Drawing the short straw

Fort Mackinac

I stopped growing early. After what I can only assume was a massive early growth spurt, I capped out at my current 5’3″. The picture above was taken before I entered middle school; using mom as a benchmark, I must be near full height.

Being short presents a lot of challenges. I struggle to see at concerts and sporting events. It can be hard to find friends in a crowd. Clothes shopping is a frustrating ordeal. Getting a drink in a crowded bar can take a while (except for the drinks that oafs spill on me).

Being short can affect two other important parts of life: career and relationships.

Numerous studies have shown that shorter men are less likely to become CEOs and make less money than their taller counterparts. Short men who do make it into leadership positions are often viewed as dictatorial and petty, with an ax to grind with with the world.

While it’s hard to say what would have happened in my career if I were taller, it’s safe to say I’ve reached an above-average level of success for someone my age. It hasn’t been by stomping on people; I don’t think the people who have worked for me would say I’m dictatorial or petty.

Relationships are another matter. Being short presents a significant barrier in dating, which isn’t helped by “research” that says short men are more prone to jealousy. A quote from the comments to the story is telling:

I’m a woman and whenever I tell any of my girlfriends I’ve a guy in mind for them, the first question, even before his values, personality, looks, income, job, family, culture etc is always, “How tall is he?” If the answer is not over 5’10 I might as well not bother.

It’s an attitude I’ve encountered over and over. I’ve heard women repeatedly complain about not being able to find smart, successful, caring, honest men while at the same time thumbing their noses at men because of their height.

Looking at it from a market perspective, I know that I have to offset my perceived deficiencies in other ways. Being a jackass won’t help my case. Would I be as nice, as generous or as caring if I were taller? The honest answer: I don’t know.

Unfortunately, the dating market is one with severe information distortion. It’s easy for a jerk to be nice, a miser to be generous, a chauvinist to be chivalrous, a married man to pretend to be single. These things are easily faked, at least for a short time. Short men can’t fake being tall.

It’s tempting to say that women who won’t date someone who is below average in height are shallow, uneducated or ignorant. Tempting, but wrong. These attitudes persist among the most educated and independent women I know.

I’ve heard from some women that they have no inherent objection to dating short men, they just won’t because they don’t want to deal with “short man syndrome.” That’s a huge cop out.

It’s not uncommon for me — even among my close friends — to hear short jokes, the kind that would be clearly off limits if made about race, gender or sexuality.

Hollywood, which is full of short men, potentially could influence this situation. I had a glimmer of hope a couple of weeks ago while watching the pilot of Unhitched. In the show, Kate (played by Rashida Jones) is considering whether to date a shorter guy. All her friends encourage her to have an open mind.

She shows up on the date with a nicely dressed guy who escorts her to front row seats at a Celtics games. He chats it up with the players, who all seem to know him. How’d he get those great seats? He’s the leprechaun for the Celtics. Ugh.

I debated whether to post this entry because I don’t want to be labeled as having “short man syndrome.” If an articulate post about something that affects me deeply means I have a complex, so be it.

Am I short? Yup. Am I angry about it? Only when I read unfair, insulting and sterotypical comments like these.


About Rakesh Agrawal

Rakesh Agrawal is Senior Director of product at Amazon (Audible). Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He tweets at @rakeshlobster.
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