I went to a movie with a friend a couple weeks ago and saw a fantastically attractive couple making out in a row ahead of us. They both had tumbling waves of shiny chestnut hair that formed a single, luscious sheet as they kissed without concern for their myriad onlookers. They even looked like they smelled good.
I pointed them out to my companion and we stared in awe, attraction and a tinge of jealousy. “I will never make that attractive of a couple,” I said in jest, and we both laughed.
It was mostly a joke, but I think it’s probably a true statement, at least at this time of my life. I know I have an acquired taste in mates. I’m used to the perplexed “Huh” and the “I guess I can see how you think they’re cute” commentary when my friends Facebook-stalk each new flame. It’s not that any of my objects of attraction are wholly unattractive — none of them are — but none are wildly attractive either.
Allow me to illuminate this tendency. I went to a Q&A with Quentin Tarantino — on a date — a few weeks back. As he excitedly expounded the genius of The Hateful Eight — I was lukewarm about it myself — I realized in one horrific instant that everyone I’ve been enamored with is basically some variant of Tarantino.
This is not to say that each one is a millionaire high school dropout with a foot fetish and a penchant for B-movies, but there’s a little bit of Tarantino in each one. As we all know, Tarantino is not terribly attractive, either in look or deed. His timbre is high-pitched and nasally, he looks perpetually unkempt, and he is famously conceited. But he is nevertheless my number one celebrity crush because he owns his unattractiveness in a style that should be the envy of every supermodel.
That’s what I like about my former and current lovers — their confident ownership of their imperfections. Take, for instance, the incessantly chatty man, whose Tarantino-like wit justified his constant stream of language. Or the nasally chef whose unattractive pitch was redeemed by his earnestness. There have been designers upfront about their foot fetishes, lifeguards confident in their lack of ambition, sensitive computer scientists comfortable being ultra-judgy and poets who struggled to pass WRIT 140. All of them flawed, all of them wonderful.
But what is important to me is that they all frame their unattractiveness in attractive ways, a trait conventionally attractive people don’t necessarily have to learn. Perhaps my legacy as a thoroughly unattractive child beat this value into me, but I know I’m not the only one who thinks this way. To quote a dear friend a few weeks back, “attractive people kind of suck.” This isn’t to say that beauty or goodness preclude anyone from being honest, nor is it to imply that one must be flawed to be genuine. But there’s bravery in being both good and bad, and that’s what gets me every time.
What I like about crass people, ugly people, rude people, the Tarantinos of the world, is that they don’t take the easy way. It is socially simpler to showcase good qualities and hide the baggage away — in other words, to be conventionally attractive. No one takes their retainer to a romantic sleepover, am I right? But introducing one’s flaws gets harder the longer you know someone. Suddenly, revealing imperfections becomes jaded rather than intimate, more so than if these flaws had been obvious from the beginning.
As scary as it can be, I do my best to hold myself to this same standard because I know I feel most comfortable with people who accept me in my complicated entirety. In my experience, the best people to do that are those who have come to terms with their own complications. Their refusal to mask their flaws makes me think more critically about what I hide and what I bring to the surface. Every new partner is an opportunity to examine how I view my own strengths and weaknesses as much as it is a chance to explore the depths of another. I may never be half of the couple inspiring awe and envy in public, but I will have meaningful, respectful and deeply personal relationships. That’s plenty for me.
Rica Maestas is a senior majoring in cognitive science and narrative studies. Her column, “Cuffing Season,” runs on Wednesdays.