Beauty and the Geek. Or Something.

Maggie– I’ll answer your next question tomorrow, but first I want to talk about dating nerds and some other stuff.

Thanks to the commenters on yesterday’s post for the lively discussion/debate about gender, biology, and attraction! I really believe that conversations like these are the kind that will keep happening, no matter what. The terms change a little, but we’re always talking about sexuality. Kind of like we always talk about spirituality or God. There are just some subjects that people can’t get enough of. This is why I studied religion and sexuality in college and grad school. Because I am totally human, and I’m not even trying to fight it. My younger brothers tease me about it a lot. When people asked what their sister was studying they said, “God and sex” (or more explicit versions of this), just for the subsequent troubled expressions.

Yesterday’s conversation about attraction got me thinking about relationships, and then, because I’m ridiculously self-centered, I thought about my own relationships with guys (I never actually got around to kissing a girl at any point). And, because I try to stick at least mostly to the body image theme (we’ll see how long I can keep it up! No sex pun intended!), I thought about how my understanding of myself as attractive or unattractive has been influenced by romantic relationships.

This is something I don’t like talking about. Because I’m embarrassed. You’ll understand why in a second.

(One second)


From the time I was fourteen or so, I always needed a boyfriend. For a lot of reasons. Here are some of the main ones:

  1. To make me feel beautiful
  2. To make me feel like I was part of a romantic and dramatic story
  3. I was bored
  4. I was scared of not being able to find anyone

See? It sounds awful, when I put it like that. Utilitarian. Then again, are teenagers really supposed to be profound in all of their motivations?

I had to have a boyfriend to prove I could have a boyfriend. It often didn’t matter who. So I always had a boyfriend. Often some poor guy who’d just been minding his own business, peddling off to his Boy Scouts’ meeting when I jumped out of the bushes, pulled him off his bike, and hauled him off to my lair. Check out how many gender violence clichés I just mashed together. Not sure where the Boy Scouts fit into it. No, but really, I usually found some nice, shy boy who other girls weren’t paying much attention to, and smiled at him a bunch until he fell madly in love with me. Then he’d be my boyfriend. And everyone would say, “What are you doing with that guy??” And I wouldn’t care, because he would tell me I was gorgeous and unique and amazing, and swear he’d never loved anyone this way. And it was true. He hadn’t loved anyone that way. Because no one else had given him a chance.

I think a lot of this is because I was homeschooled. I didn’t learn to pursue the “alpha” male. I wasn’t exposed to a peer group in which an alpha male was even present, most of the time. When I finally encountered one, at a summer camp, I thought he was laughable. He wore silly, “cool” clothes, and didn’t seem very smart, and wasn’t even as cute as some of the nerdy guys. He just acted very, very confident all the time. To me, his confidence was a clear warning sign. He was not going to fall madly in love with me and tell me how gorgeous I was. He had too many other girls to pick from, and he probably wouldn’t let himself be open and vulnerable with any one of them. What were the other girls looking for? I couldn’t figure it out. At that camp, I chose a very overweight guy with a sweet face who sang beautifully. I smiled at him until he followed me around everywhere. My friends said, “What are you doing??” Maggie was there. She can tell you. She’s still making fun of me for that.

So I’ve always chosen nerds. Dorks. Geeks. And that’s not just one of those things that I say to sound nicer. Or more indie. Or less stereotypical. I really have. At one point I briefly dated a muscle-y bodyguard who’d played a lot of football. But I broke it off pretty quickly. He wasn’t that bright and by then I’d gotten used to smarter guys.

I’m really trying to make some sort of point here, but feel like I might not quite reach it. Probably because I haven’t figured a lot of this stuff out myself yet. OK. Focus. OK. So here’s what I think I’m trying to say:

I dated nerds not just because they were nerds, but because they weren’t alpha males. Because I needed specific things from a relationship, and they could give me those things. But the part that bothers me is that I always needed those things from a boy. I left it up to boys to make me feel gorgeous and sexy and awesome. And as a result, I kept them around too long when I didn’t even like them anymore. I swapped them for each other without really noticing who was who. I convinced myself that it was always, ALWAYS better to be in a relationship than to be alone. Regardless of the relationship. Regardless of the other person.

Because ultimately, I was afraid that without a guy, I’d have failed a little, as a girl. So I failed to wait for guys I really cared about. I failed to trust my own beauty, separate from a guy’s desire for it. My beauty, in fact, got all tangled up in male desire.

