Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Strange Attractions

I find it odd that I'm attracted to women who aren't my wife. And I don't just mean a few women. I seem to be able to find something attractive about just about every woman I see. It's incredibly annoying. But more than that, I don't understand *why* it is.

To illustrate my confusion, let me describe an internal dialogue I have with a woman at my office whom I find more than normally attractive. I see her daily, but I avoid talking to her - mainly because I know I'm attracted and I need safe distance. Here's the entirely made up conversation that I have with her in my head.

Me: I don't understand why I'm attracted to you. It doesn't make sense.

Her: You mean you're attracted to me despite my obvious unattractiveness?!

[Note: in my subconscious, women are always trying to find some way to make what I say into a personal insult. It might have something to do with the fact that it frequently works that way in reality, too]

Me: No! I mean that I'm attractedd to you despite there being absolutely no upside to it, at any level. Think about it:
  1. You're a real person, but I'm only talking to a figment in my head. So being attracted to you has already made me slightly less sane.
  2. The odds of being rejected by you are pretty high, because
  • Your ring tells me you're married.
  • I'm just not that attractive

    I suspect that being rejected now is not any more fun than it was in high school and college.
  1. I'm married, so finding you attractive causes pain to my wife, whom I adore.
  2. In the unlikely event that you did *NOT* reject me, acting on this will ultimately cause me pain as all of the following would almost certainly happen:
  • I'd get caught
  • I'd damage my marriage, probably irreperably
  • I'd lose my kids (at worst) or lose their respect (at best)
  • I would (correctly) become a fool in the eyes of my friends and family
[End of conversation]

What is the possible benefit to *ANYONE* for me to continue to find random women attractive? Yet it still happens. And with a disturbing frequency. I wish there was an off switch. Because I can see no benefit to having this feature remain active.

From talking to my male friends, they seem to experience this about as much as I do. So it seems relatively normal. However, many of my friends simply can't talk to their wives about this at all, out of fear that just mentioning it will hurt their feelings and result in a huge fight. I count myself lucky that my wife (at some level) understands this, even if she doesn't feel it. To her, there is an off switch - at least from a visual sense. She got married. She's stopped searching for attractive men. She recognizes them, but it simply doesn't have any impact on her. For her to be really attracted to someone takes *much* more than just seeing them. At least she understands that it doesn't work that way for me. And she wishes that there was an off switch for me, too.

But the off switch doesn't seem likely to happen. So I keep my distance from women whom I find attractive. I just don't understand why this feature of being a male is necessary. I could really do without it.


Niffer said...

After reading this, I talked a little about it with my husband (and thus some of the following comes from him as well)...

I don't think *anyone* really has an OFF switch. I think it's perfectly common and normal to be attracted to other people. I guess I fail to see what the big deal is - because it happens to everyone on one level or another.

For myself, as an engineer, I'm surrounded by guys who are attractive in one form or another - whether it be intelligence or physically - the ratio of guys:girls is just in my favor. On the other hand, most of the tissue researchers here are attractive, though married, women - so I'm sure my fellow coworkers deal with the same issues.

Personally, my real (annoying) down-fall is being attracted to someone who I feel like I can help or fix in one way or another. These are guys who most people would agree to refer to as a "loser" and thus I can find no understandable reason for being attracted to them. I know this is a common trait in my family because my mom has had multiple marriages where she was trying to "fix" a guy and bring him out of the pits of despair. My sister is currently going through a divorce for the same reasons. I consider myself lucky that my need to "fix" an un-fix-able person has always stopped at friendship, but even then I wish the attraction didn't exist.

Ultimately, I don't see what the big deal is... My husband feels like we are all wired for procreation and the whole monogamy thing is really an artifact of our brain.

The key is in thinking things like "yeah, I could, but as an intelligent thinking human being, I know other people have feelings, and this would not be without consequence" or "I would never want to hurt those I love"

Ultimately, it's it is the conscious decision that "This one person is more important to me than all those others combined" that matters most.

I find it a little odd, and unfortunate, that your male friends feel like they can't bring it up with their wives because I don't feel like it's only the husbands who experience it. I think that given equal opportunity to interact with people you could be attracted to, *everyone* will find themselves attracted. I think that they'd be lying to themselves, and to their spouses if they claimed otherwise.

Maybe the fact that your wife seems to have an OFF switch is not quite the way to look at it. She's a stay-at-home mother, right? Doesn't that mean she gets fewer opportunities, in general, to interact with other guys? My guess is that saying she really does have an off switch isn't quite accurate. What about your friends' wives? What kind of profession are they in? Do they interact with the same number of men and the husbands do women? Do you see my point?

