When I introduced my boyfriend Mickael to my father, I desperately hoped they’d get on. I feared my dad might take umbrage at his modest job as a hotel receptionist, or his thick French accent — but I could never have predicted what actually set him off: Mickael’s looks.
‘He’s very handsome,’ said Dad. ‘Are you sure he’s faithful to you?’
This was three years ago and Mickael and I were in a long-distance relationship at the time. I lived in London, he was 650 miles away in Nice, and my father simply couldn’t accept that ‘someone as good-looking as Mickael’ wouldn’t be cheating on me at every opportunity.
I was devastated that he could say something so insensitive, and offended because I was very aware he wouldn’t have said it had my boyfriend looked like John Major.
A wave of insecurity flooded over me. What did Mickael, now 38 see in a diminutive, curly-haired specimen like me? At 6ft 2in tall, with broad shoulders, black hair, a Roman nose and incredible blue eyes, Mickael is the living embodiment of tall, dark and handsome.
He isn’t just good-looking, he’s movie-star handsome. At college, he was picked to play Rhett Butler in a Gone With The Wind adaptation and he’s been approached by model scouts wanting to sign him up.
I know I sound smug, but bear with me. Because having a handsome boyfriend isn’t all it is cracked up to be.
As I’ve learned to my cost, people make assumptions about good-looking men. Most of them, in my experience, are false and offensive. Just as blonde women are pigeon-holed as being stupid, handsome men are written off as lacking moral fibre.
Most people assume they can’t be trusted around the opposite sex. They are also assumed to be shallow, vain and sex-obsessed.
As a drop-dead gorgeous man’s girlfriend you have to be tough. You need a thick skin, high self-esteem and the ability not to care what other people think. Unfortunately for me, I possess none of these qualities. To paraphrase the 18th-century novelist, Samuel Richardson: ‘Handsome boyfriends often make a girlfriend’s heart ache.’
Especially if said girlfriend is 42, 5ft 3in, with a big nose, hair that’s prone to frizz and gappy teeth.
I’ve never had a problem attracting men, but I’m not conventionally beautiful and certainly not leading-lady material — unless that leading lady is Barbra Streisand. In a romcom, I’d be the kooky best friend, not the girl who gets the guy. If I were to award myself marks out of ten, I’d be a six — six-and-a-half on a good-hair day. Mickael would be a nine. In other words, he’s ‘out of my league’.
But he doesn’t seem to care. More important to us is the silly sense of humour we share that can have us both in fits for hours.
He constantly tells me I’m pretty and says all his friends and family think so, too. He even loves my gappy teeth and big nose. Now, that should be enough shouldn’t it?
And, most of the time, it is. I know, without a doubt, that Mickael loves me. We’ve been through a lot together, including the stillbirth of our daughter 18 months ago.
He’s given up his job at a hotel in Nice, his friends and his home country, and moved to London to live with me in Camden Town. So I know I shouldn’t feel insecure. Yet I often do.
DID YOU KNOW?
Men who feel they’ve ‘lucked out’ by marrying attractive women are more likely to care about their wives’ needs, says a US study
We live in a shallow, looks-obsessed society, in which being beautiful is the most valuable currency. People stare at us in the street and — call me paranoid — I can tell that some of them are wondering what someone so handsome is doing with ordinary little me.
Through the grapevine, I’ve heard reports of acquaintances making nasty, jealous comments about us, such as: ‘She’s punching above her weight.’
Although all of my previous partners have been attractive in my eyes, until Mickael I’d never had a partner universally considered handsome. Everyone, from friends — both straight and gay — to my 95-year-old grandma, has commented on his good looks. Friends have even nicknamed him ‘Le Hunk’.
Several have even sent me emails — usually drunken — which begin: ‘I know this is probably really inappropriate, but can I just say that your boyfriend is really hot.’
Sometimes this makes me feel like I’m the owner of a prize bull at the county fair. People have actually congratulated me on my ‘achievement’, as though snaring a good-looking man is like winning an award, or gaining a promotion.
Pleasing as it is that other people appreciate my good taste and good fortune, all this hyperbole means I’m only too aware that if our relationship were ever to go wrong, there would be a long queue of women ready to take my place. I’m not naturally jealous, but it’s hard not to look over my shoulder.
And then there are Mickael’s beautiful exes who, through no fault of their own, make me feel inferior.
At least two of his ex-girlfriends have modelled. He’s still good friends with one of them: a tall, sexy, willowy girl, ten years my junior, with thighs the size of my arms and men trailing in her wake wherever she goes. ‘I’m with you, not her,’ Mickael pointed out, when in a moment of weakness I confessed my sense of inadequacy. And that is true. But sometimes — usually when I’m contemplating my cellulite or finding a new grey hair — I can’t help wondering why a man who could have someone like her would want someone like me.
I also worry more than I should — or ever have before — about getting fat, developing wrinkles and becoming middle-aged. Mickael reassures me by saying how much he loves my eyes and my smile, and reminding me that he can’t keep his hands off me.
He talks of growing old with me and I know that, being French, he thinks older women can be just as attractive as younger ones. Supermodels aren’t even to his taste — he finds the majority superficial and lacking in character. To state the obvious, a good-looking man is no different from any other man, and a handsome face and a good character aren’t mutually exclusive.
As I pointed out to my dad, just because good looks afford you more opportunities to cheat, it doesn’t mean that you’ll take them.
If anything, I think the opposite is true. When you are attractive, and you can have pretty much anyone you want, there’s less motivation to do so.
In my experience, it’s the insecure men, the ones who aren’t confident in themselves or their looks, who need to chat up women in order to prove their own self-worth. That’s why so many balding, paunchy men have mid-life crises and go after younger women.
Mickael knows he’s handsome, but he isn’t arrogant, or vain. He cares about his appearance, but isn’t obsessed with it. He has the confidence and self-assurance of someone who has never had to try too hard.