Like a Light Switch: Thoughts on Physical Attraction

Physical attraction is a funny thing.  Everyone can describe characteristics they are attracted to, but can seldom explain why.  In American culture there are “normal” characteristics that make people attractive; whether it’s ample breasts for women or six-pack abs for men.  Oh, and lets not forget that attractive people are inevitably young.  For those attracted to the norm there may not be much attention paid to why.  And, when others are attracted to something other than they norm they are seen as odd or asked to explain their attraction.  Oddly, I think few of us are truly capable of explaining why we hold the attractions we do.

I am attracted to older men, usually over fifty.  I can’t really explain why.  Why is it that a perfectly nice man in his forties usually doesn’t raise my pulse rate, but a similar person over fifty might.  I had an interesting experience recently that highlighted that threshold in attraction.  For a few years now I’ve known a friend of John’s whom we’ll call Maurice.  Maurice was one of the first of John’s friends I met when we started dating.  Though John and Maurice have been friends for a long time they don’t socialize a lot; I think in part because of Maurice’s work schedule.  So over the three year’s that I’ve known Maurice I’ve only seen or spent time with him two or three times each year.

Though I’ve always though Maurice was really nice, I never gave him a second though in terms of being attracted to him.  Recently I started going to some workshops for my job and curiously enough Maurice was participating in the same workshops.  It had been several months since I’ve seen him, but not a full year.  Still, I suddenly found myself more attracted to him than I ever had before.  The bit of chest hair peaking out of his shirt, the gray in his hair, his eyes; all of this drew my attention where it never had before.  I kept finding myself glancing at him across the room.  Last year I was not physically attracted to Maurice, less than a year later I am; it was like a light switch had gone on.

Curiously, I found out that Maurice is verging on the fifty mark.  This knowledge isn’t what fueled the attraction, I found out about his age after I recognized the attraction, but it highlight my self professed age range of interest.  I’m not the only one either that sets what are seemingly arbitrary age limits to which they are attracted.  Recently I was talking with a friend and he pretty clearly set his lower limit at forty-two.  For those that are only attracted to younger men they are often characterized as self-centered, or at the least unrealistic.  For those attracted to men over a certain age they are labeled as weird or having daddy issues.  Ultimately though, I think defining why we have the attractions we do is much more difficult when we reflect on it; whether that attraction is outside the norm or not.  And if we become more cognizant of our own attractions we might not be so quick to judge the attractions of others.

Do you have a particular upper limit or lower limit for the age of the people you seem to be attracted to?  Do you have other types of attraction that seems to be outside the norm?  Have you been able to determine the reason for that attraction?

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The Joy of Seasonal Change

leavesFall has pretty much embraced the whole of the United States by now.  The leaves have turned and where I live we’ve even had our first snowfall already.  For many this may signal the dreaded march into winter, but I embrace the change of the seasons.

Sure, I like the Fall colors, the crisp air, and the upcoming holidays, but as the seasons change I also observe a secret celebration.  The change from warm weather to cool signals a change of wardrobe for everyone.  And I confess it gives me hidden pleasure.  As cool weather approaches all those ill fitting t-shirts and tired khaki shorts go back in their drawers.

Soon I’m noticing that handsome older man at the grocery store is wearing a coal grey sweater that perfectly accents his blue eyes and silver hair, and my blood boils.  Winter wardrobes bring a bit of formality back to fashion that I find really sexy.  Somehow the mass change in clothing renews my sexual attraction to men.  Even John benefits from the seasonal make-over;  I find myself staring at his ass the first few times he dons his cords and he looks exceptionally handsome in his long-sleeve oxfords.

Of course this heightened sense of attraction is temporary and cyclical.  By the end of winter I’ll be bemoaning all the baggy sweatshirts and concealing coats.  As Spring comes I’ll celebrate seeing a little skin as those older men around town start to roll up their sleeves and unbutton their top button.  But until the novelty wears off I’ll take pleasure in all you handsome older men out there as you break out the fashionable winter duds.

What do you think about the change of seasons, do you take new notice of people due to the change in wardrobe?  Is their some other secret pleasure you derive from the coming of Fall?

