Love’s Mirror

I have on a few occasions discussed with the authors I’ve interviewed the trouble with trying to convince your reader that a character in question is unequivocally attractive. It is not so easy. In fact, I think it is impossible. Yes, you can offer the “tussled hair” or “cleft chin,” or “gymnast’s physique” or whatever else you’ve got, but what does it add up to? A list of qualities your reader may or may not personally find attractive.

Plus there is this. There is a kind of trick of vision I believe we all possesses, a conscious near-sightedness. If you are a man looking at a woman, say, you can focus your attention only on her surface where all the greatest differences between you and all women lie. This is the quickest and easiest way to be attracted to someone, and you are likely to find the most number of people attractive seeing them in this way.

And who wouldn’t want to be attracted to someone? Attraction is a form of desire and desire feels good. It is desire that brings you to the page to write, to the table to eat, and to your lover’s bed. The deeper the well of desire, the stronger pull toward, the better the feeling. For this reason many of us unconsciously go about wearing goggles that limit our vision to the surface where the highest chance of attraction lies.

But if you shift your focus beyond the foreground, as it were, the illusion of attraction often dissolves. Now you are seeing the person, not the man or the woman, and the person comes replete with qualms and quirks and preferences and phobias and all the myriad choices, big and small, that make us exactly who we are. It is this, the person, that can make someone attractive one moment unattractive the next if paired with the wrong person. It is the person that spoils the lie of pornography, or intercedes in girlhood fantasies of love.

We are all so strangely similar under the coat of personality and gender and class and race that it can threaten to bore us right out of love. Differences are exciting, because they offer a false possibility, and we race toward that which seems both different and attractive in the hopes that embracing him or her will commence the change we have longed to feel. Then reality arrives and we are looking at ourselves, and the ones we are most deeply attracted to remind us of what we have always loved most about being alive.

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