by: Heather Fawn
The complications of navigating romantic relationships even when equipped with a supposed aesthetic advantage…..
“The desire of a man for a woman is not directed at her because she is a human being, but because she is a woman. That she is a human being is of no concern to him.”
Ambivalence. That is the word that keeps being flung back at me from the deep recesses of the universe. I don’t need fortune cookies or horoscopes or ‘Psychology Today‘ to tell me that the people I’m attracted to will be deeply undecided about my suitability as a partner.
And why should that be? I have plenty of apparent imperfections, which, to my understanding, can be endearing to the right individuals. I am a recluse, and spend a great deal of time in my four-wall cell slapping my brain sludge onto white paper, or watching the same episodes of Bob’s Burgers over and over again. I eat kimchi every day, and with the kind of enthusiasm that would make a bystander question its availability in the local market. I only own 5 pairs of shoes. I am, finally, a suitable amount of employed. I wear my heart on my sleeve – it’s mushy and wet and it drips onto one of my 5 pairs of shoes.
One thing that stands out and makes me question everything is that – stay with me here – people think I’m attractive. Yes, nothing is more subjective than appearance. But show me a straight man who doesn’t want to watch Scarlett Johansson take off her clothes and I will show you a liar. The point is that the majority vote says I am easy on the eyes, and for the sake of this discussion let’s just say I agree with them. I won’t complain about this near-unanimity except to vent some frustration about the apparent ease with which I am supposed to move through life, particularly when navigating romantic relationships, due to my supposed aesthetic advantage.
First of all, being pretty has not solved any dilemma for me, ever. Especially when it comes to relationships. If you, dear reader, have perused other writings of mine on the site, you have come to discover that I have a hard time getting people to sleep with me on the regular, for example. Perhaps it is the ubiquitousness of a pretty face in the media has softened the impact of my alleged beauty. Let’s say, for example, that you can see an average of 10 pretty faces in a 60-minute block of TV. So after an hour of TV, a dude will turn to me on the couch and their tolerance for a beautiful lady is quite high. Perhaps that is not exactly what is going to do it for someone at that time. Maybe they need me to have a lazy eye or smeary makeup – I’m just speculating here. But this is something I’ve considered, and has led to other musings. Go ahead and throw the impact of porn on the fire, too. Only serves to enhance this argument. You’ve seen perfect asses all day. Maybe you want some sag.
Another curious thing about a pretty woman is that this is the expected societal norm. I am just doing my job here, people. I am fulfilling the expectation that I am supposed to be some variation on the hot lady mold. In this way, I become a symbol. I lose meaning by being what is expected. If I dress like something other than an eccentric 16-year-old – if I slip on a pair of stilettos and a designer dress and fix my hair up fancy, I am eligible to be arm candy for any man. Even if I don’t wear something the magazines tell me to wear, I still sometimes feel like arm candy. I am the symbol by which others can feel comfortable and affirm someone else’s taste and ability to lock down some tappable ass.
Do you get where I’m going with this? I’m saying that maybe being pretty is so overwhelmingly expected and proliferated as to become boring. A visual cliché. By being a symbol of what a woman should be, I become an object. And when you’re in a relationship with a decoration, maybe you get a little too comfortable. Maybe you start to settle in and your ego tells you that you done good son. Or maybe, as an object, it is hard to relate to me as a person. Everything that comes out of my mouth, or means anything to me, is just coming from the collective of “pretty lady babble”. And that takes away from my humanity.
If some of these things don’t hold weight, then I have only ever been attracted to and in relationships with assholes. But things aren’t so black and white. There is a continuum of asshole, and everyone is closer to “complete dick” than they’d like to admit. So rather than blaming me or blaming them, at least at this point in the discussion, let’s just stick to the deconstruction.
Back to the Scarlett Johansson theory –what would the average man or woman do if they actually got to be with her? Sleep with her? Find out who she is as a person? How would that change their perception of her as a sex symbol? What if it made her ordinary? What if it made them feel awesome, but by transferring that ego and status boost, it takes away from ScarJo’s super-personhood, and the result is that she is demoted to less-than for ever agreeing to saddle up to a mere mortal? Sounds kind of plausible, but also pretty fucked up.
