Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

How Do I Date When I’m Just Too Ugly?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m reaching out to you because I feel like I’ve reached my wits end with trying to find a date or find a girl who’ll give me a chance despite my extreme ugliness.

Anyway, a little about myself, I’m 21 and I’m a University student living in the United Kingdom. I’m brown, short and ugly and no, please don’t think I have bad skin or that I’m obese; my problems aren’t really circulated around the things I do have control over, rather the things I don’t. I have a weird looking face, soft jaw and chin (growing a beard has helped there but it still doesn’t look that great), a bad eye area and a huge and crooked nose.

I’ve tried dating apps, since that’s the avenue most people my age take yet not avail. I don’t get matches with real people at all and my experience with online dating is practically harmonious with my real life experience. I’m just invisible.

Anyway, I just want some realistic and useful advice, I still do have a little bit of hope but it’s slowly slowly dwindling.

Thank you

Phantom of the Soccer Pitch

DEAR PHANTOM OF THE SOCCER PITCH: I’m going to start by pointing out that I get variations on this letter more or less constantly. In fact, if I had a nickel for every time I got a “I’m too ugly to ever date” letter — usually from someone who’s completely average at worst — I’d be having mecha fights with Elon Musk off the coast of Los Angeles. And that’s before I get to the folks on Twitter, the NerdLove Facebook groups and elsewhere.

For all that we talk about unrealistic beauty standards for women — and don’t get me wrong, they absolutely exist — men tend to have incredibly twisted ideas not just about their own looks but also what women find attractive. The incel community in particular has this down to a pseudoscience, inventing new, exacting forms of phrenology that would be fascinating from an anthropological standpoint… if it didn’t come from places of curdled hatred and rage.

The idea that “a few millimeters of bone” is all that differentiates someone from being a sex god and being completely unf--kable leads dudes to drastically overrate their own ugliness, often to the point of absurdity. You expect someone who looks like Deadpool crossed with a rotting avocado and what you actually get is… someone who’s completely unremarkable. Weak jaws turn out to be just not being as lantern-jawed as Bruce Campbell, weird noses are usually well within the norm, sunken eyes tend to be more of an issue of replacing sleep with caffeine and so on.  Most of the time, the issues that folks have aren’t that they’re irredeemably ugly, it’s their attitude and their presentation. Every time I’ve seen people insist that they’re too ugly to date, they’re wearing clothes that don’t fit, had nothing approaching a sense of style and often looked like they hadn’t seen the business end of a washing machine in days. Their hair is a greasy mess and they look (and on many occasions, smell) like hygiene is something that happens to other people.

Similarly, their attitude — both explicit and implicit — ends up being what drives people off, far more than any issue with their looks.  For all that people mock the “Virgin Walk/Chad Stride” meme, there’s a part of it that is accurate:

The “head down, refusing to look at anyone, closed off ” posture of the “virgin” is classic “don’t talk to me” body language. It radiates irritation and unhappiness — all of which pushes people away and encourages them to not engage with the person walking or standing like that. That  body language tends to be the visual representation of the sort of negative attitude makes people want to keep their distance. After all,  negative people tend to be emotional black holes; they suck the life out of the room and make other people feel uncomfortable.

So as I said, POSP, I’m skeptical that you are some mutant, fresh from a remake of The Hills Have Eyes. I think that the far likelier issue, both in person and with online dating, is about how you present yourself. Lighting alone can transform someone from a goblin to a sexual dynamo.

But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that you are, in fact, not blessed with facial symmetry. What do you do?

Well, you start with the fact that there’s a reason why “good looking” isn’t the same as “attractive”. There are more people out there than I can easily count who aren’t going to show up in a compilation of People’s “Sexiest Man of the Year” but who get more strange ass than a guy who got into a car chase, crashed through an ass cart and then plowed through a plate-ass window. The classic example, of course, is Serge Gainsbourg, a man who looks like his parents spent too much time in Innsmouth. Vincent Cassel, likewise, is someone who is best described as “very French”, not “good looking”, but is doing quite well for himself. Steve Buscemi — he of the meme’d out eyes — had a decades long marriage before his wife passed away. Vincent Schiavelli, who has Marfan’s syndrome, was cast whenever a role needed a character with an immediately recognizably odd face; he was married twice. Michael Berryman, who has made his living playing freaks, mutants, and monstrous killers, is happily married. Doug Jones, most known for being under makeup in various creature features, also has an incredibly unique and unusual face and build… and is not only married but has quite the devoted fanbase of adoring women who think he’s hotter than an erupting volcano.

