Chalk it up to cold Darwinism, cultural standards, or the simple feminine desire to have a man around who can reach the top shelf, but just about every stature study in the last 20 years confirms what short guys already know: women prefer taller men. But that doesn’t mean shorter men are doomed in the dating department. In fact, lots of men who fall under America’s 5’9” male average date with great success — often with taller women. Their playbook, honed by necessity, is all about shaking up the odds and picking up subtle signs of interest that their loftier brothers might ignore. Not convinced? Let these men’s struggles and solutions prove otherwise.

Challenge #1: Being short can wreak havoc with your confidence
While many women are happy to date a great guy regardless of his height, for some girls (especially the tall ones) it’s an instant deal-breaker — and, given men are often responsible for making the first move, it can be tricky to know how to proceed. “There was a woman I was absolutely smitten with,” recalls Charles, 40, who’s a 5’7” surgeon living in New York City. “She was only a couple of inches taller than me and friendly to me in group settings, so I figured I’d give it a shot. But after trying unsuccessfully to get a date with her, one of her friends finally told me the deal: I was too short for her.” Another experience many shorter guys suffer is when women do warm up to them... as a friend, that is. “One time I was out with a short buddy of mine and a tall girl he was hitting on did the one thing that all short guys hate: she put his arm around him, kind of like one would do with a little brother,” shudders Eric, a 40-year-old paramedic from Louisville, KY who’s 5’7”. Understandably, such experiences can leave many short guys feeling gunshy. “If I’m approaching a woman who’s taller than me, I’d probably be dissuaded much more easily,” continues Eric. “I’ll probably interpret any bit of coyness or lack of enthusiasm as, ‘Well, she just doesn’t go for shorter guys’ and steer clear.”
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Coping strategy: Know that plenty of women don’t mind half as much as you think
While sussing out who’s open to dating in the lower height ranges isn’t easy, there are ways to get a handle on who’s game. Case in point: most men don’t pay that much attention to a woman’s shoes, but shorter guys hone in on them... and for good reason. “If I see a tall woman who’s got on four-inch heels, that’s a subtle message that she’s into being tall and it’s part of her personality. I’ll generally avoid these types as a rule,” says Eric. “But when I see a tall woman who wears flats, it’s a clear sign she’s not caught up in being tall. As a matter of fact, she’s trying to bring herself down a little bit. So, I’ll approach her.” And for women, the word is that you need to be more explicit and encouraging if you’re interested in a shorter guy. “The taller women that I’ve dated actually came more to me than I pursued them,” says Eric, who is currently dating a woman a couple of inches taller than he is. “The woman I’m dating right now came and gave me a kiss at a party. It was that easy.”

Challenge #2: In the online dating world, height can be listed as a must-have for matches
On many online dating sites, members are asked to list their own height as well as the desired stature of the people they’d like to date. For shorter guys, this can present obvious problems — and while it’s tempting to fudge the facts by a few inches in your profile, the game will be over once you meet each other in person. “If you walk into a date and you’ve said you’re two inches taller than you are, then you might as well be wearing a big sign that says ‘liar,’” points out Eric. So be honest, but also be willing to take a proactive role in scanning for and emailing women online, since you may not make their minimum height requirement when they do the searching.

Coping strategy: Realize that most women will bend their rules for the right guy
While the situation may look bleak, shorter online daters shouldn’t despair, and here’s why: when women list what they want in a mate ideally can be light years from what they’re perfectly happy to accept with the right guy. Eric, for one, was initially surprised when his online profile got attention from taller women who were breaking the very height requirements they listed in their own profiles. “They write that they’re looking for a taller guy, but then again, they’re contacting me,” he says, adding that at first he felt the need to explain to them that he might not live up to their lofty standards. “I used to tell them I’m a lot shorter than you’re looking for, but I don’t do it anymore because it’s pointless. They can see it right there in your profile.” Bill, a 35-year-old publishing executive from Rochester, NY, who’s 5’6”, says he’s had a good response online from women of all heights. “I have taller girls emailing me a lot, even though I don’t meet the height requirements they say they’re looking for,” he says. “They all tell me that my profile made them laugh. I think the key is having something to capture their attention with other than height. Humor’s the best.”

Challenge #3: Short guys aren’t always taken seriously
Even guys who do find a gal who’s fine and dandy with a height difference know that being an odd couple (visually, anyway) can be hard — for instance, strangers may do double-takes and friends and family may make snide, jokey comments. “Generally speaking, if you’re a short guy and you’re dating a tall woman and you walk into a new place, people tend to laugh or whisper about you,” says Eric. “I mean, have you ever noticed how men think it’s OK to hit on a tall girl, even when it’s obvious she’s dating the short dude standing right next to her?”

Coping strategy: Confidence can make any guy seem 10 feet tall
One lesson short guys learn early on is that confidence, not height, is the ultimate aphrodisiac. “If you’re hitting on a taller woman, don’t even blink,” recommends Bill. “Just interact totally straight on with her, like there’s nothing weird. Never let your actual stature affect your sense of metaphorical stature.” In fact, showing a taller girl your chutzpah works especially well when you’re short. “If a woman is taller than you, she knows that she’s taller and she’ll see your approaching her as a sign that you’re very confident with who you are. That puts you in a very good light, both in front of her and in front of others,” says Eric. So when you’re taking a woman out and get a double-take or see someone giggling in your direction, remember: your date chose to go out with you because you have all kinds of great things going for you. Never let another person’s height hang-ups put a dent in your confidence!

And that brings up a valuable big-picture perspective issue: height hang-ups are just that — another person’s problem, not yours. So if you do get rebuffed because of your stature, consider how Charles looks at the situation: “If a girl doesn’t want to date me because I’m shorter, I just think, ‘Too bad for her. She’s missing out on me.’”

Jason Kersten is a regular contributor to Maxim, Rolling Stone, and other magazines. For the other side of the story, read 3 dating hurdles tall women face.

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