Here is a story.
When I was nineteen, I was at university in Scotland, and one year into my first serious adult relationship. Her name was Colette.
We were both making the most of our first big adventure away from home: happily ensconced in our cheap student halls, ringing all hours with music and booze, and no parental figure within a hundred miles to walk in on us. We went to lectures, we drank, we had a lot of sex; your classic uni/college relationship. It was intense, turbulent and formative.
At that young age – without any of the tranquility that leaks slowly into your life over time – I was sensitive about a lot of things. Easily hurt. So I remember well the day when Colette dropped, all casual, like a grenade slipping from fingers, that she had a thing for guys with long, dark hair. And when I say long hair, I mean like these gaping assholes:
My immediate reaction just felt like an acid bubble of jealousy in my chest, but I choked that down. Instead, managing a tight-jawed look of nonchalance, I asked her to tell me about it.
There followed some breezy storytelling of how at the age of sixteen Colette had discovered that she had the bad hawts for her friend’s brother, a few years older: some local dude with a ponytail. That teenage crush was never consummated, but the preference stayed with her. She had a type.
Now, even though I was rocking some seriously floppy grunge locks, I was not that guy and never would be.
This was bad; terrible news. Nothing could strike me as more unfair. The one preference she had, the one type – I wasn’t.
I struggled with this. It was impossible for me to process adequately. I might forget about it for a few weeks, until we’d watch some band play and the sudden knowledge she was probably checking out the hippie bass player would fire sizzling in my jealous brain.
Who knows what fantasies she had? Was I a compromise? Would she be more likely to cheat on me if the guy trying to chat her up happened to look like fucking Nuno Bettencourt? It was maddening.
Even when that relationship ended a couple of years later, I still don’t think I was fully able to deal with it. What have we learned since then?
1. Nobody gets to choose
Types are received, not chosen. They are the lottery of lust.
You don’t get to choose which physical features give you a trouser soufflé. Otherwise, we would all be better off choosing to be excited by the mundane and commonplace. Popping boners to the hollow-chested boys and out-of-shape girls would give you much more chance of sexual fulfilment than harbouring a specific lust for the freakish frame of a Jolie or Kardashian.
The point here is that I could never blame Colette for being a sucker for longhairs (as it were). That’s the hand she was dealt, and it’s not to be resented.
2. Why do I love elbows*?
When you talk about your type, you start to describe physical features. Everyone has their weaknesses, the body patterns that match some circuit in your primate monkeybrain and make it light up with lurid and messy visions of sexual ambition.
There are random physical attributes or mannerisms that get you hot, for no objective reason. They could be obvious ones (ZOMG BOOBS), or not: wrists, earlobes, kneecaps, you name it, someone’s giddy for it.
So if they’re not chosen, where do these cockfoibles come from?
In the end your type has to derive from something genetic (say, you are born to want to hump midgets), or just learned (rather, your first boyfriend once played an Ewok). I think it’s probably a combination.
Physical preferences are without question influenced by experience: your early partners. My experience with Colette did a lot to sculpt what I found sexy, long after we broke up. Going the other way, I remember my very first high school girlfriend mentioning she had a thing for beards after our breakup (yes I had a goatee, it was the 90s).
There’s some science in there too though. Even though we now know that human pheromones are almost certainly bullshit, there is the sound idea of your genetic complement. Some partners’ genes are going to mix better with your own to create healthy children (which means, ‘don’t get nasty with your cousin’ if you can help it).
So it’s likely your DNA does wire you up to want to bang some people in particular, regardless of who interfered with you behind the bike sheds when you were fifteen.
To be concluded in part two, with a frank discussion of my type.
* I don’t, incidentally.