Dustin Hoffman asked this question when he was making the movie Tootsie…and it made him cry.
Thinking about this has given me great pause. I once said to my college friend that no man ever walks up to a woman without an ulterior motive. It was around the time that the great movie When Harry Met Sally came out. And the big discussion of “Can men and women be friends?” was on everyone’s mind.
I was of the opinion that men and women could be friends if they weren’t attracted to one another. Otherwise there’d always be this sexual tension in the air. She argued that what if the attraction was one sided? And I realized that she was talking about our relationship where, at the time, I was clearly smitten with her, but that was not reciprocated. The truth is that this moment changed my life and I never simply disregarded a woman because of the way she looked again. I mean sure, I’d still walk up to an attractive woman (like my wife, for instance!) and talk to her because I was attracted to her, but I always avoided women who I wasn’t attracted to, because…well…what was the point if I didn’t want to date them? Now if they came over to me and started talking I was polite and friendly and would actually become a friend. But I don’t think I had ever intentionally sought out a friendship with a woman I was not attracted to at a party or an event.
Hospitality requires us to be welcoming to everyone. My dear friend, Brett Hoover, used to always seek out the person who seemingly had no friends at young adult events and I began to do that on retreats and whenever there was a new person coming into a parish. Being included is just the tip of the iceberg. Recalling that we all have dignity and are deserving of one another’s company simply because “we are” is a lesson we all can stand to remember.
It changes us when we consider this…not merely in male and female relationships–but what other relationships do we shun out of our “brainwashing” as Hoffman said to be attracted by the attractive? Do we avoid the dirty homeless person because they are dirty and not washed? The little kid with the dirty face and old clothes? The stranger who seems a bit “off.” A family member who seems disheveled? The elderly who can’t keep thoughts together? Or even the woman who wears lousy looking shoes or the man who doesn’t dress well?
It seems to me that the Pope has been reminding us of this as well. He called the young people at World Youth Day to go home and make “a mess.” And relationships are often messy, requiring us to stretch a bit farther than maybe we’d like in some cases to maintain a relationship with someone who might be difficult for us to relate to. So we keep things safe and simply hang out with those we like and those we are attracted to for whatever reason.
Perhaps our lesson today is to go beyond attraction. And to find where God is lurking in the hearts of those who we don’t particularly find attractive. Where does God call us to find just a bit more than we usually would care to? Because it is there that we most often find God more deeply, more intimately.
And we might make a new friend as well. Friends who actually end up being attractive and who bless our lives with the gift that they are and the gifts that we become for them.
Simply because we took the time to notice.