I'm too plain to flirt.

Advice on manners and morals.
Nov. 12 2009 7:07 AM

Too Ugly To Flirt

I'm plain-looking and don't feel comfortable seducing men. Is that normal?

1_123125_122976_2180583_dearprudence_ey2

Get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week; click here to sign up. Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. (Questions may be edited.)

Got a burning question for Prudie? She'll be online at Washingtonpost.com to chat with readers each Monday at 1 p.m.  Submit your questions and comments here before or during the live discussion.

Dear Prudie,
How do I find out whether I am attractive? I have always believed that I am plain. I try to dress well and take care of myself, but my face and body simply aren't going to stop traffic. I have a good sense of humor, am a good conversationalist, and have lots of friends. I have had romantic relationships, but not in a very long time. I chalk that up to circumstance, timing, chemistry, and (honestly) my plainness. Men are visually oriented, and I think I have an honest understanding of what society considers attractive. As a result, I don't flirt. To me, there is little more pathetic than an unattractive woman flirting as though she is hot stuff. But my friends want me to find someone, so they tell me to engage in behaviors that I don't think jibe with what I look like—dress provocatively, flirt, try to be seductive. They tell me that I am attractive, but they are either lying or trying to make me feel better. How do I find out? And does it matter whether I am objectively attractive?

—Plain Jane

Dear Plain,
I've never seen you, yet I can guarantee that you are much better looking than you think you are, and your friends are sick of your unstyled hair, your baggy clothes, your unflattering glasses, your comfy shoes, and your face untouched by makeup. Don't be surprised if they have discussed having an intervention and nominating you to be on What Not To Wear. You probably have striking eyes, or great bone structure, or lovely legs, and they can't understand why you want to go through life presenting yourself as a walking Hefty bag. I think you're protecting yourself from rejection by your own pre-emptive approach of daring any man to find you attractive. If you actually made an effort to look and act alluring, and men didn't respond, that would hurt. So you do everything you can to scream, "I am not interested in an encounter with the opposite sex!" And when they get your message, you proudly say you will not be the kind of woman who humiliates herself by using the devices of seduction. I say, listen to your friends when they tell you it's time for a makeover. That doesn't mean you have to come off like some desperate hussy. It means using the expertise of a makeup artist and a personal shopper to polish up your exterior so that you can draw in potential suitors who will then be delighted with your sterling qualities.

—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
My husband and I have always attended Thanksgiving at his sister's house since we married seven years ago. During these gatherings, the TV is on full-blast, and the children are told to play in one bedroom. We eat at 2 p.m. sharp, and my sister-in-law is right behind the last one in line, packing up stuff and putting it away. She won't accept any help, and when I bring food, it gets handed back to me when I leave. I understand that the holidays are when you get to see family members whom you wouldn't ordinarily see, but all of his family gets together at least once a month. I come from a large family, and I'm used to kids running around, board games, music, and a table covered in food. We always had an open house, and friends came by for a great meal and good company. My family is now scattered all over the globe, but my husband and I have friends we'd love to see on Thanksgiving, and I want to have an open house myself. I would invite everyone from my husband's family, but I fear it's going to be seen as an affront to my in-laws. Should I just plan our own gathering and deal with his family's wrath? Or is what I want to do just not that important?

—Holiday Hell

Dear Holiday,
It would be one thing if your husband's family members never saw one another, but since you endure one of these "Here's your pie. What's your hurry?" evenings on a monthly basis, there's no reason you shouldn't inject some warmth, pleasure, and inclusiveness into Thanksgiving. Tell your sister-in-law and the rest of the family that she's been shouldering the hosting duties long enough, and you and your husband want to relieve her of this burden and take a turn. If she objects and says she's already got the children's room barricaded and the Tupperware at the ready, then say that you'll be sorry to miss the festivities this year, but that you and your husband want to have your own celebration. Say that it will run most of the day, and they are all welcome to come over when they're done bolting their meal and being shoved out the door. OK, don't say it quite that way, but you get my drift. Sure, there will probably be resentment on his family's part. But just think of how that will turn to wonder if any of them take you up on your offer and see what a gracious Thanksgiving is like.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I work for a very nice dentist. I recently discovered that the office manager has been committing insurance fraud by charging the patients' insurance companies for more work than we performed on them. The problem is that the office manager is also my boss's wife. While I am fairly confident that my boss is not aware of this fraud being committed (he could lose his license if it were discovered), I am also uncomfortable going to him with this news about his wife. I don't feel that it is right to do nothing. What should I do?

—Feeling Like an Accomplice

Dear Feeling,
We are constantly being told by politicians that medical offices are rotten with waste, fraud, and abuse, and once that's extracted, the health care system is going to pay for itself. And here you are, actually in a position to expose the moral decay behind the veneer of a respectable dental practice. I agree that you've got to do something—so first of all, you need to be certain about your suspicions, because you're right: You cannot take this to the dentist. You actually don't know whether he's the root of the problem, but even if he's not, telling him would get you involved in his marriage in a way no employee wants to be. You should write a letter to the insurance company you know has been defrauded, as well as your state's insurance commissioner (or equivalent). Drill down with as many details as you can about specifics of the overbilling. It is perfectly fine for you to keep the letter anonymous. But brace yourself that doing the right thing might end up jeopardizing your place of employment if the investigation results in legal action. Even so, you recognize that now that you know, you simply can't live with yourself if you just brush aside this knowledge.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
My husband and I recently attended a funeral. The service was so intense that someone actually fainted. I'm a nurse, so I dashed over to the man's side. He had a health issue, so 911 was called, and he was taken to the hospital. On the way home, my husband asked me about the fellow who fainted. I shared the experience of helping a stranger and talked about the funeral and the eulogy. I was pouring my heart out, but when I took a breath, he broke in and said, "I see Pedro's in the game." When I told him that he was being insensitive, he said he thought I was done and that he was ready to move on. I don't see the value in discussing the World Series while trying to process an exhausting experience. How can I let him know that it means a lot to be able to share my feelings and experiences with him?

—Strike Out

Dear Strike Out,
The funeral sounds grueling, and I understand why you are upset. However, I hope you don't think I'm insensitive when I tell you your letter made me smile because it could be titled "Men and Women, Summed Up." Look, your husband asked, he thought you were done, and, ah, Pedro just got in the game. It would be better if he now came to you and apologized for not hearing you out, but staying mad over this is just going to make both of you defensive. Your husband sounds as if he is capable of listening to you, and can do so—just not while a sporting event is being broadcast. I promise you that if a football game was on, and I called out to my husband, "I'm on fire, our daughter is giving birth, and the cat is eating the dog," he'd say something like, "Ah, yeah. That sounds great. … Be right there. Defense, you idiots! Defense!"

—Prudie

And become a fan of Prudie on the official Dear Prudence Facebook page.