Not his type

Everything my husband finds physically appealing I am not. Is friendship enough to sustain a marriage?

By Cary Tennis
April 3, 2002 1:47AM (UTC)
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Dear Readers,

Sunday was Easter and I didn't take acid. The coded messages of extreme urgency one receives in that locked ward of candy-colored psychosis were always good on Easter; the robed gentlemen handing out slips of paper on which were written the secrets of the universe never smiled with veiled malice on Easter, never intimated with a glance that catastrophe lay ahead, never turned into many-headed dragons as they sometimes did on other trips. It was a long time ago, and I don't recommend it -- who knows what I could have accomplished if I hadn't scrambled my brains! -- but that's what I used to do on Easter.


I was a dropout, not an activist. The best of the '60s activists were smart enough to enjoy the music and the free love but not to confuse the addlepated, pseudo-spiritual epiphanies acid provided with real-world political ideas and strategies.

One of those Easters on acid was spent in an immense sinkhole near Gainesville, Fla. In a state with no mountains, such enormous holes, made when underground rivers and streams eroded the limestone under our feet, provided, in the inverse, something like the thrill of steep, vertiginous cliffs, so flatlanders liked to go there.

Wandering barefoot the wet, sandy trails of the Gainesville sinkhole, I hallucinated myself as an ancient holy man in robes, complete with gnarled stick and sandals, walking outside the walls of a city, conversing with the younger representatives of two warring parties. "It is an ancient enmity," my thoughts proclaimed with all the solemnity of a sage from "Star Trek." "There is no human solution. It is up to the gods." As was typical of acid hallucinations, the sheer vividness of the recognition gave one the feeling of insight into it, when one had only seen the problem with a chemical vigor hard to achieve in a natural state: the tragic and ineluctable prison of ancient enmity, the sad, irretrievable waste.


That is a far cry from political insight. In fact, cut adrift from any social movement, it's the kind of pseudo-mythical thinking that became an element of New Age hedonism. Oddly enough, it also seems eerily like the hazy, fatalistic approach the Bush administration has taken to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While former President Clinton may have exhausted all efforts and failed to bring the two sides to agreement, his actions to the end represented a belief in the necessity of unrelenting political engagement. He never gave up. Bush was probably the kind of frat boy who would have been trying to buy acid from the hippies, while earnest Bill Clinton, though growing his hair moderately long, was trying to get into Yale, cop the Fullbright and take the reins of the system. And now Bush, in his neo-recovery reborn Christianity, seems to have confused accepting the things he cannot change with having the courage to change the things he can. He's a politician. It's his job to change things. Acting as though the Israelis and Palestinians were simply having a therapeutic moment in a long and immutable history of enmity belies the redress of real-world grievances that must form the foundation of any lasting peace.

So it was that over this most recent Easter weekend Israelis and Palestinians continued their battles with renewed savagery, and I did not take acid. I turned on the television to the shock and horror, and then turned away from it, dwarfed by its complexity and its ageless ire, and I played a little tennis with a renewed savagery of my own, and enjoyed yet another sunny day in a miraculous succession of brilliant blue Easters, lucky to be alive.

Though my passing acquaintance with prayer has served mainly as a program of personal impulse management, and may in fact be nothing more than a form of psychological self-programming, if ever there was a time it seemed appropriate for us onlookers to pray for a miracle in a far-off land, this seems like it.


While we resort to things like prayer, President Bush must wake up from his acid trip and salvage what he can of the machinery of negotiation.

There's still room for a miracle. After all, didn't miracles used to happen there all the time?

Dear Cary,


I have been married three years and am facing a serious dilemma. The physical characteristics my husband finds attractive in women are none that I possess. I am a blond, he likes brunets. I have small proportions, he is attracted to women with curves. I have a fair complexion, he loves olive. Everything he finds physically appealing I am not.

I know he married me because I am intelligent and talented, we are best friends, and we share many important values and goals. I have asked him about it, but I don't seem to get very many answers -- I think he doesn't want to hurt my feelings. My self-esteem is taking a nose dive at this point, and I can't help but wonder about the men out there who would be attracted to my physical type.

Judging by the sex (seldom) and his subtle glances at other women with these attributes, I am wondering -- is a marriage without physical attraction just a friendship? And is a friendship enough to sustain a marriage?


