When it comes to the world of relationships, it seems to be one the last taboos: alongside admitting that you’re not over-the-moon about your relationship and whispering to a friend that your desire for sex with your partner is at the bottom of your to-do list (yes, it’s become a “to-do”) is stating that you don’t find your partner physically attractive. What? In a culture that worships physical beauty and encourages you to place attraction somewhere near the first or second spot on a list of non-negotiables when choosing a partner, admitting that you don’t always find your partner attractive is considered blasphemous and certainly a valid reason to walk away. So when clients and course members broach this topic with me, it’s with a great deal of trepidation and guilt, as if they’re committing a cardinal sin.
My first line of action is to reassure them that it’s normal and more common than they think. It’s not something that’s discussed in Cosmo and Vogue, but it’s a line of thought that’s alive and well in the psyches of thousands of women and men. My second line of conversation is to begin to break down the flimsy definition of attraction that our culture propagates. Because our culture is obsessed with image, we define beauty only as what is apparent to the camera’s eye. It’s skin-deep, or less than skin-deep if you consider the amount of makeup, airbrushing, and photoshopping that is involved in creating a magazine photo. We carry this definition of beauty into our intimate relationships and assess our partners through this lens. We may consciously say, “I don’t expect him/her to look like a magazine photo,” but we nevertheless define attraction by the superficial criteria that we’ve absorbed since birth. How can we do otherwise? Cultural conditioning runs deep and it’s only with a great deal of awareness that we can re-wire these habitual ways of seeing.
Over the years I’ve worked with many men who struggled with the attraction issue. In fact, whereas women tend to focus on a variety of spikes from intelligence to social fluency, when relationship anxiety hits for a man it almost always focuses on some aspect of their partner’s physical appearance (often in addition to other spikes); skin, nose, butt, breasts, hair, and “she’s not my type” are common areas where the projection focuses. And then men almost invariably say the same thing to me: “But isn’t attraction extremely important? After all, men are more visual than women and if I don’t find my partner attractive now, what’s going to happen in five or ten years? How can I move forward with someone I don’t find attractive?”
The “men are more visual than women” is a massive and compelling hook for men. They bring up the biology argument (men are biologically wired to pair with a woman they find attractive). They bring up the sex argument (men can’t get aroused unless they’re wildly attracted to their partner). They try to convince me that my work might apply to women but it doesn’t apply to men. Luckily, I never buy it. Projection is projection and, while I understand that we live in a highly visual culture that conditions men (and women) from an early age to place physical appearance at the top of the partner criteria list, and while I understand that relationship anxiety tends to latch onto our most vulnerable areas, which, for men, is often around conversely linking the physical attractiveness partner with their own self-worth, what I’ve seen over and over again is that when men engage in their inner work and apply the tools that I teach to their anxiety, they’re able to break through the attraction spike just as effectively as women break through any of their spikes.
The problem with all of these arguments is that they’re still taking the attraction spike at face value. In other words, as long as you believe that your lack of attraction is only about physical appearance instead of an alarm bell pointing to your own insecurities, faulty beliefs, old pain (especially around partnership), and unmet needs, you’ll remain fixated on the wrong topic and your anxiety – and lack of attraction – will continue.
When men trade in the magnifying glass for a mirror and begin to turn inward to face their own inner demons that need attention, things start to shift. My readership is now filled with hundreds of men who were able to break through the attraction spike and are able to show up in all ways for their loving, committed, devoted, loyal partners. It’s hard work, but it’s worth every minute, for in the end, they’re able to embrace what we’re all longing for: to share loving partnership, to open our hearts to another human, to love and be loved.
Sex, Love, Etc. Social Interest Group. LIVE CALLS to discuss relationship-building.
Mondays at 9 pm Eastern Time/6 pm Pacific
Sex, Love, and Relationships—like so many other things—-are changing in the 21st Century. We’ll talk about that change, laugh together, share insights and stories with a group that feels as if it is sitting around a living room together. The group will be open to persons of any sexual orientation, age, gender identity, and relationship status.
Everyone has questions about love, sex, and relationships—and everyone has stories and insights to share. What are the modern dating norms and why do I keep feeling like I’m screwing it up? Is sex what it used to be? How will I know “the one” when I meet them? Heck, how do I meet anyone, “the one,” or not? What makes a great long-term relationship and how do you keep the spark and excitement going? What if I don’t know what kind of relationship I want? What is this thing called polyamory anyway and how is it different from an open relationship? What should I know about dating while bi, or trans, or interracial dating or anything outside the so-called norms of today? And what stereotypes should we work to get rid of?
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