Hello foxy folx! I'm so glad you could join me on the wild ride we're about to embark on. This is a follow up post to my (Not So) Great Sex-Pectations about growing up demi in a world filled with insta love.
A few caveats before we begin this shallow, yet deep dive. One: I am not an expert. I have researched nothing. This is all purely anecdotal & what I have observed and internalized in my 42 (yikes!) trips around the sun. Two: your mileage may vary, so please take everything I say with a grain of salt. Three: remember that salt? You might just want keep it at hand, I'm going to be snarky because I can't do this without separating from my own personal experiences, and to sum it up--they ain't good. Four: I am not going to touch on the gender stereotypes at play here (that would need it's own blog series). I think you'll get the gist as I provide examples, but gender presentation plays into these a lot and there are expectations that each gender embrace these Axes. Five: I love logical explanations even if they don't entirely track. So maybe we should call this Katja Logic (TM). I want to understand what's not working so I can make it work (aka, why I have never been a LI in my life) This is basically my (very jaded) attempt to do just that.
So let's go. Prepare to be WOWWED by my understanding of relationships.
Attraction is what pulls you toward something. There's some science involved. There's some pheromones. It's complex. But, science-smience. I'm here to look at the social aspect of attraction that I've observed because in the end, as a species we've evolved past the sniffing out potential mates phase of evolution. The science and pheromone bits usually come in AFTER one of the four axes have gotten the ball rolling. Writer note, I'm also using the word *axis* to describe each of these different areas, because it sounds science-y. So that should pretty much sum up my validity on this topic.
and the fourth bonus axis:
4)Personality (aka, the failsafe)
Hold up Katja, you're telling me that this is what causes people to ask each other out on dates??
Yup. Yup I am. Caveat #6: I'm not talking about relationships here, I'm talking about ATTRACTION. The initial *something* that makes someone else notice you. Post attraction is a whole 'nother discussion, as is the development and maintenance of a relationship whether it be romantic or platonic.
Axis One: Beauty
"Young men's love then lies Not truly in their hearts but in their eyes" --Friar Lawrence to Romeo in Act II of Romeo & Juliet
Ah, beauty. I'm starting here because I feel like it's the most well known and common axis of attraction. It's the one that's shoved in our faces from before we even have the cognizant ability to speak as our parents tell anyone who'll listen that we're going to grow up to be a looker, or the most handsome, or that she'll have the boys lined up... because what other possible value could a human bean have other than their looks? (Body Shaming culture is another issue, I highly recommend reading The Body is Not an Apology!)
This continues through high school and adulthood--there are plenty of examples of real life and fictional accounts of rating people on a 1-10 scale based on perceived societal hotness. I will never forget being at a holiday party (as an adult) and the hostess saying "when two people get together, they have to be within 1 number of each other on the hotness scale or else it will never work." As someone with a very low hotness score (according to society! according to me, I'm a gorgeous motherfucking queen, I don't care what Vogue or Cosmo says) *ahem* as I was saying, as someone with a low societal hotness score, this absolutely hit me hard. It's been over ten years and its still crawling through my brain that because of low societal hotness, I don't qualify for this axis of attraction. I'm not hot enough.
Society eats this up though. Think of all the media that relies on people getting makeovers and glow-ups in order to find happiness, success, or romance. Mia Thermopolis couldn't be a princess until she ditched the frizzy hair and glasses (she was adorable with both). Arielle was gonna get Prince Eric to love her based on her looks (and that's his big take away--that she's gorgeous!) In the Swan Princess, Prince Eric (what is it with Erics being princes?) it's a great moment because Odette is like "Why do you want to marry me?" and he's all "You're hot?" and she fires back with "And what else?" To which he replies "What else is there?" (I love that she walks away--this movie was a game changer for me). This convo sums up this axis though. What else is there?
