Women often say—on a first date or at the altar or in the quiet
of the room they share with the man they adore—thank you
for making me feel beautiful, as if beauty were a present someone
can bestow on you, as if beauty weren’t something you already
own. As a young girl I dreamt about meeting a boy who would
see past my dark skin and my lack of curves and height, and
zoom in on my smile or my nose or the way I tucked my hair
behind my ears. As a young girl I shut the door, closed my eyes,
and dreamt about meeting a boy who would call me beautiful
every day, declare it so that there would be no room for doubt,
settling every fear I’ve ever had in my heart about being
too much of something, or not enough of something else.

Find a man who will make you feel beautiful. Love a man who will
make you feel beautiful.
Over and over again we hear this, in cafés
and schools and salons and shoe stores and over the pounding
music of a soaked, crowded bar. Gray-haired women say this
with a steady certainty, a statement of solid weight, while girls
in crop tops and sneakers whisper it to each other, a pinky-swear
promise, a question mark dancing on the tips of their tongues.

I’ve had men call me beautiful, but sometimes only because
I asked. I’ve had men make me feel beautiful but not loved,
and I’ve learned through the years the difference between
these two, how just because someone thinks you look great
first thing in the morning doesn’t always mean he’ll choose
to be there at the end of your worst day, when your thoughts
are a tangled mess and your words are sharp and cold and
cruel. How just because someone looks deep into your eyes
and sees stars doesn’t mean he’ll see the good in you when
all you can see is despair, how just because someone can’t
get enough of your silk-spun skin doesn’t mean he’ll find hope
when every single thing you touch turns into hurt. I’ve made the
mistake of believing there were men who made me feel loved
but not beautiful, but I know now that the right kind of men—
the ones who are kind and patient and brave and strong—
will make you feel loved first, and then beautiful. They will
make you feel kind and patient and brave and strong, and then
beautiful. I know this to be true because I’ve felt it, over
and over again, in the unlikeliest places, floating in the middle
of the ocean, or hiking up a mountain listening for the rushing
sound of waterfalls, or carefully balanced on top of an elephant,
or on stage, or on a plane headed somewhere that isn’t home,
or at a tattoo parlor gritting my teeth against the buzzing of
the needle against my veins, or at my desk trying to tone down
an angry email, or in my room trying to write this piece.

Find a man who will make you feel beautiful. Love a man who will
make you feel beautiful.
Over and over again we hear this, but
maybe there are more important things a man should make
you feel other than beautiful—kind and patient and brave
and strong. Phenomenal, all on your own. So find a man
who will love you without makeup, but with makeup as well,
because he knows that sometimes you need lipstick and blush
to get through the day. Find a man who thinks your mind
is beautiful and crazy and complicated, an experience all on
its own. Find a man who will show you off to his friends
not because you can turn heads in a dress and heels, but
because you can talk about the things you like and the places
you’ve been and the ideas that keep you up at night.

Find a man who knows you’re beautiful, knows it as an
undeniable truth, feels it with every fiber of his being, but
is certain, on your first date or at the altar or in the quiet
room you share, from the middle of the ocean to the top
of a mountain and in all the unlikeliest places, that you are
so much more than that.