The benefits of sexual invisibility

Why not being hot is cool with me

Words & images © Paul Ransom

It was late 2006, maybe early 2007. I was 41, living in a tourist town in the tropics, still recovering from the implosion of a fourteen year marriage. Two friends and I were talking about sex. One, a woman in her late-40s, was saying that she had recently passed through what she called ‘the wall of sexual invisibility’.

“Men like me,” she asserted. “They think I’m funny and smart, a good drinking buddy or an agony aunt; but they don’t fancy me anymore.”

A beat later she fixed me in her sights and added, “It will happen to you too one day.”

Fast forward a few years and she was proven right. Indeed, I recall the moment I first knew for sure – sauntering in the summer sun, doing my tried and true charming/raffish man routine, the one that often got the girls smiling and looking twice (if not actually stopping to give me their numbers). Except now they were looking right through me. Their gaze elsewhere. As though I did not exist.

In retrospect, it was predictable. Deepening lines, facial blemishes, thinning lips, sagging chin, obvious hair loss and, as a consequence, a marked decrease in aesthetic appeal. Together, they made me even less of a catch than I already was. Now, instead of flirty eyes, I was getting the look that said, feel free to shut up and fuck off.

However, less predictable was just how good sexual invisibility would turn out to be. Far from becoming a cut/copy ‘incel’ whinger weaponising my disappointment into thinly disguised woman hating bile, I have come to regard erotic irrelevance as nothing short of a blessed relief and life-altering liberation.

Like, OMG, at least I don’t have to bother with that shit anymore.

When I think of the time, effort and expense I have saved I am now thankful for the arrival of that romantic rejection letter. In truth, I ought to have it framed and displayed prominently to ward off delusional relapses into the hormonally driven rituals of dating, mating and making a complete arse of myself.  

Yet, for all that, hardwired evolutionary impulses remain. The beauty of a woman still makes me swoon. Bare shoulders and figure hugging outfits still light fires in the blood. Smart, funny, playful women still grab my attention and stir my affection. Fiery, intense, artistic women will likely always move me to poetry and other forms of madness. It’s just that now, finally, I have taught myself not to fall into the honey trap. Look, admire, befriend – maybe even indulge a momentary dream – but don’t beg. Don’t chase. Don’t lurch into ridiculous courting behaviour. And most of all, don’t obsess.

Not only did I let my dick trump my better judgement, but I allowed myself to be led well and truly up the proverbial garden path.

Thus, the big pay-off of sexual invisibility is that I get to like myself more. After four decades of frequently pathetic, often cringeworthy, esteem-crushing folly I can at last kiss goodbye to the failed utopia of ‘the one’.

You see, it wasn’t just the sweaty, genetic validation of sexual selection I was chasing; it was the nebulous confirmation of emotional connection, of recognition, of not being alone that I was looking for. As the song1 says: a rush of blood is not enough, I want my feelings set on fire.

In pursuit of this fantasy I engaged in all manner of self-destructive and ritualistic idiocy. Not only did I let my dick trump my better judgement, but I allowed myself to be led well and truly up the proverbial garden path. Perhaps you will recognise some of these textbook examples of girl-crazy:  

  • The chilly Saturday I waited for hours at a bus stop for the promised arrival of my first crush – Lisa – getting successively excited, then disappointed as each bus came and went without her. The following Monday at school I accepted her lame (and almost certainly fallacious) excuse and continued, stupidly, to pine for her for the best part of three fruitless years.
  • The year I spent trying to play ‘saviour’ to the gorgeous German girl in my Year 11 maths class; following her round like a dog as she gave herself to older guys with loud cars, hard liquor and interesting drugs. In hindsight, I suspect there were serious demons lurking in her life, but I was blinded by her beauty, fooled by her unkept promises and addicted to my own ‘damsel in distress’ fantasy.
  • The episode with the ravishing, highly sexual hippy chick, who I knew was playing me, yet who I fell for anyway. When I eventually confessed, after all of three weeks, that I ‘loved’ her, she simply laughed and said “yeah I know” as if it were the expected result of a well-honed strategy. I knew then that I’d been had, that I was simply middle aged sucker #437. More fool me.
  • The cold and decidedly manic Monday I left umpteen voice messages for a younger woman who obviously was not coming to the movies with me that afternoon. (What was that about getting the hint?)

