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The One Thing Men Value More Than Looks

The answer may surprise you.

Love & Relationships

The proliferation of social feeds flooded with Instagram models boasting Instagram bodies has duped us into believing that our outward appearances are the single most determining factor in getting and keeping a man. I agree, to some extent, that physical appearances are important to the start of a new relationship. But there's another significant factor that often goes unnoticed when it comes to what attracts a man: a mental connection.

I'll begin by stating the obvious ways women may think will get a man's attention, you know what the music videos would have us believe. Advice from the unwise suggests superficial strategies like dressing provocatively, trying to make him jealous with another guy, posting sexy pics on social, or that maybe even getting a butt job to look like an IG model are all things men crave. However, there are actually other things like confidence, intellect, and an emotional connection that really turns men on and keeps them wanting more.

What Men Really Want

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A 2018 Bustle article asked men how they knew they felt an emotional connection and some of their responses were quite profound. Even though sex is an important part of any romantic relationship, don't think for a second that great sex, alone, will keep a man around. Men are visual creatures, this we know, but after they've fulfilled their physical desire, they're looking for something deeper that can sustain a long-term relationship. The best way you can offer something meaningful to your partner is to be your authentic self. That's something that can't be replicated.

"Having said all those things, the quality I love most about her is, she's honest and genuine. I think that comes across to people. They get a sense that they can trust her. You know, the word 'authenticity' is overused these days." - President Barack Obama, on his wife, Michelle

Believe it or not, men are emotional beings, although pop culture and rap lyrics will lead you to believe otherwise. Society standards and gender stereotypes contribute to the notion that all men want sex, which may be true, and that that's all they want, which is probably untrue. But let's face it, it's kind of hard to ignore the importance of sex in a relationship, especially when that's the message that is perpetuated throughout the media. Aside from that, it's not like society welcomes men to be vulnerable. If anything, they're in jeopardy of being shamed for showing their emotions, which is something we need to work toward turning the page on. I think it's important to understand that some men actually enjoy intimacy, a form of closeness that can be attained both physically and emotionally.

Physical Connection

Yes, we know men are turned on by the way a woman looks, dresses, or styles her hair. Otherwise, women might not make such an effort to look good for their men, as often as they do. However, something we often fail to talk about is men's desires for emotional connectedness. An emotional connection can enhance a physical connection in a relationship. How else can you explain a man having an amazing night of passion with a woman only to ghost her the next day? If a man isn't emotionally invested in her, then it can be quite easy. However, when a man connects with a woman on a deeper level, his attraction to her grows.

"You will spend more time with this person than anyone else for the rest of your life, and there is nothing more important than always wanting to hear what she has to say about things." — Barack Obama

I remember being in a relationship where I knew the guy had strong feelings for me when he stayed on the phone for half an hour, talking me through the process of removing a splinter from my hand. And while I valued his consideration of being there for something so small, it was the deeper conversations that strengthened our relationship and grew our bond.

Connecting on a Deeper Level

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I've done extensive research on this subject while working to obtain my Master's degree in Communication Studies. One important concept I learned was the act of self-disclosure. In his book, The Art of Positive Communication, Dr. Julien Mirivel notes a model of positive communication where he suggests two key components for strengthening relationships: 1) asking questions and 2) disclosing information. According to Mirivel, the way we communicate with people is indicative of how we feel about them. And some studies go so far as to say that there are specific questions you can ask someone to increase intimacy that lead to love and/or greater intimacy.

Disclosure deepens relationships

Communication scholars often refer to the analogy of peeling the layers of an onion to illustrate how social penetration, the process by which relationships progress from relatively shallow to more intimate, occurs. I prefer the analogy of an orange, whereas there is somewhat of a tough exterior on the outside, once removed, reveals a sweet, pleasant, and tender piece of fruit.

The sense of connection that we feel with people is not something we have, it's something we create. One way to create a deeper sense of connection is by asking questions.

Asking questions discovers the unknown

Think about it. The word question is rooted in the Latin term meaning "to seek" or "to look for," and that's what Mirivel's example points in his model. When we ask questions, we are in search of answers.

I read an article in Scientific Americanthat said people's favorite subject to talk about is themselves, although when it's done excessively while just getting to know someone may be a red flag. Asking questions gives people permission to talk about themselves without coming off as a narcissist. It also gives you insight into a potential dating partner and can give you clues on whether or not to pursue a relationship. Every one of us has a story to tell and when we ask questions, what we are really saying to our partner is that we want to know more about them. What's more attractive than that?

As it turns out, all men aren't as one-dimensional as most of them appear to be. When a man feels comfortable enough to let his guard down and share his emotions with a woman, it can increase attraction, helping to build a stronger connection and foundation for a relationship and who knows, maybe even falling in love.

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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