I have two posts sitting in my Drafts folder right this moment talking about attraction. One of them laments the fact that I seem to occasionally fall for people with personality traits that I have a hard time working with. The other discusses physical types and whether or not I have one.
Both of them dance around my past experiences (and inexperiences).
I’m married, again. I’m happy. (Which is… so awesome. I have a hard time putting into coherent words how awesome it is.) I’ve been married before.
I have never, ever, in my whole life, dated lightly. I have flirted lightly, and attempted to be clear with my lack of actual intention in those cases.
I mull things over when I can’t sleep, you see.
Why do I not seem to have a specific “type” of guy that I’m attracted to? Mostly, they’re taller, but not always. (Plus, at just a smidge under 5’3″, being taller than me is hardly a challenge.) Some are very slender and graceful, others aren’t. Some are incredibly charismatic, others are almost painfully shy in large groups. Some see things in strict black and white truths, while others are more willing to discuss the complications that make different things true for different people. The only thing I can think of that most of the men I’ve been attracted to have in common is that when they smile, their eyes crinkle up at the corners, even if their lips move hardly at all. I like curiosity. I like intelligence. I like focus. I like empathy. I like kindness.
And yet, the women I’ve flirted with, well. Those are more type specific. Incredibly feminine curves. Pixie-cuts. Vibrant colors of hair. Extreme blondes. Deep chocolate red hair. Fire-haired goddesses. Women full of sass. Women who are not me. Not entirely my opposite, but definitely not me.
I grew up, at a certain point (let’s be honest, sometime around puberty) learning to fear other women, who seemed to see each other as competition for everything. Men, jobs, scholarships, the next thing. And yet, part of me wanted desperately to be able to be friendly with them. Or, on a few rare occasions, maybe more. I’ve gotten over the fearing part, and have even re-learned how to be friendly with women again.
The thing is, part of me still doesn’t quite trust the way I did as a kid. I want to, and for a while I do, especially new friends on-line. But in person? In person I see body language that suggests a dozen small fibs told, and my own walls go up to protect myself from getting hurt again.
If someone had asked 18 year old me if I’d be better at making friends at 42, I … think I would have said “I hope so, but … maybe not. It depends.” Because honestly, I’ve always been a thoughtful, honest, literal thing.
I want to be optimistic, but… at some point, some part of me always remembers the moments that someone I truly liked expressed how odd, wrong, and not attractive I was. So. It’s hard to share when I like someone, even for platonic reasons, now.
Which brings me back to being so happy in my current marriage: he encourages me to try. All kinds of things: things that are scary to me (athletic physical things! new jobs!); things that I liked once upon a time, but maybe let go (playing games with friends! drawing! writing! experimenting with baking!); and things that are both (going out and socializing and making new friends… inviting them to our home).
I may not be good at anything like that still, but I am still trying. And those two posts? Well. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll flesh them out better some other time. But I think this is the post that I’ve been trying to get out for the last couple weeks.
If someone asked me to describe myself critically I would say I am 5’3″ on a good day, overweight bordering on clinically obese – but I carry it pretty well and so mostly just look very curvy and pudgy, I have brown eyes, a nice smile, and more or less dark hair depending on what I’ve done with it chemically recently. I have what most people agree is a pleasant sounding voice. If someone pushed (which mostly, no one does anymore although I remember a point when people actually did ask), I would offer that I’m kinda cute, but not classically pretty in the face.
I have self-image issues.
The rest of the world does not see me that way. If they are my friends they are not viewing me critically, they are viewing me as their friend. If they are not my friends, most people still don’t view each other critically (meaning analytically), although they might view judgmentally. Some people tell me I’m pretty.
I have a hard time with compliments, but I’m getting better at just saying thank you, even when I disagree. That’s because a) the basis on which we consider each other attractive is incredibly subjective and b) I don’t wish to call someone a liar.
