Can You Be Too Beautiful? When Sex Gets in the Way of Love

We live in a world of appearances and surface qualities, relentlessly sold, as if only beauty matters. But what of the wreckage that comes in the package when “the package” – the outer wrapping of a gifted female form – blinds the male observer to what is inside?

A few words, then, about the desire to be “known” as more than a “hot chick,” but for the soul and the idea at your core: the craving for understanding that women, in particular, find elusive in their male partners.

Men are built to be struck dumb by beauty, females to blind them, in order to procreate little duplicates and extend our mutual genetic life in the form of offspring. At some point in civilization’s course, we learned to reign in the lust and wait a bit, the better to determine whether physical attraction can combine with compatibility, protection, and parenting. But there is tension between the urge for touch and the restraint of such desire. So the human world has always been.

Good parents, especially parents of daughters, worry about the sex thing in their growing children. My wife and I did, for sure.

One of our little lovelies was unusually sense-sensitive. She craved affectionate touch from us, skin on skin. Not as though my wife and I held back. We couldn’t get enough of holding and kissing our children, just as we fondle our grandson at every opportunity today. Our tiny lady found special joy and comfort in the “skinny” of things, as she and we came to refer to it.

Well, to the good, she didn’t become a wild-woman, as we occasionally feared might happen. Our two daughters had different natures, and we tried to respond with what each one required, not a “one-size-fits all” approach.

In my clinical practice I treated a number of women who resembled my daughter’s wish for the skinny. Some of them came by this characteristic because they’d been deprived of loving touch when young. Others, however, perhaps had my little one’s nature, desirous of physical affection more than most, sense-oriented in their genetic template. I listened to stories from females who found being held more satisfying than sex. Young and older women, both.

The early stage of dating coincides with the early stage of physical maturity. If love is blind, it is blindest when the body parts spring into action, especially the part belonging to the man. Can a young fellow understand his girlfriend when he hardly grasps life at all and hormones are flooding his brain? Not well. But, perhaps the young woman hasn’t yet discovered what a precious thing it is to be precious, treasured for reasons other than her youthful glow.

What happens then? The female gets older, but not yet old, wonders if a “good man” exists – just one – capable of understanding and sexuality; less self-love and more of a kind that recognizes the unique qualities beyond “curb appeal.” “Me, not her!” she seems to say, referring to her appearance as if it had a life of its own. “Want me not only in the bedroom: the other me is important, too.”

Some of those I’m talking about fall in love with their therapists. Beyond the traditional Freudian transference, why might that be?

Could it be because his job is to get underneath the skin, beyond the skin? And, because he is forbidden to touch? He communicates in words, words alone. He thinks about you, listens to you, analyzes you, looks into your eyes, abides with you, cradles your being (not your body) when you most need a comforting embrace.

Moreover, often a counselor is older, less driven by his own sexuality. He is not so captured by his hormones and your fetching vision. He can radiate, for all these reasons, a more fatherly presence, at least the kind of father you might have wanted if your own fell short. The best dads cherish their children of both genders, recognize the human being inside, and speak the words conveying this knowledge.

We need, all of us need, to ache for love, the ache before touch, the ache that cannot grow when want is satisfied early and often. Romance is fueled by magic, imagination, and language; physical reality can get in the way. Not that romance doesn’t crave fulfillment, but lofty affection needs time to brew, age a little before you drink.

Does this sound quaint, the musings of a man raised in a less sexually free atmosphere than we live in today? I plead guilty. That doesn’t mean I’m wrong.

Analogues similar to the doctor/patient growth of love do exist: in bygone days, when people separated by distance wrote love letters. My dad and mom were newly married when he went to war. The ardency of his well-traveled words can be read here: Love Letters.

Is this not what you want? I sometimes wonder, in our current environment, if a man’s discovery of a woman at the most genuine level is preempted by too much, too soon. In my dad’s day, sex was more a question of whether than when. Now, consummation is expected early and almost disqualifying if one or the other wants to wait very long. But these are general statements and may not apply to you at all. My apologies.

Some women should be treasured for their intellect, kindness, and talent; for their revolt and their surrender; for their self; but settle for financial security or sex or just someone to blunt the dull edge of loneliness. These women should have their hands kissed, but the bargain doesn’t always include tenderness. Stupefied by their own stupidity, men can be blind to what they too are missing.

In the last few years, I’ve come to the point of cherishing my long-time friends, something similar to what I think a woman wants from her mate. I have begun to tell them, men and women both, what makes them special to me. To express my gratitude for their being and for being in my life.

We need to age a little to find this gratitude for the things so long taken for granted. And maybe some of us (men too) need to lose 20% of our charm so the opposite sex will be less dazzled and see farther, less physically attractive to be loved for who we are. Might we need to look middle-aged and recognize our mortality before the whole of us can take precedence over body parts and hair and symmetry and the other handiwork of the sculptor who made us? Not our fault, but still …

I could be way off, as I said. I am a married man who has received more love than I deserve and listened to intimate stories in the office, too. I can’t know by experience what any of you, dear female readers, understand from the inside. But, before you dump my words into the dumpster, consider this. This is what I think you want, in a poem of W.B. Yeats. The kind of love he had for a woman who spurned him:

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Maude Gonne, the woman for whom Yeats carried a torch well-beyond the writing of this verse, did not get the fullness of his love because she jilted him. His was an abiding affection even when she was no longer the beauty of her youth.

