Why Stereotypes Are (Partially But Not Totally) True


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Most of your advice I like but I have to tell you how I feel about a post you wrote. I’m writing back about something I saw you wrote: Should I Date a 7 or Hold Out for a 10?

In it you talk about someone’s looks. A 10 is defined as someone who is very nice-looking. Yet, people don’t choose their looks. Being exceptionally pretty isn’t something someone chooses. Yet you say that “most 10’s are problematic partners.” 

You state that most of these people are problematic partners, even if not all of them. Don’t you think all people can be good partners if they make the right choices? As I said being attractive isnt something someone chooses. So I think logically that would mean that because of something someone doesn’t choose, the chances are still that they will be a problematic partner. 

I understand that a difficult fact is that yes people who are extremely beautiful can be given a lot of attention that can get to their head. People might also accept them acting a certain way if they are beautiful enough and never correct them. 

Still, personally I know plenty of people who are beautiful and just as nice as anyone. Not even a minority. Plenty. 

What is something comparable? It’s proven that people who are from cultures with higher rates of divorce, crime, or other undesirable behaviors are more likely to do these things. Yet people don’t choose their culture. 

What if I told you that as a general rule, you should not date people from a certain culture? Also, this isn’t just in theory. I had a friend whose parents were from India who decided they didn’t want their son to date an American girl, only an Indian one. They had justifiable reasons. They cited America’s divorce rate which is really pretty high compared to most countries. Don’t you still think there are plenty of people in this country who can have successful marriages? 

Another thing about the qualities you list “shallow, narcissistic, selfish, demanding, difficult, more likely to flirt, less likely to commit, and somewhat disconnected from the ‘average’ person’s reality”, is that those are beliefs held by a lot of people about beautiful people. Yet don’t you think this can be a self-fulfilling prophecy? People can often be intimidated by beautiful people as well. So then what you have is people not wanting to be friends with these people or not complimenting them on their niceness since they assume (probably wrongly) that they aren’t. 

Don’t you see what can happen? Do you think this is sound advice? 

My own advice would be to get to know each person as just them without any bias.

-Kat

Dear Beautiful Kat Who Is Also A Great Partner,

I appreciate you taking the time to write such a thoughtful letter and while I debated defending a piece written probably 11 years ago (not everything ages well on the Internet), I felt it was a good opportunity to make a few points that often get lost in this polarized age. 

First of all, when I say that most 10’s are problematic partners (which is true), what doesn’t show up is that most PEOPLE are problematic partners. I try not to say this all that frequently, but between you, me and the lamppost, I think that maybe 10% of people are truly capable of being secure, selfless, reasonable, communicative, honest, fun and attractive lifetime spouses. So that’s a commentary on EVERYONE, not just hot people.

People seem to have a hard time with negative stereotypes (although they’re fine with positive ones).

Next, people seem to have a hard time with negative stereotypes (although they’re fine with positive ones). You’ll never hear a woman complain that women are known as being more nurturing, collaborative or supportive. You’ll never hear a peep about women being more mature or in touch with their emotions. But if you suggest that women may not fare as well at math, you’ve crossed the line. It seems we can have negative stereotypes about some people (boys) but not negative stereotypes about others. Got it.

That’s just my long way of saying that stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason. They’re broadly applicable but not ALWAYS applicable. Think of the stereotype of the white male CEO. Think of the stereotype of the harried wife and mother of two kids. Think of the stereotype of the Jewish lawyer. These stereotypes comprise probably half of everybody I know! In many cases, the stereotype is spot on. In plenty of cases, it’s not. That’s why we judge people as individuals, not as groups. But that doesn’t mean we are never allowed to invoke stereotypes like “Men are more likely to inflict violence than women,” or “Women are more likely to have a wide network of friendships in middle age,” or “Women tend to become first grade teachers more than men,” or “Men tend to be coal miners more than women,” or, even “Men are taller and stronger than women,” even though we all know women who are taller and stronger than men. 

