Suddenly I'm super hot! I'm a man magnet! What happened?

I'm a late bloomer but now, out of nowhere, I've got that certain something.

Published April 12, 2005 7:58PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

All of a sudden, my life seems unusually sexually charged, and I can't for the life of me figure out why.

It doesn't seem to be related to my husband. We've been married for two years and we have fun in bed together, and are extremely physically affectionate. There's nothing more I want, although I think he would like me to be a bit more adventurous sexually. I'm learning and I've asked him to be patient with me. I think we're doing just fine.

But all of a sudden, I'm aware of guys and the way they look at me. This has never really been in the forefront of my mind before, and I'm really thrown by it. Has it always happened, and I just never noticed? Or is there something inside me that's switched on, a new awareness? I'm not sure I like it, although I do feel sort of exhilarated by it.

The other day I was doing my rather dull job and all of a sudden the thought came into my mind: I want to make men weep. I don't know where this is coming from. I never felt I had any power over men before and honestly never sought it. I've always dressed conservatively and shied away from anything overtly sexual in my appearance or manner. I thought that stuff was in bad taste. And now I'm all worried about my looks. I just colored my hair, I wanted to be blond. I'm obsessing about my weight. I want to wear high-heeled shoes. And I want men to look at me. I like that look I keep getting. What's with this? I don't recognize myself, and I'm a little scared.

My relationships before my husband were awful -- men were attracted to me, nothing ever really took off, and I would get dumped. This happened a jillion times. When that wasn't happening, I was stalked by unstable guys, often for years (one of them is still doing it). I was a loser magnet and a loser myself. Life sucked, my sexual self-esteem was nonexistent.

I'm a late bloomer to the nth degree. I never finished college and spent my 20s and 30s working in a series of bleak office jobs, dodging my bullying bosses and toxic co-workers. But I met a wonderful man when I was 39, and it sounds corny but things really are different now. Brighter. Warmer. I have love in my life and it's weird -- and wonderful. I treasure this guy.

My mother was overprotective, my father aloof, and both were highly critical and negative. Mom spent the first few years of my life trying to get me diagnosed as either 1) a genius, or 2) a mental case. Unhappily for her, I wasn't either one, and she settled for spending the rest of her life (she died when I was 22) blaming me for being simply the worst kid that ever plagued a parent. She tacitly blamed me for the failure of her miserable marriage to my father, a woman-hating, emotionally abusive petty domestic tyrant and permanent underachiever.

I have some theories about why my parents disliked me so much, but that's for another time. After years of self-doubt and self-blame, I've come to realize the problems were mainly theirs, and I probably wasn't that bad a kid. I'm still working through this damage, of course. It's the kind of thing you don't ever get over 100 percent.

One more thing. A guy who dumped me 22 years ago started calling me at work. We weren't super compatible, but he was hot, and he was the first guy to evoke any kind of sexual response from me (although technically we never had sex).

It's been a few weeks and I haven't called him. I'd like to chat and catch up. I'm not aware of wanting to do anything else. My marriage isn't in jeopardy, but I would feel disloyal doing this behind my husband's back. Is there any harm in having lunch with this guy? Can't this be innocent? Why is all this stuff happening now? Am I just afraid of aging? Do I need constant reassurance from strangers that I've still got it? Why isn't my husband's love enough? I feel guilty and tortured and awful.


Dear K,

Well, there may be all kinds of intricate, subtle and complex reasons ranging from hormonal changes to seasonal changes to some long-delayed psychological process that is finally, unexpectedly blossoming. I'd be remiss if I didn't suggest you look into all the possible causes, contact the appropriate experts, etc. But I'd have to say I prefer to believe that you have been contacted by a goddess.

As I see it, this is what happened: Once upon a time a little girl was told by her parents that she was an ugly, stupid urchin of no value to anyone. They told her she was the worst child any parents could possibly have. She had no one to tell her differently, so she believed her parents.

As if to prove out her belief, her early life was harsh. Men stalked her. Shopkeepers kept her waiting. Her car belched black smoke. No university would grant her a degree. Men fondled her on buses. No clothes fit her. She never wore a prom dress. No one ever bent her back at the end of a dance and kissed her. She felt like a failure.

She worked for bosses who beat her and called her names. The only thing she knew was how to endure, and so she endured and endured and endured. She stayed low and tried to avoid provoking her bosses. In that way she persevered throughout her 20s and 30s.

One day the goddesses Aphrodite and Athena were arguing. Each was feeling low -- Aphrodite despairing of the power of love and beauty and Athena despairing of the power of knowledge and wisdom. Each thought the other had it easy. They argued about who had the easier life. Athena, seeking to prove that no amount of knowledge can make a woman happy, said to Aphrodite, "Just two words: Condoleezza Rice."

"Wow," said Aphrodite, "maybe you're right."

But seeking to prove that no amount of beauty and sexual allure by itself can make a woman happy either, Aphrodite looked over the whole earth and said, "Look, see that poor suffering woman there, I'll make her beautiful and desired; I'll awaken in her a genius for erotic mastery. And then you'll see: She'll be frightened out of her wits. She won't recognize this new power. It will become a torture to her. She won't know what to do with it; 10 to 1 she'll use it to strike back at all the men who treated her poorly all the time she thought she was not attractive, and those men will turn on her with a savagery that even in her bleakest time she could never imagine. Even her own husband will disown her. You'll see. Beauty will be her downfall. And then it will be apparent who among us has got it easy."

So Aphrodite swooped down to your street while you were sleeping and tapped your forehead three times with her wand. You woke up dazzled and amazed, and started buying spike heels.

Having had a wish magically granted, you were faced with a choice. Would you deceive your husband, who adores you, just for a chance encounter with an Adonis? Or would you play it safe, husbanding your beauty, enlivening men's senses with your unworldly grace, making the world sparkle a little, using your powers for good?

Aphrodite did everything she could to tempt you. She sent one Adonis after another before you. At first you did not know what to do. You were so unused to men like that coming on to you that you bungled your first couple of encounters. But you resolved that the next one who came on to you, you would go through with it.

Athena, however, objected to Aphrodite's methods. "This is like an experiment without a control," she said to her husband.

"Well, why don't you get off your theoretically minded ass and do something about it?" he said. So she swooped down and, while you were sleeping, provided you with a measure of her wisdom.

You were just beginning to unbutton your blouse in the company of a certain young man who was delivering purified water to your offices when you had a sudden thought: What am I doing to my husband? What am I doing to my life? You took stock of what you had and what you could lose; with a dose of Athena's wisdom percolating in your brain you considered how you might take delight in your newfound power without necessarily betraying your husband and tormenting all those helpless men who all of a sudden could not take their eyes off you. You thought things through. You resisted.

Aphrodite could not understand why her gift of attraction had not become a torment to you. Her opinion of us mortals was beginning to improve, until one day she heard Athena laughing, telling her husband all about her secret intervention. Whereupon Aphrodite exploded in a rage. She called in an old favor from Zeus, whose face and neck, thanks to her advice on skin care, remained remarkably young-looking, and he temporarily granted her enormous strength. She stormed into Athena's bedroom, picked her up and literally threw her down to earth, where she landed in a cubicle in the State Department just down the hall from Condoleezza Rice.

To this day, poor Athena sits and cries at her desk in the State Department, mired in the tragic sadness of knowledge without beauty. (One day Aphrodite will rescue her. But she's waiting until after the next election.)

Meanwhile, you notice that men seem to be following your figure as you walk down the street. You don't encourage them but neither do you throw them cold, imperious glances, or tug your bag closer, or silently scorn them. You know the gods are just playing with us.

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