"Since You Asked": Readers respond to Kat, the Ugly Guy and others

By Cary Tennis

By Salon Staff

Published March 21, 2002 8:02PM (EST)

Read the column

You were right. Kat's letter was a hoot. Were I not an old fart firmly ensconsed in a marriage with kids, I'd take a run at her myself. Tell her to stop worrying about it. A true match will come when she least expects it.

I had a similar rant going way back in 1981 during my last semester in college. Having taken a semester off, I was in the half-year thing. I was rather full of myself, having worked on a presidential campaign during my semester off. I'd seen world after college, and wanted to get on with it, so to speak. I was tired of bubble heads and youngsters. While I loved getting laid, I just wasn't in for all the pretentious bullshit.

And then I was invited to party being held by three former "girlfriends." I was invited because they figured I wouldn't have the balls to show up. But, it being free beer and all, I decided to swallow my pride and enter the lion's den. They thought it wildly amusing to introduce me -- a young Republican -- to the president of the College Women's Association and roommate of the only out-of-the-closet lesbian on campus. I remember it like it was yesterday. I know exactly where she was standing, behind a barrel-back chair, with a goofy hat on her head. We talked for hours, moved in with each other seven months later and will be married 19 years this June. We've also spawned four children.

Tough to say which of us sold out more. My stand on social issues is decidedly more libertarian than in the past, and the touchy-feely liberal in the family actually looks at the cost of the well-intentioned social programs.

But the message for Kat? I had sworn off women. I was just going to pour myself into acting and beer cans and get the final semester over with. Instead I fell head over heels in love.

So relax, Kat. It'll happen. Quick wits and sharp intellects have been considered attractive throughout history, and I've no reason to believe it has changed in the 20-odd years I've been blissfully sitting on the dating sidelines with my own quick-witted vixen.

-- Geoff

I read the letter from Kat with great interest. After years of taking many chances with love, I found a punk rock-loving, Burroughs-reading, supersmart and cool guy who didn't get all whiny about love. It was great. After a couple of years, I began to realize that all that rationality and no "heart-wrenching letters" about his feelings, or feelings period, wasn't enough for me. My advice to Kat: Watch out for the overeducated white suburban punk who seems too good to be true. He is. Unless you'd like a life without tenderness, then, go for it. Personally, I realized that I was sick of hearing about the latest article in the New York Review of Books or how great Nietzsche was.

-- Over It

My friends and I have the same opinion of women as Kat has of men. Too many times we've approached women only to find that they're vacuous types who are about as intellectual as "Dude, Where's My Car" and as interesting as staring at an off-white wall for an entire evening. A groin-punching contest might actually be more fun than talking to them.

But the problem finding us is the same problem we have finding you, Kat. We blend into a crowd. We dress nicely. We have a good time when we go out -- we usually aren't standing off to the side looking annoyed (at least most of the time). The only way to find us is to keep on talking to people and suffering through the bad ones (and hey, you can always be really dry and sarcastic to those guys -- it's especially fun when they don't get your sarcasm and think you're serious). Sooner or later you're bound to stumble across one of us. I know I haven't given up hope just yet. Just don't waste your time dating someone just to date -- if you've talked to them already and can tell you're not going to like them, a date will be a horrible waste of your time, which could be better spent on more fun activities, like getting a root canal.

-- Sarcastic, Single & Searching

Not to second-guess your immense romantic know-how or anything, but your advisee Kat suffers from more than just increasingly inflexible standards concerning potential boyfriends.

I recognized her case of partner-in-crimeitis immediately. The ludicrously complex requirements for a potential mate are just a symptom of this more serious pathology -- one that was so recognizable to me because I used to suffer from it too.

Though it's understandable to want someone who shares some things in common with you, it's adolescent and sometimes even narcissistic to require that they read the same books, listen to the same music and watch the same television shows. This becomes an even more insurmountable block to finding romantic partnership when a person takes such obvious pride, as Kat does, in her tastes being edgy.