Even now, many of my single friends complain of feeling unattractive when they don’t have a guy. As though only the most attractive women get the guys. I always felt that, and I solved the problem by always having a guy. So that I could never be unattractive. It didn’t work. But I did make a lot of nerdy guys temporarily happy.

Un-Roast: Today I love my thighs. They’re pale and they have a smooth look, and they’re proportionate to the rest of my body.

Everyone: Do you have (or did you used to have) a partner pattern? In what way is it dependent on your relationship with your appearance?


Kate on April 27th 2010 in beauty, relationships

18 Responses to “Beauty and the Geek. Or Something.”

  1. Cindy responded on 27 Apr 2010 at 12:32 pm #

    well, I am not so sure about when I was a kid… I always seemed to find myself with the geekier guys. they paid attention to me and I was so flattered by it all.

    (this was school)
    but really my most serious relationships (save for my husband, now) were controlling, verbally abusive, and less than stellar.

    in my childhood love equalled controll and I mingled that into my relationships. it took a LONG time and a lot of counselling to change that pattern. but I am happy I did.

    but I still have a soft spot for the non ALPHA male types (i LOVED this article btw) the cute guys were always arrogant and just wanted the boobs, blond hair and skinny types.. the “EASY girls” and what not.

    so hated that.

    but they are cute! HAHA

    but typially that’s the extent of thier personalities.

    OH I ran into a few of THOSE guys years later…total LOSERS. one of my HS geek freinds finally grew into his own manly-ness years later..a LAWYER, handsome with a beautiful wife.


    happy day Kate and Maggie

  2. E responded on 27 Apr 2010 at 12:35 pm #

    First comment from a delurker — just wanted to say keep it up! Love your blog.

  3. Jamie responded on 27 Apr 2010 at 1:04 pm #

    My partner pattern? Older. They were always older than I was, by this many years and in this order (starting with freshman year of high school): 1 year, 3 years, 3 years again, and again, and 3 years again, 7 years, and finally my husband, who is also 7 years older than me. So you can see, as I got older, my partners got even older than I am. Why? Because I am an old, old soul, and I don’t act young. And when I was 21 and dating, those college boys sure looked silly to me!

  4. sophia responded on 27 Apr 2010 at 2:11 pm #

    I kind of have an opposite problem. I CANNOT get into a relationship with anyone because I almost feel like I have to live up to my image of “I am too cool to be in a relationship”. I also am deathly afraid of liking someone, because then I have to constantly worry abt my appearance; if I don’t have a crush, then I don’t give a heck whether I washed or brushed my hair that day.

    Nerds turn me off though. I kind of go for the bad guys…maybe because I know there is no possibility that he’d ever fall for me back.

  5. Maggie responded on 27 Apr 2010 at 2:15 pm #


  6. Joanne responded on 27 Apr 2010 at 3:54 pm #

    DRUMMERS. PLEASE MAKE THEM STOP HITTING ON ME PLEAAASE. I seriously have no idea how I got awkwardly involved with so many drummers in the past two years. I also have a pattern of getting into stressful and awful situations with anyone significantly older than me, which is a pretty solid pattern since I started dating.

    I also found that dating “nerds” didn’t necessarily translate to dating a “nicer” guy. In fact, most of the nerd-types i dated – whether they were computer or music nerds, talk down to me if I were an idiot in those topics, despite studying many hours and being proficient in both. Being called “pretty” while being treated like that is so much worse just not getting the desired attention one needs in a relationship. I had one very obvious nerd-type prevent me from buying any sort of valuable computer equipment for my own home setup and hand me down/sell me his incredibly outdated and bulky equipment as if he were doing me a favor. It was such a waste of time and space, but I bought into it because I constantly felt inferior to his knowledge (even though it was NOT the case). Nerds do not equal amazing.

    …rant over. I needed that…

  7. Rob (R.M. Levitt) responded on 27 Apr 2010 at 4:05 pm #

    You have no idea how meaningful this post is to me even as a guy, because I’m a nice, geeky, non-alpha guy. I always have been and I always will be. As a teenager I was very shy, and I dreamt that a girl—any girl—would jump out of the bushes and haul me off to her lair! She didn’t have to be beautiful; she just had to give me a chance. She just had to smile at me. I would have gladly rewarded her by telling her day and night that she was gorgeous and unique and amazing. That might or might not have been true, but when I swore I’d never loved anyone else that way, that would have been.

