When I was 20 my best friend at the time – who was 25, tall, and wore dress shirts every day, all of which equated in my mind to being infinitely wise – told me he knew on first sight whether he was attracted to a girl or not. If she didn’t agree to return his affections within a week or two, the feeling passed and he moved on. His interest could not return if she came around to the idea. He said all men’s hearts operated in this way.
I thought back to my high school crush telling me he had liked me a few months ago in a voice usually ascribed to condolences regarding the death of a pet. Mystery solved.
A heavy grey cloud of doom formed over the prospect of me ever having a romantic life. Apparently, the male populations’ affections develop on a contradictory timeline to my own. My affections manifest only after getting to know someone’s personality well. I can’t look at a person and feel something based on appearance alone.
My first class at NYU was for an essay writing seminar. As an icebreaker, our professor asked us to write down a song we wish had been written about ourselves. I chose something obscure and semi-vulgar because I was 18, perverse, and didn’t have a real answer to the question.
Almost a decade later I found my real answer.
Propinquity (I’ve Just Begun to Care) contradicts my BFATT’s blanket theory for men. It is the first Nez song I communed with, specifically the acoustic demo recording from his Monkees years. Here the singer apologizes for only just realizing his affections for a girl he has been close with for some time. This propinquity prevented him from clearly discerning what her qualities colligate to inspire in himself.
Nez sings, “But the image of you wasn’t clear; I guess I’ve been standing too near.” He’s playing with the idea of something being too near to be in focus.
Quick demonstrative experiment: Put your hand in front of your face. Now, try to focus on it. Your hand is the girl. See his problem?
Perhaps controversially, this concept brought to my mind Jonathan Swift. In Gulliver’s Travels, when Gulliver is in the land of giants, he discovers that enlarged female flesh is disgusting. The experience of looking through a microscope is made real via giants to satirize scientific writing. Enlargement makes a breast, which is normally appealing, nauseating. Here Gulliver describes the Nurse as she breastfeeds a child:
I must confess no Object ever disgusted me so much as the Sight of her monstrous Breast, which I cannot tell what to compare with, so as to give the curious Reader an Idea of its Bulk, Shape and Colour. It stood prominent six Foot, and could not be less than sixteen in Circumference. The Nipple was about half the Bigness of my Head, and the Hue both of that and the Dug so varified with Spots, Pimples and Freckles, that nothing could appear more nauseous: For I had a near Sight of her, she sitting down the more conveniently to give Suck, and I standing on the Table. This made me reflect upon the fair Skins of our English Ladies, who appear so beautiful to us, only because they are of our own Size, and their Defects not to be seen but through a magnifying Glass, where we find by Experiment that the smoothest and whitest Skins look rough and coarse, and ill coloured.
Swift’s statements were misconstrued as misogyny, but his point is that magnification causes ugliness in the beautiful. Even seemingly flawless pulchritude contains defects and cracks when brought unnaturally close. Aphrodite herself would be unidentifiable and gruesome under a magnifying glass. He is commenting on science’s ability to destroy this pleasantness. Magnification causes error in judgement. It makes what is true out to be false.
Unlike Gulliver the singer’s nearness does not cause him to see defects through close focus – he claims he is unable to focus at all, like in the experiment we just tried.
But perhaps he means something else by “the image of you wasn’t clear,” and he is like Gulliver. The singer has managed to pick out qualities, just like Gulliver, but unlike Gulliver his closeness has not made them disturbing.
The first verse lists specific qualities he loves about the girl, including “a smile that covers teardrops the way your head yields to your heart” and her ability to “make a look of love from just an icy stare.” What hindered him until now was possibly his lack of perspective due to his propinquity to her. Taking a step back allows him the space necessary to zoom out, focus, and see these qualities set in their tableau.
It is not the individual qualities that make her lovely but the constellation they delineate. This constellation is the image he needed to be clear before recognizing his love for her.