Is romance a lie if you have to get past physical attraction first?

On Friday night, I avoided a mounting bout of holiday loneliness by going out. (Okay, so I went out alone—again—but in the company of great music and eye candy, I had fun.) The next day, my friend asked me if I had met anyone new, as if having done so would have had anything to do with my having had fun.

“Of course not,” I answered. Of course: my two-word explanation for stubbornly sticking with the expectation that other men should come to me instead of me going to them.

With that, my friend revisited last week’s homily about my lack of aggression when it comes to meeting men. If I don’t approach anyone, then how do I expect to meet anyone new? she would argue.

This week, I retorted.

“But you don’t always enjoy it when other guys come to you at straight clubs. I mean—you all ask to be saved all the time.”

“But I still dance with assholes if they’re hot.”

“And if they’re not? Then you ask to be saved.” I introduced to them my hypothesis: that everything in the world of pick-up comes back to physical attraction. If you don’t have that, then you don’t stand a chance, even in a dimly-lit bar filled with horny, incoherent people.

“That’s not true,” another friend chimed. “I’ll dance with an ugly guy if he can start good, genuine conversation.”

I disagreed. “If an ugly guy came to you, he might be able to start a ‘genuine conversation,’ but as soon as he gets your attention and you take one look at him, you would make a split second decision as to whether or not you wanted anything to do with this character, regardless of what he said.”

“Not,” my first friend said, “if they had an incredible sense of humor.”

“So basically,” I continued, “they have to make up—in some sort of large way—for their lack of physical attraction?”

She hesitated and then nodded, accepting the implications of what that meant as far as physical attraction: an end all-be all wall that must be hurdled before personality, character, values—before anything else can be evaluated about a person.

I hate this conclusion, for both ethical and personal reasons. It means that if you have a look that may not be largely perceived to be attractive, then your chances for any sort of success in a club, bar, or any setting where first impressions are key are slim. It means that you have to work twice, thrice, or even more times as hard if you want any success with flirting—or maybe you can have enough trust in pure luck to bring someone who defies the judgmental norm to you.

For me, it means that I’m screwed if I perceive personality or intellectual traits to be my strong suit. It means that my achievements in the work world will mean nothing to my personal life if my appearance isn’t what’s date-ably marketable. It means that I can be on top of the world with success—but always falter in the department of romance. Because if I can’t get past the first hurdle without running into any issues or having to “make up” for something that I don’t have perfect and can’t quite change without reversing the impenetrable decisions of genetics, then I’ve got to somehow adapt my endearing (but perhaps na├»ve) idea of love for someone else into a notion of love for someone else on the initial basis for how they look. How shallow it sounds, but how real it is!

If I’m going to undo my seemingly perpetual pattern of singleness, then what actions can I take to off-set the role of physical attraction in how others will receive me? And even then, if flirtation and dating are two-way streets, how rare will it be for me to find someone receptive to that different mode of attraction, to the idea that physical attraction can be “made up for” or even overcome? Or maybe, with my ridiculously youthful belief in fairy tale true romance, there’s someone out there who might actually like me for I am—the complete package, the inner highlighting the outer, the outside providing the perfect complimentary shell foreshadowing the gifts within, but remember over and over again that it’s the thought that counts—not the object itself.

This holiday season, I don’t think I’m going to discover that rare find at a club or bar. Heck, to be perfectly honest, heading home to spend time with a family that knows nothing about my love life isn’t really going to help my cause either. I suppose, though, that in a season founded upon faith, hope, and magic, anything is possible. Scientists have recently discovered that it’s mathematically possible for Santa Claus to make it around the world (as long as he’s based in Kyrgyzstan); if they can find a plausible home for a crazy international trespasser, then I can certainly find at least one person who believes that physical attraction isn’t the primary ingredient for chemistry.

And if I can't, well then... at least I can add it to my wish list for Santa.

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