On the other side of that coin, consider a chick who is not a knockout, but has some other attractive qualities. Consider whether this lady has a better chance of not only being in a relationship, but retaining one’s interest for the long haul because she is, from first glance, seen as a human being and nothing less. By not automatically appearing as symbol, her first impression, as perceived by others, is pretty powerful–arguably much more profound than an ogle-worthy babe.
Obviously, these are some pretty screwy, shameful, skewed perspectives spewing forth from the ugly parts of society. And the crushing pressure for every woman to reach the status of “perfect hot lady” is just asinine, not to mention really damaging for both sexes. That I have on some level effortlessly attained a certain amount of conventional beauty is never anything less than perplexing, and I often forget until I go out into the world, which isn’t always that frequent.
I think the most depressing characteristics of this reality are, although this is an advantage as a first impression, that the men I’ve been with must either get hung up on my appearance, they expect everything about me to be perfect (a whole other “lady mold” issue), or it’s literally the only thing that hooks them, which is shallow and ultimately pretty hopeless. ((Don’t get me wrong – I know that I have it way better than people who fall on the opposite end of the spectrum. The ones who struggle with their weight or their skin or something to that effect. I feel for you in that I have been there – it was called my childhood. And while I wasn’t exactly looking for a dude to shag on the regular whilst still in elementary school, I know that shit is rough out there. But you get to avoid some of the superficial bullshit by coming in a package that is not considered conventionally attractive. Does that mean things are fair for you? Not necessarily. I am not trying to insult anyone by saying, “Woah is me, I can get at least a one night stand with this face.” I am just trying to decode the mind-fuck of dealing with other people and the way they see me.))
Perhaps there is a certain type of person who is attracted to me as a pretty lady, but then gets really uncomfortable that I am not just a fixture but a well-spoken, intense, pensive, potty-mouthed, sexually demanding, and wholly female person. By meeting or exceeding their own intellectuality, does it take the shine off the superficial? What were they expecting, anyway? So I can do more than twirl my fucking hair around my fingers and snap my gum. So I probably am better at some things than they are. So I won’t let them get away with not being present when they’re around me. Now what? Now that’s too much? I don’t fucking understand. My brain shuts down at the thought that one could possibly cancel out the other, or that they were hoping to lock shit down without ever considering what that might actually look like. What the fuck were they expecting, and how did I miss this information?
I do, indeed, wonder if, not only am I attracted to straight-up assholes, but if I am also somehow sending out signals with my body language or persona that brings all the assholes to the yard. Or at the very least, my easy-going attitude makes people think they can get away with anything. Which is simply not true. I really want to figure this part out, because I get that people who aren’t really ready to be in a relationship all kind of exhibit key behaviors, which are pretty conspicuous. But at the same time, dudes will scuff themselves up trying to get at me, then completely relax into a mediocre and half-assed relationship with me that devolves into a refusal to interact and, at best, a tepid sex life. It has gotten to the point where I am constantly wanting to sabotage or otherwise avoid the beginning stages of dating. Because when you lean in, put your arm around me, and tell me something that sounds really sweet, all I can think to do is tell you to stop kissing my ass. It’s so hard for me to trust that this isn’t just another phase of someone being nice to my face, literally, only to be disgruntled to find that I’m not going to become a sexy fixture for your football parties or your double dinner dates. Suzy Homemaker is not my name. I’m not a pretty wife-in-training. I’m not a pretty stand-in til you find the real thing. I’m not a sex toy. I’m not a status boost.
To avoid this infuriating stage of outright denial and pretend-time I see while trying to meet people, I try to be as up-front as possible. From day one, anyone who is interested in me gets the full scoop on my life and my personality. They might hear me belch. They will definitely hear me cuss. They might hear me talk about something mom told them to wait til date number 3 for.
Either that, or I just go ahead and try to sleep with them right away. This is my other strategy to eliminate the awkward phase where someone thinks I’m a fairytale princess, a bohemian slut to intrigue their friends with, a poster girl for all hot, weird mixed girls, or whatever else it is that people think. I am experimenting with these strategies to avoid another undersexed, intellectually vapid relationship where the person looks over at me when I open my mouth with some level of disgust or incredulity. Because getting myself into strange encounters with all the people I wished I could hook up with when I was in a relationship is at least five times better than ending up in a relationship where I want to shut the other person’s head in a car door because they don’t want to do anything that doesn’t involve their interests, their needs, their wants. It seems that by appealing to one’s ego initially, it later translates as there being only one person in the relationship, and they always seem startled to discover that I am still around. Which is the kind of situation that takes me from laid-back to inconsolably infuriated in an instant. I wonder if I still looked pretty when I was looking for things to lob at them during fights.
