2 min

Desire gone wild

Why do we want what we want?

On a recent trip to Montreal, I was appalled by the jeans people were wearing.

There was just too much acid wash, as if guys had pissed bleach on themselves, and too many weird laces and doodads, as if a deranged tailor had run amok along Rue Ste-Catherine. What could these francophone cuties be thinking?

Then I remembered back to the time in high school when I cut up a green netted bag as a vest because it looked like something The Flock Of Seagulls would wear. Bad style choices always make sense at the time.

While we can laugh off our fashion faux pas, lesbian and gay people are much more finicky in defending our sex and relationship choices. But our erotic pursuits are often just as off-the-wall.

I have a thing for guys with ears that stick out – where on earth did that come from? On well-reasoned principles I once swore I would never live with anybody I had known for less than

three years, but shortly thereafter shacked up with someone within a few months of meeting. I have several “types,” but some of the hottest sex I’ve had has been with people who are not my type at all.

The whimsical nature of our sexual choices can cause us problems. People who are attracted to a specific race, for example, often get flack for treating that race as a fetish. Some people only ever pursue lovers who are trouble for them. Some people who seem happiest slutting around spend every available hour looking for “the one.”

What makes us want what we want? Obviously genetics account for some of our tendencies for seeking sex and love. We seem to have some desires for certain physical or personality types imprinted on us. In his book How The Mind Works, author and psychology professor Steven Pinker offers this quote from Fran Lebowitz:

“People who get married because they’re in love make a ridiculous mistake. It makes much more sense to marry your best friend. You like your best friend more than anyone you’re ever going to be in love with. You don’t choose your best friend because they have a cute nose, but that’s all you’re doing when you get married; you’re saying, ‘I will spend the rest of my life with you because of your lower lip.'”

It must be our genes that push us towards impractical choices – a cute nose or a sensuous lower lip were perhaps good indicators of mate fitness in hunter-gatherer times – with such stealth that we don’t even realize they’re impractical choices in the here and now.

Cultural pressures can be sneaky, too. We decide tattoos are a turn-off until we’re surrounded by people covered with them. The idea of coupling-up seems repulsive until all our friends have done it (though a rebel might see this as a call to singledom).

There’s an array of people featured in this issue who are making intriguing relationship choices, ranging from lesbian moms (see the next item) to people who raise kids in non-traditional ways (see the item after that) to people seeking queer roommates (also posted here). Is it some ancient instinct that compels them or is it some cultural zeitgeist?

People don’t like answering that question; we get all defensive. Saying it’s genetics strips away the romance. Saying it’s culture makes us feel like peer-pressured lemmings. We’d rather think we’re going through life with our eyes wide open, freely picking and choosing what’s best for us.

But if we don’t step back and at least try to ask where this stuff comes from – could I be mistaking guys with big ears as good listeners? – we can end up becoming victimized by our own desires. We can hate ourselves for what we want, or be ceaselessly disappointed, and think there is nothing we can do about it.

And we end up judging others when their pursuits differ from ours. Which results in our getting judged right back.

Paul Gallant is Managing Editor for Xtra.