Not His Type

Dear Not His Type,

I once had a girl who had a great ass, or should I say, she once had me. She had money, brains and status, too. So congruent were her attributes with my fantasies of the perfect woman and so good was the sex at first, in fact, that I felt sure we would soon be married. Our tryst was sudden; within days we were living together. One evening as I was hanging by my fingertips from the window sill of our apartment and she was trying to slam the window on my hands, I had a minor epiphany concerning the odds against a long and happy marriage between us, but still it seemed that anyone so bright and well educated, and from such a good home, would be capable of reason and emotional growth once she had time to reflect on her actions.


Her next boyfriend she threw a television at. She didn't hit him, and he may have thrown something, too, but my experiences left little doubt that a great ass is not a foundation on which to build a sound relationship.

Nor, in fact, are the other attributes that, taken singly, are most pleasing to the mind and the senses, such as wealth, beauty, talent and intelligence.

It is unfortunate but true.

So what is a woman to do when she encounters a man whose libido seems to have been pre-wired to respond only to large boobs, or blond hair, or narrow hips, or black leather, or a shaved pussy, or a pierced vulva, or whips and chains and stiletto heels? And how does a man's mind get that way?


I don't know, frankly. Why would our lizard brains be programmed to believe that if we mate with a woman who has had the lack of foresight to get tattooed head to foot, our lives will become happier and safer, and our kind will increase in number? What sort of evolutionary advantage does that give the species, unless the species is, unbeknownst to us, sponsored by Lyle Tuttle's tattoo parlor?

My best guess is that such preferences form on a wholly separate track from the formation of the personality, like freckles or baldness. Not that they're genetic, necessarily; they may be imprinted experientially at a young age. But a man is not responsible for his freckles or his shoe fetishes, only what he does about them. Love really is the key. Without it, we're likely to move on from partner to partner forever, seeking the ideal combination of intellectual, emotional, spiritual, social, professional, aesthetic, gustatory, olfactory, musical, comical, literary and familial compatibility combined with the perfect ass, penis, chest, abdomen, knees, feet, tongue, eyes, hair, boobs, clitoris and hands. You could keep looking forever because each of us is unique; and if you ever did find your twin, the sex would be creepy. So it's love's power of endurance that provides humans the confidence, the time and feeling of safety within which they can undertake the long process of adaptation. If it's a marriage without love, then it's just a friendship. But if it's a marriage without sizzling sex, well, then, it's just a marriage.

But are you really in love? That's the question. I do believe amor omnia vincit, but without any amor there's not much vincit. So if you've got a good friendship that isn't sexual, you don't really have much of a marriage, and you are right to be concerned.

There are experts on sex who can tell you all about gadgets and positions, if you think that would help. Some people are game for that; others find it a little wiggy, the power tools and the costumes. But if you love this guy but you don't have the body type that turns him on, look at it this way: If he ever met his perfect body type and moved in with her, she'd probably cut his clothes into one-inch strips and bake them in risotto. And if that didn't kill the sex, just living together would kill it for sure. [Just kidding, dear.] So while I empathize, I think you're doing very well if you have a guy who loves you for who you are. It might be far more disturbing to look into his eyes one day and realize he's fucking the Veronica of his comic-book libido.


Dear Cary,

How does a middle-aged woman come to feel she is a person of substance and where does that substance come from?

I have lived the gypsy lifestyle since I was a child. (I moved 20 times before I was 5 years old.) This has been a continuing pattern through my whole life when my only desire has been to settle down in one place and live in the same abode for more than two or three years.

I used this "lifestyle" to further my career for almost seven years (I was able to go into retail markets and turn around underperforming regions within six months), until the stress of it and the loneliness finally took its toll on me. Once I realized I had no more left, I quit and took an almost two-year hiatus from working.


I am back in the full-time working scene, though at a reduced position, with a new company that I really see as having potential. I have achieved my goal of moving back to my childhood home, Southern California, yet I feel the same sense of loneliness that I always do. All of my immediate family live in Arizona (including my daughter and two beautiful granddaughters), but I won't move back there for the extreme heat, and the ex-husband factor (there are at least three out of four there).

So what's a young-minded, middle-aged, not wanting a permanent-man-relationship woman to do? And most of all, how can I come to terms with and make the lonely feelings go away, or should I just accept this as a normal and recurring part of my life? Please say there are many others out there like me, or am I really a unique gypsy-spirit or actually more like an abandoned kid who just never got over it?

