The Paradox Of Attraction

In keeping with the biblical theme of the week…

In keeping with the biblical theme of the week…

Attraction is kind of like money. Everybody wants it, but no one wants to talk about it. It’s like some dangerous concept that no one wants to touch. It’s anti-feminist, or materialistic or degrading. To talk about it openly likely means people will think you’re shallow.

I know it’s kind of strange to imagine, but if you think about it, there aren’t a lot of topics out there quite as taboo as attraction. It’s like this dirty little secret that nobody wants to admit, or open up about. It’s our achilles heel and our guilty pleasure wrapped into one.

Look, I could say this in a lot of other ways but I’ll save the flowery language for later. So here’s what I say: Screw that. Ghosts can only live in the shadows. Everything should be up for discussion, and I think attraction is one of those things.

The truth is, attraction is a fact of life. People don’t want to talk about it, or own up to why they chose the mate they did, but they don’t have to because I’m a mind reader and I’ll do it for you. They were attracted to them. End of story. Thank you come again.

Look, I know women are materialized and used. Their bodies are a source of criticism and public debate. It isn’t cool, at all. And I’m not trying to add to that pile of bogusness. In fact, I’d like to dispel some of the rumors that being thin and looking like you stepped out of Vogue (as in, you were just on the pages and stepped out, not like you stepped out of being “in vogue itself, and like, wore Crocks with socks… Because that just isn’t moral) is the only thing that counts, or that it’s what makes you attractive. It’s not.

The root of the matter is that there are a ton of crazy, complex things that go into attraction. And I’ll only touch the tip of the iceberg with some of them here.

So, let’s begin…

They say it’s what on the inside that counts. That’s true, when you come down to it, I fully endorse that. I’ve always said personality is more important than looks, and I still believe it. But when you’re talking about being in a one-on-one, monogamous relationship with someone (as in, the only person in the world you’re allowed to have sex with), attraction counts. There’s simply no other way around it.

And beside, the whole “inside that counts” thing is really more from a spiritual/invisible perspective. We are spiritual beings, but we are also housed within the bodies of animals. We are god and beast. To deny either aspect of our composition is to deny a part of (in fact, one half of) ourselves.

And animals judge each other on how they look; in their terms, of course. So it may be the brightness of their feathers or the redness of their ass-less chaps (in the case of those monkeys, I forgot their name). Animals mate, and animals want to mate with a compatible one. When you pass off your genes during mating, you are passing chromosomes, not spiritual dust.

So the truth is, we need a combination of both looks and personal compatibility to make a good thing work. The person someone is below the skin and the bone structure, is so extremely important. But let’s not extoll virtue at the expense of honesty; we all want someone [who we think is] nice to look at while we’re having soul-stirring conversation by the fireplace on a Sunday night.

And let’s be honest again: we’ve all experienced that dissolution with attraction.

As in:

He’s so sexy– and then he opens his mouth.

[And now I don't know what I was thinking.]

Or:

He’s not that sexy… But then he opens his mouth.

[And he's totally brilliant. Now I find him attractive.]

Male or female, this has probably happened to you. So inherently, we understand attraction is not solely based on looks. It must be the perfect storm of a person, and their package (I mean that in a completely non-perverted way– for once) that we appreciate in order for it to be great.

Even with my dog. He’s a very good looking guy (if I do say so myself– and I am unbiased, for I had no genetic input). People are forever commenting on his balanced aesthetic. He’s got basically perfectly symmetrical markings on his face and body, no big deal. He looks like a bank robber and a bad guy, which is why I like him. He IS a handsome guy– I’ll freely admit.

But that’s not why I love him. In fact, I didn’t even love him at first. It took me a few weeks of really being with him and getting to know him, for me to fall completely and obsessively in love. (See? I did used to be a normal person.)

And I didn’t pick him. It wasn’t like I chose him from some pile of puppies. He was the only option (which kind of explains a lot), and I pretty much committed to him sight-unseen.

