Crazy Little Thing: Why Love and Sex Drive Us Mad
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My friend Sam and I are going for a walk. A former Broadway dancer, Sam at 51 still has a body that a 20-year-old would envy: lean, tan and blond, with eyes the color of newly minted dollar bills. While we walk, I pitch him the idea of making a little road trip.
“Where are we going?” he asks.
“We’re going to Gibsonton,” I say. Gibsonton, sometimes called Gibtown, is a little place outside Tampa where the people who work the carnival circuit come to stay for the winter. They used to call it “Freaktown,” because people like the World’s Tallest Man and the Lobster Boy and the Human Blockhead used to live there. “We’re going to hear the story of what happened when the Alligator-Skinned Man wanted to marry the Monkey Girl,” I tell him.
“That makes me feel like something’s wrong with me,” Sam says with a tinge of sadness. “The Alligator-Skinned Man can find somebody, but I can’t get somebody to text me back? Is there something the matter with us?”
We’re both having confounding times with our respective romances this week, so it probably feels that way. It often feels like something’s the matter with you when your love life is a bitch and you hear about someone else who's having a peachy time. It’s the feeling of indignant disbelief in the Joe Jackson song: “Is she really going out with him?/Cuz if my eyes don’t deceive me there’s something going wrong around here.”
Confess: how often have you heard someone gushing about their fabulous love life, when yours wasn’t going so well? How can the Alligator-Skinned Man and the Monkey Girl find romantic bliss while many others don’t? What do we see in some people and not in others? More importantly, why can’t everyone see how great we are and fall for us passionately right this minute?
To get some advice about what draws one person to another, I’ve enlisted the help of Sheri Winston, who isn’t just a genius, she’s a vagenius. A sex educator and author of Women’s Anatomy of Arousal: Secret Maps to Buried Pleasure , Winston is a former nurse-practitioner, and she is good at knowing what makes people happy, body and soul. We’ve talked about attraction before and it’s a subject she clearly enjoys, so I asked her to name a few of the reasons for attraction that go beyond perfectly aligned eyes.
“I don’t think it’s random,” she says. “Our attractions tend to be very specific, and while everyone might have an ideal physical type, it’s not just about ‘I like tall men with dark hair.’ There’s way more to it. I guess it’s a holistic perspective, but there are multiple lenses through which we can look at it.”
One way, Winston says, is the Dr. Harville Hendrix way. Hendrix’s 1988 book Getting the Love You Want is a classic of the relationship advice genre. His theory is that people have an unconscious template he calls the Imago. Winston says we’re attracted to people who fulfill the Imago, which is formed of many things, one of them being the qualities of our primary caregivers -- “more commonly the negative ones, depending on how much work we’ve done on ourselves.”
Sheri Winston refers to the Hendrix model as “the flavor of love" model. She says, “This is my take on it. When we’re an infant, whatever flavor love comes to us as, that’s the flavor we think love is. If love feels cold and critical to us as an infant, we feel loved when someone is cold and critical to us as an adult, even though we hate it and we’re miserable and we’re so mad because they’re cold and critical!” She laughs. On a very deep level, she says, our environment in the first two years of life “is what the milieu of love feels like to us, so we get attracted to that.”