My brother and I used to have this debate, where I would expound on the thrills and celestial meaning of falling in love and he would tell me about it being a chemical reaction in the brain triggered by lust.
Now a few years have passed since my teenage naivetÃ© made it so easy to wind me up, but it remains one of the greatest unanswered questions of relationships: is it a supernatural coming together of kindred spirits or base, animal attraction? And, if it is the latter, do we have any control over who we find attractive?
It might sound unimaginative, but I have always had a very specific type. So specific and unshakeable, in fact, that you didn’t even have to be me to know who I would find attractive. I could outsource it. When fanning out in a club, wingmen could go hunting and report back on the whereabouts and status of the one or two who match the profile.
Having a type makes the sex pretty amazing; because it is such streamlined, efficient, and concentrated attraction that is being satisfied. But it is also incredibly frustrating, because I have met many really great guys who just didn’t catalyse the chemistry. I have sat on dates with people whose company I enjoy so much it makes me want to explode, and had to order the bill and go home to DVDs and frustration with myself for feeling no spark.
The problem with a type is that it is not just about physical characteristics. Sure, there’s the stubble and the olive skin. But there’s more to attraction than anatomy; there is the way someone holds himself, the confidence he projects and the way he speaks. And not all of the traits that got me going were even traits I liked in a person. Arrogance, for example, was inexplicably like a red flag to a bull for me. And that, until quite recently, was what made me despair for sexual attraction.
“Child-optimising attraction among gay men is the ultimate evolutionary misfire…”
I had almost conceded that my brother had been right. We are simply puppets, at the mercy of genetics, being pulled towards people whose own genes would optimally mix with our own to create strong, superb progeny.
Resistance was futile as the human code coldly saught to balance itself with characteristics that we may lack, and had no choice over. All this was made doubly frustrating, of course, by the fact that none of this attraction would even result in progeny anyway. Child-optimising attraction among gay men is the ultimate evolutionary misfire.
But then something strange happened. Out of the blue, the puppeteers lost interest. I met someone well outside of the type. And for the first time, I didn’t have to have a fight with myself on the way home afterwards. There was a strange new nervousness in my chest at the end of that first date, and it wasn’t the you’re-sweet-but-I-feel-nothing guilt.
And it wasn’t lust, either. It wasn’t irrational and overwhelming and consuming. I could still do my job, I wasn’t always waiting for my phone to beep, and I still saw plenty of my friends. But the warmth of genuine companionship had sparked, and what unfolded over the next few months was a revolution. It was a quiet revolution, and a gentle one, but no less transformative for it.
It turned out, in the end, that that relationship wasn’t meant to be. But it awoke in me an entirely new sense of possibility. Perhaps you need to get through your early twenties before the shift can take place.
But I was so delighted to realise that you do break free from your type. And what happens when you do is that you are lead by your heart, not your genes or your pheromones. You can see beyond the stubble and the fairytales, and choose who you would like to be with. In raising your middle finger to the laws of attraction, you join the world of kindred spirits.
Serendipitously, the attraction follows straight away.
And so perhaps growing up means you finally get to call up your brother, and tell him you win the teenage argument.