Chemistry in relationships: we all want the connection and sensual spark that’s there, in the beginning, to stay there as the relationship grows. But chemistry in relationships is often a mystery – what it is, how to harness it, and why, so often, it flickers and fades.
The other night as I was sitting with a friend, waiting to get into a hot tub spa, she was telling me about her Master’s thesis, an extensive research project into chemistry in relationships, with an angle on what makes a woman most sexy and attractive. She boiled sexiness and attractiveness down to two things: a woman who is both “right” with herself and sensually alive and satisfied.
When I was 18, there were only 93 pounds on my 5’5″ frame, and I thought at least I was on my way to looking good. Although it had been 2 years since I had a regular menstrual cycle, I spent my days thinking I was unattractive and still too fat, dreamt at night of the food I wouldn’t eat in waking life, and was on my way into a deep depression. I remember thinking with pride, “I am what everyone wants to be: thin.”
Over the next 7 years, I clawed my own way out of that eating disorder and body dysmorphia, but I’m an unusual case. It’s beyond epidemic; it’s pandemic: women and girls hate themselves deeply. We mistrust our bodies and desires and strive to control them any way we can. More than 50% of American women would rather lose a limb than be overweight; I’ve heard it said that the average American women spend 80% of their time thinking and worrying about their appearance. Weight loss is a multi-billion dollar industry in the world’s richest, most well-fed country. Eating disorders begin as early as ages 8 and 9. The newest rise in cosmetic surgery is labiaplasty – alteration of the vaginal lips – some say to look more like porn stars. Like hamsters on wheels, women run after any method to become what we think will have us become sexy and attractive, no matter the cost to our bodies, health, or spirit.
The reason women (and men, too) want so desperately to be sexy is to grasp the commodity our culture holds highest: love.
Funny, glorious, misunderstood thing, this love.
Love isn’t owned, given, taken, or withheld. It can only be experienced. Love only exists as a verb. And the key to knowing if it is the love you are experiencing is if you enjoy it and if it pleases you. If you enjoy a thing or a person, it’s love; if it brings you pleasure in doing it, it is loving. Conversely, if you don’t enjoy it, it does not love. It could actually be something like striving for acceptance, assuaging guilt, trying to be a good person, or manipulation – but it is not loved.
Even though we might roll our eyes at the cliché of it, we all know that to love others, we have to first love ourselves. Although that is more easily said than done, especially in a culture that teaches us to mistrust our bodies and impulses and desire and has labeled those coming from women as the seed of all evil and sin. Our culture points outward for acceptance, salvation, and love, anywhere but to ourselves.
So, then, what a radical notion, instead of constantly reaching outward, to look beneath our very noses. What a radical thing to say that what it means to love yourself is to enjoy yourself. And that the best thing to trust is your own body, your own desires, and, ultimately, that what brings you most pleasure and joy. In the section of my website, Your Relationship With You, you’ll find key information and exercises to bring these rather radical notions into your relating with others.
Attractiveness and sexiness actually come from an entirely different set of factors than superficial beauty.
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So, back to the premise of my friend’s thesis. How to get “right” with yourself? The first step is to start noticing what IS, rather than what we wish to be so. We spend all our time wishing things were different, pondering why they are not different, trying to make them different, all to conform to our ideas of how things should go. Never do we think, in what parallel universe could things actually be different than they ARE? It is a uniquely human trait to spend so much time ignoring what IS and creating elaborate fantasies where things are different, bent according to our ideas of what would be most convenient for us. It’s a form of craziness and certainly a source of suffering.
The second step after noticing what IS is to notice what is already good. Our lives and selves are rich, full, convenient, and blessed if we only stop noticing and putting our attention there. Something magical happens when we find something to approve of, the way things ARE, right now, right here. We “get right” with reality; we get “right” with ourselves. Approval helps us shed layers, like an onion, to find beneath a clear, wise, and radiant self. Of course, this is not that simple: we know really well how to disapprove, complain and find fault, so approving, especially of ourselves, is an anarchistic, revolutionary act.
An extraordinary thing happens when you put genuine, positive attention (called approval) on something: it becomes beautiful. A woman who approves of herself becomes innately beautiful, radiant, sexy. A woman who approves of herself is “right” with herself, the way she is, in reality, right here and right now. She doesn’t wait to start approving herself for the fantastical time in the indeterminate (but surely imminent) future when she will be perfect. She does it now. Today. Against the tide. Again and again and again. Whether or not she feels like it – since she usually doesn’t!
