Ask Dr. Nerdlove

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’ve been reading your articles and posts for several years now, and I have a lot in common with some the other people who write to you. I’m a 36-year-old man who did well in high school and college, has done tolerably well in the workplace since I graduated (I’m far from wealthy, but not struggling to pay the bills either), but spent much of my life struggling to fit in socially. I never faced a lot of bullying or overt hostility, but I spent my school years and much of my 20s feeling awkward and on-edge around my classmates and colleagues. Although I did make some friends with whom I remain very close to this day, I always felt incredibly anxious in large groups, and was tormented by the notion that everyone else found personal interaction a lot easier than I did. I always got along at least as well with women as I did with men, but I didn’t have any kind of romantic or sexual experiences until the age of 32, when I lost my virginity to L, an old friend from middle school, and went on to date her for a while. It was a great experience for both of us, but after six good months, it became clear that we were not a great match romantically, although she remains one of my very closest friends.

I am now doing very well in most ways– I have worked in retail since 2004, and constant interaction with both customers and coworkers has helped me to feel much more confident in social situations. For a little over two years, I’ve been working at a local health food store. It’s a great environment – the pay isn’t terrific, but it’s much better than I’ve gotten at any other job, and my managers really seem to appreciate my contributions. And my customers and coworkers are also wonder, most of them being intelligent, funny, and interested in many of the same things that I am. Naturally, quite a few of these customers and coworkers are women, and I have become quite friendly with some of them. In fact, there are several women (some of them customers, some of them co-workers from other departments) who stop by my department to chat very frequently, even though they usually do not buy anything. It seems possible that at least some of these women might be interested in me as something more than a friend.

Based on the excellent advice you have given to so many other people, I know exactly what I need to do in order to find out for certain: ask them out, listen to their answer, be cool with whatever the answer happens to be. Here’s where things get a little complicated: although all of these women seem like they have great personalities, and although most of them would be considered highly attractive by “conventional standards”… to put it plainly, I am attracted to larger ladies, and most of the women I am getting to know at work are very slender. Part of me thinks I should try asking some of them out anyway, because I really do love their personalities, we have a great time chatting, and I hate the idea of being superficial. And it’s possible that attraction would grow with time. But I don’t know if that would really be the case. L is a big, curvy woman, and when we were dating, I absolutely loved every inch of her body, including the parts that she was embarrassed about. She is still the only woman I have ever had sex with, so I don’t know to what degree I could become physically attracted to a woman with a different body type. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I shouldn’t “test the waters” and just see what happens. But on the other hand, I worry that it would be unfair to ask women to give me a try, when I am not at all sure there is the potential for long-term attraction.

So that’s where I was hoping you might have some advice: based on both your own personal experience and the stories you have heard as an advice columnist/dating coach, is it common for physical attraction to grow with time, even with people who are not our “type”, physically speaking? Or would I ultimately be better off trying to meet women who I feel more immediately attracted to, even if it means I have to look further afield?

-Inexperienced in The Nutrition Aisle

DEAR INEXPERIENCED IN THE NUTRITION AISLE: I think you’re overthinking things, INA, in a number of different directions.

First, let’s tackle the practical aspect: hitting on people while you’re on the job is a BAD goddamn idea. There are jobs where you can plausibly get away with flirting with the customers, like bartending. Working at a grocery store? Not really one of them, especially if you’re still working at a Dating 101 level. If your social calibration is really well tuned, then maybe. But right now? It’s not a good idea. Now if you wanted to drop that you were single and see if any of them decided to pick up that particular hint and run with it… well, if they ask you out then you’re hardly to blame. But in terms of hitting on customers? Nah, bad idea, don’t do it.

But let’s talk about “types”. One of the things that people tend to not realize is that for most of the population, having a “type” doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the only thing that they’re attracted to. People in general tend to like a wider range of bodies/personalities/gender expressions than folks give them credit for. Straight and bi women may like Ryan Reynolds’ absurdly sculpted physique, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t also like someone who’s softer and squishier. There’re plenty of women who like thicc just as much as they like ripped. The same is true of straight men: there’re plenty of guys who may have a type, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t attracted to other “types”.

It helps to think of one’s “type” as something that gives an advantage; a bonus modifier on the Charisma roll, if you will. All things being equal, you’re more likely to go for your type, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t others out there who won’t turn your crank too. Sometimes it may be an out-of-the-blue “never thought I’d be into someone who is Y instead of X”, other times it may be a “yeah, I prefer X but I dig Y too” or “sometimes I’m in the mood for Y instead”.

(And honestly, the fact that a particular type was your first doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to imprint on them like a gosling and can never be attracted to folks who look different)

So it’s certainly not impossible that you could get down with someone who’s not a big beautiful woman.

But my bigger question is are you attracted to them? Like, at all? Because from the way you describe them in your letter it seems less like you find them attractive on a sexual level and more as a sort of curiosity. Like “a bird with beautiful plumage” not “someone I might conceivably want to get naked with”. And while physical attraction certainly grows as you get to know somebody, it seems like you’re just not really into them other than thinking that they’re really cool people.

To be honest, it sounds like you’re asking whether you should be attracted to them and give them a shot because they’re more conventionally attractive. Now, a lot of times, when I hear from folks who ask this question, it’s because they feel ashamed about being into large women. There’s a lot of stigma and bulls

t surrounding size, especially around larger or fat women, and guys are especially prone to feeling like they “have” to like particular types lest their buddies give them s

t for it. But you don’t sound like you’re particularly bothered by your attraction. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a mark of maturity and emotional intelligence on your part; you’re owning your attraction and f

k everyone who hates on you for it. But if it’s what you’re into… then I’m not seeing much of a reason to question it outside of a sense of “but I should give them a chance”.

And honestly? If you’re not feeling it, you’re not feeling it. In general, if you’re vibing with someone who isn’t your usual type (and also isn’t a customer where you work), then by all means, give it a shot if you feel like it. But if you’re just pursuing it out of a misplaced sense of obligation? Honestly, you’ve got better things to do with your time on this earth.

Good luck.

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