Top Five Anxieties When Entering an Intergenerational Relationship

anxietyFor individuals entering any type of intimate relationship there is going to be some level of anxiety.  One is always concerned if the other party is going to like them.  However, for intergenerational couples these anxieties may come in the form of age or status related concerns.  Often these anxieties can be subliminal, not fully apparent to the individuals involved in the relationship.  By addressing these anxieties consciously, though, an individual can either move beyond them and let the relationship flourish, or identify incompatibilities that are irreconcilable and decide to move on.  Today I present to you five major points of anxiety for gay intergenerational couples.  I hope they serve as a starting point for self reflection for my readership as well as a conversation starter here at GtD.

Perception – Individuals within intergenerational couples are often concerned with the perceptions of others, particularly if they are entering their first age disparate relationship.  As I discussed in many of my early posts here, there are a number of stereotypes surrounding intergenerational couples.  This can lead to a lot of anxiety for those individuals, which can effect how they approach the relationship.  I remember fearing intensely the reactions of family and friends to the news that I had entered a relationship with someone much older than myself not to mention anxieties over the way strangers may treat us as well.  Outside societal pressure can definitely have negative impacts on ones relationship and until I came to the conclusion that I had to make my own decisions, I questioned what future John and I might have.

Opportunism – Both older partners and younger partners my have concerns that they are taken advantage of.  Is the younger partner simply using the older for financial gain?  Is the older with the younger merely for sexual reasons or for status within the gay community.  While the problem of opportunism can be a legitimate concern, and I would never encourage an individual to let themselves be taken advantage of, the charge of opportunism is a serious one and can be quite hurtful if not true.  Fully examine anxieties over opportunism, before acting upon them.

Performance – This is probably an anxiety felt more acutely by older men than younger men.  Incidence of decreased sexual function increases with age.  Some older men fixate on problems they may have with sexual function leading to anxiety about how that will effect the relationship or how the younger man may react.  To a lesser extent younger men may have some anxieties in this area, worried how they may measure up to previous partners in the love making department.

Autonomy – On the other hand anxieties over autonomy are more likely to touch the younger partner.  Older partners in intergenerational relationships are often more established financially and professionally, and may have a leg up in terms of their relationships with friends and family (i.e. how long they have been out and accepted by those groups).  For the younger individual this may pose a challenge to their independence and self authorship.  How do you cultivate a healthy relationship with someone that has already established their identity when you’re still working on yours?  At the same time the older partner may fear hindering their younger partner’s development, concerned they may hold the younger man back.

Rejection – Ultimately the anxiety we all share when we enter a new relationship is the fear of rejection.  The previous anxieties feed the fear of rejection as do other concerns.  The older man may fear that he not in good enough shape.  The younger man may fear that he’s not educated or experienced enough.  And because of these or other anxieties both parties ultimately have anxiety over rejection.  Early on every small argument and disagreement my feel like grounds for rejection.  Fortunately as time goes by, if all these anxieties are confronted and dealt with, that anxiety of rejection begins to fade and a stronger relationship is left in its place.

In The Media: The Advocate’s Silverfoxes

I was excited when I received this month’s issue of The Advocate in the male. On the cover it declared “Silverfoxes: The rise of the mature man”. It also featured a picture of Anderson Cooper with little text blurbs highlighting the attractive features of older men such as gray hair, soulful eyes, and laugh lines. I normally read The Advocate from cover to cover, but this month I couldn’t resist flipping directly to the feature article “The Age of the Silverfox” by Sean Kennedy.

I naively believed that for once, when it comes to sex appeal, The Advocate would briefly set aside the cult of youth. That they might truly examine the appeal of mature men. Unfortunately that is not what Mr. Kennedy did, and I came away from the article with a very mixed impression.

The Good:

1. The article encourages men with gray hair to avoid the temptation to dye it. It makes the case that natural gray hair can express confidence and be sexy. Oh, they are so right.

2. The article also makes a unique observation about the expression of masculinity. That gray hair offers an alternative to bear culture or ultra gym bodies in the race to express manliness. (Of course we all know women gray too, but it is more acceptable for men, got to love double standards.)