    I’m 27 now, and I’m still waiting for that girl to jump out from the bushes and haul me off to her lair. Except I’m not shy anymore. I’m also not on my way to a Boy Scout meeting, which is a good sign I suppose! She doesn’t have to be beautiful in the mainstream sense; in fact it’s better if she isn’t. I don’t want to have to worry that she’s going to better-deal me just because she can. If she was that “hot” I’d be suspicious about what the hell she wanted with me! Today, not just any woman will do, because I have the maturity to know what I want from a relationship and that only a certain kind of woman can cut the mustard.

    I have extremely high standards, but they pertain much more to character than to physical appearance. This is for my own protection. I have a lot to offer her emotionally, but only if I can trust her implicitly. In order to feel safe opening his heart, this geek needs to know he isn’t being duped, patronized, or used merely as an object of vanity or last resort. Being vulnerable doesn’t scare me. If I love someone, I want to let her comfort and reassure me because I know all too well what it’s like not to have access to that. What scares me is finding out that while my love was sincere, hers was cynical or ambivalent. I’m afraid of getting hurt.

    What I’ve been waiting for is a woman whose beauty comes from her heart and soul, regardless of what she looks like on the outside. (Let me just qualify that: a woman who is beautiful enough on the inside will respect her “meat suit” enough to keep it from swelling or shriveling too much!) She needs to believe in her own beauty enough that she’s comfortable being modest and doesn’t give it all away to turn people’s heads. I want nothing more than to make her feel like she’s part of a romantic and dramatic story, because that would make me part of one too! She needs to be romantic and classy enough to appreciate that.

    She needs to have a sense of humor, both about life in general and about herself. I don’t take myself very seriously and neither should she. She can’t be too prim or prudish to enjoy a filthy, low-brow joke or my morbid, politically offensive comedy stylings! She needs to be smart, and I don’t just mean rational and well-informed although stimulating conversation is certainly a must. I mean self-perceiving. Nobody’s perfect. We all have faults; some of us are just better at recognizing our own! Not only that, but admitting you have a problem doesn’t make it stop being a problem! It’s only the first of many steps toward solving it. She mustn’t think for a second that because I can love her when she’s at her worst, it means she can stop pushing herself to be her best.

    She needs to like herself enough to be bona fide and authentic. I need to trust that what I see is what I’ll get; not a cynical disguise. I’ve always lacked the social guile and subtlety to be anyone but myself. Like Popeye, I am what I am. I’ve taken a lot of sh*t and been physically threatened because of that, so by now I’m mostly desensitized to people’s judgment. In fact it’s taught me to appreciate how much better life is once you stop giving a sh*t what people think. It’s nature’s repellent against superficial a**holes. That isn’t to say I go out of my way to offend people. I just don’t go out of my way not to! So I expect that same quality from the people I surround myself with, and for me to let myself love someone it’s an absolute must.

    Working on myself emotionally and becoming a more mature person is a huge priority in my life. Not only do we all owe it to ourselves, but if we genuinely love someone then we owe it to them as well. I expect her to feel the same way. I’ll know she’s truly committed to the relationship if I can see her doing the hard work of owning her faults and trying to remedy them. I know it’s not easy, but it’s damn well worth it. I’ve been doing it for years as a single guy. It’s already paying off nicely, and I certainly won’t stop once I’ve landed someone. I want to feel like I’m worthy of that truly unique, amazing and gorgeous (at least in my eyes) lover that will hopefully one day bless me with her presence in my life. To me, there can be no truer love than knowing she feels the same way about me.

    Who knows? Maybe she’s reading this right now.

