When I first moved to Paris at the age of 24, I spent a lot of time in bars with a French girl I had met in Rome the year before.
She was thin and strangely sophisticated in the way French women seem to be. She smoked Fortuna cigarettes endlessly. And she was sexually open and flirtatious—despite having a live-in boyfriend with children from a previous dalliance. Whenever we went out, my friend would be on the prowl, looking for someone to kiss or f*ck or waste the night away with. She was everything I'd imagined a French woman would be: bold and forthright and rampantly unfaithful.
At this point in my life, I was accustomed to being the unseen woman. It was the identity I adopted after years of being the third wheel, the overlooked, the receiver of riveting questions such as, “So, your friend’s hot, huh?” So naturally, I assumed men would focus on my friend, while I sat on the sidelines.
I was accustomed to being the unseen woman.
Yet, when we were together, I was the one who men approached in literal droves (and I don’t use the word “droves” lightly). What the hell was happening? Did I suddenly develop "beer-flavored nipples"? It was the strangest experience—to be so overtly desired and lusted after. Although admitting it makes me feel like a bad feminist, I enjoyed the attention. I wanted to be wanted.
During high school, my older brother and I had a bunch of mutual friends because we're only three years apart. His guy friends used to try to get with my girlfriends all the time, but never with me. That’s the kind of baggage I carried with me into college, as I tried to reconcile my insatiable desire to be desired with the fact that I felt undesirable.
More than a decade later, my memories of being an outcast and watching other girls live the life I wanted, remain vivid. I can still feel the sting of rejection whenever it crosses my mind. Wanting to be desired—yet not wanting desirability to be the only value you have—is a strange line to straddle. It's difficult to separate this sexual impulse from the antiquated societal view that women should be sexually attractive first and foremost, and everything else second.
It was complicated to reconcile then, and it's complicated to reconcile now, even though I've since gotten married. I wanted men to find me attractive, but knew sex appeal wasn't the only thing I had to offer. I wanted men to pursue me, but refused to exist solely as an object of desire. The lack of male attention shouldn't have mattered, but it still bothered me. In fact, I still struggle with this dichotomy.
It may not be pretty, but that's the truth.