Eye of the Beholder

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*Author’s Note: Growing up ugly isn’t easy. I know that firsthand. I also know what it’s like to go through a complete transformation. The way people relate to you in the world of before and after is unbelievable. Same person, completely different reactions. Girls who used to nearly run to the other side of the hallway in high school to avoid even the possibility of me saying ‘hello’ to them were suddenly inviting me to parties, dances, and to ‘just hang out’ or…whatever.

During my transformational period, I had the biggest crush on a girl named Vera. I wore braces on my horribly protruding teeth, and was still maybe 40 points overweight. Vera was a girl almost no attractive guy would have considered pretty let alone beautiful. Even most average guys would have thought, “Yeah. Okay. Maybe.”

But I thought she was very pretty in spite of her black glasses, teeth that were straight but ever-so-slightly protruding in front, and a chest that hadn’t blossomed even at the age of 18. She was sweet, kind, thoughtful, and someone I wanted to kiss so badly it hurt.

Looking back, I can’t help but wonder what life with Vera might have been like. This is one possibility.

******

“I know you’re hurting, but I’d give my right arm to have a wife as beautiful as Sarah,” his younger brother told him.

“I had her, and yet here I am still single and living alone.”

“Yeah, but you gotta admit she was hot as hell.”

“Would you stop with the sophomoric commentary? Please?”

“Listen, you’re my best friend, bro. I’m not trying to give you a hard time or make you any more miserable than you already are. I’m just pointing out a fact.”

Justin and Joel Anderson had been best friends…and also brothers…all their lives. Justin was 37 and two years older than his little brother who was actually slightly taller and heavier than Justin.

This was the way they supported each other. They didn’t do deep, ‘how does this make you feel’ kinds of talks. They tended to use sarcasm and even dark humor to help each other get through whatever was bothering them at the time.

Lately, it was the way Justin’s girlfriend, Sarah, had bailed on him. If it hadn’t been so painful, it would’ve been funny. Funny as in right out of some Lifetime Movie funny.

Sarah had always been a handful. She was beautiful and knew it. Keeping her happy was nearly impossible, though Justin had nearly made it his life’s mission to do so. And yet no matter how much he gave or how hard he tried, or how much money he spent, it was never enough.

And then one day Sarah informed him she’d met someone. Someone from Italy. Someone tall, dark, and handsome. As Justin sat there listening to her say the words, it sounded like someone reading from a movie script. Until she said she was leaving with him when he returned Rome in two weeks. She did tell Jason how sorry she was and how much she really liked him, but that didn’t stop her from leaving with Sergio, or whatever his name was.

That had been nearly two months ago, and Justin was still hurting. Of course, he’d never say that, but he didn’t need to. Joel knew. He always knew. And when Joel was ‘sucking wind’, Justin also knew.

Both brothers were very attractive guys and always had been. They looked a lot like the twins on a show called The Property Brothers, although they weren’t 6’5″ like the stars of that show were. But they did have that really great, dark, thick hair, the athletic body, the great smile, and at 6’2″ and 6’1″, respectively, they were both also taller than average.

Being attractive had always been a blessing, and both brothers had never doubted that. At least not until Sarah Carpenter, a woman at least Justin’s equal in terms of looks, had so casually abandoned him. The kicker was that he was seriously thinking about proposing to her in the near future. Never married, Justin was finally ready to settle down and start a family, making the blow to his ego that much worse.

He and Joel owned a small contracting business together, and things were going gangbusters at work. So were things with Sarah until Flavio, or whatever his name was, had stolen her right out from under him.

So, also for the first time, Justin began seriously questioning whether being a very attractive guy was really a benefit or more of a curse. In the past, when he’d had zero interest in anything beyond hooking up, it had been an unequivocal advantage. But as soon as he started thinking about something longer-term, he couldn’t help but wonder if it wasn’t quite so advantageous as he’d always assumed.

“Dude, it has nothing to do with how hot you are. It has everything to do with the chick. Sarah was a stuck-up bitch. She was all about Sarah, 24/7. I tried to warn you, but you wouldn’t listen,” Joel told him.

“Yeah, you’re probably right. But damn she was hot! And even hotter in bed,” Justin added, having ‘switched places’ with his brother.

Joel smiled then told his brother, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but maybe sex isn’t everything.”

Justin would have normally said something casino oyna sarcastic in reply, but because, for the first time in his life, he really did want to have a family, he didn’t.

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but…you might be right.”

