How to Pick a Lover

Posts tagged ‘masculinity’

Picking A Lover: The Rating Game

Women are moved by sexual impulses towards particular men, not towards men as a whole, and men will never understand women as long as they do not understand this.
—H. M. Swanwick, The Future of the Women’s Movement

When you look around a party or when you go through your email address book or when you count on your fingers and toes men whom you have found attractive, you make implicit decisions about their appeal relative to one other. You also make decisions about their attractiveness to you. You have formed impressions based on appearance and conversations and, perhaps, on reports from other people; and you mesh these together into an overall response to the man. The many factors involved in sex appeal or animal magnetism or whatever it is called are difficult to define, but they combine to form an impression that is easy to recognize.

Every time you meet a new man, you form an opinion about him. Sometimes you feel indifferent, sometimes you feel a faint distaste, sometimes you feel drawn to him. In your responses, you subconsciously rank him from terrible to terrific, from fatuous to fascinating, from disgusting to delectable. It’s fortunate for everyone that the man who seems exactly right to one woman may not even seem passably attractive to another.

Helen of Troy

Helen of Troy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Christopher Marlow in Dr. Faustus describes Helen of Troy as having “the face that launched a thousand ships.” Some irreverent young men, not attuned to the sacredness of classic poetry, borrow this line to rate their women. Out girl watching, they will say cryptically to each other, “Five hundred ships, huh?” “No, I don’t think so. Three hundred at most. But look at that one! Eight hundred easy.” The popular 1980’s movie Ten, featuring Bo Derek wearing rows of corn braids and not much else, was based on a variation of this perennial theme where men rate women on a one-to-ten scale.

Long-distance love affairs call for another sort of rating scheme. Just ask yourself: how far would you be willing to commute for a rendezvous? Some men are attractive enough to draw you across the street. Some are attractive enough to rate a drive across town, if it isn’t raining. Some of the spectacular ones are worth a bus trip from Boston to Philadelphia. A few even rate a transatlantic flight.

On the other end of the scale, to quote a woman friend of mine, “Well, if we had twin beds, and his was all the way across the room, it wouldn’t be worth the trip.”

When you are thinking about rating various men and comparing their pros and cons, there is another problem to be taken into account. In assessing a man and the pleasure he gives you or might give you, you cannot always average out the good with the bad. Sometimes, the bad is so bad that it destroys all of the rest.

In Fats Waller’s song, “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” the man turfs out his girlfriend, complaining, “Your feet’s too big!” If shoe size is that important to you, then a beautiful smile and charm won’t compensate. However, it’s important to learn to overlook unimportant quirks and refrain from making arbitrary judgments over insignificant flaws. The more tolerant you can manage to be, the more people you can find potentially compatible, and the more tolerance you can expect in return.

Except for axe murderers, many of the so-called fatal flaws of physique or character are not all that fatal. Sometimes, however, a potential lover has a trait that makes him beyond the pale as far as you are concerned. He’s like a phone number you dial by memory. If you correctly remember six out of seven numbers, your memory is 86 percent correct, but you still don’t get the person you were trying to call.

Six correct out of seven is pretty good; but with phone numbers, as with people, it’s not good enough.

The Lady’s Man Doesn’t Make a Good Husband but He May Make a Good Lover

What lasting joys the man attend
Who has a polished female friend.
—Cornelius Whurr, The Female Friend

Often, a man who is androgynous is a man who has a number of women friends. The best lovers are usually those who are the most bonded to women. A man with women friends, obviously, can relate to women on a number of levels in addition to the erotic one. If he seeks out women friends and if he is successful in maintaining friendships with them, you know that he must enjoy their conversation and be sympathetic to their concerns. He is what is often called a lady’s man. It is important to note that the lady’s man, unlike the macho “man’s man,” actually likes women.

Cover of "Lady's Man"

Cover of Lady’s Man

The special term for the love of or liking of women is “philogyny.” Why is it that the kinds of men who are philogynous have such a negative image? Referring to someone as a “lady’s man” usually has a negative connotation, but in the literal sense, it only means a man who strives especially to please women and to attract their attention and admiration. Doesn’t that sound like someone who might make a good lover?

