Remember when you were a teen-ager and you felt attracted to someone you barely knew and you were constantly on the lookout for sightings of that person — and seeing the person made you feel nervous and you were afraid you might say something really stupid? Of course, that fear didn’t stop you from inventing ridiculous excuses to talk to the person, leaving you feeling even more ridiculous and nervous afterward. Remember?
I haven’t experienced that in a very, very long time, but someone has been making me feel that way again lately. It’s halfway great and halfway exasperating. It’s the terrible, horrible feeling that comes with having an attraction to a person that you just can’t explain.
I met her about a month ago when she had a reason to drop by my office. Since then, she’s dropped by to chat four or five times. She just left again and I feel happy — giddy, actually — to have had five minutes with her. I barely even know the woman, but she affects me like a drug that I crave. Why?
She’s beautiful. She’s very smart. She’s fascinating. She has interesting things to say and she also actually listens. (I mentioned a book that I think is important, and she expressed an interest in reading it. That rarely happens.) I can list objective things that I find attractive about her — but the truth is that it’s something very different.
There’s something magnetic about her. There’s an air of electricity about her presence. There’s something about her that transcends her looks or personality or anything else that I can put my finger on. There’s something about me that feels oddly connected to her. I’m constantly around beautiful, intelligent and interesting women, but she’s different in a way that I can’t explain.
Now, here’s the truth. The odds of there being anything romantic between the two of us aren’t good. She’s the sort of drop-dead gorgeous woman who can have any man she wants, and I’m older than what a woman her age typically dates — not to mention the many pounds I’ve put on in the last five years because of the emotional stress of an unpleasant breakup. Besides, I know almost nothing about her in the conscious sense. I don’t know her values or desires or history or much of anything else.
So why is there something that pulls me to her like a piece of steel near a powerful magnet?
I can’t explain attraction. I can explain sexual desire, but what I’m talking about is more than that. I can explain the desire to be around interesting people and have companionship, but I’m talking about something more than that. I can even explain the desire to have a partner in life — for social reasons or for building a family or for whatever someone’s reasons are for seeking a partner — but what I’m talking about goes beyond those practical considerations.
What I’m talking about is visceral. It’s something you feel at your core — and it’s something that makes you want to be the best “you” that you can be — in order to be worthy of someone who you’re drawn to and who you put on a pedestal of sorts.
The first time I saw the movie, “As Good as it Gets,” I didn’t really understand it any more deeply than the surface-level story. It didn’t mean anything to me. But as I got a little bit older and started understanding my own flaws — understanding the things that need to change in me and what about a woman can motivate me to change — I started “getting” the movie and even identifying with Melvin in some respects.
I went from not seeing any big deal about the line, “You make me want to be a better man,” to understanding it very deeply.
It’s not the quintessential romantic line, but the more I think about it, the more it seems to be the most romantic line I know of. It’s not flowery. It’s not overly sweet or complimentary. It skips those things and directly explains the deep effect the woman is having on him.
I find that when I love a woman — and really care about winning her affection and respect — that’s when I want to be my best as a human being and as a man. And that’s one of the biggest reasons I like to be in love with the right kind of woman — because it’s always then that I’m the most motivated to be the best “me” that I’m capable of being.
I need that motivation. Maybe some people don’t. That’s fine if they don’t need it. But for me, I’m at my best when there’s a woman who I respect and love and adore — and whose respect and love and adoration I crave. I’ve experienced that before, and there’s nothing like it. I need it.
It would be convenient if we could rationally decide which person fills that need in a given moment — if we could consciously choose to feel these things about a particular person. There have been women in my life lately who I wish I could experience this magical attraction for. It would make life so much easier. But it doesn’t work that way.
Attraction shows up when it wants to. It has a habit of fooling us and teasing us. It can torment us with a desire for something that can never be. It can give us a brief and powerful attraction that will be short-lived. But most people I know are slaves to the dictates of this thing we can’t control and must obey — even when its whims don’t seem to make sense.
That old trickster has me in its grip right now. The rational part of me knows it’s unlikely that anything will come of it. She might be in love with someone else. She’s probably not attracted to me in the same way that I am to her. I might end up not interested in her because of the choices she makes in life anyway. I know all that. But even though I know that listening to that attraction is like sailors listening to the sirens trying to wrecks their ship, I listen and I hope that this time is different. And if not this time, then the next — or the next. Or the next.
We like to see ourselves as rational creatures. Sometimes we are. Much of the time we’re not. (And we typically lie to ourselves about it when we’re not.)
But this seems to be a key part of being human — knowing we want something, at least for the moment — and accepting that our heads and hearts are in a constant battle over which desires we’ll pursue.
I like to be rational when I can, but the heart is the part of myself that I listen to. I can’t help it, because that’s who I really am.