That sounds extreme, but I finally had an acquaintance (who is now a friend) point it out that way: “If I say ‘you look pretty today’ it means I think you look pretty today. When you deflect or thank me but disagree, or just outright disagree, you’re effectively calling me a liar – it feels to me like you are telling me I am lying to you.”
And suddenly, a lot of things clicked for me. Why I get grouchy when a friend or acquaintance flips a compliment I’ve given them. It feels like they don’t credit me with the intelligence of knowing what I think looks nice. Like they are calling me a liar or stupid.
I know what “classic beauty” looks like. I’ve been watching television and movies and reading magazines for most of my life. (And besides, the “classic beauty” scale varies so much over time.) If I was trying to say, “Wow, Joyce looks like Marilyn Monroe, she’s gorgeous!” I would say that. Instead, I say, “Joyce looks so beautiful today!” And in general, I mean Joyce looks beautiful in comparison to Joyce on any other day.
On the other hand, I have friends who are trying to take back agency from a world that doesn’t recognize women’s worth except in terms of societal beauty concepts. They choose to call themselves things that we as a Western society have termed “bad”. Fat. Ugly. Scarred. Damaged.
I don’t see those things as mutually exclusive, but these friends do. So I find myself in a personal frustration loop. Because to me, those friends are fat AND beautiful. Not classically beautiful (re: ugly) AND gorgeous. Scarred, damaged AND perfect. And yet, I want to respect their need to own a thing they know as true about themselves and not appear to be arguing or contradicting them – even as it feels like they are arguing and contradicting me about my perception of them.
To me, attraction fluctuates depending on what I know about you. Almost everyone starts out in my head as an acceptable level of attractive/pretty/handsome. The more I like you as a person – the more I respect you, find you interesting, want to subscribe to your magazine – the more attractive/beautiful you become. This means I will notice that your green eyes have flecks of gold and brown in them. I will hear how your voice inflects when you are talking about your lover, your child, your pet. I will learn how your hair curls when it needs cut. Conversely, the less I enjoy time with you – the more I learn that you are bigoted, mean, cruel to children and puppies, and are a general liar and scoundrel – the less attractive you become. I will notice that the wrinkles around your eyes and lips are from stifled or not so stifled frowns. I will hear you take that tone that means you are about to share a bit of juicy gossip that no one really needs to hear. I will notice how perhaps you show a certain disregard for other people’s time, feelings or personal property.
I think some people would argue that attraction isn’t the same thing as the ugly – gorgeous spectrum scale.
For me, it is. That does not mean that I necessarily want to have sex with everyone I’m attracted to (although there are some people I’m attracted to that, yes, sex is a factor I think about), but it is still all wrapped up in a bundle. As I’ve gotten older, it’s part of what has allowed me admit to myself that I’m not particularly 100% straight. I’m much more comfortable with the idea of being with other humans in general sexually, than I would have admitted as a teen or young adult. (Although looking back, when I was a kid I saw no problem with their being two queens to rule a kingdom, or two kings, or even princes/princesses if they seemed cooler.) And I still haven’t decided what I would call myself. Bi? Pan? I understand why people want queer to be a non-determinative word.
So I wish that we could all just say “Thank you” when someone gives us a plain compliment. If someone says, “You look nice today, don’t you feel pretty?” that’s entirely different (and somewhat condescending sounding). I think as a recipient of that compliment, I’ve totally been given permission to disagree and you should have thought things out further. As it is, I try to respect what I know about my friends and I resist giving compliments to those that would think I’m lying or otherwise condescending to them.
It doesn’t stop me from thinking they’re gorgeous though.
Someone and I were talking the other day about facial wrinkles. Actually, it was my massage therapist, and she was using a cupping technique on my face, around my sinuses and eyes and jaws. The goal of the technique is to loosen the various dermis layers and hopefully, the lymph paths below, in order to relieve sinus pressure. It actually did help, but she was laughing as she explained that various spas use the technique to temporarily erase tiny age lines. I said, “But, I like those! They show when people laugh and some of their life experience!” She agreed. In the process we got off an a tangent about how eyes can be the first thing one looks at when determining the attractiveness of another person. Someone’s eyes can tell so much about their character. And that’s very true for me.
