If you believe Madison Avenue and Hollywood, then I guess the answer is yes. If you are of that mindset and are happy with it, then just stop reading here because I am going to attempt to dismantle that notion.
A quick point of order… The only qualifications I have for arguing any point that I make in my blog posts are personal experience and opinion. I am not a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, counselor, clergy, or any other profession that may be qualified for professional advice on matters of mental health, marriage or relationships. However, when it comes to marriage experience I have decades of marriage with 4 divorces under my belt. And while I clearly haven’t figured out how to stay married, I can certainly tell you why and how I failed to.
Now, back to the subject of beauty and attraction. By all outward reckoning my most recent ex-wife (ex-4) was considered beautiful. She was also 16 years my junior, and I can’t believe how many times we were asked if that will be separate checks when I took her out. Perhaps the world viewed her as “out of my league.” I don’t know if they thought I was her father, or there was no way a guy that looked like me could be with a girl that looked like her. Either way, it was annoying. When I saw her for the first time, I also thought she was beautiful. Apparently, on that point she and I agreed. Though she would feign false humility about it, she was clearly enamored of her own physical beauty.
When we were in the limerence phase of our relationship and early marriage, which lasted for 5 or 6 years (married 14), her beauty did contribute an attractive force. But something began to happen during the relationship resulting in her physical beauty losing all of its pull on me. How can that be? I know that most people believe men are wired in such a way that a woman’s physical beauty is a, if not the, primary force in attraction. That is not the case for me.
When ex-4 and I got together, I was the founder and CEO of a very successful company that I had been running for several years. To put it bluntly, I was nestled well within the 1%. I was wealthy. She was young, and a single mother when we married. She had a 4 year college degree from a major university, but the best she could do for herself was receptionist at an accounting firm. She also had a young child to support along with herself. Now I don’t think I am a bad looking guy, and I was in reasonable shape when we met, and I truly believed that the person that I was inside could attract a woman like her. Never once did it cross my mind that there was more to me in her eyes than the person I was inside. In her view there was also the person associated with my achievements, wealth and status. Perhaps that is the only person she saw. Please know this, I never regarded those things as important. They were side effects of who I am. I didn’t grow up rich, I didn’t really care about getting rich, and I couldn’t care less about wealth and money now. But the notion of security for some women is a powerful one indeed.
I had seen the cliché pairings of a beautiful woman with a wealthy man, where many times the man was quite physically unattractive. I had often cast my judgement in their direction as being obviously a trophy wife/arm candy configuration. Never ever once did I consider that I might be in that situation. Why? Because I am a hopeless romantic with a high-definition projector. I wanted to believe so many things about ex-4. But I never would examine what must have been obvious to so many around us. It wasn’t the inside me at all that attracted her, it was the outside me.
When ex-4 and I got together, I honestly believed I would never have to worry about money for as long as I lived. I would buy her a house, and when she tired of it, I would buy her a new one and either sell or keep the previous one. I was in no hurry to sell them because I didn’t have to. When she wanted a new car, done. Trips, done. I did not matter what she wanted, she could have it without question because we had it to spend and there did not seem to be an end in sight for our resources. She developed a pretty healthy shopping habit and would rack up about $10,000.00 every month in credit card spending, and I would pay it off every month. I was a little irritated that she would buy things and never even take them out of the bag/box, much less use them. But I never said anything because it was a minor nuisance to me more than anything. That, and she got enjoyment out of it. This very day, when I was cleaning a room in my house, I came across clothes that have the original tags on them from 5-10 years ago.
In 2008, the housing bubble burst. This was bad. Bad because I had so much of my money tied up into a decent number of high end properties. We couldn’t move many of them, and when we did, it was at a fraction of their initial value. Needless to say, I lost almost everything. Not everything, but almost. Fortunately, the original company that I founded was still healthy, and bringing in enough to cover the enormous (> $200K per month, >$100K of that from me) payments we had on the outstanding properties.
It was when the financial glue lost its stickiness in my relationship that I began to see a different person emerge in ex-4. The first thing that happened was I informed her that she had to cut back on her monthly spending. Oh my! I did not see her reaction coming. I remember vividly being read the riot act about being selfish and not caring about her at all. Her argument was that I spend money all of the time on whatever I want, while she only spends money every month she needs to spend. She accused that there is no way I loved her, and that I was a selfish bastard. I remember telling myself “Ok, deep breath, she’ll calm down and eventually see what needs to happen.” She didn’t. Despite the financial upheaval we were in, she spent as rigorously as ever. This was the tipping point in our relationship. It is also precisely where her beauty began to mean absolutely nothing to me.
Two very distinct things happened in the crash of ’08 in my relationship with ex-4. One is that she lost respect for me, and the other is she lost her attractiveness. She lost respect for me for a couple of reasons, and one I know is my fault. The other reason is entirely her fault and we’ll start with that one. She respected me conditionally. She respected that while I had the Midas touch, I was a strong and powerful, and (I assume) sexy man. When circumstances changed, I lost my power, position, sexiness and overall value to her. The other reason she lost respect for me is that when she lost respect for me for the first set of reasons, I panicked. I transferred all power to her in that moment. I did not want to lose her, and that became my primary goal. Wow, talk about an unlevel playing field! This one slanted now more than 45 degrees, and I was on the low end for sure. This is the exact moment the castration began.
It wasn’t even that gradual really. It was a reversal of relationship fortune that happened nearly as quickly as my financial one. When I lost respect in her eyes, something else happened. I began to see a more complete picture of who I was married to. It was also the moment I began to realize that she was not in love with me, and in all likelihood, never had been. If she had loved me, then she would have been by my side through the financial hardships and we would have gotten through it together. Frankly, that would have been so amazingly attractive to me, but exactly the opposite occurred.
I became not only unattracted to her, but in fact, somewhat repulsed. This was a problem and a huge internal conflict because I didn’t want to lose her. I was completely split on the inside. She was unattractive, and I didn’t want to lose her. Those ideas are diametrically opposed and yet they both coexisted in me. From the moment of the crash until we divorced (8 years), we were probably only intimate a total of 10 times. Ironically, each of those times came from me feeling obliged, much like many wives do, to make her feel wanted/attractive. One of her biggest fears was ever being perceived as not beautiful and unattractive, and that is precisely how I felt about her. Beauty to me is the beauty of the soul. I really don’t care (anymore) about the external. External beauty says not one thing about the person it envelopes. I learned this.
Now, please understand, I do not think all physically beautiful women are automatically ugly on the inside, and therefore ugly altogether. I know a woman that is so beautiful that it thoroughly overwhelms me. She is deep, sensitive, caring, thoughtful, empathic and list goes on. She happens to also be physically beautiful, but that is a mere coincidence. She could be burned unrecognizable in a fire, and I would find her as beautiful as the day I met her. That is what attraction is to me now. I will never again be fooled by my eyes.
In conclusion. Does physical beauty = attractive? It can for a time. It will, however, ultimately fade. And it can definitely lose its pull long before it does.