[cw: serial killer fetishism]

A lot of people tend to think of attractiveness as a thing that they do or don’t have. There are some traits, they think, that are attractive to everyone: for instance, skinniness, kindness, wittiness, and fancy car ownership. If they want to be more successful romantically, they will try to acquire more attractiveness: for instance, they will start exercising, be nicer to the waiter, or save up to purchase a bright red Ferrari.

From my perspective, that’s exactly the wrong thing to care about.

For instance, think about ‘not being a serial killer.’ Not being a serial killer is an extremely attractive trait. Most people would immediately dump their partner upon discovering that the person is a serial killer. Therefore, I should be able to put ‘not a serial killer’ on my dating profile and get a ton of messages, right? It’s a super-attractive trait!

Nope! In fact, the opposite is true: serial killers notoriously receive lots of love letters. Some people are like “Oh! It must be true that serial killers are extremely attractive, more attractive than non-serial-killers! Damn women, always dating jerks!” (This isn’t actually a female trait, except insofar as serial killers are mostly male and women are mostly heterosexual; the murderer Casey Anthony also received a lot of love letters.) But that doesn’t pass the sniff test: I mean, do you want to date a serial killer? Do any of your friends?

The real answer is that there are very few serial killers in the United States: perhaps two hundred in the past century, of which many are old or dead or never caught. There are a hundred fifty million women in the United States. If only one in 75,000 women has an interest in serial killers– a tiny minority of the population, about as many as there are balloon fetishists– then there are ten women interested in serial killers for each serial killer. What matters is not how attractive a trait is to the general population: not being a serial killer is more attractive than being a serial killer. What matters is the relationship between how many people like a trait and how many people have a trait.

Consider the standard ‘conventionally attractive’ traits. There are many more women who are attracted to men with swimmers’ builds than there are men with swimmers’ builds, so those men do quite well for themselves. Conversely, there are many more people with acne than there are people who find acne extremely attractive, so acne is not a particularly attractive trait.

But there is one really important implication of this model: it doesn’t matter how few people want your trait, as long as even fewer people have it. You can improve your dating life by cultivating traits most people dislike, as long as even fewer people have those traits.

I am a nonbinary transgender person and I look it. Most people are not particularly attracted to nonbinary people– either because they don’t like androgyny or because they don’t think nonbinary is a real thing. Nevertheless, I have been fairly romantically successful, because as few people who like nonbinary people as there are, there are even fewer nonbinary people. The imbalance is all to my favor.

A related implication is that it can make sense to target small groups. The classic example, of course, is LGB people: while there are very few lesbians, lesbians pretty much just want to date other lesbians, so the tiny dating pool isn’t a problem. If you have Insert Weird Fetish Here, it makes you unattractive among normies, but very attractive among people with Insert Weird Fetish Here. If you’re goth, a lot of people will be turned off, but there are still more people who are attracted to goths than there are goths.