The Fallacy Of Your Romantic League

The concept of one's "league" — that is, a fixed category of people one is attractive enough to date — is firmly entrenched in pop culture and in many of our psyches. Here's why it's bullshit.

First, some background. Nerve.com illustrates the concept of the league this week with five stories of men and women sexing unprecedentedly hot partners. An instructive example, by Dane Samson:

She was bordering on the edge of short, with long blonde hair, piercing blue eyes, an amazing body, sexy Aussie accent, and an attitude of completely not giving a fuck. In other words, she was the definition of "out of my league."

Samson determined his league based on women he'd been with before: "I usually ended up with average-looking girls, and in relationships that seemed to be sexually average at best." Others use different metrics, such as their own perceived mediocrity — writes Brandon Stevens, "I [...] have a five head, and my abs are hidden behind incurable baby fat." Whatever the case, all five stories go something like this: I fucked someone who totally shouldn't have wanted to fuck me.

Coming at the league issue from a slightly different angle is a recent writer to The Hairpin's Ask A Lady column, who laments,

I'm ugly. That's right, on the classic 1-10 scale, I'm probably a 3. This isn't a self-esteem thing. I'm a fairly confident person. I have an easy time approaching women and striking up a conversation and asking if I can take them out sometime. I don't spend hours crying about my looks, or avoid walking by mirrors or anything like that. I'm fine with who I am. It just so happens that who I am is a balding 30-year-old with a gut that won't go away, and several other features that make me empirically unattractive, many of which I couldn't change without resorting to surgery. But that's not the problem. Despite being aesthetically challenged, I get plenty of dates. The problem is — and this is the part where I hope you don't write me off as a shallow jerk — the dates I get are with women who are also 3's.

Basically, this guy thinks he's dating within his league, and he's not happy about it. A Lady suggests that "maybe — MAYBE — your opinion of your looks has become a 'self-esteem thing,' making you hold back with women you think are out of your league or whatever." Or "maybe you are just a shallow jerk." What she doesn't really address, however, is that this guy is going about assessing hotness — his own and other people's –- in all the wrong ways.

It's certainly true that physical attraction is important. And it's also true that our society has standards of beauty that affect whom we deem attractive to some degree. However, the kinds of people we actually want to fuck tend to deviate pretty widely from these standards — and the same is true for those who want to fuck us. Three Dude isn't getting dates with girls universally designated as unattractive — he's getting dates with women he's not attracted to. And therein lies his problem.

It's also a problem that people all over the spectrum of conventional attractiveness have had — just about everybody, at some point in his or her life, has complained, "the only people who are into are the ones I'm not into." The solution isn't lowering your standards –- it's time, or hanging out in the right places, or developing the confidence to go after people you actually want. And it's recognizing that your "league" isn't some precise stratum of a scientifically determined hotness scale, but the weird assortment of human beings who, for whatever reason, want to bone you.

The five sexy people depicted in the Nerve stories weren't out of their supposedly lowly partners' leagues — insofar as the term even makes sense, they defined these leagues by engaging in willing and happy sexing. What's more, these are the kinds of partners we should all be looking for: not "tens" necessarily, but people we're actually excited about. Often, someone we think is out of our league may simply be someone we're very, very attracted to. And if we're feeling down on ourselves, we may think our league is composed solely of people we're not psyched about — after all, who would be psyched about us? The women Samson was dating before his Aussie fling probably wouldn't be pleased to learn that he thought of them as average. They deserve people who think they're hot, and so does he.

Does society make all this shit more difficult for people who aren't conventionally attractive? Sadly, it does. Are there people who hide their real attractions and choose partners — at least publicly — whose looks are more socially acceptable? Again, unfortunately yes. But no matter what you look like, the solution to romantic problems isn't to break humanity down into leagues you're either in or out of. Instead, we all have to recognize that we can't really predict who will be into us — and this is part of the fun.

Five Stories: Out of My League [Nerve]
Skipped Weddings, The Sex Talk, And Attracting The Attractive [The Hairpin]