In addition, you can add classics like lying, posing, bragging, over-promising, emotional blackmail, passive-aggressive control dramas and the acidic and awful conniving of jealousy. Put it this way, I didn’t exactly leave the barrel unscraped2.

So…painful and upbraiding though it was at first, passing through the threshold of desirability has delivered me from the worst and most ruinous aspects of myself. These days, if ever I edge into old ways, there is a voice of cool detachment in my head that says, Have you noticed how ridiculous you’re being? Please stop now. I have learnt to treasure such sagacious intervention.

However, the benefits of listening to this advice go well beyond simply not being a junkie. They include:   

  • A huge reduction in time spent preening, fussing over shirt selection, etc
  • A similarly large decrease in age denying activities like ab crunching, hair dying, etc
  • Dropping the pretences of cool, charisma, cleverness and (dare I say) caring
  • Not competing with other men (friends especially) for female approval
  • Not agreeing to attend onerous, mind-numbing parties and other such functions in the hope of…
  • Not enduring the endless cycles of the ‘bastard fetish’ (complain about bad man, fall for another one, tap me for free counselling afterwards)3

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  • Being able to relax and enjoy the company and friendship of women (including several young and quite gorgeous ones) without sexualising it or working myself into a lather of so-called love

Yet perhaps the biggest reward is that once incipient fears – ending up alone, being deemed fundamentally worthless – have transformed themselves into a relaxed and grateful equanimity that daily manifests as a sense of lightness and liberty. Indeed, in the absence of the female equivalent I have finally come to love myself in a way that is (it seems) neither arrogant nor deluded.   

Sure, it’s a kind of evolutionary heresy, and most certainly a bargain with aging and accrued disappointment, but wow…is it a load off or what?

Importantly, the key to this transformation is neither blunt denial nor the conceit of apparent wisdom, but rather, calm recognition. I do not supress or deny either attraction, affection or the lingering vision of a vaulting, earth-shattering love. I am still moved by the romance in films, books and songs. Indeed – as those who know me will point out – I am the author of a long running blog consisting entirely of love letters. What’s more, invisible though I have become, I would not automatically say no to being seen. (The door is open, even if I’m not scanning the horizon.) However, I no longer invest in the drama or indulge the behaviours these passions once elicited. Whereas the previous default was always to act out, the post-invisibility setting is to let the wave pass. And pass it surely does.

I offer none of this as proof of superior insight or monkish discipline – nor indeed as a mask for seething bitterness or rationalised sexism – but as a form of reassurance. It is okay to get old and become un-sexy. We don’t need the recourse of sports cars, face lifts and other denialist remedies. Neither do we need to waste hours in gyms, fritter fortunes on try hard outfits or post airbrushed photos online.   

Perhaps some of my female friends will baulk when I say that since I stopped seeking sex selection, I have become happier than ever. Sure, it’s a kind of evolutionary heresy, and most certainly a bargain with aging and accrued disappointment, but wow…is it a load off or what?

So yeah, I’m cool with the friend zone. And ladies, it took a while, but I finally got the hint. Which means I’m perfectly happy to do as you suggest; namely, shut up and fuck off.

1: The xx: I Dare You. (2017)    

2: In fairness, none of this is the fault of any of the women I have known, nor of women in general. I accept and own all my flawed behaviours. Whatever choices I made in the pursuit of love and sex, I made them. 

3: Looking back, it is safe to say that I may well have suffered from the male equivalent of the bastard fetish; namely, the unobtainable bitch fetish.    

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