3. By focusing on what some might call “prematurely gray” men the article raises awareness about failing follicles. I hope it has helped younger men stop obsessing over the possibility of going gray.

The Bad:

1. The article really only focuses on gray haired men in the under 45 crowd. Despite its pleas that getting gray hair doesn’t mean you’re past it, the article still manages to marginalize older gay men. We are treated to copy about being silver and still having toned and tanned bodies and photos of baby faced men with gray hair. However older men are excluded from the silverfox category and dismissed as the “daddy type”. (I don’t want to get into exactly what that means, but the connotations aren’t always good.)

2. Gray hair is equated to maturity and sophistication, but the article doesn’t feature any older men from whom that association presumably comes. It seems to me that Mr. Kennedy is presenting gray hair as just another fashion option for trendy young men. The article only recognizes the value of gray hair on the heads of the young. On the other hand I must give the men that were featured credit for being self confident and for bucking the status quo.

Ultimately, I had hoped the article would have explored nuances in attraction in the gay community. Perhaps I should have known better when Anderson Cooper was the cover model rather than some older man, but to my defense the cover copy was a bit misleading. My hopes were raised and then dashed by an article that, in some ways, supports stereotypes and avoids addressing the truly complicated nature of male/male attraction.

Have you read this month’s issue of The Advocate? What did you think of the article “The Age of the Silverfox”? Did anything else from this issue jump out at you?

Advice for Older Men: Personal Presentation

When it comes to attracting a romantic partner a lot of factors can come into play, but the first one to be noticed is usually physical appearance. As I’ve gotten to know more older gay men I’ve come to notice a number of common mistakes when it comes to personal presentation. In this post I’ll share some of the mistakes I’ve observed and examine what makes them an appearance no-no. Keep in mind, whether you’re just interested in a partner for pelvic pinochle or you’re in it for the long haul, proper personal presentation can start you off on the right foot.

The following are seven aspects of your appearance you should consider. The fashion considerations here don’t necessarily need to be applied to all aspects of your life, but should be applied when going out on a date or to functions where you’re likely to meet other available men. (or when you’re taking photos for that dating site you just joined). I have listed them, roughly, in order of increasing importance. If your having real trouble getting that cute young guy to pay any attention to you, perhaps you should skip to the bottom.

Accessories:

1. Glasses don’t have to be a detriment to your looks; they can even work to your advantage. Let’s face it, after we turn 40 our eyesight begins to go downhill. So, if you’re an older guy you’re probably sporting a pair of spectacles. This in and of itself shouldn’t be a concern, younger guys interested in the older crowd are going to expect this and will likely find glasses attractive anyway. That said, try to let the glasses you choose work for you. As a general rule smaller frames are better and choose a shape that contrasts slightly with the shape of your face; this can make you look smart and progressive. I’ve seen too many men with huge round frames that overwhelm their face.

2. Hat’s haven’t been a fashion necessity since the 1950s, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t different hats for different jobs. Do not use baseball caps as all purpose head wear. I know they’re easy, and they’re fine for outdoor activities or informal situations. However, I’ve seen men wear them while wearing a suit. If you’re going anywhere remotely nicely dressed, consider a more formal style of hat or none at all. It is understandable that many older men use hats to protect bald or balding heads, but do not rely on a hat to cover up the fact that your hair is thinning. More on that subject later. Finally, it is still polite to remove you’re hat while indoors, especially when eating or visiting someone’s home.

3. Men’s jewelry should be pretty innocuous, limited to a small number of understated pieces. Older gay men that abuse the use of jewelry seemingly fall into one of two groups: the pompous show-off playboy wannabe or the oblivious camp queen. If you’re wealthy you don’t have to show it off by draping yourself in jewelry. One or two choice items can express both your status and your good taste. On the other hand, if your tastes trend toward the eccentric and you’re on the look out for a younger guys I’d recommend tempering some of those tendencies. Limit yourself to a single unique piece, you’ll still express your personality but potential mates will be more likely to perceive you as quirky and fun rather than over the top.