We have to be intellectually honest instead of trying to play gotcha to prove that we’re being attacked and wrong. Do you REALLY think I have it in for gorgeous people? Or is it possible that some gorgeous people are going to have some negative qualities associated with being glorified and objectified? And is that any different than the negative qualities that one may have if she is NOT attractive – a certain amount of bitterness, resignation, and insecurity that will permeate all of her dating interactions? 

One has to be able to talk about this openly instead of pretending there are absolutely NO patterns in anything and we are all just individuals who embody no cultural stereotypes whatsoever. 

I’ve been doing this for 17 years now and when you’re giving advice to masses, you pretty much have to refer to people in groups. You have to talk about men and women because when answering a 200-word reader question, you don’t know enough about the situation to not generalize. Naturally, I expect astute readers not to get too literal when I say things like “separated men are risky to date,” when, technically, a separated man could be 100% emotionally available and ready to remarry again quickly.  

To your next point, Kat, can all people be good partners? I guess, technically. But that’s like saying, can’t all people be honest? Technically. But ARE all people honest? Not even close. 

Therefore, it seems like a pretty fruitless argument cooked up in a college class rather than something based on reality.

In reality, people are flawed and many of those flaws come from sources that they didn’t choose. Kids who grew up on the streets are going to have different relationship challenges than kids who grew up with a silver spoon in their mouth. The fact that these kids didn’t choose their life experience doesn’t negate the fact that they’re going to show up differently within a relationship. 

You continue:  As I said being attractive isn’t something someone chooses. So I think logically that would mean that because of something someone doesn’t choose, the chances are still that they will be a problematic partner. 

Still, personally I know plenty of people who are beautiful and just as nice as anyone. Not even a minority. Plenty. 

What is something comparable? It’s proven that people who are from cultures with higher rates of divorce, crime, or other undesirable behaviors are more likely to do these things. Yet people don’t choose their culture. 

You seem to be very caught up in people choosing their culture. As I just stated, I find that to be a less than compelling argument. One doesn’t “deserve” a partner by birthright just like one doesn’t “deserve” a million-dollar-a-year-job by birthright. Some people get lucky and are born on third base. They won the genetic lottery and are attractive, educated, come from a highly functional family, and have the focus, work ethic, and confidence to be both productive in society and happily married. There are many more people who have not won this genetic lottery. That doesn’t mean they are lesser people; it may, however, mean that they have a harder time landing that million dollar a year job or marrying the “10”. 

That’s not my opinion. That’s reality. Harvard takes 5% of its applicants and rejects 95%. Is that fair? No. But whoever said that life was fair? You don’t get to choose your circumstances. You get to make the best of your circumstances. So when you tell me this:

What if I told you that as a general rule, you should not date people from a certain culture? Also, this isn’t just in theory. I had a friend whose parents were from India who decided they didn’t want their son to date an American girl, only an Indian one. They had justifiable reasons. They cited America’s divorce rate which is really pretty high compared to most countries. Don’t you still think there are plenty of people in this country who can have successful marriages? 

That’s, frankly, an awful example of what we’re actually debating here. People discriminate all the time for ridiculous reasons. Women choose men because of height and charisma. Men choose women because of youth and beauty. Both sexes routinely ignore kindness, consistency, communication, commitment and character, which are going to have much larger parts in determining the success of your marriage.

So if some Indian family believes that the US divorce rate means ANYTHING other than India encourages arranged marriages and frowns on divorce, that’s THEIR problem for being poor critical thinkers. That stat has nothing to do with the average American. 

People can often be intimidated by beautiful people as well. So then what you have is people not wanting to be friends with these people or not complimenting them on their niceness since they assume (probably wrongly) that they aren’t. 

Don’t you see what can happen? Do you think this is sound advice? 

My own advice would be to get to know each person as just them without any bias.

Kat, I’ve written about the tribulations of beautiful people before (and I trust you’ll find less to quibble with because this article validates your feelings instead of challenges them). All I’ll say in summation is that, in general, it’s easier to be hot than ugly, easier to be fit than fat, easier to be tall than short, easier to be rich than poor, and so on. Everyone has their own baggage, but I wouldn’t worry too much about comparing yours to others.

The one thing we can agree on is your last line: while there is certainly truth to be found in stereotypes, we should all endeavor to get to know each person as individuals without bias.




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