I observe my high schoolers falling in and out of love all the time and they definitely focus A LOT on the way the other person looks. Now, before you get your knickers in a twist, there is validity here--each person finds different phenotypic (look at that word! take that science-smience!) likes and dislikes. That's cool. That's valid. I feel that enjoying looking at the person you're in love with is great. And look, most people do this with other people--especially celebs. I can't watch The 100 or The Magicians or The Last Kingdom without being like OMG EVERY SINGLE PERSON IS SO FUCKING SEXY. I WOULD DATE THEM. And that's it, that's the whole reason, because they're sexy. That's why I say this is the criteria that is so deeply embedded in most brains. So, to be clear, I do not discount the idea of finding other human's aesthetically pleasing.
The Beauty Axis is the most common--it's why we have to include pictures on dating app sites, it's why we have filters on Instagram, its why...you get the picture. A lot of this is society taking the very unique and specific qualities that each person sees a beautiful and codifying and quantifying them. They create a standard of beauty, that if you don't fall into it, then you ain't gonna win. Think about it. If a traditionally gorgeous person does something wrong, IT'S OKAY. they can be rude or selfish or whatever. But if that person doesn't fall into the upper echelons of hotness, it's game over dudes.
Axis Two & Three: Power & Wealth
I know, I know, I combined these two. Because although they are DIFFERENT areas of attraction, they overlap both in how they manifest and in the fact that power and wealth often go hand in hand. (honestly, I figured you wouldn't want me to just redundantly ramble on about each separately). The Power and Wealth Axes also delve a bit deeper into a person's morals and how they were raised, etc. etc.
Basically, it's you're attracted to what the other person can provide to you--a fancy house and five yachts, staff to order around, unlimited access to cheesecake (look, I know I have a problem. Let me have this), or knowing that people won't dare say anything to you because you're so-and-so's partner. This isn't new. Using wealth and power to decide who you marry is an age old tradition. But it's not just dukes and counts and kings deciding who their offspring will marry in order to make their lands greater. People still do this today.
Take a minute and think about all the couples you know, whether they're married, divorced, current or past. How many of them picked their partners because of what the other person could provide? And I'm not dunking on this--each of us gets to decide how we want to pursue security in our lives and if finding someone who can make sure you have a roof over your head and food on the table is what you need, then do it! That's a super valid. And depending on the circumstances, it can be a total win for those involved.
And just like anything, there are GOOD examples and BAD examples. Let's take a look at Kylo Ren because he's a great example here. Here's someone who has both wealth and power. I mean, they never speak explicitly about his wealth, but I bet he probably draws a pretty nice paycheck from the First Order. What is focused on is his power. He commands thousands of soldiers. He uses the Force to punish those who displease him. Everyone tiptoes around him. And the fans love him. There is something inherently sexy about that power--the fact that he's in (for the record, I'm on board the Kylo is physically attractive train, but I cannot forgive the amount of people he killed). And when we really start digging into who Kylo is, there are a lot of red flags there...
Fans love a broody bad guy and there are loads of popular book series where (usually) dudes of questionable moral fortitude, but a 14/10 on the hotness scale become the obsessive focus of fans. Power and wealth is sex and sex sells.
Or think about how many books are about political marriages, or how regency romances pit safety and security in relationships against TRUE LOVE (to be clear, the heroine always ends up with both--but their initial direction and discussions focus on who will offer them a secure future). When talking about marriage prospects, there has, historically, been a lot of discussion about how your chosen partner will improve your societal position in regards to wealth or power. It's the idea of marrying up. In Romeo & Juliet, this is a key reason why Lord Capulet approves of the idea of marrying 13 year old Juliet to a 30 year old Paris. As Lady Capulet puts it, "By having him, making yourself no less!"
But Katja, people don't do that today!
Um. yes? They do? Anecdotes abound about people marrying into families for exactly these things. It's why those who marry people who are incredibly wealthy and much much older than them are referred to as gold diggers. Because when that person passes, who stands to inherit all that money? And look, money is a game changer and those who have generational wealth don't realize the privilege they have and how much it affects their opportunities and experiences. So if you have a chance to snag some moolah, MORE POWER TO YOU!
