2010-06-10 / Sandy Days, Salty Nights

Dear Sweaty

Oscar Wilde tells us that it is better to be beautiful than to be good, but it is better to be good than to be ugly. And what of brains? Is it better to be smart than good-looking, or does beauty come before intelligence?

We often slander men for being connoisseurs of female attractiveness but miserly consumers of the less physical sides of a woman: her wit, her personality, her capacity for conversation. So much so, in fact, that a popular aphorism runs, “The average woman would rather have beauty than brains, because the average man can see better than he can think.” Of course, one must wonder if men are alone in this behavior. Why should only one gender get to have all the fun?

I must confess, I once tried out my own trophy boyfriend. He had one of those aggressively masculine names, the kind that ends in –er and sounds like it should belong to a model in an Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue. Trapper or Parker or Hunter. He was tanned all over and had blond hair that fell artfully over his face. On a plane trip across the country, a stewardess once stopped alongside his seat, a little shy and breathless.

“I’m sorry to bother you,” she said, “but have I seen you in a movie?”

Hunter — or was it Trapper? — smiled up at her with his perfectly straight and white teeth and shook his head, no. He later relayed the story to me with great relish.

Of course, looks like that take work. Hunter was at the gym nearly ever day. He ate a strict diet of chicken breasts, steamed vegetables, and brown rice. When I invited him over for dinner early in our relationship, I unknowingly prepared fettuccine alfredo. He pushed the limp noodles around on his plate and confessed at the end of the meal that he could not eat so much starch.

To give admirers the full effect of his exquisitely defined muscles, Hunter shaved most of his body hair. That included his chest, his arms, and even his legs. To be fair, he didn’t always shave. Sometimes he used Nair.

When we laid out on the beach together, the green waters of the Gulf lapping at our feet, Hunter’s skin smooth and glistening under a sheen of tanning oil, he raised up on one elbow and looked down at me.

“Can I ask you something?” he said.

I shaded my eyes with my hand. “Sure.”

“Do you have a headband I can borrow?” he said, tossing a lock of highlighted hair out of his eyes.

Hunter was unmistakably gorgeous, a feather in my dating cap. But what he offered in arm charm, he lacked in the brains department. Our conversations were stilted and basic. We never engaged on the finer points of world politics. Literature — or grammar, or even spelling — was not his specialty.

In e-mails, Hunter always beganwith the same term of endearment, “Dear Sweaty.” At first I thought it was a joke or perhaps a typo, but as our relationship progressed and he continued to call me “sweaty,” I realized that I had made the mistake take of putting beauty before brains. Ultimately, I would rather be a less handsome man’s sweetie. 

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