DEAR LADY A: I’m dating a perfect guy. He has a great career, he’s a great partner and companion in every way. And we even get along well … Great, in fact. But he doesn’t turn me on. At all. (Physical fitness is important to me and I find a fit guy very attractive.) I would feel really stupid to turn a good person away for something so shallow, but at the same time, when he wants to be intimate I have to get drunk first and I can’t do that all the time! I think I might have to be honest with him, or would that just be mean? What do you think?
– Shallow Al
DEAR SHALLOW AL: There are subtle ways to get a man to eat better and exercise. If the problem is simply that he could stand to lose a few pounds, you owe it to yourself to give him a chance to do better. See if he wants to work out together. And start making healthy meals with him at home … is what I would be saying if I wrote saccharin, rote, politically correct columns for 1950’s housewives. And if you haven’t tried it yet and can actually use this advice — for god’s sake, use it, sir! But, I believe you have sincere affection for this man, that you have made an honest attempt at targeting his attractive parts (everyone has some) and for whatever reason out of your control, it has never been enough to keep you sexually invested. So, here’s my real answer:
Allow to me break it down with a stupid hypothetical. Let’s say you have a married “straight” friend who tells you he’s come to the realization that he’s just not attracted to vagina. He loves his wife more than anything and he doesn’t want to hurt her, but when they’re in bed he has to think about men just to get hard. She never crosses his mind when he’s jerking off, he mostly fantasizes about half-naked construction workers, and sometimes he needs to be absolutely wasted just so he can find the strength to go down on her or touch her at all. Would you tell your friend he’s being shallow? Or that he just needs to try harder to find her snatch desirable? Of course not. You’d tell him it’s time to be honest with his wife and with himself. You’d tell him to stop trying to force a relationship that can never last.
While this comparison might seem a little broad or even hamfisted, sometimes examples need to be extreme to make a point. This story obviously isn’t about the politics of being queer or straight, it’s about attraction plain and simple. The common truth about your situation and that of your hypothetical friend lies in the fact that you both need and deserve to have genuine physical desire for your partner. And that is not inherently shallow. It is not morally corrupt. It should not be low on your list of relationship priorities. It is in fact a part of you, an absolute, something you cannot coerce no matter the good intentions. Your penis will never be altruistic or noble. It wants what it wants, and there’s nothing you can do to change that.
If you’ve given him a chance to win you over physically, if you’ve tried to no avail, if you actually need to get drunk just to fuck, then my dear Al, it’s time to tell him it’s just not working out. I wouldn’t exactly be honest if I were you. Honest can be artless and inordinately hurtful and, let’s face it, the fact that you don’t find him attractive is your problem not his. Just tell him that you’ll always care about him, but for various reasons you need to go your separate ways.
You obviously feel a lot for this man, so do right by him. Give him the opportunity to find someone who treats him well and lusts after him even when they’re sober. And remember, you can’t compel yourself to be with somebody just because, in theory, they should be perfect for you. Sexual chemistry and attraction do matter and are not too much to ask for. While it would be unreasonable (and yes, shallow) to expect nothing less than perfection from your partner, it is even more unreasonable to waste your time and his.