Last week we talked about the first rule of dating: dating is a numbers game.
The problems for people with mental illness (and many other people as well) are:
1) Mental illness can lower the number of people who are attracted to you
2) Mental illness can make it hard to meet people, making it harder to find people who are attracted to you (and who you are attracted to).
Stereotypical dating involves going out to where a lot of people looking for a date gather—bars, clubs, single’s MeetUp groups, dating sites, etc—and trying to make yourself attractive to people so they will go on a date with you.
For people with mental illness (and many other people) the problem is this makes the numbers work against you. A random group of people looking for a date means:
1) You will have little in common with most of them, meaning your chances of being attractive to them are low
2) The social situation will be designed around a “typical” person looking for a date: young, single, mainstream, etc. Chances are there will be nothing you can do to reduce the impact of your mental illness on your ability to attend/take part in these activities/events.
So what can you do?
Play by the Numbers
In order to date effectively, you need to do two things:
1) Increase the number of people you meet you might be attracted to you.
2) Find places and ways to meet people that work around or with your mental illness, rather than conflict with it.
Moving from 1 in 1000 to 1 in 100
Let’s say, on average, 1 in 1000 people will find you attractive. You can either run around meeting hundreds or thousands of people hoping to find the one who wants to date you (and who you want to date! Don’t forget that part!) or you can change the numbers.
So let’s look at how you do that.
Increase Your Attractiveness
Yes, a person who loves you should love you for who you are. Newsflash: someone you just met doesn’t love you. Yet. They need time to get to know you. In the meantime, you need to show them why you are worth the time and energy they spend getting to know you.
This means doing your best to take care of your appearance, developing hobbies and passions so you have something interesting to talk about, learning more about the ways people interact and your culture’s social customs.
Taking Care of Your Appearance
I want to focus on this one for a minute because it’s the most likely to get people up in arms against me and/or down on themselves.
Now, this is hugely important: taking care of your appearance does NOT mean trying to be conventionally attractive. It doesn’t mean trying to stay “in style” or spending hundreds of dollars on makeup to cover up your “deficiencies.”
My partner Michael describes my fashion sense as “granny style.” I have rosacea that makes me look like a red raccoon (especially in the summer). I wear hats everywhere, all the time. And some of my hats are…unusual. When’s the last time, outside of a historical docu-drama, you saw someone walking around in a snood?
But twice this month random people have complimented me on how I look. And not in a creepy way. In an “oh I love that outfit,” kind of way. I’ve been working on my wardrobe for over three years, slowly finding clothes I like at thrift stores and clothing drives, putting things I love but can’t afford on birthday wish lists for the folks who want to spend money on me. I’ve finally reached a point that as long as I keep up with the laundry, I can wear an outfit that I like and look good in every day of the week.
Taking care of your appearance is about finding ways to express who you are and what you love about yourself. And yeah, that’s one of the things that mental illness can make hard. It’s hard to love yourself when you are struggling with mental illness, and it’s hard to find the spoons to care about your appearance when you can barely drag yourself out of bed. At the same time, and speaking from experience, being able to look in the mirror and like what you see can be a big help in fighting mental illness. So if you have the spoons, showering, caring for your hair, slapping some moisturizer on your face, and putting on clothes that make you look and feel awesome can be a major win.
And if you can’t?
That’s okay! Yeah, these days I can generally reach into the draw and find clothes that look good on me. Before I built my wardrobe I lived in 10-year-old t-shirts, “nice” shirts with holes in them, and whatever pants I could find that fit. You do what you have too. There are still days I go out without brushing my hair. (Pro-tip: the right hat can hide a LOT of bed head.) This isn’t about putting more pressure on yourself or shaming you. This is about giving you ideas on things you can do to change your numbers in the dating game. If taking care of your appearance isn’t an option right now, focus on other things.
Now, it is completely true that with this advice I’m going against a lot of other good advice. No, we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Yes, we should take all people as they are. There are people doing good work to push for acceptance of others regardless of how they look or talk. But they are fighting an uphill battle against human nature. We form a general impression of people within seconds of meeting them. We have a solid impression within the first few sentences of a conversation. If you don’t make that impression a good one, either with your appearance, your conversation, or your general attitude and presentation, you will be fighting an uphill battle against an initial bad impression.
By working on growing and changing, you can increase the total number of people who will find you attractive.
Okay, that’s how you can change your numbers by making changes in yourself. Since I consider growth a good thing, I don’t have any problem changing myself, as long as the changes are ones I like. (And yes, I do like walking out the door thinking “Damn I look good today!” just as much as I like how much I’ve learned about social justice and intersectionality the last few years.) If you don’t want to change yourself this is another approach that can help.
Or you can combine two approaches and get even better numbers.
So, selective filtering.
When you are looking for people to date, try to filter out as many people as possible that you will not be attracted to and who will not be attracted to you. Go where people who will be attracted to are likely to gather.
For instance, if you, like me, are a geek and a nerd, but not a big sports fan, going to a tailgate party will not be a good way to meet people. Sure, if football is big in your town dozens of potential dates might turn up. But how much good does that do you when they are huge football fans wanting to talk football and you don’t know the end zone from the goal posts? (I actually do like sports, and can talk the talk, but not something I’ll spend hours of my life on. On the other hand, hitting the local gaming store and joining the gaming group may only introduce you to a half-dozen people, but they will be people you have something in common with. And people you have something in common with are more likely to find you attractive.
You, as a person, have an automatic membership in a bunch of communities. If you are reading this blog you are probably polyamorous, so you can claim membership in the poly community. Fandom communities are (theoretically) always open to fans. The crafting community is always open to crafters. People who are mentally ill have our own community, mostly made up of people who are mentally ill and a few people who have someone they love who are mentally ill and are trying to learn and be supportive.
If you haven’t claimed membership in your communities, doing so is a great way to meet people who are more likely to be attracted to you. If you can find community overlaps (for instance many poly people are geeks, and many geeks are neuroatypical) even better!
This works online too. Michael and C met because there were both part of the Twitch gaming community.
The important thing about joining these communities is you can’t jump in and immediately start looking for a date. While they are better places to find a date than typical dating scenes, not everyone in them will be looking for a date. You need to take the time to get to know people, find out who is interested in new relationships, who do you enjoy talking with, maybe do a little flirting, and asking only the people who are A) open to having a new relationship, B) you are attracted to, C) you think might be attracted to you. If they say no, DON’T make a big deal out of it. Go back to enjoying the community, participating in discussions and activities, etc. Sooner or later you will find someone else to ask.
Okay, this has turned into a longer post than I planned on, so we’ll stop here. Next week will finally look at ways mental illness directly interferes with dating and what you can do about it. For now, remember: dating is a numbers game, and you can shift the numbers in your favor.
This post is part of the Polyamory and Mental Illness blog series.