By Amy Alkon
Q: My boyfriend travels a lot, and when he’s away, he wants to video call over FaceTime. Well, I look absolutely hideous on FaceTime, and I don’t want to do it. And really, who doesn’t look scary on FaceTime? Megan Fox? Scarlett Johansson? I get that he loves me and knows what I really look like, but I always feel depressed and self-conscious after I get off our video calls.—FaceTime Hater
A: Of course it’s what’s on the inside that really counts, which is why men’s magazines so often run glossy spreads of stout, good-hearted older women crocheting afghans for nursing home patients.
FaceTime should be renamed UglyfaceTime for what it does to a person’s features, and especially to a woman’s (in lumps, jowls and eye baggery not apparent in photos). While the camera is said to add 10 pounds, FaceTime adds 10 miles of bad road. The good news: You look just like a movie star! The bad news: It’s the zombie Orson Welles.
Friends will remind you that your boyfriend loves you and tell you that you’re being silly (read: Shallow). Some will offer helpful suggestions, like, “It’s all about the lighting!” They aren’t wrong. I suggest avoiding light entirely, like by FaceTiming from a dark closet. Another popular chant: “Wear concealer!” My recommendation: Le Burlap Bag Over Le Head.
Right now, countless readers are getting ready to email me to tell me that I’m an idiot. (Hold your fire!) First, male sexuality is highly visual—in a way female sexuality is not. And then there’s what psychologists call “the contrast effect”—how the attractiveness of someone or something changes, depending on the “neighborhood:” How attractive or unattractive the nearby alternatives are. So, you could be an easy 8.5 in Smalltownville and come to Hollywood—aka Mecca for every high school’s golden-blondiest cheerleader—and find yourself struggling to hang on to a 5.8.
The contrast effect even holds true for somebody we love. In research by evolutionary psychologists Douglas Kenrick and Steven Neuberg, when men in relationships were exposed to pictures of very attractive women, they perceived their partner as less attractive—and (eek) felt less satisfied with and less committed to her.
Obviously, looks aren’t all that matter. But sexual attraction naturally wanes over time. Best not to help it along with a, “Just keep your chins up!” attitude about FaceTiming. This isn’t to say that you should leave your boyfriend visually starved. You can keep him well-supplied with images of you that you can control: Selfies.
These selfies could even be used for a “foreign correspondent” approach to FaceTime—keeping the camera on a still photo of yourself (like when a CNN reporter is on an audio-only connection from a tent outside of Jalalabad). This will allow you to focus on your boyfriend instead of on another man—one with the medical training to make your cavernous nasolabial folds look less like the place they’ll find Jimmy Hoffa, your dad’s coin collection and three hikers who disappeared in 1976.
Q: When my boyfriend and I are on the phone, he won’t sign off with “I love you” if his guy friends are around. Meanwhile, these guys have met me, and most are in relationships. So what’s with his cool act? I know he loves me. Why be embarrassed to say it publicly?—Emotionally Honest
A: There are a lot of ways a man can show that he loves you. Does it really have to be, “Hold on, guys, while I give my balls to my girlfriend!”?
Women often think it’s a bad sign if a man won’t go all, “Wuvvywoo poopielou” in front of his bros. This worry is understandable—because it’s no biggie (and actually kind of a status thing) for a woman to do that in front of the girls. But sex differences researchers Anne Campbell and Joyce Benenson point out that women—the caregivers of the species—evolved to bond through sharing vulnerabilities. This is how they show other women that they aren’t a threat. Men, however, evolved to be in a constant battle for dominance. They succeed socially by displaying toughness, not giggling behind their hands like Japanese schoolgirls (but with facial hair and Hello Kitty wallet chains).
In other words, when you love a man, you show it by not demanding that his phone calls with you end in a social hanging. He’ll feel better, and you’ll ultimately respect him more. Sure, like other women, you may believe that you want the ever mushy-ready “sensitive man”—until you start despising him for his compliance and dump him for someone a little more action hero. Those guys are men of few words—words like, “I’ll be back” and not, “Yes, dear, I’ll be back with a box of super-plus extra-absorbency unscented.”