‘I Don’t Think My Partner’s Attracted to Me’

Illustration: Pedro Nekoi

This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack.

¡Hola, Papi!

My partner doesn’t find me beautiful. Does that matter? It’s not anything they said, I can just tell. I can also tell it’s not something that matters to him. Does your partner need to find you beautiful?

Mirror, Mirror

Hey there, MM!

For such a short letter, it sure brought up a lot of thoughts. I must say, I’m not sure where to begin! The thing that sticks out immediately for me is your choice of the word “beautiful,” as opposed to, say, “attractive.” It’s a much more evocative word, one that carries a lot of baggage, but I’ll do my best to cover a few different applications of it. You’ve certainly allowed me the word count.

The short answer is, yes, your partner should find you beautiful. The long answer is more convoluted and depends on your definition of beauty, and what you’re looking for both in your relationship and in your mirror.

I get the sense that regardless of how your partner feels, you do not see yourself as beautiful. You’re doing a lot of intuiting here. Your partner has never said he doesn’t see you as beautiful, nor has he explicitly stated that beauty isn’t something that matters to him. You just feel that way.

Of course, you’re the one in a relationship with him, and it’s certainly possible to pick up on things without being said out loud. But you should also consider that perhaps your own insecurities and anxieties are coloring how you perceive his behavior. None of us are free of confirmation bias! Sometimes, when you have an unkind belief about yourself, you start finding evidence for it in everything.

Why the brain chooses to do this instead of something more productive, like retaining fun facts about birds or whales, I suppose I’ll never know.

In any case, whether it’s coming from you or him or a combination of the two, feeling undesired in a relationship is a problem that should be addressed. Making peace with your assumptions isn’t enough. You need to vocalize these thoughts to your partner, preferably in a way that isn’t accusatory. It could be, “Here are some thoughts I’ve been having.”

It can feel scary to rip off the Band-Aid, but it’s a good habit to get into. In a relationship, you’ll have to get used to tackling things as a team for the mutual health of the dynamic.

Your letter also reminded me that people appreciate other people in a variety of ways, and they often prioritize different traits, which can lead to frustrations and misunderstandings. I once dated this ridiculously handsome guy who didn’t seem to give a fig about physical appearances, probably because being hot was normal and boring for him. He showered me with compliments about my intelligence, which didn’t do much for me as someone who grew up an ugly duckling and wanted to be told more often that I have nice legs. Which I do.

I say that because sometimes we can feel underappreciated by someone who appreciates us quite a bit because we have different values. It can be refreshing, MM, to find someone who doesn’t prioritize physical appearances. Because, well, aren’t physical appearances kind of a boring thing to prize? Attraction fades and changes over time, as do physical appearances. It’s a good thing to have someone who loves you beyond those things. It’s wise, even.

Still, I have to come back to your choice of the word “beautiful.” I’m a romantic at heart, and as such I’m entirely incapable of saying that the person you love doesn’t need to find you beautiful. I think beauty matters. I think … Well, here’s what I think about beauty.

I think that beauty is a framework of appreciation. It’s a hue, shape, and texture that attention can take. Beauty is something you experience. It’s not a genetic trait or a contest, something one person has more of than another. It’s a feeling, a rather singular feeling that, when it seizes you, feels like the first and only time.

So, should your partner find you beautiful? Yes! Your partner should find you beautiful as the sunrise on a crisp, clear morning on the beach. Beautiful as a rare bird unexpectedly perched on the windowsill. Beautiful as a sentence in a book that leaps off the page and sticks in your memory forever. You should also feel this way about yourself. You deserve to experience beauty and to be found beautiful.

On the practical side of things, you should have a conversation with your partner about this, and you should assess your level of self-esteem. Sometimes we sabotage good things, MM, out of petulant insistence that we don’t deserve them.

I hope that the conversation goes well and that beautiful things are on their way to you.

Con mucho amor,

Originally published November 13, 2023.

Purchase J.P. Brammer’s book Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessonshere.

‘I Don’t Think My Partner’s Attracted to Me’