  8. janetha responded on 27 Apr 2010 at 4:35 pm #

    wow, GREAT post. such deep thoughts. deeper than jack handy’s.

    great comments so far, also. i wish i had the time and discipline to come back and read comments, you get really great ones.

    anyway~ i totally know what you mean and what your reasons were for always having someone.. anyone.

    i think my relationship situation has NO pattern. i never really thought about it until now, and now that i’ve pondered.. there is NO rhyme or reason to my relationships. i was always single in high school, never went on dates and never got asked to a dance. except one, and i had a boyfriend who went to another school at the time. but the rest of my high school days i just assumed i was unattractive and i blamed it 100% on the mole on my nose. but that is a story for another day.

    from the age of 17 on, i always had a boyfriend. there was the one guy who was always on and off.. and then there were a few serious ones here and there. i wasn’t truly single until i was 23 (i think) and i really discovered myself.. and my self worth.. and realized i could have such a great life without a boyfriend.

    eventually i got a boyfriend again, obviously, since i am marrying him. but i think that every girl should have the chance to realize how beautiful and amazing they are while they are single.. and not have to have someone they are attached to for reassurance. it is a pretty cool thing.

    side note.. i got the mole removed when i was 18. it didn’t solve all my problems, i don’t know why i ever thought it was the root of them in the first place.

    love your unroast. i admire anyone who can love their thighs. maybe i will one day.. but for now, my unroast of the day is my calves. sure, they are way too big for me to wear any of those cute, trendy slouchy boots.. but they are strong.. and i like how they look when i wear heels. like today.


  9. Kate responded on 27 Apr 2010 at 5:49 pm #

    @Maggie— You suck. :) Will the torment NEVER END?? (everyone, that was well-deserved, trust me. She was asking for it)

    Good point. Nerds are definitely not always amazing. And if any of them ever tries to get superior with the computer advice in the future, just hit him. One thing that always helped me here is that my dad is a computer guy, so I never dated a nerd who knew more than my dad. That kept them in line. You have it even better, because you know everything about computers yourself. You are the New Woman, and I have infinite respect for you.

    Wow. I can’t keep up with you anymore. You have officially out-written me. I hope you won’t be offended by my short responses. I appreciate what you’re saying a lot. Except: Be careful when you imagine that just because a woman is stereotypically good-looking, she will be willing to leave you for another guy. A woman who everyone recognizes as hot might consciously choose a guy who will appreciate her for more than her appearance. That does happen, and it always makes me really happy when it does. Even more exciting is when a stereotypically gorgeous guy ends up with a woman no one ever notices. I love these couples.
    And thanks for the comment about wanting to participate in a romantic and dramatic story. The truth is, I still want that, and I don’t really find anything wrong with being excited about your own love story, and getting pleasure out of participating in something that feels a little like your own, tailor-made fairy tale. It’s not just corny nonsense, it’s how we get something out of our own narrative.

  10. Kate responded on 27 Apr 2010 at 5:50 pm #

    I bet your mole is cute.

  11. laura responded on 27 Apr 2010 at 9:44 pm #

    ho hum hum. relationships. i’m tough when it comes to them. when i was 12, i was in the same boat as kate- i wanted to be the object of an unrequited, obsessive love that made me feel like i was the most important and beautiful girl in the world. i didn’t care who gave it to me, and i also didn’t care too much about returning it. as a result, i later developed a relationship with a guy who had an obsessive, manipulative personality. it was bad (very bad) for a while, but when i finally left him, i felt beyond empowered. i left the relationship feeling like i could never, ever depend on anyone else to make me feel happy again. i went on the pursuit of self-gratification by serial “dating” the type guys who i knew were easily recyclable (read: the alpha males kate mentioned in this article), but who could keep up my image of always having a “hot” guy around. i never really liked any of them much, and without fail, the guy would get bored of me within a month or two when he realized i would rather stay in and read than sneak out at 4 in the morning and drink beer. and so he would leave, and i would move on. i usually felt relatively unperturbed by all of this, but a little nagging voice in the back of my head always reminded me that i had to allow myself to fall for someone who would actually matter sometime.

    i’m still struggling with that little voice today. i have yet to be in a functional long-term relationship but i am (hopefully!) getting there one step at a time. currently sort-of seeing someone and maybe considering allowing myself to develop a crush… who knows!?

    oh and @janetha, i have moles too! they sometimes make me feel less attractive, but i’ve actually had guys tell me that it’s their favorite part about my appearance. i think they are what makes me look unique and unlike every other brown-haired-5-foot-5 girl out there in the world.

    @kate…was watching sex and the city and decided that carrie is your life doppelganger. and actually looks like you too in a lot of ways. <3!