We met through fate in a back-woods trailer park thirty minutes outside of town, and before I even met him, I knew I would probably take him home because the lady had told me he had the same name I had decided that morning I would give to my next dog. (That would be Blue.) And also, because I had taken a Xanax, and if you know what those are like, two things: they make you want to shop, and they make you want to cuddle. So as you can imagine, puppy shopping was like, the number one compatible activity that afternoon.

When I think of why I love him, it’s not because he’s pretty. I love him because of the defiant look in his eye, the fact that he’s like a chimpanzee on dope, and the high that I get when we do our little petting meditation in the morning. (It’s when we sit together and I talk nonsense while petting him and he gets all lovey and soft, just before we head out to the park and he starts acting like a buffoon and I start yelling at him).

His antics are hilarious (at least, to me… but then again I fawn when he moves a tennis ball from one room to the other) and I literally love nothing more in life than watching him bolt full-speed down a wooded trail (preferably, towards me so I can see his little panda face blazing through the wind).

I never (okay, rarely) get tired of having him around the house and seeing what he does, which room he decides to go in (as well as how long it takes him to bowl open the door), and which bone he decides to chew. Watching the material results of the activity in his little monkey brain has become one of my favorite past times.

I never understood people’s obsession with their dogs before now. (I kid you not.) Sometimes, I’m so frustrated with him I’m certain I’ll sell him for a nickel. But most of the time, I’m drawn to him like bad luck to a Lohan.

For me, my love for him is the perfect combination of the fact that yes, I think he’s goddamn adorable. But also, and more importantly, because I love, love, love his asshole personality (I only love people who have an edge, and apparently this applies to pets, too). He really is like a mini-boyfriend.

But back to attraction…

Attraction is so crazy. Like, really, really weird to me. When I think about what I’m attracted to and the tiny things that can throw me off or turn me on, it makes me realize just how futile it would be for anyone to take it personally for someone to not be, or even to be, attracted to them.

I think of the people my girlfriends find cute, and I’m perplexed. Then they see who I like, and they’re like, “Huh?”. There is no gold standard. It is hit-or-miss. It is messy and unpredictable. It is anything but black and white or scientifically-sound.

My theory is this: when it comes to attraction, you really can’t take it personally.

Okay, I’ll use myself for the example. I’m probably not the best example, but I’m the easiest object of study. So here goes…

I have this weird thing for guys with long hair. (For anyone who knows me, that will come as no surprise. My last boyfriend often got mistaken for a girl from behind when we went shopping and his hair was longer than mine. He had the best hair ever. I could get lost in the smell for days.)

I also like thin guys (not buff) and smoking isn’t as much of a turn off as it should be. But I’m trying to quit (liking smokers, that is).

And I generally like the grungy ones. (Say it ain’t so!) The way I think a guy is well-dressed is probably close to opposite of what a lot of other people would consider high fashion. If he looks like he spent more time getting ready than me… He can be my best friend instead. Seriously. Let’s go shop.

Anything from hippie to mountain man to grunge to hipster is okay… but too formal or preppy and I’m just not that into it.

Attraction. It is this strange beast that is so specific and yet so vague. Very impossible to pin down. One wrong word or move and they might be headed for the door. It is so finicky, so fickle, so whimsical it’s impossible to pin down.

With all this to consider, why spend any time wondering what someone thinks of you? When it comes down to it, they’re either attracted, or they’re not. And vice versa. You know what you like. You either like it or you don’t. If you have to ask… You’re probably just reaching.

Next.

Our preferences are shaped by subconscious cues and childhood memories and associations, a network of chemical and physiological connections, which probably not even the most brilliant scientific mind could successfully navigate in its entirety.

It is so ridiculously complex. It will defy your best attempt to overcome the uphill battle of forcing attraction when it isn’t naturally there. The truth is, our preferences are there without ever meaning to be. And they aren’t personal. They are haphazard, random, and largely formed without our conscious agreement. Yet they are strong, sometimes nearly instinctual.