A “womanizer” is defined as a man who chases women. What else should he chase? gold? goats? other men? The man who is called a womanizer is almost as bad as one who is called a philanderer. The dictionary defines a “philanderer” as a man who makes love without serious intent. How serious did you want him to be? As serious as mortgages? As serious as vacuum cleaners? As serious as crabgrass or the crabs? The dictionary also notes that a philanderer is one who carries on flirtations or one who loves. His intentions may not be honorable, but his bed may still be an honorable place. The philanderer is likely, at least, to be a man who likes women, who likes sex, and who appreciates sensual delights. You might not want to marry one, but you might well enjoy having one as a lover.

The man who likes women, call him what you will, is one who enjoys flirtation and who understands dalliance.

Love and the Androgynous Man

What is most beautiful in virile men is something feminine; what is most beautiful in feminine women is something masculine.
Susan Sontag

Coleridge maintained that “the great mind must be androgynous.” To that, we must add that great lovers must be androgynous as well. The man who is most desirable as a lover must have some of the traits which are usually thought of as belonging to women; the woman who is most desirable as a mistress must have some of the traits which are usually thought of as belonging to men.

Androgyny is a complicated concept. From its roots, you can tell it refers to a combination of the sexes: “andro” meaning male (as in “androgen,” the male sex hormone) and “gyn” meaning female (as in “gynecology,” the branch
of medicine devoted to women). Androgyny refers to a kind of personality which combines both male and female traits. The combination can result in a person with a wide range of these kinds of behaviors with which they feel comfortable. The androgynous person is flexible and versatile and, more than most people, is able to escape the limitations of rigid sex roles.

Androgynous (song)

Androgynous (song) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The man who is androgynous is not someone who is effeminate or womanlike. However, he may have some of women’s better features, such as a capacity to feel and to express tenderness. The woman who is androgynous is not someone who is masculinized or manlike. However, she may have some of men’s better features, such as a healthy acceptance of heightened sexuality. In either case, androgyny does not necessarily have anything to do with being homophylic (being of the same race or having common ancestry), or with having homosexual tendencies. Some homosexuals may also be androgynous, but most are not.

Why seek an androgynous lover? In the first place, such a man is quite secure in his own masculinity: secure enough to ignore the exaggerated demands of macho culture and to create his own style. He can admit to a wide range of emotions—wider than the typically macho emotions of lust and rage—and he can express them in a variety of ways. In the second place, the androgynous man, who is in some ways like a woman, can understand women better than his macho brother ever will. He is therefore more sympathetic to women in general and to you in particular. He can be assertive without being aggressive; he can be dominant, in some circumstances, without being a bully; and he can follow, in other circumstances, without being a wimp.

The androgynous man is as handy with a mix master as he is with a chain saw, as concerned with table settings as with the Dow Jones; he is as interested in poetry as he is in the World Series. He is, truly, a man for all seasons.

What Gives a Man Sex Appeal?

Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.

—William Butler Yeats, “A Drinking Song”

If you pick up any anthology of sayings or jokes and look up the topic of sex appeal, you will find lots of references to physical traits: perky breasts, long shapely legs, full lips, and round buttocks. There are laudatory comments about long blond hair, or long hair of any color, and effusive praise for peaches-and-cream complexions and big blue eyes with long
black eyelashes.

What you will not find, interestingly, are many direct references to what makes a man physically attractive. What gives a man sex appeal? If women have had opinions about a man’s sex appeal, they seem to have made it secondary to their opinions about his material standing. More often than not, a man’s appeal seems to be based on his pocketbook.
Traditionally, as many women have recognized, and rightly so, her fortune is often dependent on his. If his bank balance is large enough, he is attractive; if he is poor, he is not. As the saying goes, “There ain’t no such thing as an ugly millionaire.”

I laughed so hard I was crying during the whol...

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Maybe not. But what happens when women begin to focus on the attributes that constitute masculine appeal rather than on an assessment of wealth or achievements? The idea that women should do so at all is somewhat revolutionary for many people. The standards for what is or is not sexy or appealing in a man vary widely from one woman to the next, just as they do when men are judging women. There’s an inexplicable alchemy that is enhanced by a combination of basic physical equipment, clothes and sense of style, and a certain kind of personality and manner.