Clothing:

4. Choose your wardrobe carefully, carelessness or apathy in choosing cloths can do a lot to diminish your physical appearance. We all like to throw on a comfy pair of jeans and an old polo shirt, but that just doesn’t cut it when you’re trying to attract someone. When shopping for new clothes make sure to only purchase things that fit properly; make sure the shoulders are the right width, shirts conform but aren’t too tight around the torso, pant waists are the right measurement, etc. Baggy or ill fitted clothes make you look as though you’re either sloppy or you’re trying to hide physical flaws. However, well fitted clothes, through the structure they provide, will enhance your better features but generally diminish flaws. When in doubt find a clothing retailer with knowledgeable clerks, they can help you find a fit that is right for your body and you can then apply what you learn when you shop at other establishments. It may also help to look at men’s fashion magazines, you don’t necessarily need to go for the high end clothes they’re modeling, but you can often find great hints on what’s in style and how to find a better fit.

5. Dress in age appropriate clothing. If their’s anything worse than someone who is oblivious to fashion, it is the older gay man that tries too hard to be fashionable. It is one thing to appear youthful for your age but some older gay men take this too far. I knew one gentleman in his 70s that wore tight printed t-shirts and heavily distressed jeans. This was an outfit expected out of a 30-something and may have been pulled off successfully by a fit 50-something but for this septuagenarian this trendy look really wasn’t working. He was a pleasant guy, in good shape, but such an attempt at youthful fashion wreaked of desperation. Dress nicely, find a style that complements your features and personality, but take care not to over reach toward being overly trendy.

Grooming:

6. Gray hair is sexy, please leave it just the way it is. Many men desperately attempt to hang on to youth as they age. One of the quickest, easiest, and most obvious ways they do this is by dying their hair. Unfortunately, dying one’s hair is also one of the quickest and easiest ways to reveal one’s own vanity and/or insecurity in their looks. Both of which are big turn-offs. Accept your graying hair, wear it with confidence, and you just might be rewarded with a young man running his fingers through them. If you do insist on dying your hair, keep in mind that course facial hair requires stronger dyes and so dyes more evenly and thus less natural looking than the hair on top of your head. You may want to lose the beard or mustache if you decide to keep your “natural” color on top of your head.

7. That hair piece isn’t fooling anyone. Much like the graying older man, the balding older man often wishes to deny the reality that, gasp, male pattern baldness is common in our species. Bald heads, like gray hair, can also be very sexy. Sean Connery anyone? Unfortunately, compensating for baldness through toupees or hair plugs is generally even less convincing than dyed hair. The fact that bald men cling on to their pieces though their friends, family, neighbors, dental hygienists, and anyone else that may happen to meet them that isn’t blind knows that they are bald illustrates the state of delusional self-denial some of these men can be in. If you are a bald or balding man it is ultimately best that you come to terms with that fact, accept it, and be honest to the rest of the world. Ultimately others will respect you more for it.

Closing Thoughts:

As I reflect on this post I have noticed that my list of common mistakes reflect two major themes. First, young men looking at potential older partners aren’t necessarily looking for physical perfection, at least not as it is commonly defined in our culture. But, they are more likely to me attracted to a man that attends to their looks. In part, self cultivation creates a more attractive package, but it also expresses a certain level of self assurance which in itself can be sexy. That leads us into the second theme. Older men often employ certain strategies to maintain their youthfulness that can be excessive or superficial. These strategies reveal insecurity and express a sense of desperation. Confidence and self-acceptance are really what men are looking for. We may desire certain physical traits, but they’re even more sexy when someone is comfortable in their own body.

I want to leave you with one final anecdote. My partner told me that he once confided in his son that he was considering getting hair plugs. (Yes, my partner is a sexy bald man.) His son responded “Oh dad, don’t do that you’ll be just like all those other tired old queens. Spend that money on a personal trainer.” Fortunately, my partner took his son’s advice. He started eating better, taking care of his skin, getting more physically active, and at times uses a personal trainer to focus his workout routine. Rather than taking the quick fix he took pride in himself and his body. When I look at old photos of him and compare that with how he is now, it’s not just the physical changes that are obvious but also that change in attitude. I respect my partner’s strong sense of self and it is one of the things that first made me so attracted to him.