Fun fact: I am not attracted to model-looking guys. That’s weird, right? Weird but true. I’m not saying I have anything against male models– they just better have a great personality to back up those overly-good looks. ;)

Maybe it’s just because I perceive them as taking themselves too seriously? (Remember that guy in 10 Things I Hate About You with the headshots at Bianca’s locker?) He was so cute and then… Ugh.

Attraction is like the muddled mire of the human psyche, expressed in the form and connection between two humans.

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Abbreviated theory on why I prefer guys with long hair:

Beauty and the Beast was the first movie I ever saw in theaters and the prince (who I happen to think is the most handsome one Disney has made to date), coincidentally has the longest hair of all the Disney princes.

Since then, the majority of the guys I’ve liked have had long hair. (I suppose, then it should come as no surprise to you that my favorite boy band was Hanson… and later, I discovered Kurt Cobain, of another boy band called Nirvana.) I loved Hanson so much, specifically the middle one, Taylor, that I got their name and likeness banned from my fourth grade classroom. (I went to a Catholic school; they could do things like that. They had rulers to enforce it.

I used to joke that a guy with long hair could be so attractive me just based on that one single thing. Stupid? Absolutely. Biased? Of course. Equal opportunity… No. But that’s what personal preference inherently is. We’re all biased in our own way. It might be with music preferences, vocabulary, places someone’s traveled, knowledge, personal style, scent, accent, great teeth, whatever. We’ve all got our weird quirks when it comes to the big A.

Speaking of big… An example of this is Big Tim Riggins from Friday Night Lights (I can never help myself but to toss the “Big” in there– there’s an episode where a little neighborhood kid starts calling him that, and it’s adorable) on Friday Night Lights, played by Taylor Kitsch.

I’ll be blunt: Big Tim Riggins is probably the most attractive person I have ever seen. In fact, the only reason I started to watch the show one because of him. One day Leo had it on Netflix on the laptop and I happened to glance over at the screen. Riggins was there in a pickup truck with a bad attitude, and the rest is history.

(And for the record, it is a really good show. It’s all about family values and character building. And I should say– the thing that kept me loving Riggins was his positive character development over the entirety of the show– seriously. Didn’t he like, stop drinking a six pack every night by the end of the show? No… never mind.)

But the actor himself, Mr. Kitsch, who is a very handsome guy in his own right, just doesn’t do it for me (I know, I’m sure he’s torn up to hear this). His hair is regular-guy length. It’s just not…special. He goes from being literally like the hottest guy ever, but when he cleans up in a suit and tie on the red carpet… Eh.

(Where’s Brody?)

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Another attraction-based oddity? I love the smell of cologne but I’m not generally attracted to the type of guys who would wear it (that’s not a hard and fast rule, but it’s something I’ve observed). Do you see what I’m saying?

It’s downright paradoxical!

This is the crazy part of attraction I’m talking about. And that’s literally just looks; obviously that’s not taking into accountability the fact that you actually meet someone, and then pheromones and energy and their real personality all come into play. It’s like, The Greatest Show On Earth (also the title of a book on evolution, which is quite ironic, given that I wrote this prior to Googling).

I think it’s worth noting that once you love someone, this shallow, skin-deep concept does not generally apply. Leo eventually cut his hair out of necessity and a dare, and I still loved him just as much. Also worth noting is the fact that there are still plenty of guys with regular-length hair that I find cute (Was that really worth noting? I’m not sure). And that obviously, personality, sense of humor, interests, and all those other great things are way more important in the long run.

I’m just talking first-glance physical attraction here.

And of course, there are probably just as many girls turned off by long hair than on by it. The people I find most attractive, are often the people my friends would pass over. And vice versa. My sister, for instance, recoils at the thought of Big Tim Riggins anywhere near her person. I’m pretty sure she banned my ever mentioning his name again in her presence.