45 looking like 35 feeling like 25 and confused

Dear 25 on the Inside,

I sense that you are a hard-driving, no-nonsense person; I sense that you are tough and smart, and you probably had to be from a young age to cope with all that moving around. You're so tough and smart that you put me on the defensive right away, letting me know my shortcomings, like I was some under-performing territory out in the desert. I wonder if that isn't a habit of toughness -- put the other person on the defensive before he hurts you -- that could be causing you trouble and contributing to your loneliness.

I can't help wondering why in spite of your loneliness you move around all the time. You say your only desire has been to settle down, but you've made a career of going from town to town. Your stated desires seem at odds with your actions. Why is that? Is it because moving around means making a living, and staying in one place means, what? What happened when you stayed in one place as a child? Did things always go bad? Is that why you were always packing up and moving? Are you afraid, as an adult, that if you stay in one place, things will go bad? What sadness you must have felt as a child every time you made friends and left them, over and over. Perhaps you want to avoid the sadness of leaving, so you're careful not to make friends. So you're lonely.

If you want to be not lonely anymore, you'll have to make some friends, and be with your family, and live with the fear of losing them. The fear of losing a friend isn't as bad as the loneliness of not having any. Think of it as a business transaction: You're taking a mortgage out on one set of problems to finance better ones. I think you can handle the risk.

What's in Southern California for you, anyway? Childhood memories? Of what? Moving all around? Was it perhaps the one place you stayed for more than a few months? Is that why you think you might reclaim a sense of permanence there? I think this quest for a sense of permanence is going to give you nothing but more heartache.

Arizona might be full of ex-husbands, but it's also full of your grandchildren. You've chosen personal comfort over proximity to your family. You can't go home again. So go back to Arizona and get some air-conditioning.

Dear Cary,

Ah, the age-old question: Why does a breakup come from out of the blue when things seem to be going so well? I'm 26, a success in my academic community, with pinch-me-I'm-dreaming prospects for future employment and achievement in my chosen profession, and finally happy in graduate school after four miserable years of college and four even more miserable years of floundering before coming back into the academic fold. Then, a few months ago, it seemed like the final piece of the puzzle was falling into place.

We met, were instantly attracted, started dating seriously, and were hot 'n' heavy within a couple of weeks. I've heard all the advice about moving too fast, but I've always believed that things happen at their own pace for a reason, and I shouldn't go fucking up my good karma by laying off when the getting's good. Well anyway, after six weeks things were wonderful -- great sex, great conversation, a healthy amount of "me" time for each of us, lots and lots of laughs. And then, after finals -- KABOOM! An ending with no explanation, shocking me and everyone who knew us.

And thus we come to another cliché: dumping the good guy for the bad ex-guy. Having been raised by strong women and a mensch of a father, I have real problems with men who mistreat women, and the mental abuse, I have seen, can often leave worse scars than any physical mistreatment. This is what happened to her with the ex (now current) boyfriend.

I have a little bit of a history of taking a long while to get over heartbreak, but this one has left me stymied. I've had some conversations with her about "why," but these only seem to leave things more muddled than before. She tells me that she wants to give it another shot with the ex, but in the midst of the conversation confides that things between them are not going well and the same issues from before are rearing themselves again. I'm not sure if she's equivocating to keep me on the back burner, but that's basically the effect it's having, regardless of her intent. Plus, I have to see them both every day at school, which tears me apart, but I also find myself looking out for a sighting of her at every opportunity.

This woman knows I am still in love with her, and I know she may be taking advantage of that, but I have a hard time losing "hope." I guess this is the problem of the eternal optimist, which I confess to being, but I feel my reluctance to let go also hinges on the fact that I'm still hopelessly confused as to why we broke up in the first place. How does one move past this? And here's one I'm sure you've never heard: Why do some women have difficulty being treated with respect?