She doesn’t wait for the circumstances of her life to line up just right; she celebrates what IS NOW. She doesn’t wait. Reasonless, and for all the best reasons, she loves herself into a sexy, attractive, radiant being.
Another funny thing happens when a woman becomes “right” with herself (approves of herself): she trusts herself. She examines the idea that inside of her lies the seed of sin and that her body is a sinful temptation – and she discards the notion. She tries to believe that her desire and pleasure can be an instructive, generous guide rather than something to be mistrusted. She realizes that her desires guide her to what is most pleasurable, and she realizes that it’s not loving if it is not pleasurable to do. She realizes her desires guide her to what she enjoys most, hence what she loves most, and hence loving herself and her life more and more of the time.
Each act of approval, on herself, another, or the world, is another act of love. Love is simply positive attention. Period.
As girls, we are taught that prince charming is the bringer of pleasure and sensual satisfaction in one form or another. We forget we have ownership of our bodies and sexuality. We have to stop waiting for someone perfect to come along and bring our happiness, our pleasure, and our sexiness. A woman is sexy and attractive who is in charge of her own sensual life, understands herself as a sensual being, and integrates sexuality. Waiting for a white knight is a losing game. No matter how wonderful or attentive or well-meaning the knight, he doesn’t own your sexiness to bestow upon you in the first place – it lies right where you left it, right you-know-where.
It is that simple: start by noticing what IS, not what you wish to be. Find something little to approve of and then move on to all the big things. Follow your pleasure, your desire; drink so much in that you are filled up, sensually gratified, overflowing. It is in this state of abundant enjoyment that you become attractive, lit-up, and sexy. Yes, there are things like the preference of body type and pheromones, which play into attractiveness, but that is not the most potent thing. There is no one, nothing, no combination of things, nor any particular attribute that can make you sexy. It comes from you, the authentic, expressed, un-lidded you. Sexy is self-confidence; sexy is approving who you are now; sexy is joy and the ability to receive. It is a mirage that sexy has much to do with exterior attributes. Sexy is a person right with themselves.
Being attractive requires us to have an abundant view of the world and love. Coming from a place of scarcity, we often think that if there’s some sexiness over there, there couldn’t be enough to go around so that there could be some here, too. But there’s sexy enough to go around, and then some! Living abundantly requires you to take your attention off of yourself and put it on others; it requires that you look at yourself approvingly, with “good eyes.” It requires you to celebrate what and who you are right now. It is the most natural thing, meaning it is our birthright, doesn’t cost anything, and is accessible to all, should we only get out of our own way.
It is simple but not easy. The easiest thing in the world is to find something wrong, to find something to disapprove of. The path of least resistance is one of fear, self-loathing, and an apathetic life of suffering. Whenever we find ourselves in a stuck place, as soon as we recover even a scrap of sanity, we have to make some positive effort to find good, to approve. It’s not icing on the cake – it’s the essential, key ingredient in the sweet confection. We spend so much wasted time wishing things were different, and we have to find a way to party with the way things are.
Women want to be loved because of all we are, not in spite of. We can’t wait for someone else to do it; we have to start ourselves. Plus, taking responsibility in this way puts so much less pressure on our partners to supply something they can’t supply in the first place.
So the most vital matter is what will be our reactions to what life throws at us? The only thing we have control over ultimately is our reaction, our ability to enjoy and thus to love. We struggle to control our outward appearance, but we’d do better to turn our attention to the only thing we can really control – our own reaction to what life hands us – our circumstances, our body, our life.
I didn’t have a plan doing during those 7 years I was climbing my way to sanity and sexiness, but I can see how I was doing my own research thesis on what makes women – and people – attractive and sexy, as well as healthy and happy. I often think about the woman-hours wasted worrying about appearance and sex appeal and the tragedy of going about it in such a back-assward way. This is why I continue to research, why I experiment, why I create workshops, why I teach and why I work with clients: to support women and men to bring sexy back, to bring attractiveness back in its proper place, and to realize with a sigh of satisfaction, that it never left in the first place.