She simply cannot understand my ardor of that football player. (It must be a pharmacist thing.) But to be honest, neither can I. It’s not like I decided to like the people I like. It isn’t a choice; it’s an instinct.

It isn’t about logic or reason or any neat and tidy concept. It’s one of the more base human capacities.

When it comes to attraction, things are ridiculous and biased and make no sense– because we are humans, and to a large extent, very illogical creatures. That’s the point. Our sense of what attracts us to one another often has a lot less to do with you specifically than you think. And to my way of thinking, that lets off a lot of the pressure of whether or not someone finds you attractive, or why you find yourself inexplicably drawn to someone and you can’t figure out why in the world that is.

Now, let’s discuss briefly, personality. Because as soon as you meet the person, that’s what starts running the game.

When you’re attracted to someone after meeting them and spending some time, it’s because of who they are naturally. If they have to try to be something you want, it’s usually easy to see from a mile away– and that is not attractive. A lot of attraction, once you get beyond looks (which happens the moment someone opens their mouth), has more to do with attitude and confidence than anything else.

An example:

In high school, there was a guy. Let’s call him Steve. Steve was not typically the definition of attractive, in fact, most people did not understand how he did it. But he had all the prettiest girls in school vying for his favor. He was kind of an asshole, but a charming one, and he had his pick of the women. I kid you not. It was kind of a phenomenon. And you know what did it?

He was so fucking cocky. He had confidence streaming out his ears. (Which were rather sizable).

I was good friends with Steve for awhile, while he tried to be more (as young hormonal boys are wont to do) and I didn’t want anything to do with him. He was fun to talk with, but he just wasn’t that cute.

Then, one of my girlfriends, a very pretty one, dated him. Then I think subconsciously, I thought to myself, “Hey, if she’ll tap that, he must be okay”. Then I decided I liked him (this is where things get messy so I’ll cut to the chase, because we don’t need to get all high-school-drama. I’m just trying to illustrate a point). So then we dated and he was my first serious relationship. I was really into him. Especially for someone who wasn’t into him at all– before.

Then, once we were together, he started taking me for granted, while I was in love with him! The tables had turned. And his cockiness won out, because I was totally hooked. I went from not that into him to completely into it, because of my perception of him being okay (my pretty friend dating him) and then because of his supremely high confidence– even when logic told me he was full of shit. He was also veryyyyyy persuasive. (He was cocky and persuasive in equal measure, like no one I’ve ever met to this day.)

But Steve had girls like I’ve never seen a guy have girls.

I mean, this guy had girls wrapped around his finger. I wouldn’t go so far as to say he could have had any one he wanted– but he pretty much got his pick. He was tenacious, and for some reason when it wouldn’t have worked for other guys, for him, it paid of. In laid-off’s. (Sorry, I couldn’t help it.)

And he had some friends that were definitely physically cuter than him. But for some reason, he knew how to work the cockiness like nobody’s business, and it got him just about whatever– meaning whomever– he wanted.

Part of this comes from the fact that it’s been proven that women judge men based on the attractiveness of the women he attracts. So like, if a not-so-good looking guy has a really pretty girlfriend, other girls will take notice. It’s like some biological/breeding thing, but anyway, that’s how it presents itself in modern day. Once he got his foot in the door and dated one pretty girl, then he got another, then another, and pretty soon, the floodgates were open.

Conversely, if a guy who’s attractive, dates someone that other women don’t find attractive, they are likely to view him as less attractive, too. Women are very competitive, in a very messed up way, but again, that’s biology. And it’s not set in stone, but it’s the type of thing that can subconsciously inform whether or not we are actually attracted to someone or not, when it comes down to it.

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But in terms of personality, which I want to get back to: so many times, it all comes back to confidence.

(Example: I love my dog, because he’s confident enough to disobey me at least fifty percent of the time, and do his own damn thing. I have to respect that.)

