This past Halloween, I was invited to a party. It was a party at “the city’s newest hotspot,” as the Sex and the City girls might describe it. Everyone was there: A royal, a well-streamed DJ with absolutely no artistic integrity, and a business mogul whose first name was even familiar to me. They occupied the club’s most exclusive tables, and those tables were surrounded—as is only natural in such settings—by models. My partner and I were like fish out of water, both of us baffled as to why we were invited—and far too broke to justify even the cheapest drink on the menu (a $25 glass of Prosecco). And so, having never been a pair to shy away from reveling in a scene, we watched.
We watched as a totally vintage scenario played out in front of our eyes: All over the club the men bought drinks, and the models drank. The models posed, flirted, took pictures, laughed, kissed cheeks, and had full access to the premium selection of deeply overpriced booze. And then, at the end of the night, as prosthetic makeup faces started to peel and pointed hats began to droop, the models, as if choreographed, left the club in packs. The rich men were then left to foot the bill, as has always been the way in this model-mortal food chain. Good for the models!
In season one, episode two of Sex and the City, Carrie spends her column diving into the deeply Manhattan, deeply ’90s concept of “the modelizer”: an average Joe, albeit stinking rich, who will, like the men at this Halloween party, only date models. She tries to get to the bottom of it, but in the end sort of blames models for being hot—instead of the men for being objectifying pigs. (The most glorious part of our Halloween party was watching these expectant men get outsmarted by droves of models in Mugler.)
Since the days where this was seemingly a concern for women and gays of my age, things have changed a little. Now, well, it’s not really a real concern. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a friend worrying over dinner about being the first non-model he’s dated. I might go as far as saying this was a TV trope to make us believe that Carrie was a normal looking girl who ran in super-fabulous circles. But, after seeing this dynamic play out in 2022, I can report: It’s far from fabulous.
What is touched upon, however, in this episode of Sex and the City is a fundamental truth of dating, an ever-present anxiety that everyone—model or mortal—has felt: You’re ugly. And once your partner realizes it, they’re going to leave you. Even the Sex and the City girls feel it: They sit around, drinking wine, playing cards, and talking about all the things they hate about themselves. And if you’re reading this and have never felt that, then good for you. But you’re likely bad in bed. (More on this later.)
Indeed, this idea of “punching up”—or that there’s a “hot one” in any sexual or romantic dynamic—can be ruinous. Deification and subjugation, objectification and humiliation, are only hot when both parties have agency in that dynamic, and when both parties consent to it playing out.
But take my relationship of nine years. There is one of us (him) who is typically, by society’s standards, much hotter. He has tight abs, a great ass, and a beautiful smile. When he turns on Grindr, the messages flood in. When I do—and I am arguably in my hot phase, which will last perhaps another three months, I feel—it’s crickets. Nothing. Maybe a “hi” from a Catfish with my actual face as their profile picture some 67 kilometers away (true story). But what has been more toxic for our relationship than a disparity in where we fall on a scale of 1-to-10 is my belief that this number matters at all.
Internalized diet culture, celebrity culture, and the crushing judgment of social media has made me question, at points, why someone like him was with someone like me. In fact, in every relationship or friend-with-benefit I’ve had, my internalized belief that I am the lesser of two hots proved to be untenable in the end. What’s been different with this one—who married me, lol—is that he didn’t believe it. He was working with a set of internalized inadequacies in the same way that I was.
The best relationships, whether long or short, see both partners giving equally as well as differently. A one-sided dynamic in one area of the relationship—whether about who cleans the apartment, who pays for the drinks, who gets checked out the most on the street—is okay, as long as there are other one-sided dynamics that create a sort of equilibrium. We give what we have plenty of, and we receive what we need.
In the end, what this equilibrium did for me—plus the help of friends, better social media management, books, and sex with other people, too—was allow me to understand that the internalized scale of hot-or-not was put there by external forces. This is not me offering some dull platitude that social media is bad for us, or that feeling hot doesn’t matter. It’s me saying, probably, that once you’re naked and going at it, it’s true and right to believe that your partner doesn’t think all the negative things about you that the world has told you to believe. It is possible that some things you believe about yourself are untrue, and that you can indeed believe that someone as hot as the person in front of you actually wants to have sex with you. Honey, in their eyes you are a model!
Perhaps we should all always imagine our partners to be hotter than we are. My field research has shown me that if you believe you are the hot one, then you are likely worse in bed; self-knowing hots are lazy—and there’s just nothing more tragic than a 10 who can’t fuck.