But then, the question is, do you want this sort of love?

You already know what I think.


The top photo is A Beautiful Female Mannequin, by The second image is a Boston photo of Jules Aarons. Next comes Beautiful Female Avatar from Second Life, the work of Jin Zan. The iconic American Girl in Italy by Ruth Orkin follows. Finally, a painting by Giuseppe Arcimboldo entitled Flora. All the female images except for the Orkin photo are sourced from Wikimedia Commons and, quite intentionally, none of them are real women (with the exception of the Orkin photo), since the essay is about believing “the package” is the real thing.

33 thoughts on “Can You Be Too Beautiful? When Sex Gets in the Way of Love

  1. It’s strange….although I wouldn’t want to be thought unattractive, at the same time I can’t stand the thought of being desired. It is frightening , probably for lots of reasons. And there is a definite yearning for my body to be loved only in so far as it is an intrinsic part of me and not for its own sake….this subject is so fraught for me .
    But you have spoken beautifully about it and in particular about your appreciation of those you love….

    Liked by 1 person

    • There is time for this. At some point you may discover you are more open to admiration. Most of the rest of us rather like it!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I guess it’s what I am admired for , that is the problem ! I don’t know, there’s just something about someone wanting me that on one level makes me feel ill…..I don’t think this was always the case, so I need to try and figure out why….in some ways it seems linked to a greater sense of self awareness, and a greater sense of self respect and self compassion, and a realisation of the importance of those things being shown to me by others, instead of allowing or even encouraging an approach to myself and my body that doesn’t take those things into account….


  2. Yes, a lovely piece. Of course ( because I am me and I am where I am at) this jumped out at me:

    “Could it be because his job is to get underneath the skin, beyond the skin? And, because he is forbidden to touch? He communicates in words, words alone. He thinks about you, listens to you, analyzes you, looks into your eyes, abides with you, cradles your being (not your body) when you most need a comforting embrace.”

    I love that “cradles your being” idea.

    On another note, there are those of us who seem to attract one or the other kind of man: the man who just wants sex or the man who falls in love with our mind, but puzzlingly, never the two things, together. I wonder what that is about. A lot.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your comment about the mind stands out for me. At least for me, the idea of being worthy for something beyond the body does include the mind, but not only that: sentiments, presence, warmth, kindness, a certain lightness of being, laughter, a twinkle in the eye, a sense of adventure … I could go on. In any case, as I said above, there is yet time.

      Liked by 3 people

    • My own therapist talks about holding me in mind and I love that phrase for similar reasons. So much better than being ‘kept’ in mind – that sense of being held, particularly when physical holding is not possible…..

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Very nice. Thank you for this.

    I worry about my husband’s pubescent granddaughter, and where her emerging sexuality will take her.

    And yes, you’ve certainly nailed the sort of love that I want. I’m far past the “youthful beauty” stage (as modest as that was), but I remember it well, and what a mixed blessing it was.

    And I’ve always loved that Yeats poem. My husband (lucky me) loves it too.


    • Thank you, Mary Ann. Sounds like you’ve met your match in your mate. Most men wouldn’t know Yeats from “hates!”


      • lol…. how true! In that way, I’ve been very lucky. He came quite late into my life, but much better late than never.


  4. It’s beautiful what you say but it all seems so elusive to me. I have been trying to overcome so much and have the courage to put myself out there, but am only coming across men who may like what they see but only interested in simple relationships where it’s easy and they don’t have to work at it because they want a woman to make them comfortable, loooks may not be as important as they get older but it doesn’t mean they want to find your soul either.

    Trying hard not to get disillusioned here, the rejection hurts and does keep taking me back to the only man who is willing to dig abit deeper because he gets paid for it. That is a bit harsh because I know my T does care about the work that we do and wants me to be happy. I’m trying to build a life outside therapy but it’s damn hard, lonely work and the prospects in the relationship arena look extremely bleak, particularly in a world that is becoming increasingly superficial and not just with young people.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is true, Claire, I’ve known men who gave up on the sex project and the relationship project along with it. Men who had had considerable sexual experience. Some of them, like women, decide that it is too much trouble. But, you’ve come a long way. You never know what you might meet down the road, if you are open and willing. In any case, your life has been admirable so far. I share your doubts about the world, but I retain some hopefulness about individuals within it. You are one such.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I share your feelings of loneliness and bleak outlook….it’s so hard….

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Another rich tapestry of honest feelings…The part that touched my heart was having been cradled by my therapist. Having experienced this with my Female therapist has led me to have such a richer and more intimate relationship with my Husband. Who knew these things were possible at 66y old!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Now you’re talking, Deb! Yes, it is funny how events and people that open and energize us can produce ripple effects elsewhere. Thanks for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

    • That’s lovely to read 🙂 my own female therapist is teaching me how to love and be loved, but my marriage is such that those lessons aren’t really transferrable, and I can’t make use of them with a partner, which saddens me, though she has given me so much when it comes to my relationship with my children…..

