’t seem to understand that he is disproportionately attractive to me, his “mate,” and I’ve never brought it up with him before. But I can feel the judgment of people around us. He doesn’t act like he notices, and I don’t question his love for me—he pursued me in the first place—but it bothers me. —L.R.
Did you and your friends somehow not get into a yelly fight when that Gwyneth-Paltrow-most-beautiful-woman thing came out? I feel like more than most people, Gwyneth can throw a heavy wrench into the shame-and-worship face-and-body spiral. Anyway, my point: beauty is way more subjective than it’s usually considered to be, and waaaay more subjective when it comes to the wanting and kissing and sexing kind of stuff. Attractiveness depends on the attracted (even if we can all agree on Bey and Fassy) so there is no objective “better looking than me” that matters in a relationship.
Howeves: that sex-truth doesn’t really help when we live (and date and partner up) in a society that does, in fact, hold relationships up to certain aesthetic standards. You’re dealing with two different beauty-things here: 1) common measures of attractiveness (some that are evolutionarily explainable, and some that are basically just racist or random) that your boyfriend fulfills better than you do, and 2) the even common-er expectation that the girl-half of a hetero ’ship should be as cute or cuter than the boy-half.
After the episode of Girls when the real-world, normal-looking Hannah character played by Lena Dunham spends a few days with Patrick Wilson’s super-fine doctor character, the Internet basically gave itself a stress headache with the many indignant responses to that episode’s supposed unreality, even though, as Dunham said to Vogue magazine, “It’s like, ‘Have you been out on the street lately?’ Everyone dates everyone, for lots of reasons we can’t understand. Sexuality isn’t a perfect puzzle, like, ‘He has a nice nose and she has a nice nose! She’s got great breasts and he’s got great calves! And so they’re going to live happily ever after in a house that was purchased with their modeling money!’ It’s a complicated thing.” Anyone who has ever been crushed out knows that this is truly how it is—and, when you really, really like someone, you can barely tell what they actually look like because their face and body fades into a dreamy vessel for your love and desire, anyway. (Women, especially, are good at separating out standard-issue prize-winning babeness and the stuff about a person they’re actually in love with.)
Your situation, as it relates to the rest of the world, is socioculturally similar to much-younger guys dating much-older women, even though older men with younger women is so NBD that the “Daughter or Wife” game at expensive restaurants has gotten boring. “Power” in its various forms—beauty, youth, status, wealth, connections—is supposed to inform desire, and when we’re outside of a specific relationship, we want it to make immediate sense. I’ll admit that I’ve said and thought some dick-ish things about straight couples where the guy is noticeably more attractive than the girl, even though I know—I really do—that that’s not how it works. (I’ve never done this to a gay or lesbian couple, though, which somehow makes it worse.) This sucks. It sucks!
Do whatever you can to not make this condition of contemporary life your boyfriend’s problem, because it will probably make your feelings of insecurity worse, not better, and because it’s not his fault that his lips are considered more whatever than your lips, or that he occupies a body that is more whatever than your body. And, really, what you’re telling me, considered on a shallower and more-fun level (Ahhh!!!), is that your boyfriend is really, really hot. That’s great! This is a special kind of power that you share with Madonna, the long-time wives of suddenly famous Hollywood dudes and a few other women—gorgeous on their own terms, jolie laide or otherwise—whose mega-hot men make the rest of us think that they are possessors of sexual and charismatic secrets granted only to the very blessed. Roll with it, you know?
More great advice from Kate:
I’m So Tired of Hearing About My Friends’ Boring Babies. Help!
I Have Proof My Friend’s BF is Cheating. Do I Tell Her?
My Best Friend’s Life is Perfect. Can I Tell Her to Stop Complaining Already?
How Young is Too Young?
Is Long Distance a Dealbreaker?
When Do I Need to Disclose My Dismal $$$ Sitch?
How Can I Curb My Tinder-Rejection Sads?
When Should My Guy & I Talk “Numbers”?
Can We Be FWB When He Wants More?
Is It Ever OK to Date a Friend’s Ex?
How Do I Get Over a Guy?
Why Aren’t I More Obsessed With My BF?
Should I Propose to My Guy?