“As usual,” Joel quipped.

Justin thought for a moment then shook his head and said, “I don’t know, man. Maybe it isn’t just Sarah.”

“No, it was. Trust me, bro.”

Justin looked at his younger brother, who was often right, and decided he was right. He had to be. It was Sarah. Selfish Sarah. Yeah, that was all it was.

It didn’t take Justin long to find another woman he and his brother thought was just as attractive as Sarah, and one who seemed to be a whole lot less self-centered. Why, then, did it feel like he was expending just as much energy to keep her happy and getting just as little in return as he had with Selfish Sarah? And it was that question he kept asking himself as the days wore on—literally—with this new woman.

When he mentioned it to Joel, his little brother surprised him by saying, “I get it now. I understand what you mean. It’s like you’re having to pull teeth or something, you know? When all you want is sex, it’s no big deal. You just take ’em home, scrog the shit out of ’em, then say ‘goodbye’ on the way out. But as soon as you get serious, they start sucking the life out of you. Makes me glad I’m not anywhere close to wanting to settle down myself.”

“Your time’s coming, though. And if the way we tend to see the world the same way is any indication, I’d give you maybe two more years until ‘the urge’ hits you, too,” Justin told him.

“Gee, thanks, buddy. Did you know ‘buddy’ was only half a word for guys like you?”

Justin laughed at the reference to him being a ‘buddy…fucker’ which wasn’t true, at all. But that was the way they talked, only it was usually much worse.

“So I’m thinking about calling this whole thing off,” Justin said.

“I don’t blame you. I’d jump ship, too.”

“And then what? If Sarah was the problem before, what is it this time?”

“Maybe you just hit the reverse jackpot. You know, two losers in a row. It’s possible.”

“Yeah. You’re right. It is possible. But what if…what if the problem really is with them? What’s the common thread? Why are both of them so damn hard to make happy?”

“Hell, I don’t know. Maybe it’s just the way women our age are, you know? Maybe they think that’s what a serious relationship is supposed to be like. They look gorgeous for us, put out in bed just enough to keep us hangin’ on, then expect the world in return.”

“So the world they live in is one where we give and give and they just take and take?”

Joel shrugged and says, “Beats the hell outta me, bro. I’m not the one lookin’ to settle down, remember? I’m just throwin’ shit against the wall. If somethin’ sticks, you’re free to use it.”

Justin didn’t respond so Joel asked him a serious question.

“Have you run this by Dad?”

“What? No. Why would I do that?”

“Um, because he and Mom have been happily married for nearly 40 years maybe?” Joel told him.

“Okay. Good point.”

Joel slapped his big brother on the shoulder then said, “Couldn’t hurt, right?”

Justin called things off with this second beautiful woman two days later then gave his dad a call the following morning around 11:45am and asked, “Hey, Dad? You got a few minutes? Mind if I stop by and bend your ear for a while?”

His dad laughed then said, “I’m retired. I’ve always got a few minutes. And you know you don’t need to call first.”

“I know. I just wanted to make sure you’d be around the house.”

“Sounds serious. Everything okay?” his dad asked.

“Yeah. Sure. Everything’s fine. Mostly, anyway. I’m just kinda hoping you can provide some perspective, you know?”

“I’ll give it my best shot,” his dad promised.

“I’ll be there in a few minutes then,” Justin told him before hanging up and letting Joel know he was taking an extra hour for lunch and why.

“Good man. If Dad doesn’t have the answer, there probably isn’t one.”

Justin walked in just after noon and gave his mom a hug and a kiss before sitting down with his father.

The fact that he was just in time for lunch was an added benefit for both him and his mom, who loved making things for her boys. She brought him and her husband a couple of thick sandwiches then told them she’d let them talk.

“So what’s going on, Justin?” his dad asked before taking a bite of the toasted pastrami and cheese sandwich on rye he loved so much.

“I need some advice, Dad.”

“Okay. Shoot.”

Justin laid out the problem the best he could while his dad listened carefully as he continued to eat. When he was finished, Justin picked up his sandwich and chomped on it while his dad offered his take on things.

“Did you ever hear the old country song Lookin’ for Love in All the Wrong Places?” was the first thing his dad said.

“Yeah, sure. I don’t know it, but I’ve heard of it,” Justin said as he chewed. “You canlı casino made us listen to that…stuff…the whole time we were growing up.”

His dad chuckled knowing he was the only country music lover in the family.

