2012-03-14 / Sandy Days, Salty Nights

Seduction’s untapped resource

I sat at a diner with my friend Greg this week, elbow deep in a double cheeseburger and talking about why men and women have such a hard time communicating.

“You know what I think?” I pointed a greasy finger at him. “More men should tell women they’re beautiful.”

In fact, I’ve noticed that men almost never call a woman beautiful. They only pull it out for special occasions — weddings, funerals, the election of a new Pope. In some relationships, the word has attained mythical status, believed to exist but not actually confirmed, like the Skunk Ape.

Unfortunately, the term has been relegated to men leaning in the open doorways of bars (“Hiya, beautiful”), so that women rarely hear it from the men we want to hear it from most. For some reason real men, good men, don’t seem to want to say it.

“You don’t want to lead off with ‘beautiful,’” Greg told me in between bites. “You have to pace yourself.”

I wiped a blob of ketchup from the corner of my mouth. “Why would you want to do that?”

“See, ‘beautiful’ is like the best card you can play. You have to build up to it. Once it’s on the table, there’s nowhere else you can go.”

I shook my head at him across the countertop. This, I thought, is why men and women will never see eye to eye.

What makes “beautiful” such a special word?

Most women don’t genuinely think we’re beautiful. We might think we’re pretty in the right light or if our hair falls a certain way. We might think we’re not half bad if we just came home from a trip to Sephora and we’re wearing that lip gloss we read about in Marie Claire. We might think we’re hot if we put on that new dress we bought at Dillard’s and those high heels that were too expensive but we loved them so we bought them anyway. We might even think we’re sexy.

But beautiful? It’s not a term we use for ourselves. It’s a term we use for some other, better woman out there.

Renaissance painters believed that a woman’s outward appearance reflected her inner qualities, so that a beautiful woman was said to possess interior goodness — kindness, generosity, compassion. Botticelli spent a lifetime trying to capture that glow.

And today? Not much has changed in our beliefs about women.

Think of the starlets who grace our magazine covers and how we often lend them attributes (sweetness, intelligence) that the tabloids prove to be false. Still, it’s like we can’t help but connect physical beauty with inward grace.

Which is why to call a woman “beautiful” is such a lovely compliment. The term extends beyond the shape of her face or the color of her hair and gets at something deeper, something more profound. It says that a man finds a woman attractive not just for her appearance but for the inner light that shines through. To call a woman beautiful is to make her feel appreciated, cherished, loved.

So why dole it out? ¦

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