Confidence is the number one most attractive thing, I believe for a man or a woman to possess. I can say from experience that confidence counts just as much, if not more than, looks.

Of course, this is just from a female perspective, and they say guys tend to be more looks-oriented. But as a female, and from observation of other females as well, I believe this to be true: that confidence is the most attractive thing.

Confidence is how you show you love yourself, and also that you’re all around good shit. Because confidence implies that life is good to you, life is fun with you around, and people like you back. What’s not to like about that? It’s a quick index of whether or not someone is worth spending their time getting to know.

And it is usually pretty obvious whether you are being confident or just arrogant. One is charming; the other, like drinking saltwater when you’re dehydrated– almost, but not quite what you’re looking for.

Guys, it’s almost like you can trick us into thinking you’re really good catch, just because you’re confident. If you have confidence in yourself, then we have confidence in you. It’s a positive feedback loop that, once we buy into it, keeps feeding itself in your favor.

Because who knows, maybe there are a ton of really pretty girls after you. Maybe you’re better-looking than we think. We would never know, all we know is that you’re sure of yourself and that’s one of the best things a woman looks for in a mate. Putting yourself down is never attractive. (Neither is doing it to others.)

Attraction is all about perception– and I don’t just mean physical appearance taken at face value. It’s kind of like pricing art. If you knew nothing about art, you could not likely tell the difference between a 2.5 million dollar piece, and a $2,500 knock-off. It is the rather subjective, arbitrary value we place upon it (which becomes agreed upon) that determines how much one is willing to spend.

In this way, you name your own price. How you require yourself to be treated, is how much you will be sold for. If you require a high degree of compliancy with your values, and a high degree of respect, that is what you will earn. If you don’t have a very high opinion of yourself and are willing to proffer yourself to the first bidder, then that, too, is the wage you will garner.

The most fascinating thing about attraction to me is that on the outside, it really just makes absolutely no sense– we are all so unique in personal preference and who we find ourselves into. And yet, there’s a historical and biological perspective underlying all of this that makes it somewhat reliable– and sometimes, even logical.

And biologically-speaking, women are looking for protectors. Someone with the ability and drive to take care of them and more importantly, their offspring. They do not want someone who’s going to drop the ball when it comes to some life-saving action that needs to be taken STAT. Whether it’s because of their physical strength or their mental capabilities, women want to be with someone they can trust to look after them.

And look, how else can we possibly judge your warrior-abilities, better than your cockiness about finding a place without asking for directions?

I know that sounds really “anti-feminist” and probably a lot of women would disagree that this had anything to do with their choice of mate. (Men aren’t quite so prideful.)

But let’s get real.

I’d argue that the reason they don’t think it was based on pure attraction was more likely because they’re not self-aware enough to look at what actually made them attracted to their mate. And I would be willing to argue that what they find attractive in him would follow the logic of what I outlined above.

Because no one, man or woman sits there and consciously evaluates why they like someone from a historical/biological/species perspective. But that’s almost always the underlying cause.

And no one, man or woman, pairs up with someone they’re not attracted to.

I mean, we are biologically driven to reproduce with the fittest partner we can find. We may have iMacs and birth control, DVR and LED collars for our pets (thank goodness, now I can see Blue in the dark as a little floating halo of light, hovering over the field at night), but let’s not give ourselves too much credit here. We still eat, sleep, defecate and ejaculate.

As Ernest Becker said in his book The Denial of Death, “We are gods with anuses.”

Gods look on the inside and see the beauty; anuses look on the outside… Or I mean, the things with anuses look on the outside… Oh, you know what I mean.

We know what we like, but why do we like it? It usually comes back to one of the more base human instincts: survival and reproduction.

Granted, these preferences express themselves in different ways (what the hell does long hair have to do with masculinity, other than it is how it was first portrayed to me as a young girl in my first romantic film)… But there’s a reason men tend to be attracted to breasts.

