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‘My girlfriend is really attractive; I’m 5ft 5in and well-rounded. I worry she will realise she can do better than me’

Ask Roe: ‘When we watch movies or porn she often fixates on the man’s height’

Dear Roe,

I am a 29-year-old man and have been with my girlfriend for almost a year now. She is really attractive and often my friends joke that they wonder how I got her. Although it’s funny, sometimes I feel insecure that she will realise she could do better than me and move on. Her celebrity crushes and fantasies are all tall and athletic men, which is the complete opposite to me as I’m 5th 5in and well-rounded. When we watch movies or porn she often fixates on the man’s height. We get on really well but I fear that bringing this up will jeopardise the relationship.

I want you to try a thought exercise. Imagine, for a moment, that your girlfriend is insecure about some aspect of her physical appearance — for this exercise, we are imagining she is insecure about the size of her forehead. Imagine that after a year of dating; a year of having a fun, loving, fulfilling relationship; a year of getting to know your girlfriend’s hopes, dreams, fears, ambitions, that you discovered she was constantly texting her friends saying: “I know he’s going to leave me because of my forehead. He’s into looks, and he’s into girls with smaller foreheads. This relationship is never going to work.” How would this make you feel? Bemused, thinking she was being a bit ridiculous? Sad that she felt insecure about something you don’t care about? Maybe even a little insulted that after a year of being a committed and loving boyfriend, she still doubted your feelings for her and believed you to be so superficial to judge her based on what she sees as a physical imperfection?

You have internalised the idea that height, body shape and looks are the most important things in a relationship, and are projecting these insecurities on to your girlfriend

Everyone has insecurities, and we live in a world that is unhealthily obsessed with very rigid, gendered ideals of beauty and attractiveness. Height has often been used as a marker of men’s attractiveness, and it’s rooted in gendered ideas of strength and masculinity; men should be bigger than women to show that they are the protector, while women are encouraged to present as smaller, shorter, slimmer, taking up less space, in need of protecting. These gendered binaries bleed into a lot of our ideas about attractiveness, including weight, muscularity and height. It’s all so utterly ridiculous and yet it’s perpetuated so constantly, so insidiously, that it’s very difficult to ignore.

Shorter actors such as Tom Cruise and Robert Downey jnr are often filmed while wearing high heels, standing on boxes, or while their female costars literally stand in ditches so that the men can look taller, enforcing the absurd idea that men are only appealing when taller than their love interests, and that tall women should be embarrassed for daring to be taller than a man. By perpetuating these tropes, we perpetuate these damaging heteronormative ideas of attractiveness and gender, asserting that to be shorter than a woman is to be less masculine, less attractive; and that for women to be attractive, they need to take up less space — and, importantly, exist in ways that never make men feel uncomfortable or less than.

With all these ideas floating around in the ether — and your friends’ weird little jokes that are merely showing their own issues — I understand why you would have some insecurities around your height. But it’s important to remember that you have given no indication that your girlfriend cares about this at all. You have internalised the idea that height, body shape and looks are the most important things in a relationship, and are projecting these insecurities on to your girlfriend, assuming that she buys into this, too. And by focusing so much on this, you are not only doing yourself a disservice by assuming that you don’t have endless wonderful qualities that make you attractive, but you are also doing your girlfriend a disservice by both assuming that after a year of dating, your girlfriend’s affection for you is still so shallow and superficial that this will be a defining issue. Also, be careful of investing so much in the idea that your girlfriend’s looks are her greatest asset instead of focusing on her personal qualities. By reducing your relationship down to a competition of superficial characteristics, you diminish your girlfriend’s personal qualities, too.

It’s important to remember that while there are general ideas for physical attractiveness, we tend to underestimate how subjective attraction can be, and the huge role that personality plays in how attractive we find someone. In a Match.com survey, 33 per cent of men and 43 per cent of women said they’ve fallen in love with someone they didn’t initially find attractive. Another study from University of Texas at Austin asked college students to rate the attractiveness of their classmates at the start of term, and there was usually a consensus. By the end of the semester however, their opinions of which classmates were the most attractive differed greatly because the students had got to know each other, and personality matters. Being kind, funny, intelligent, interesting, passionate, a supportive partner — these aren’t simply things people settle for as a consolation prize, they are qualities that literally make you more attractive to others. And remember that over time, physical attractiveness tends to fade for everyone so long term, it isn’t looks that keeps relationships going; it’s literally everything else.

Porn and most celebrity crushes are based solely on physical appearance, because we have nothing else to go on

You mention that your girlfriend “fixates” on men’s heights during porn (a claim I am immediately suspicious of, to be honest — either you are projecting again or your girlfriend is literally exclaiming “Look at how tall he is!” while watching porn, in what I can only imagine is a pitiful attempt to distract you from what she’s actually focusing on.)

But remember, porn and most celebrity crushes are based solely on physical appearance, because we have nothing else to go on. When physical attributes are the only marker, sure, she may like a slightly taller man. But in life, it isn’t only physical markers. In real life, we choose partners based on personality, compatibility, values, life goals, who makes us feel good and safe and who makes us laugh. And with everything on the table, your girlfriend chose you. She is still choosing you, every day. She’s apparently an attractive girl — if she wanted to go out with a man who was taller than you, she could have skipped dating you and have done that. But she’s with you because she likes you and finds you attractive, in the glorious blend of physical and personal traits that makes most people find each other attractive.

Pay less attention to height and looks — yours and your girlfriend’s. Think about all the qualities you love about your girlfriend, and remind yourself of all you have to offer her. Remind yourself that you are both choosing each other, every day, and feel lucky. And remember that life is short, no relationship is guaranteed to last forever, and your height isn’t going to change any time soon. How much of your time and this relationship do you want to spend worrying about something that you can’t change and that isn’t a problem — and how much better would that time be spent being the best partner and person you can be?