The Language of Attraction

What are the forces of the universe that spark electricity between a man and a woman and cause them to fall in love? What is the language of attraction? I am certain that I do not know it. I had to take German instead. It wasn't offered back then. I'm not bitter.

There is not, you might say, any lack of movies and stories devoted to romantic love. As you watch television you might find it necessary to switch channels, let's say, once to find a story about a love affair. These are usually not conducted on a cerebral level; man A is in the nightclub and meets woman B, makes some smooth talk, C, at which point woman B makes some flirtatious comment with the subtlety of a handgrenade, resulting in the two repairing to point D in man A's factory-new red Porsche playing appropriate theme music on the Dolby theatre car stereo. It is, as a point of necessity, softly raining, and the windshield-wipers are in synchronization with the tempo of the music. Voila! Le mating rituál.

However, this lacks a certain relevance to the average person's life; I, having little in common with movie stars, who look invariably like Brad Pitt, seldom meet women, who look invariably like Jessica Alba, in such places as nightclubs and workplaces. If I did, my smooth talk would probably proceed along the lines of, "Um—aren't the walls perpendicular tonight!', and she would respond with an appropriately un-flirtatious comment such as, "Well, I must be going; I promised my roommate that I would help her feed her goldfish." I would then leave for the donut shop, point E, in my 1984 Civic. On the way home, my stereo would be more likely to play a commercial for fabric softener, F, than 'Stand by me.'

Well, I did come close to picking up a girl in a nightclub once. I was once visiting a school friend of mine in another city, and we arrived at a little lounge with a dance floor (Hey! Curtis! This place looks cultured. Look at that flashing neon sign next to the pink flamingos: 'Bud's Beer Blast.') It was, as most nightclubs in the early 90s were, a ex-family seafood restaurant with felt moose heads and bikini girl posters on the knotty-pine walls. As I looked at the sawdust on the floor and the smoke-tinted television screens flashing drink specials with names like World War II military strategies, I just had to ponder it all and reflect, 'Curtis... this is America.'

But I digress. As we sat there, drinking beer and wondering what other people were drinking that looked like frosty fermented breath mints, Curtis' sister arrived with a young friend of hers, Buffi, who began flirting with me. That's correct: 'Buffi.' We had already met for the first time back at Curtis' home, which is why I did not comment, "so... what time do you go on?"

Not that I would have made a joke otherwise. Buffi really was a nice girl, probably less a Cosmo reader and more one of Reader's Digest. I don't mean that in an insulting sense; I mean that she seemed to be a rather decent sort of girl who probably had her mouth washed out at home for saying 'darn!' to her mother, as opposed to women who look as though they should have rashes on their cleavage from men poking in five-dollar bills. She was probably the type of girl you could comfortably take home to your parents. Yet this is what I had problems imagining: 'Mom and Dad, this is Buffi...' No.

I am not saying that I would reject all specimens that do not look like (or have names like) Angelina Jolie. I think that this mysterious 'electricity' that we speak of applies to personality as well as looks. This was probably what soured me on Buffi. Attraction must have a lot to do with birth order; as a last-born, I seem to like independent women who can think on their feet. I don't think poor Buffi could have thought on a calculator. That sort of whiny, clingy, Limoges-china fragile sort of female's female annoys me. That is nothing to apologize for, assuming I handle the manner with tact. Other men are attracted to that sort of female. It is the way I am constructed; some like the color red and others blue. Or, as my uncle Lester, fuchsia polka-dot.

But there is no doubt that physicality matters. What sort of women are men attracted to? One study I once read theorized that men look for women (and women for men) who look familiar to them—but not too much. I think the theory has some validity; women who remind me of my mother make me nervous; but such mechanistic theories that reduce emotions to a matter of DNA seem cold. Oh, well. My father just said, 'It's all lies! Just marry for money!' And then my mother, for some unexplainable reason, hit him.


There are also those who will be annoyed that I am making physical attraction an issue at all. 'What difference do looks make? Isn't what's inside what counts? Doesn't a stitch in time make nine? Isn't a penny saved a...' Anyway, I will admit that this is true; it is a shame that people place so great an emphasis on physical beauty. It is the cause of many nice people being alone and many shallow people getting ahead. It is the cause of many people ruining their health in order to be 'perfect.' Stop me before telethon numbers flash: 'and for only thirty cents a month, you can bring hope...'

I can see two possible resolutions to all of this. Firstly, if every man is genetically attracted to a certain type of woman, isn't everyone taken care of somehow, making it a moot point? This is probably so, although it is really only evading the issue. I can also picture a chorus of men saying, 'Jennifer Aniston looks like my second cousin; thus my genes are entitled to a woman who looks like her.'

Secondly, isn't there a whole lot more to being physically attractive than one's raw attributes? There are more pressing concerns; for example, does her father own a lingerie shop or a brewery? (kidding, kidding, ouch!) A plain girl who is well-dressed, modestly made up, and has poise and confidence, will beat out a 36-24-36 blonde who slouches around dressed in rags, with dirty hair and chewing tobacco in her mouth. (A 38-24-36, however, is a different story. Look, I'm still a man.)
But now we arrive at that grey area defining attractiveness. Men, uh, admire a pretty girl on television or on a web page; but in real life the idea of what is attractive is strongly tied into personality. There is a point at which the hottest woman can have such a vicious nature that every man that knows her ceases to think of her as being pretty at all. (Unless they're 38-24-36, of course.) And I have known plain women who were so fun to be around that they were never single. Maybe they owned breweries themselves. When I mused aloud about this, my mother, for some unexplainable reason, hit me. Also, Buffi once read this chapter online and periodically sends me nasty e-mails. I must not live right or something.

And now we return to the role of personality in attraction; it sounds like the title of one of those cheesy 1960's pop-psychology books with pastel squares on the cover: 'the HIP and NOW way of solving your hang-ups, BABY.' Remember, these are people with doctorates. I once thought that young girls wanted a man either to mother or be mothered by. I still see this, but I know now that I was overgeneralizing (I'd better realize this if I don't want more nasty e-mails). I also saw in college that women sometimes act out what I call the domino effect; they evaluate men based on status. If a man is pursued by one female, the entire group wants him. The problem is getting that initial heart fluttering; perhaps single men need P.R. agents.

But I am myself now getting mechanistic; whirr! click! THAT DOES NOT COMPUTE. WON'T YOU TAKE ME TO FUNKYTOWN? Certainly, if that man has made one maiden swoon he probably has qualities desired by others. I say 'desired' so that romance doesn't start sounding like the utilitarian sales transaction that some sociologists claim it is: "I pronounce you man and wife; here are your air miles."

It still is a tricky matter, if the relationship is to be any more than a booty call, of finding someone pleasing both physically and personality-wise. Two people with no common interests are not going to stay together long without an act of parliament. But try not to over-think this. Do your best. And always let a lady walk before you; that way you can look at her bum. Look, I'm still a man.