Ha. Power. So, like I said these two are definitely linked. Powerful people often have money. Money that they use to maintain power or to take power. It allows them to buy their way into different aspects of society or government. Also, like I mentioned earlier, these Axes of Attraction are interlinked with what your beliefs and morals are. They hinge on how you've been raised and what kind of things you value.
Conversely, it's a great juxtaposition when the wealthy person is willing to give up that power and privilege because they love the person (again, this getting into the relationship development aspect, not the initial attraction, which is our very scientific focus here). A great study in this A Knight's Tale. Will doesn't count until he pretends to have power and wealth, at which point he woos the girl and when it's revealed that he's a fraud, she's willing to give it all up when she learns he's actually just a nobody.
This is also a good time to bring up that these three main axes are often packaged together. Beauty might be an outlier, but more often than not, you have someone who meets societal beauty standards as well as being powerful and wealthy--they're able to afford and maintain a lifestyle that allows for it.
Anyway, think of the conversations you have with friends or family about potential love interests, and I'm not talking about after you've been dating for ages, I'm talking about INTITIAL convos. You absolutely address their looks, their appearance of wealth, and how they wield power. You know you do. Don't lie.
Again, my personal experience with these two axes ain't good. I have no power (despite conservatives thinking I can indoctrinate their kids in the classroom) and again, as a teacher, I have no significant wealth (caveat, I do have the generational wealth and landownership that has allowed me to do the same). But I am solidly middle class and live just a titch above the paycheck to paycheck model. In these two axes of attraction, I continue to fail the test. No one is even going to take that first step to scope me out. I'm an immediate non-starter.
Which brings us to our bonus Axis of Attraction:
And before you get yourself all worked up, I personally believe personality is the highest ranking of attractors. It's not usually the first noticed, (let's face it, that's beauty), but it's definitely, for me, THE THING. Society, however, tricks you into thinking that it's something you have to settle for. Think of how many times you've either said or thought the exact same phrase that Emperor Kuzco utters here --->
Also of note, personality is *rarely* an initial attraction. It comes up when a friend is trying to set you up with someone and they'll start by saying I know this nice person...to which you immediately ask about one of the other 3 axes. Don't lie, you know you do. If you ever watched the short lived tv show Dating in the Dark, then you'll see they tried to use this as the initial attractor, but after 2 seasons, it just didn't hold the audience's attention the same way that other dating reality shows does because even though personality is super important, it generally is not the thing that makes the spark happen between love interests.
The world wants us to believe that if you choose someone for their personality that you are obviously settling and that person does not have beauty, wealth, or power to offer. And well, my friends, that is just not true. it is not something you ever have to settle for. EVER. And, hold onto your hats, many people with beauty, wealth, or power ALSO have fantastic personalities! With the increase in online dating, you see a bit more personality attractors taking the forefront, but it still takes a backseat to beauty. If you don't have a picture on your online profile, people probably won't take the time to read your bio.
Again, I fail the test of this Axes because I also don't have a great personality (Truth. I'm annoying, obnoxious (have you read this blog post?), and have the super ability to absolutely say the most awkward thing and misread all social clues). So, the final outcome for me is that I am unattractive as a LI in all Axes of Attraction. Woe is me.
The TL:DR is that there are three main ways in which people are initially attracted to other for romantic (or even friend!) purposes: How pretty they are; How rich they are; How powerful they are. Srsly, how many people are like "I'm 'friends' with X because they have money/wealth/beauty?" (note, friends in the broadest sense of the word because if you're a *legit* friend for one of those reasons, you're a shitty friend)
I hope you've enjoyed my chaotic and non-scientific deep dive into human attraction! Let me know what you think of share your favorite examples of books/stories/ movies/tv shows that use these Axes as the main component for getting their love interests to fall for each other!!