But it’s also true that I look at hands and fingers.
I don’t have a particular type of hand or finger or other thing that I like, and it’s not as though I’m looking for clubbed thumbs or bent pinky finger final digits (although I remember from high school biology class that those are recessive gene traits – or were at the time, genes are going through a different sort of understanding now than then I think). I just like looking at hands. It’s interesting to me how the same set of hands can look different depending on what they’re doing. If I’ve had my nails professionally done with acrylic layered on top, and shaping and colors, my hands almost look graceful. They’re not long, but they are petite. With the nails, they have the illusion of being longer and the slight chubbiness is hidden. Close up, there are myriad tiny scars on the backs of my hands and fingers from kitten and cat claws and teeth, because I play with them. There are tiny white and shiny bits where bacon grease and cookie sheets burned the skin. My cuticles are almost always horrid because if I don’t have my nails done (which I often don’t), I pick at the loose bits.
I like seeing what jewelry people wear. What fingers they’ve graced with what rings. Often, it tells me something about their loves – someone I care about wears sterling silver rings adorned with cats and books. Someone else I love only wears her wedding ring. Another friend wears her wedding ring, a series of fidget rings to help her nerves and often a ring with a stone that matches her earrings or clothing for the day.
Some men who work in construction or warehouse industries have worn skin that might look very rough. The steel or dust or grime has worked so deep into the creases of their skin that they look permanently dirty, no matter how often they wash. What is interesting to me is to watch those same rough hands doing something very deft and careful: working on tech, holding a baby, or soothing and playing with an animal.
I do suppose I prefer longer fingers, although I’m equally interested in smaller hands that are closer to my own size. I like seeing the difference between blunt, flat squared fingers and long, slender pointed fingers. Tiny baby fingers with their fragile sharp nails are amazing in their strength and ability to tease things away that they want to explore.
Fingers and hands help us to explore. Some people use them as literal eyes. So in a way, I suppose it all circles around to the same thing.
That’s me, up above. I like tattoos. I really love that one. It’s my first, and sometimes, it feels like I’ve put a fixed point in my lower back to help me focus and feel anchored. Stable. Safe.
Sometimes, I see tattoos on other people and they feel right to me like that. I wonder if their owner feels the same way about them. If the tattoo is an intrinsic part of them, or if they just kind of had the idea and had it done.
I get momentary crushes on people for their tattoos. Often girls for their tattoos, I’ve noticed. Some men, too, but more often girls. I want to know the whole story because of a simple structure of lines on their skin.
It’s not just tattoos, of course. Sometimes it’s a haircut. Or a smile. Or a piercing. A piece of unique jewelry. Their eyes. Eyes are a big deal. So can be hands.
It’s just that quick flash of “Wow, they’re amazingly attractive and… and they smiled at me and talked to me.” And I feel like I’m 10 or 12 and have that first crush that I’m not sure what to do with.
It’s also how I feel about artists sometimes. And it compounds when I learn something about them that makes me respect them.
Why as humans, are we engineered to feel this set of emotions? What is the point of the immediate interest piqued by some physical attribute? Is it a biological holdover from finding good genetic matches to continue the species? Is it simply aesthetic?
At the same time, my opinion can shift the opposite direction if I learn something I feel is negative about a person. That once interesting tattoo can just become a bit of flash, that attractive piercing just a piercing, and perhaps their eyes seem less luminous and aware.
It’s just a little odd, how attraction works and changes. Most of the time, I don’t overthink it, but every once in a while, my head gets stuck in a loop. Sometimes, I should probably think less and just enjoy the creative ways beautiful people express themselves.