Hopelessly in Love with Hope

Dear Hopelessly in Hope,

Hope may be an escape from reality, but reality is a far more refreshing escape from hope. Abandon all hope! Stop hoping! Seek what is real and true! What is real and true is that she is gone. Why? That's not for you to say. Should she be with this guy who doesn't treat her well? That's not for you to say, either, unless he's beating her up or threatening to kill her. If he's just a lout and an asshole, that's not your problem. I mean, yes, emotional wounds are real, but you can't call the ambulance for them. Will she come back? Why hope for that? She's gone. As to your question about women having trouble being treated with respect, what you call respect some women might call undue ideological deference, being treated with kid gloves, timidity, lack of guts. The backhanded slap of feminism as practiced by men is that it can be used to place women on a whole new pedestal of ideological daintiness that's just as bad as the feminine daintiness of yore. Sure, it's good to treat women well, but are you acting out some drama of social heroism co-written by your mensch dad and your family of "strong women" rather than seeing the situation as it really is?

At any rate, as I say with increasing frequency as my correspondents seem to grow younger (what happened to all the older folks who wrote in to Mr. Blue? Do I lack his gravitas?): You're young, and you've got a lot to learn yet! It was a short fling, that's all. She left the man of letters and went back to the gardener -- probably for the sex and the clarity.

Dear Cary,

Nine months ago, I met a wonderful man and felt some of the greatest emotional sparks of my life. We met and couldn't stop talking, went on a first date that was absolutely magical (and ended in sex) and quickly began a pattern of talking almost daily and seeing each other every few days. However, we both are extremely dedicated to our jobs, and work 70-plus hours a week. As work peaked (for both of us at the same time), the relationship slowed down.

Eventually, I broke off the physical relationship -- it seemed to be slowing, and I wanted to end it while it was still good. It was a successful move, in that we are still close friends. However, in my mind, one thing never stopped -- we still have absolute fireworks when spending time together.

Because I was so "self-protective" about the relationship, getting out when I suspected I might feel more than was reciprocated, we ended the relationship with things going essentially well. And I am just profoundly sad.

Now, four months later, I still can't figure out why I wanted to break up, except that he now seems to feel totally comfortable being just friends. We see each other at virtually the same frequency. But we're not "together." He's my best friend, and I think I love him, but it's obvious to me that he prefers the casual.

(Note: We have had one one-night stand since the "breakup," very recently.)

On the inside, I want to prostrate myself on his doorstep and ask him to marry me. But I'm also smart enough to have figured out the context clues -- which indicate that he's not interested in anything serious. I feel like if the same thing had happened when I was a naive 20-year-old, I would have known what to do -- I would have gone all out to make my love known. But several years later, as a rational "grown-up," I am no longer willing to do such a thing.

I feel like there are two kinds of people in the world: those who fall in love young and hard, and are very expressive about the whole thing. The other kind are those of us who miss that boat, and end up as grown-ups who are too mature to do things like serenade our true love under their balcony with a Bon Jovi song. The bottom line is that I feel like the older and more jaded I get, the more unsure I am about how to express myself. Am I doomed to this adult world where I don't know how to be emotional? And what, if anything, should I do to let this person (who is, from all context clues, less interested in me than I am in him) know that I love him? Is it worth it? Or is the path of "self-protection'" the better route?

I Knew What to Do When I Was 20

Dear I Was So Much Older Then,

What are context clues? That's an interesting term. Context clues. Is that from a social science discipline? Anyway, the context clues in your letter are telling me you should rely more on your instincts. Being an "adult" is no reason to pretend you don't have passion. If you want this guy, go get him. Stop trying to do his thinking for him. Get him to say no out loud, if no is his answer. And then either do the romance or break up for good and move on. The way it is, you're got the worst of both worlds: A friendship without solace, and an affair without lovemaking.

Dear Cary,

Please pass this note along to the high school student who wrote to you, if only for encouragement. Yes, you can really be in love. Yes, it can really last. Hopefully forever.

Same story, but three years ago -- a semi-long-distance relationship that started around junior year of high school but seemed fantabulous and sexy and satisfying enough to last forever. We came up against the same type of problem. Jeff was going to study in Boston; the best school for me was in Texas, but I thought I could survive four years at B.U.

I decided to attend the Houston dream school, not because I didn't value the relationship but because I did. If I'd chosen B.U., these four years would have been unpleasant, and I could have come to blame it on Jeff. This way I'm having a blast, and enjoying my total independence -- there's no substitute for four years of living 100 percent on your own schedule. I've developed my own interests and friendships, and I feel way more ready to move in for good in 2003. The distance definitely sucked at times -- but you've got your whole lives to spend together, and only these four to have your college experience.


Cary Tennis

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