When Jayla walked into my office, she didn’t smile or shake my hand.
She shuffled over to the chair, sat down hard, and stared at me.
She told me flat-out that she didn’t think I was going to be able to help her. She thought this was going to be a complete waste of time. But her friends had put pressure on her, so here she was, but she wasn’t going to be coming back.
She expected me to argue with her. To explain how much she would benefit by working with me. But instead I just said:
It caught her off guard. Then her defenses went right back up. She scowled. Jayla was not going to make this easy for either of us.
“Let’s just talk then,” I said. “Talk to me about your last relationship.”
“Men don’t want relationships with women like me,” she scoffed. “Look at me! No guy is going to want a piece of this.”
Jayla had a physical disability that made it difficult for her to walk. She’d put on weight as a result, and now was at the stage where her weight was affecting her health.
She felt those factors defined her. Men saw her body and didn’t want to get to know her.
Dating advice was useless to someone like her, she said. “Some man walks up to me in a grocery store, he’s gonna ask me if I need help, not if he can have my number.”
The only place she had any success with men was online, where she could show off her personality unhindered by her body.
She put off meeting her online connections as long as she could, hoping they would fall for her so hard that it would carry them past the initial shock of her appearance.
“Do you put up pictures of yourself?” I asked.
She did. But never of her whole body. “If I did that, no one would want to talk to me.”
Here’s what I didn’t tell Jayla.
I didn’t tell her that I could snap my fingers and make her dating problems go away.
I didn’t tell her that her dating problems weren’t real.
And I couldn’t promise her that she’d be able to snag any guy she wanted if only she followed my advice.
Women like Jayla have very real challenges when it comes to dating.
It is not easy to date when you have health issues that affect how you function in everyday life.
Nor does it help when you read the mountain of articles claiming that evolutionary biology has programmed men to prefer healthy, youthful, slim women.
You can feel as if you’ve been left out of the marketplace of attraction. Like you’re the kind of woman a man would pick only if he had no other choice.
That’s how Jayla felt. And it seemed to me that those legitimate feelings of rejection were at the heart of her struggles.
It hurt that men rejected her. But what hurt even more was that Jayla was beginning to reject herself.
We weren’t going to get to the bottom of those issues in one session. But one session was likely going to be all I had with Jayla. What could I tell her that would make a difference?
We often think that self-love is an inside job. You’ve got to love yourself. You can’t let men dictate how you feel about yourself.
But knowing that and feeling it are two different things.
And the best way to FEEL it isn’t to fill yourself up with affirmations and positive self-talk—though that helps!
The best way to feel it is to experience it.
When people love you, their love gets inside of you. It’s easier to love yourself when you’re loved. That love doesn’t have to come from a romantic source. It can come from anywhere.
Jayla didn’t believe that a man could ever love her. She was risking rejection every time she put herself out there. It was hard for her to believe a man could look past her body and love HER when she hadn’t had much experience of that.
What I suggested to Jayla was a small but hopefully positive step. Yes, online dating feels custom-made for rejection. But other communities are made for acceptance.
There are social groups formed around common interests or causes. There are spiritual and religious groups. There are local groups that bring neighbors together.
Would Jayla be up to getting out from behind the computer screen and showing up as a body in the real world?
Her goal: to find a community or social group where she can interact with men she doesn’t know in a way that builds connection, rather than anticipating rejection.
These low-risk social encounters don’t have the pressure of a first date. You’re not judging one another for romantic potential. You’re just hanging out.
The more positive experiences Jayla has with men who appreciate and accept her for who she is, the more she’ll be able to envision a romantic relationship with a man who does the same.
The dating scene can be harsh. Sometimes, stepping away from it for a bit is the best solution for all of us. Be among people who love you for you. Remember how awesome you are. You’re fun to be with. You’re missed when you’re not there.
Then carry that confidence back when you’re ready to brave the dating scene again.