I really fail to see the issue because I think it's human-nature to be attracted to multiple people. It only becomes an issue if you act upon it - a fine line that I've approached (not crossed) even with just trying to help what I told myself to be only a "friend in need."

Stop rambling now, Niffer.

Niffer said...

In reading the second-to-last paragraph of my comment, I wanted to explain myself a little more...

I question the OFF switch thing because I know that between my husband and I, I believe I suffer from being attracted to other people more than he does. He's an engineer too and rarely has opportunities to interact with women. He admits that when he does, he's often attracted to them, but ultimately I deal with the temptation more than he does just due to the ratios surrounding me.

Ok, Ok. I'll stop now for real. Have a great day!

mjh said...

Thanks for your comments, Niffer. I hear you when you say that everyone experiences this, so it’s not a big deal. And to a certain extent, that’s right. But I think I’m not explaining myself clearly. Let me try an analogy. I was recently on a diet and I cut back dramatically on carbohydrates. The first part of the diet was really difficult and I was tempted to cheat often. But then I got to the 2nd part of the diet and I was allowed some carbs. It was easier because by that time, my body had gotten used to not having carbs and so it didn’t crave them as much. Sticking to the plan became easier because I didn’t have the craving.

So what’s the big deal? I have a craving that would cause huge problems if I gave in to it. It’d be SOOO much easier if I just didn’t have the craving.

As far as my wife having an off switch, she’s read this entry and didn’t disagree with it. Which doesn’t mean she necessarily agrees with everything in the post. But in the limited scope that I’m talking about, I think she does. I’m not suggesting that she is no longer capable of finding another guy attractive. Of course she can do that. But it takes more for her. It takes getting to know the person, learning his history, learning his dreams, learning what he struggles with. That kind of thing, and my wife could become smitten with someone. But for me, all it takes is seeing someone who’s moderately physically attractive. That’s what I want an off switch for, because it’s almost impossible *not* to see attractive women. They’re freaking everywhere!

And then I’m stuck with a craving that I have to control. I’m forced to use will power to remind myself not to find a reason to go talk her. To remind myself not to let my eyes linger. To force myself not to think about things that have no business being in my head. Because if I don’t do those things, the path that they sit on is slippery, and once on it, it’s easy to go further than you want and harder to turn back around. I’d really rather not have to control this stuff. But I do. And it’s work. It’s using will power that I’d rather use for something else. (See: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/02/opinion/02aamodt.html?_r=2)

And that’s the point of my post: I hate that I have to work at this. I know that I do. I wish it was easier. In summary, I’m whining about things I can’t change. Hey, this is blog. Do you expect any less?

I do agree, however, that with my wife being a SAHM, she has fewer opportunities to interact with men than I have to interact with women. I think you’re right that that has a big impact.

Jimazing said...

Me too. I seem to remember reading something recently about a psychological test given to men when they were in the presence of an attractive woman and they did more poorly than those were not with a woman at all. The conclusion (as I recall was that most men get stupider when they are around an attractive woman). I don't know if that's true, but I wouldn't have too much trouble believing it.

One thing I have noticed for me is that I feel an "animal" attraction to attractive women that I don't know, but when I get to know them, they change from an attractive "object" to a person with their own complex lives. Then I find myself less attracted to them physically and more attracted to who they really are. They move from being an object to a person (in my mind).

Of course, the great majority of attractive women I see never become part of my circle of acquaintences... so I don't know if it would always work that way ;-)

I think this post will be good for your boys to read when they are older. I wish I had something like this from my dad. Something that revealed what goes on inside. Way to go!

Niffer said...

I definitely agree with the last sentence of Jimazing's comment. I think your boys will benefit from this post and seeing that it's not easy to make the right choices when it comes to people you love. It will help them better understand their own difficulties.

As for your point about it being much easier to simply NOT have to deal with those feelings... I see your point now. You're right - it would be easier if they didn't exist at all. I'll join you in that statement.

mjh said...

Well, he's just Jimazing. I mean, what else is there to say?

Actually much. He is a cherished friend whose advice and counsel I take very seriously.

Jimazing said...

Awwww... Thanks for the kind words. The feeling is quite mutual.

By the way, this is completely off topic, but is related to your later post about the new comments system...

This comments box on this entry has a terrible interface. On Firefox, I cannot use arrow keys to move around and edit. I have to click with the mouse or type. Maybe you knew that and that's what prompted the change. Anyway, the new one is MUCH better than this one... even with the confusing button text.

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