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’m happy for you, Deb. Being emotionally touched by someone can open new worlds. One is, perhaps, never too old to be surprised (in a good way).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Nobody could ever convince me you are ever too old for anything…I always knew there was something wrong with me but didn’t discover it until I was 62 and met the most wonderful therapist. (No, I don’t idealize her anymore:-). I do understand now what trauma is and how it has affected me. How in the world my Husband stood by me for 37 years is a miracle in itself. What I most prize now though is my heart because I’m not sure I knew that I really had one until I started working on myself. In the end, love is what really matters and who cares whether you are 37 or 97.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. I wonder though if being understood is a two-edged sword — both in therapy and in relationships. Particularly in couple work, I can find myself sitting with a client who is red-faced, fists clenched, panting, insisting that they’re not angry. And I suspect that when I was training, my own analyst was kind enough not to bring to my awareness too much about myself too quickly!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Agreed, Mike. It is all very delicate and timing is everything. Of course, I doubt we really ever know another fully. Nor ourselves. Thanks for commenting.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I, too, love the idea that the therapist “cradles your being”. That really sticks with me. I love that whole paragraph. But in my own therapy, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that — real, deep, “unconditional positive regard”. I think I would remember, if I had. If I think hard about it, I can find brief moments in therapy, but only very brief, not an overall experience. (I dunno, maybe this is “my” problem?)

    I think there are levels and levels of healing. I’ve certainly had many benefits from having been in therapy, off and on over decades, and many things have been resolved. But others haven’t, and at almost 67, I doubt that they ever will. For example, I still have trouble being comfortable in groups, including the family “group”, and something tells me that I keep friendships at arm’s length. I feel a bit of a sense of isolation and loneliness and longing, “deep down”. I wonder if it’s expecting too much that everything gets fixed. I wonder if the best I can hope for is a close and friendly and generally easeful relationship with my husband (and that’s MORE than I used to dare hope for!) . . . and the rest will remain slightly fractured, but functional enough. Quite functional, in fact. Like that Japanese pottery, “kintsugi”, where broken pottery isn’t discarded or deemed useless, but rather the fractures are repaired (with seams of gold), and the piece is not only still functional, but admired.

    It’s not a perfect metaphor, because in the case of kintsugi, the repaired piece is sometimes deemed more beautiful than it would have been, if never fractured at all. I’m not sure I could embrace that idea, with regard to my life! But I do like the idea of embracing ourselves, and life, as imperfect.

    The Wikipedia article on kintsugi has some rich ideas about that. Here are just a few…
    “As a philosophy, kintsugi can be seen to have similarities to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, an embracing of the flawed or imperfect.”
    “… [kintsugi] treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.”
    “The vicissitudes of existence over time, to which all humans are susceptible, could not be clearer than in the breaks, the knocks, and the shattering to which ceramic ware too is subject. This poignancy or aesthetic of existence has been known in Japan as mono no aware, a compassionate sensitivity, or perhaps identification with, [things] outside oneself.”
    … and I would add, a compassionate sensitivity to ourselves and to other people, in the fracturedness of existence.


    • Oops, that was a bit of a tangent! I hope you don’t mind those too much!


      • No apologies, please, Mary Ann. You’ve enriched me with this idea of which “kintsugi” is an example. As to being more comfortable in groups, who knows? We are not static unless we choose to be, but in transit.


  9. Thanks for yet another thought-provoking article, Dr. Stein. I am reminded that being human comes with all kinds of complexities. As women, we may be beautiful and desirable to the opposite sex, yet do not think of ourselves as such.


    • Thank you, Rosaliene. A multi-sided topic, for sure. But I have the advantage of knowing you and your writing a bit. Seeing your photo, too. Beauty is there.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. A wonderful article, Dr. Stein and two pieces particularly jumped out at me. You wrote that you and your wife could not get enough of holding and kissing your children. Sigh….how lucky they are to have had such love and attention from their parents, and this certainly grabbed my attention as I felt surprised that such affection is bestowed upon one’s children. No, I do not have children. And a partial quote about therapists…”He can radiate, for all these reasons, a more fatherly presence, at least the kind of father you might have wanted if your own fell short. The best dads cherish their children of both genders, recognize the human being inside, and speak the words conveying this knowledge.” The analogy I use to describe the fatherly support and counsel I receive from my therapist reminds me of sweet, gentle, rain permeating a scorched, dry, land, and the land is gratefully absorbing the rain and is showing green shoots of new life.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Your Yeats poem brought me to tears. Heartbreaking to feel that kind of deeply lingering, hopeless love for someone who does not feel the same way about you.


    • Yeats clearly wanted us to be touched, not only by his dilemma, but to recognize a universality to his experience. Thank you for sharing this emotion, Brewdun.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s