Love and Sensitivity

On Physical Attraction

My girlfriend Lex and I recently took a trip to Amsterdam to visit my sister, who is working there for an international real-estate firm. On our first day, my sister and Lex started talking about their hairstyles, and eventually my sister described the beauty of her local hairdresser. She said the woman has the typical look of the Dutch: tall, skinny, and blond. I told Lex that maybe we should meet her. I don’t think she appreciated that suggestion, but she wasn’t upset by it either, and as our visit to this beautiful city progressed we discovered there is more to look at in Amsterdam than the tulips, canals and architecture. The city has, as far as we could tell, no unattractive parts, including many of its inhabitants. I know this sounds superficial, but would the fair people of Amsterdam object to descriptions of their city and themselves as essentially breathtaking?

My point is that while standards of beauty do exist (where these standards originate is obviously debatable), these standards ultimately play a small role in the working parts of a loving relationship. Attraction describes something deeper than superficial standards of beauty, and is of course the sparkplug of most relationships. Luckily for me, Lex is beautiful: she has shining black hair, a petite figure I find adorable, and the body of a woman who cares about her health. My favorite aspect of her appearance is her little face, which looks so charming when sleeping on an oversized pillow.

While men sometimes devolve into chauvinists when obsessing over the physical attractiveness of women, a little preoccupation with looks is only human. But I want to say, before going further, that it’s really, truly the intellectual bond Lex and I share that cements our relationship, the glue that holds it together. So if she were to see a man on the street and say to me he is the most attractive man she has ever seen, rather than fight an urge to throw acid on his face, I would find myself more curious about what, to her, constitutes this beauty. And if I point out to her a voluptuous woman riding a Vespa in knee-high leather boots and a short skirt, we can both agree that said woman looks pretty badass and intriguing—at least in an exotic European way.

I hope most people agree that being in a monogamous relationship doesn’t force you to pretend that no other attractive people exist in the world. Lex and I have a relationship comfortable enough that we can talk about the beauty of other people without getting jealous—or if one of us does get jealous, we are mature enough to treat our jealously as inevitable, unnecessary, and (usually) pretty amusing. Case in point: by the end of the trip, as we entered a place that couldn’t be more ordinary—a grocery store—Lex pointed out to me that the men in Amsterdam are handsome. According to her, they are exceptionally tall and have remarkably thick heads of hair. I told her not to rub it in since I am not exceptionally tall and my hair thins significantly both in the front and on top. She assured me, halfheartedly, that though physically attractive in their masculinity, they are not her type.

The true culmination of this whole experience of beauty and attraction came on our last night in Amsterdam while on a walk through its infamous Red Light District. I hope the reader can assume (though I will say it anyway) that our journey through the narrow alleys was in no way solicitous but inspired by a tourist’s sense of curiosity. As can be expected, Lex and I reacted to the sights differently—me more as a Neanderthal, her more as a sympathetic anthropologist. We’re not completely square, and though we both found more than a bit of sorrow in seeing bikini-clad woman behind glass like pieces of meat at a butcher shop, it was also kind of exciting. Not coincidentally, the woman behind the glass I found most attractive had shining black hair, a petite figure I found adorable, and the body of a woman who cares about her health. It seems Lex, and my relationship with her, have transformed the way I define beauty. Even in the ruddy glow of Amsterdam’s back alleys, my sense of attraction blossomed more from the pleasure of my sensibilities and my time with Lex than from the pleasure derived through my eyes.

Chris Black lives with his wife in Los Angeles. He is a former associate editor at Black Clock and wrote feature articles on rubber duck races, birds of prey, and other mountain topics for The Vail Trail weekly.