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A corollary to this, is the concept of gender quotient. (I made this up, but bear with me.) It is the concept that people are attracted to someone whose sexuality balances and compliments their own. For instance, my favorite couple of all time, sexually-ambiguous Matt and Kim. (Of the band, Matt and Kim). (Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.)

(And yes, I’m sure you’ve heard how I met them at Bonnaroo and we hung out with Matt’s parents at one of their shows, but not to brag. Seriously, I try not to bring it up, it’s really no big deal…)

But it’s like, Matt is really super feminine (for a guy; to the point of where, well let’s just say, you almost wonder…) and Kim is really super masculine (for a woman; to the point of where, well let’s just say, you almost wonder…). And yet, they’re so perfect for one another.

If you’ll observe couples, it is often the very masculine guy with the very feminine girl, or the semi-masculine guy with the semi-feminine girl. This is all not at all scientifically-sound, but just check it out and see if you don’t find this to be a sort of gray-rule of biological pairing. Guys-guys get with girls-girls and somewhere along the line, we seem to establish a sort of gender-neutrality between the average sexuality of the partners.

They say sexuality is on a bell-curve. As in, no one is completely straight or completely gay– men, I hear you bemoaning this idea– but honestly, don’t be homophobic. I’m really into men, but I still subscribe to this concept because I’ve found it to be accurate through years of observation. And I think we find that when it comes to choosing a mate, we naturally gravitate towards those whose sexuality compliments our own.

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Another example of the ambiguity of attraction is the difference between what men and women find attractive. The men males may perceive as a threat are often not the same ones that females desire, and vice versa. For instance, Leo never intuitively guessed the guys I thought were cute, and I’m pretty sure I always had my eye on the wrong girl for him. Which is why this happened.

(As a side note: I think it’s a healthy aspect of any monogamous relationship, when you can openly discuss who you find attractive with your partner; I greatly valued that about Leo’s and mine.)

When we used to talk about women, whether in magazines, a movie, or ones we knew in real life, we would rarely concur on their level of attractiveness. (Sometimes it was like we were speaking a different language– maybe his was Martian and mine was Venetian?)

I thought back then, and continue to think, that this phenomenon is refreshing and needs to be spoken of more openly. I think it shows the ability for anyone to be found attractive, and that everyone is attractive, in their own way. And that standards of attractiveness are vague and often unfounded, at best. A lot of men don’t prefer models or their women to be as thin as the fashion industry prescribes.

As another example of female and male attraction being divergent, he liked me best without makeup. In fact, some of the times in which I thought I looked the worst, he loved me and it completely caught me off guard because I thought I looked like death warmed over. And times when I had put more effort into my appearance and thought I actually looked nice, he wasn’t always so thrilled.

He also liked girls with “meat” on their bones (like Hilary Duff, which I personally wouldn’t have picked from a bunch) and didn’t prefer the waif-like examples I had, by virtue of years of leafing through fashion magazines and living in America as a young girl, come to appreciate and admire as the highest standard of female beauty.

And I love that we were on such different pages! Why isn’t this more openly proclaimed? Because I, for one, am enamored with the idea that there is not just “one type” of attractive.

(I will admit one person we both agreed on: Penelope Cruz– oh, and Scarlett Johansson. It is any wonder we accidentally got back together one time while watching Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona?)

So really, my whole point is this:

Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.

Confidence is king.

And we have a scale of sexuality that determines who we’re attracted to.

Oh yeah, and attraction is really fuckin crazy, so don’t bother to try to put it into any formula or neat little conceptual box. Because you’ll get your ass handed to you by a thick fog of confusion, as this article aptly demonstrates.

For me, it is one of the great adventures of life that you have no idea who will find whom attractive. It’s like this huge lottery, and sometimes, you just end up with a supremely handsome pet.

P.S.

Matt & Kim 4ever <3