Long before we got involved, I was hanging out with my (now) boyfriend and mentioned that I was reading something by James Joyce, probably in a misguided attempt to impress him. He asked me who James Joyce was, saying that he'd never heard of him. If I'd let that get in the way of my attraction to him -- as I probably once would have -- I would now be missing out on the single most satisfying relationship of my life with a deeply intelligent man who just happened never to have heard of James Joyce.

When we started dating one another, he'd often say he was surprised that I would go out with "a guy like him." I'd just smile. My last relationship -- one that ended in complete heartbreak -- was with someone just like me. A perfect partner in crime. Reads the same books. Watches the same television shows. Likes the same music. And he's smart as a whip. He can probably list the complete works of James Joyce in chronological order. Does he have what it takes to conduct a successful long-term relationship? Not even remotely.

If she can let go of her stereotypes, Kat just might be able to get it on one of these days. It's not about lowering one's standards; it's about keeping one's mind open. Unfortunately, Kat's intelligence will probably make this more, not less, difficult to do.

-- Shannon Coulter

I can't believe you let "Champagne Taste on a Beer Budget" off so easily. "I'm far above average in every way," he says. Yet, "for some reason all the women I'm interested in are not interested in me." It's entirely possible that he is actually so desperately ugly that no woman can possibly fall for him. It is much more likely that his arrogance is his main problem.

It has been my experience that women, as a group, are less insistent on physical attractiveness in their mates then are men. This even holds true of gay guys and lesbians I have known. Sure, there are shallow and deep individuals of both sexes, but an ugly guy has a lot more chance of getting a Playmate than an ugly woman has of getting a GQ ad model.

But this guy is ugly, arrogant and shallow. I can't imagine any woman with any self-respect wanting him within arm's length.

-- Embarrassed for My Gender

You were way too easy on Champagne Taste on a Beer Budget. Sure, clothes and grooming would make this schlub look better, but what he really needs is a new attitude. Some women out there, believe it or not, are willing to overlook unfortunate clothing choices and physical imperfections for a great personality. However, they're not exactly likely to give an ugly guy a chance when he has an ugly attitude to go along with it. He might be a fat ugly guy, but he could make strides to be a fat ugly guy with a good personality. Tell Champagne to rent "The Tao of Steve" so he can realize that a good personality can take you further than a good body or even a good education can.

-- Claire

You totally ignored this part: "There are some ugly women who seem to like me, but when I think of seeing them naked I want to poke out my eyes. When I flirt with the pretty girls they give me the 'What makes you think you even have a chance?' glare."

So, an "ugly" woman is beneath the man who calls himself ugly? For Pete's sake. You should have ripped him a new one! Perhaps if he thought of them the way he wants to have the "cute girls" think of him, he could be happy and unlonely.

-- An Ugly Girl

So, maybe cute girls don't go out with him because he's ugly, fat and dresses funny. OR, maybe cute girls don't go out with him because he's conceited, condescending, has a double standard and he's ugly, fat and dresses funny.

Ya think?

-- Janon 8

Of course you've received thousands of indignant responses pointing out your failure to notice that Champagne Taste suffers from the most common male affliction: the double standard for attractiveness.

There are some ugly women who seem to like me, but when I think of seeing them naked I want to poke out my eyes.

Why does it not occur to him (or you) that many will feel the same way about him? Why does it seem to you that haberdashery will fix what ails him, when that is his head and heart more than the package.

I've seen trolls and gnomes reject beautiful, delightful women because they weren't "good enough." Good enough for what?

Still, I suppose it's fair to give men the same advice most often given to women -- put on a smart dress and develop your inner glow. Much cleverer than pointing out that in the hard marketplace, ugly men who want beautiful women must offer something in return: money or power or both.


-- Chris

It just seems so obvious that someone who classifies all women who are interested in him as "ugly" has bigger issues than the clothes he wears. In all the parental plaudits about how wonderfully above-average he is, didn't anyone ever teach him that everyone has value and beauty that is more than skin-deep?

I hope my suspicion is true -- that sometimes the authors of the letters are having a little fun at Salon's expense. Unfortunately, I know a guy just like him.