Let us begin by considering masculine magnetism in terms of its most obvious component—that of physical appeal—because, in truth, love really does “come in at the eye.”

Looking at Men as Sex Objects

More and more women are coming to use men as “mere sex objects,”
which is a welcome switch for both sexes.
—Brendan Francis

When you look at a man as a sex object or as a love object, you look at him in terms of the kind of person he is. You don’t think about what he is or what he has accomplished or how much money he has, but rather about his unique essential self.

Is he lovable? Do you want to reach out and brush his hair back off his forehead? Is he sexy? Do you fantasize about how his arms would feel around your waist? Does he make you feel sexy? Do you start to wonder if somehow it would be possible for all the other people in the room to miraculously vanish so that the two of you could snuggle down by the fire and see what happens next? Does he make you feel loving? Can you suddenly see yourself walking hand in hand on a beach at dawn, looking into each other’s eyes? Do you imagine the two of you speaking the sentimental clichés found in
Hallmark valentines or posing in the romantic scenes depicted in perfume advertisements?

English: Anthony Hannon's Shoot about shoe add...

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Does he have sex appeal, that much-desired special something that makes heads turn and hearts throb? Does he give off that certain aura that’s so strong that you get weak-kneed and forget all your prior commitments? Would you have fun together sharing a mutual interest such as rock climbing, scuba diving, or exploring a new exhibit at the museum? If women are, or can be, sexual creatures with sexual appetites, what more logical choice for a sex object than a delectable man?

If a woman has enough resources that she does not need a man to support her financially and if she is not immediately concerned with finding a suitable man to marry, she can begin to look around for someone to love and to make love with. She can judge men in much the same way as men have usually judged women.

The idea of men as sex objects rather than as providers and protectors is still a somewhat new idea. It places men in an unfamiliar role, and many of them still don’t play it well.

Women in Contemporary Relationships

I think we can all agree that romantic relationships have changed dramatically over the past 50 years.

A mere two generations ago relationships and marriage were rather vanilla. Couples were heterosexual, of the same race/ethnicity, religion, social/economic and political background – so much for diversity. Also, marital roles were fairly circumscribed – men were the breadwinners and women the homemakers. There were shared expectations about sex roles for men and women, which were primarily based on what constituted masculine and feminine behavior. Premarital sex was taboo – at least for women. There were “good” girls and “bad” girls, and I don’t think I need to tell you what made a good girl good or bad girl bad. In any given couple, the man was usually older, taller, better educated, and financially better off than the woman.  All things that defer more power to the man than the women. Few women worked outside the home. And when they did, it was to supplement her husband’s substantially larger income.

Well, so much for the good ole days. Today’s relationships run the gamut of the rainbow – heterosexual/gay, interracial/ethnic, interfaith, binational, older women and younger men, couples from widely different social, economic, political backgrounds. Women have full fledged careers and they are financially independent. For women, being a virgin – or almost a virgin – is no longer a prerequisite to marriage.  All in all, women today have a range of options and opportunities that far outstrip those of our grandmothers or even our mothers.

It all sounds wonderful.  However, as we enter the second decade of the 21st century, many of our social values that govern love, sex and marriage remain markedly different for men and women in many ways. While both men and women may openly and freely engage in the pursuit of love and sex, how they reach their quest is not always the same.

"The world turned upside down" (gend...

“The world turned upside down” (gender-role reversal) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our cultural traditions are strong and differences in the socialization and physiology of men and women remain a reality. And unfortunately, or fortunately – depending on your personal views–many traditional sex roles remain deeply embedded in modern-day relationships – straight and gay. When these traditional roles collide with the realities of modern day – which they often do – couples find themselves in conflict.

While contemporary relationships may be much more rewarding than the those of our parents and grandparents, they are also much more complex and difficult.

Through this blog, I want to explore the relatively new emotional and sexual freedoms that women have gained through their struggle  for equality and freedom of sexual expression in contemporary relationships – including a woman’s option of having a lover(s) if she so chooses.

Each week I will post some specific thoughts about women in contemporary relationships for comment and discussion. Hope you will join in on what I believe will be a fun, enlightening and rewarding blog.

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