Dear Thelma: Socially rejected due to my looks, I find it hard to connect with people

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Dear Thelma,

It has been many years since I last wrote to you. I want you to know that I no longer have suicidal thoughts.

On the contrary, now I want to make the best out of my life. Loneliness seems to be a pesky occurrence. I do like time on my own as that's how I get my strength and motivation, though there are times I'd like some company.

After some thought, I decided to join meetups and some random hiking groups, just to meet folks. I wanted to get over my socially awkward nature. Initially things were OK.

After a while, I noticed that I was being covertly left out of meetups by the group I joined.

The same happened with the other groups.

Later I found out that there were certain individuals spreading false news about my sexual orientation.

To be clear, I'm a straight man who's only interested in women.

This theme of being socially rejected is all too familiar with me. Growing up, nobody liked playing with me as I was the smallest.

Siblings would do the same.

In high school, no one would sit next to me even when the teachers jumble us all. I was often bullied even till today.

Later I found out they thought I was a "filthy foreigner" because of my distinctive features. Derogatory terms were hurled at me, a predicament that has gotten worse in my working life.

I never did well in high school. I'm not blessed with intelligence, so my grades fell and that was high school done.

Ironically, my day job is in hospitality. I got into this industry for the precise reason of overcoming my shyness and socially awkward persona. It has improved though I still find it hard to connect with people both emotionally and intellectually.

Breaking the ice is the easiest part, at least at work. I have been in this industry for almost 10 years and finding it very hard, almost borderline impossible to make friends or to go on dates.

I don't possess good-looking facial features or a manly voice. My physique is small at 5'1" and I weigh 20kg below my ideal Body Mass Index. I wear thick glasses and have male pattern baldness.

Working out didn't work; instead I injured my joints to the point of needing surgery.

I also have Bell's Palsy which is an absolute nightmare since it has only healed partially. I now have a permanent half face that doesn't work properly. I lost a lot of dates because of that. I know because the women told me. Some people can be so shallow.

Sometimes I wonder why everything is taken at face value. Especially in my industry where looks are the most important. I made it this far because of my command of English.

Sitting by myself in the cafe – not that I have a choice – looking at colleagues and staff, I think to myself why can't I fit in? It has been like this for as long as I can remember.

I've never been intimate with a woman. If anything, these days I get a mental block trying to talk to them, especially the prettier ones.

One good I've noticed from all this is that I'm avoiding unnecessary drama and stress. They may have company and friends but they're fake friends. I know this since they vent to me about it.

Relatives are out of the question. Since the breakup of my family, they are now suddenly harder to find than Bigfoot.

Let's talk about some positives. I have travelled a bit, going abroad on solo bike rides. The journey is fantastic.

I'm eating as healthy as possible.

I live in a rundown home by myself, with only the cats and dog for company.

Neighbours think I'm gay as I'm not married. Still, I smile and try to ignore them as much as I can.

Loneliness does bite sometimes.

My early life has left me with some PTSD. I'm getting a lot of flashbacks writing this. I don't have any other avenue to vent, your column is the only one.

Family, cousins and whatever friends I had are toxic; they used it against me. I don't trust them at all now.

Most people my age have settled down and here I am still struggling to even get a date with a decent enough woman who will not judge me by my looks or whatever I lack.

I don't have bad intentions like so many men. I truly respect and will care for any woman who will give me a chance and see me for who I truly am. All I have to offer is a genuine heart.

Why can't people see me for who I am? Are they so blinded by social media and the movies?

You know us men are having it tough nowadays with all the criticism we've been receiving worldwide. I agree there are men like that, but there are also sincere men who do not follow that picture and I'm one of them.

I've been strong on my own.

It can be very tiring, this solo life. I just wish the stars would align for me, for once.

I have been trying, Thelma, to find solutions to a problem. I don't want to give up.

I may write to you again as there is just too much on my mind.


Dear Kimosabe,

I'm so sorry. You believe it is your appearance that sabotages your social connections, being smaller than average and also with Bell's palsy, a condition that causes the facial muscles to weaken, causing a droop. Nobody knows what causes palsy, but from your letter, yours is permanent.

As you say, some people can be so shallow. You'd think that we should be a compassionate society by now, attuned to seeing the inner person, not the wrapping.

Sadly, the truth is more complex.

There is evidence that we have evolved to appraise others for "beauty" as a safety mechanism. The theory is that in the old days, our ancestors learned to spot infectious disease by snotty noses, breakouts, and other physical signs. We then developed an automatic reaction, avoiding or even fleeing from danger.

You can google it, look for Mark Shaller's work, the psychologist studying stereotypes and prejudices, and read up on his theory of the behavioural immune system.

I'm telling you this as it may shed light on some of the reactions you see. Does it excuse it? Of course not. We are more than collections of instincts and learned behaviours.

So what can you do? As you have a history of being bullied at school as well as toxic relatives, I think the first thing is to get some support for your anxiety and flashbacks. Talk to a therapist who works with anxiety and complex PTSD. She will help you recognise your triggers and manage your responses.

As for your loneliness, you've joined clubs and done the right things there, but you have found yourself shut out. I'm wondering why.

It is entirely possible that it's the palsy and that you are mixing with people who are uneducated or prejudiced. Perhaps you would do better with a different group, like to move away from your current social space and into a different one.

But it is also possible that your behaviour plays a role. I'm wondering if perhaps your need for connection is obvious, and that they sense your anxiety and frustration. If they do sense your hidden emotions, they may note something is not right, and rather than ask, simply choose to avoid you.

As I can't tell from this letter, I think you should consider the last few times this happened, make some notes, and take it to a therapist. Talk it out.

If there's nothing noticeable going on, then I suggest you tackle the bull by the horns. Join a new group, a cycling or toastmaster group, for example, and kick off in the first meeting by talking about Bell's palsy. That should break the ice and give you a chance to show the inner you. Make it a mixed group, and hopefully, you can date there too.

Also, in the same vein, as there is no local support system that I know of for Bell's palsy, you might want to start a social media page to demystify the condition and use it to connect with others, either in regular Zooms or perhaps also with a monthly coffee shop meet. You're articulate, and many people suffer from this condition, so do consider it.

If the idea of talking about palsy and your emotions makes you shy, discuss it in a safe space with a therapist. You need not dive in; practice in sessions until you're happy to try it live.

I hope this helps. Please know I'm rooting for you.

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