As for the “locking it down” theory, it is the best explanation for the train-wreck of relationships I’ve been 50% responsible for thus far. In these cases, the men I’ve been with have been intrigued by my looks and my ability to use big words. The fact that I really liked sex was also novel (I don’t know why) and exciting at first. So they (always the dudes!) initiated all the makings of a relationship. Even the labels. But they had a complete lack of foresight and zero willingness to exert effort into the actual relationship. The pedestal thing is always a racket. A love of beauty does not a relationship make. You cannot just add water. You cannot put it in the microwave. I became the orchid for the person without a green thumb. Nice to look at, but too much work in the long run.
I am definitely aware that sleeping with a guy right away isn’t the best strategy. If I’m going for less superficial, someone’s immediate acquaintance with my boobs isn’t going to summon a deep interest in my grey matter. However, this is a good way to weed out the superficial, traditional type. If I sully their image of me, so be it. I never, ever claimed to be a perfect specimen, merely an attractive one, and if they really don’t see the humanity in my enthusiastic performance, I am quite certain that I don’t need to know anything else about them to know that they should stay the fuck away from me.
As for the information-overload approach, let me just say that dating is a tedious gauntlet of awkward feelings and best-behavior bullshit. I want them to know that I like Spongebob Squarepants. I want them to know that I slept with the light on til I was 26. I want them to know that I have a fucking nightmare of a family. All of this is merely a toe in the water. If they can’t deal with a glossing-over of the real me, it’s not going to work. I absolutely scare people away with this approach. If they come prepared to talk about vegan butterscotch cookies and I take them to an adult version of truth or dare they didn’t ask for, they probably want off this ride before the check comes. Not that I don’t tell them bits and pieces of my life, both good and bad, with the utmost charm and wit. Because I do. But some people just pass through my experience as if they are visitors at an art museum. I do not have the patience for that.
Perhaps I am trying to find a balance. Being suspicious of people’s attraction to me is pretty pessimistic. Coming on really strong seems to be traumatic for some and although I feel bad for being so intense, I also think people can be babies about feelings, which again, I do not have patience for. I will put up with all kinds of weird habits and quirks, but if you don’t have your shit together enough emotionally to have adult conversations, even with big doses of humor added, then we will just not get along. Barring my showing up to their invite with no makeup, unkempt hair and sweatpants I’ve had since the 6th grade, they’re going to have to suck it up and try to be a human and not a fucking art appreciation amateur. If they are still in the mindset of wanting to hold hands with a pair of boobs without even considering the consequences of being a part of the boob-owner’s life, that is what I want to avoid. I know there has to exist in this world an abundance of emotionally competent sapiophiles who will be intrigued by my looks but even more by what comes out of my purty mouth. Most people know that humans are not capable of being broken down into basic parts. No one can compartmentalize the total package of each person. We do not work that way. Women are complex. Men are complex. If we want to fuck and love each other, we’re going to have to be a little more real about it. We’re going to have to let some guards down. Cosmopolitan Magazine, Maxim Magazine, Dr. Phil, pornography, whatever— these are not venues for understanding. These are places to regurgitate and recycle useless ideas about how goings-on between the sexes should work – from what we should look like, to who we should be attracted to, to when and how we should have sex. It’s a narrow view for the least evolved among us. I’m over it.
I’m going to put this out there right now: for Christ sake, if you don’t have the decency to be decent to me, if you don’t know how to not objectify people, if you still think that life is all about you, then by all means, just put me in your spank bank. I don’t even need to know about it. You have my permission.
Now fuck off. Thank you in advance. ((The photo that accompanies this piece is a shot of an unsanctioned performance piece, called ‘Human Cost’, that was a protest by the group Liberate Tate which which was working towards encouraging London’s stately Tate Britain Museum, the oldest gallery in London’s network of Tate museums, to end its relationship with BP))