-- Julie

I was very struck by the person who wrote to you about getting mixed up with a heroin addict only to be dumped by him soon after he got clean. I am in a very similar relationship with a heroin addict only I'm the one who's thinking about ending the relationship now that she's clean.

I am not someone who gets involved with addicts, and I am not someone who falls into co-dependent relationships. While I will do anything I can to help my friends, I have shied away from people with addiction problems because I don't want to be drowned by their problems. Nevertheless, I found myself getting mixed up with a girl who was a major heroin addict when I met her, and I found myself falling in love with her while helping her to get off.

While I can't speak for anyone else, it is very easy to get sucked into helping an addict. For one thing, addicts tend to be very manipulative people. There is also a certain allure, if only temporary, in being in a crisis mode with someone all the time. There is an adrenaline rush to taking someone to the hospital or dealing with whatever problems they have, though over time this becomes too much of a burden. Also, helping a person through all of this builds very intense emotional bonds. But most of all, it's very hard to walk away from someone who has many good qualities, which this woman I know has, and also know that they may die. I just couldn't watch a 19-year-old girl destroy herself without trying everything I could to help her.

Anyway, now that she's clean and very appreciative of the help I gave her, we find ourselves in the same social patterns we were in when she was addicted. She still feels like she can call me whenever she has a problem and I'll drop whatever I'm doing to help her. She also doesn't return my phone calls with the regularity of every other friend I've ever had, and we continue to meet when it's convenient for her. While I know she cares a great deal about me, I am tired of this behavior, and I've decided to end the relationship.

-- Stuart

Listen to the Salon Audio piece "Yew Think Ah Talk Funneh?"

As Mr. Tennis points out, it is not only quite common, but quite acceptable for educated, open-minded liberals to casually make cracks about Southerners.

As a lifelong Southerner without a strong accent, I frequently hear the statement "You don't sound Southern." No big deal. But it doesn't take long before some comment, always friendly and jovial, comes out about incest, illiteracy, racism or trailer parks. While not always garnering huge laughs, these comments do not arouse the same shock or disdain that a racist joke would provoke. I readily admit that I do not generally take issue with such comments, but I wonder if these people would make the same comments to someone with a thicker accent, perhaps a poultry farmer from rural Georgia? Or would they recognize that it would not be appropriate, as the "obvious Southerner" might take offense? Am I somehow not representative enough of the negative Southern stereotypes to be sheltered from off-color remarks about my origins?

As Mr. Tennis notes, most people simply do not see Southern culture as deserving of the same respect and reverence that they staunchly demand for other minorities or ethnic groups.

Well maybe it's just payback for all the injustice and racial violence made famous during the height of the civil rights movement. It seems the country likes to project a whole nation's worth of bigotry on a few states, as if racism was and is a problem unique to African-Americans in the South. Obviously it is not, and I applaud Salon for publishing an article that exposes the p.c. double standard as it exists toward Southern culture (even though you could not resist your own little jab at our dialect, i.e. "Um, of course not"). I enjoyed hearing Mr. Tennis' thoughts and observations on the subject.

P.S. We Southerners have thick skins, a great sense of humor and we think you guys talk funny too.

-- Jeff Buckley, Georgia

How on earth does noticing an accent translate into prejudice against the accent? If someone says, "Wow, you're from the South? But you sound so intelligent," that would be obnoxious. I can see how my own attitude toward the South is somewhat obnoxious as well. I'm black, from New York, and the whole concept of the South fills me with terror. (In her teens my own mom was sent to sit on the back of the bus in North Carolina.) This is perhaps not quite fair of me in our modern society. But, "Wow, you don't have an accent," is prejudice? What about all the people who tell me I don't "sound like a New Yawkah"? Can I claim that as prejudice? Should I immediately assume that this is some kind of comment on my education or social status? Or should I regard it as a harmless observation? It's not as though the Southern (or New York) accent dosen't exist. You ought to discuss the assumptions that go along with these accents, not just the identifying thereof.

-- Camille

Salon Staff

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