“Well, that’s the problem for most people. They spend their time looking for love in all the wrong places.”

“How so?”

“You understand that love and sex aren’t synonymous, right?”

“I uh, I think I just recently figured that out,” his elder son admitted the way a child who learns the hard way his parent was right tends to do.

“Then don’t get them confused when you start looking for love, son. I won’t ask, but something tells me you’ve had plenty of sex. But you must not have experienced love yet or we wouldn’t be talking.”

Justin just shook his head as he marveled at how wise his dad was. The same man he thought didn’t know his ass from his elbow when he was a teenager was now a frikkin’ genius.

“So how do I find love? And please don’t tell me it doesn’t include sex,” he said to his father.

His dad laughed then tried to explain.

“There are all kinds of ‘push-pulls’ in we human beings, Justin. We crave intimacy but also want solitude. We want to work hard and do well, but we also need to play. As in relaxing. Watching or playing a game. Going skiing. Taking the dog for a walk. Then you have the issue of putting a man with his own wants and needs together with a woman who has hers. The potential for conflict is everywhere.”

“You’re not exactly helping, Dad. I’m looking for solutions not problems.”

“Before you can find answers you have to know what the problems are, right?” his dad said with a smile. “Only then can you work on the solutions.”

“Can you maybe boil this down for me into something simple I can take away? I’m not dumb. I just don’t do the whole ‘analysis thing’ too well.”

“How about this? Assuming you’re the kind of guy who’s willing to give as much as he hopes to take, and I believe you are, then maybe try looking for someone who’ll be thrilled to give. No offense, but Sarah was a taker. I saw that from the first time you brought her home. Everything was about her. There can’t be an ‘us’ with a woman like that, son. Now I’m not saying you can’t find it with a girl that pretty. It just makes it a whole helluva lot harder.”

“So…go ugly early?” Justin asked, taking a stab at trying to boil it down for himself.

“Uh-uh. Not ugly. Remember, you’ll be looking at this girl the rest of your life. So if you don’t find her attractive, it’ll never work. Or you’ll at least have the deck stacked way against you. But if you can find someone you think is attractive, but most men don’t, and assuming she’s a willing giver, too, then you’ve hit the jackpot. Other obvious character flaws aside.”

“Character flaws?” Justin asked as he finished the last bite.

His dad wanted to ask if he’d paid attention growing up but didn’t.

“Yes. Is she a liar? Does she have a sneaky side? Is she so unsure of herself that she lacks confidence to the point where you’ll spend all her time trying to reassure her? That kind of woman will probably never cheat, but listening to her beg for constant reassurance will wear you down. To a nub.”

“I’m still waiting for the takeaway line, Dad,” Justin said as he gulped down half the glass of milk.

“Okay. Here’s the bottom line. Find a really nice, very sweet girl no one else has noticed. Again, she’s gotta be attractive—to you—but not one that’s gonna turn every head in the room everywhere she goes, and especially not one like Sarah who’ll look back—and flirt—with them.”

“So…she’s gotta be beautiful—to me.”

“Exactly. Remember, son—beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If you find a good, decent girl you think is pretty in a way only you can see, she’ll walk on hot coals to make you happy. But again, if you ‘go ugly early’, you’ll wake up one morning and wonder what the hell you’ve done to yourself. You’ll regret it and that won’t work. But if you choose wisely, that woman will make you the happiest man on earth.”

“Why can’t she be all those things and gorgeous?” he asked.

His dad sighed then explained why—again.

“She can. But the prettier you need her to be, the harder it gets because you won’t have that kind of power in the relationship.”

“Power?”

“Yes. Looks are one of many different dynamics in a relationship, and the better-looking person almost always has power. Not like a dictator. But it’s human nature. You’re asking about beauty because we’re driven to want that. We all do. But unlike you, most people have to realize early on that gorgeous women are out of their league. So they stop looking for ‘nines’ or ‘tens’ and look for ‘sixes’ or ‘sevens’. If a guy who’s a ‘seven’ can find his perfect ‘five’, he’s in like Flint. For you, you look for that ‘six’ or ‘seven’ that you think is cute as hell, but not gorgeous, and go for it.”

“Vera Carson,” Justin said out of the blue.

“Who?”

“A girl in my class growing up. She was the only girl I ever had a thing kaçak casino for who wasn’t gorgeous.”

“I don’t remember her,” his dad said.

“No. You never met her. But she was so pretty to me. I remember telling someone that one time, and the guy dogged me so bad I had to lie and say I was just jokin’ around.”