  12. Emily responded on 27 Apr 2010 at 10:19 pm #

    Kate, I love this post. I have always had a “geek fetish” as you know. It’s only recently that I have started entertaining the idea of guys that don’t study computer science or wear glasses. It’s strange because it’s always been so apart of my identity. Other girls don’t go for the geeky guys but I always do. I’m not sure what it means that my tastes are changing, but I still can’t help being smitten with a boy if he looks shy and awkward or has a math equation or lord of the rings image tatooed on his arm (hardcore nerds are totally adorable). Nerdy guys. You rock. Keep on rocking and don’t be so afraid of picking up girls. There are some of us out there that love nerdy guys and always have.

    Rob, loved your comments! I remember you from way back in homeschooling group. It’s crazy how time flies :)

    and for my unroast: I am all about my legs this week. It just got warm here in davis, ca and I have been wearing shorts all week.

  13. Wei-Wei responded on 27 Apr 2010 at 10:20 pm #

    I’ve only recently started to open up and be more social with guys. I ended up being a little too nice to this guy and he asked me out… He’s not a geek or a nerd, but he’s not the brightest person in the world, either. I would never go for an alpha male (they always seem so… shallow) because I’d prefer indie types ;)

    I don’t know. I wouldn’t like anyone based solely on their looks or social status… and alpha males? Sorry, but yuck. Some girls might like them, but not me.

    As for my partner pattern… I don’t have one yet! :P


  14. Kate responded on 28 Apr 2010 at 2:23 am #

    I don’t have time to respond fully, but 2 things:

    1. Yay for leaving awful, soul-sucking relationships. And for later possible crushes! Keep me updated, please!

    2. I was JUST watching Sex and the City for the first time in a long time last night, and I thought that about Carrie. Ha. I feel very defensive of SJP because she reminds me of myself. I mentioned it in an earlier post called “What’s the Big Deal” ( if you want to check it out. Wow, it’d be nice if I could hyperlink here…

  15. Rob (R.M. Levitt) responded on 28 Apr 2010 at 9:20 pm #

    @Kate: LOL, no problem! As most of my friends know, I have a hard time saying anything briefly and concisely. I guess I like the sight of my own writing the way some people like to hear the sound of their own voice! I do type really fast, so I can basically keep up with my flow of ideas. Honestly, I’m just glad you started this blog because I’ve really never had an appropriate venue for some of these ideas before. Maybe they can be helpful here.

    @Emily: I know, and it just keeps going faster and faster! I seriously worry that I’m going to wake up tomorrow and have gray hair! (But when I do, I won’t run to “Just for Men” and color it. Because I’ve heard it looks “distinctive”. haha.)

  16. Eat the Damn Cake » Smart and Pretty. At the Same Time! responded on 03 May 2010 at 11:56 am #

    [...] reading a lot and studying so much because I couldn’t get a boyfriend. This is also part of why I always had a boyfriend. Not a great [...]

  17. Reckless responded on 18 Feb 2011 at 6:18 pm #


    I’m not even sure how I got to your blog, but wow! I added you to my reader just now. I really appreciate yor willingness to unravel yourself in front of all of us. You are a fantastic writer, especially for such a young woman. I have a cake picture for you… not at all glamorous, and I have a piece of cake in each hand. When you are forty, you just decide that you want the cake and you ar enot so important that anyone notices whether or not you are eating the cake. And if they do, whatever… I’m with you… People, eat the damn cake. It’s cake, not meth. And have ice cream and martini with the cake. Looking forward to reading more in the days to come.

  18. owwl responded on 14 May 2012 at 6:06 pm #

    This is all well and good, and I was with you the whole time you described the alpha male as laughable and the geeks/nerdy guys as more desirable both for their intelligence and capacity to find you more attractive because they don’t get much attention themselves. I simply just have had quite a different personal experience in that me smiling at any of the aforementioned guys like that only ever results in just being ignored, and worse if I go so far as to ask them out. So I’m sure this somehow ties in to your other post on ugliness somehow (I’m drawing this conclusion partially based on the fact that the title of this blog post is “Beauty and the Geek”)….so I’ve got a point in here somewhere that has to do with not being the ‘beauty’ part of this equation. Any thoughts on the possibility of “The geek and the geek”? I’ve never heard of it either.

    And yes I realize I’m writing this way, way, waaaaay after you posted this but I only just started reading your blog today and i’m the OCD type that likes to start with the archives. But do let me know if you become aware of this comment and subsequently have something to say about what happens when none of these cute, smart, conventionally unattractive guys go for you. (Which I understand has never happened to you, but y’know…I’d still like to feel less alone here.)