The secret to not letting their looks — which range from “striking” to very, very odd — get in the way of their romantic success is due in no small part to presence and charisma. Their overall attitude isn’t (or wasn’t) woe-is-me, it’s “yup, this is who I am and I don’t give a good god damn if you don’t approve”. They aren’t hiding or trying to excuse their looks; they became comfortable with themselves. They don’t treat their looks as something that makes them unloveable, but rather as what makes them unique — and uniqueness tends to win out over classic good looks, especially over time. By owning who they are, rather than treating it like a liability, it becomes part of what makes them interesting.

Now it also helps that they’re charismatic as hell; they have to be, they’re actors, after all. But charisma is something that you develop, not something that you’re born with. A warm smile, swagger, confidence and authority all make you more magnetic. So does spreading positive energy to others — when you make others feel listened to, understood and appreciated, they’re more drawn to you than they are to others. This is known as The Reward Theory of Attraction. When you make people feel good, they prioritize their relationship with you versus with other people; we’re drawn to people who make us feel good, after all.

But you also have to treat yourself well too. Much of self-confidence comes not from what we’ve accomplished but from what we believe about ourselves. When you believe that you’re the human equivalent of a popped zit, you tend to treat yourself accordingly. This is one of the reasons why so many of the self-proclaimed uggos who write to me tend to have a presentation problem. They think they’re garbage and so they don’t see the point of doing more than the socially required bare-minimum. They don’t believe that they deserve good things and so don’t bother to put the effort in to take care of themselves or present themselves well. And since they’re dressed like a slovenly pile of crap, they feel like a slovenly pile of crap, and since they feel like they’re a slovenly pile of crap, they treat themselves like one. It becomes a self-reinforcing cycle, and one that only stops when they choose to break it.

This is one of the reasons I tell people that it’s important to fake it until they make it; by acting with confidence they may not feel (yet), dressing stylishly even when they don’t feel like they’re someone who can be stylish (yet) and so on, they’re training themselves to be more confident and self-assured. This is one of the reasons why, even if you think you’ve got a weird nose or chin or whatever, it’s important to take care of yourself, emotionally and physically. When you’re willing to treat your presentation as something that matters — wearing smart, well fitting clothes, working on your grooming and so on — you start to feel like you matter. And that attitude grows into self-confidence and self-assurance.

And here’s the thing: even small changes can be absolutely transformative. Watch any episode of Queer Eye and you will see just how much a simple hair cut, beard trim and properly fitting shirts and trousers can be a complete metamorphosis.

So what should you do, POSP? Treat yourself like you matter. Don’t beat yourself up because you think you’re too ugly; it just creates that self-perpetuating cycle I mentioned. You have to be the one to break that cycle.

Maybe online dating won’t be the best venue for you to meet people; that’s fine. Not everyone meets their partners on dating apps, nor is it the best place for everyone, even the conventionally attractive. Meeting people in person and letting them get to know how awesome you are can play to your strengths far more than Tinder or Bumble. While nobody is saying that conventionally attractive looks don’t help, the truth is that majority of people don’t date or start relationships with folks they just met; they tend to get to know folks over time.

Dress like the sexy bad-ass you wish you were, carry yourself like you’re worth a million bucks. Take your face — whether it’s unusual or completely average — and treat it as what makes you uniquely you rather than a source of shame. Learn to be bring those positive vibes, that personal warmth and authority, even that hint of swagger and attitude. The more you develop a positive sense of presence and an attitude of warmth and bonhomie, the more you will draw people to you. That, in turn, will help you meet more amazing people… including folks you may want to date and who will want to date you.

Good luck.

Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (; or to his email,