“You didn’t have to lie,” his dad reminded him. “But I understand what you mean. At that age, peer pressure is everything. After that you’d have never asked her out because you weren’t equipped to deal with the kinds of things the other guys would have said. But you’re not a kid anymore, Justin.”

“It’s weird, but she was so…plain…and yet I really liked her.”

He made sure his mom wasn’t listening in then said quietly, “She was flat as a board, wore glasses, and skinny as a toothpick. But those eyes of hers just killed me. And she’d smile at me all the time. And damn near every time she did, I got a woody.”

“Lemme guess. She was smart, too.”

“Yeah. How’d you know?”

“It just makes sense.”

Now it was his dad’s turn to lean in close and talk quietly.

“A girl like that can oftentimes fool you when it comes to…you know…”

“Sex?” Justin said a little too loudly.

“Keep it down, would you?” his dad said as he looked over his shoulder. “Your mom’s no prude, but that’s just something we don’t discuss around here.”

“Thanks, Dad. Because the last thing I ever want to hear about is my mom and dad doing the bad nasty.”

His dad smiled an evil smile then said even more quietly, “I can assure you she’s very good at being n…”

“Dad!” Justin said as he raised up in his chair and held up a hand that said ‘please stop right now’!

“Okay. Sorry. But…well, it’s the truth. I chose well. What else can I say?”

“Not much, I hope,” Justin said as he gave his dad the eye then smiled.

“So this is the secret? This ‘eye of the beholder’ thing?” Justin asked.

“Yes, all other things being equal. It just takes a whole lot of stress out of the relationship from having to constantly do things to make her happy or ‘proving your love for her’. Again, you might find that in a girl as pretty as Sarah, but…”

“But the odds are against it.”

“In a big way. Getting all of that in one woman is like picking one lucky number on a roulette wheel and the ball landing on it. What I’m suggesting doesn’t guarantee happiness, but it increases the odds exponentially. Like being able to bet only on Red or Black and hitting it big.”

“Hmmm. I don’t know, Dad. But I will say it makes sense. You’ve definitely given me something to think about.”

“Keep your eye out for your new…what was her name?”

“Vera.”

“Right. Keep your eye peeled for the Vera of 2018. She’s out there, and if a guy like you treats her right, well, you’re in like Flint,” his dad said, using the same line one more time.

Jason remembered something from that movie made back in 1967 that he’d watched with his dad way back when. One of them was that the star, James Coburn, was a former secret-service agent where the agency he worked for was abbreviated Z.O.W.I.E for ‘The Zonal Organization for World Intelligence Espionage’.

Jason shook his head then said, “In like Flint. Zowie, Dad. Zowie.”

His father got it immediately and laughed. Then he got serious.

“Choosing your wife is quite possibly the most important decision you’ll ever make. I joke about ‘choosing wisely’ like the guy said in The Holy Grail movie. But choosing wisely largely determines how happy your marriage will be, and if you choose someone based on looks—someone like Sarah—you’re in for a long, miserable ride, my friend.”

“Yeah, I really dodged a bullet there, didn’t I?” Jason mused.

“Find your Vera, son. Then hold on tight and enjoy the ride.”

Jason’s mom came back in just then and said, “Did you get enough to eat, honey?”

“I did, Mom. In more ways than one.”

He hugged his mom and kissed her goodbye before leaving, and also thanked his dad, who walked out to the car with him.

“Good luck, son.”

“Thanks, Dad. It’s just so amazing how smart you got from the time I was 14 until I turned 21 or so. And you keep getting smarter every year I’m alive.”

His dad laughed, slapped him on the shoulder then waved goodbye.

On the way back to work, Justin kept thinking about the things his dad had just shared with him, and he couldn’t help but wonder if maybe there really was a 2018 model of Vera Carson. And then he wondered about the real thing. Could she possibly still be single? If so, what did she look like some 20+ years later? Would she still be…beautiful to him?

He’d lost track of her, just like most of his graduating class the day after commencement. A quick look at the odds told him the real Vera couldn’t possibly still be single, but there had to be a quite a few like her he could choose from. If he could find them.

That created a small amount of anxiety as he’d never once thought about how to find or attract any girl or woman who wasn’t in the ‘8.5 – 10’ range. Where would he even look? How would he go about meeting women like that? Would they have trust issues wondering if he was sincere simply because he was considered a really attractive guy?

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