After reading Bored Jewish Guy's post regarding the male perspective on the first date, my mind started percolating on a topic that has bothered me since high school. Why do we have such an ingrained tendency to anatomize our date? By we, I mean those of us of the male persuasion, though I'm sure this exists to a different degree amongst women as well. (As a caveat, I do not mean to critique Bored Jewish Guy or anyone else for that matter).
Medieval love poetry was well known for producing "romantic" lists that categorize the various parts of a woman's body. Basically, the actuality of a woman as a human being is broken down into a grocery list of comparisons (eyes bright like suns, lips red like rose, etc) rendering her an anatomical dissection that the lover/poet fawns over.
I'm not in any way insinuating that physical attraction isn't an absolutely necessary part of the equation that will produce a marriage. You must find your spouse attractive, and he/she should certainly cause your pulse to increase and take your breath away. I personally think it's extremely important to develop this intense attraction for one's spouse, in an effort to monopolize all of your attention toward him/her and thereby prevent potential distraction by other men/women who are out there in the world. There is so much rampant immorality, so many blatant eye-catching, immodest advertisements, etc. etc. that lay claim to our attention and can undermine a truly meaningful relationship simply because of a conveniently prettier exterior.
Anyway, that's within marriage.
In the realm of dating, when a person is seriously searching for his/her beloved, why should analysis of his/her posterior, or any other part of their body really matter? I am a firm proponent that facial appearance makes a big difference - you will literally wake next to this person each day, and will look him/her in the eye for many years to come, so finding their facial features attractive is significant. But any other portion of their anatomy? Especially in our society, where strict premarital physical and sexual conduct is prohibited, no one really gets any individualized knowledge of what their date looks physically looks like.
The world around us emphasizes the need to "try it before you buy it." They have seemingly embraced a variant of the notion presented in the fictional Utopia imagined by Sir Thomas More (in the chapter Of Their Slaves, and of Their Marriages) wherein the prospective bride and groom are displayed to their potential mate entirely unclothed to prevent "alienation" stemming from the unexpected physical appearance of their spouse after the wedding. More writes that this pre-ceremony inspection is akin to what a man does when he wants to buy a new horse, and likewise checks out every aspect of its physical form before he makes the purchase. Of course, the idea is entirely ludicrous, and More himself (as the narrator) finds the concept immodest. Yet here we are, covertly, or blatantly admiring the physical shapes of our dates.
Am I being a bit zealous in the way I'm presenting this issue? Perhaps a little bit. However, other than a cursory "checking out" of a date's general body type/shape - which can be accomplished over the course of a date or two without the need to do the "elevator eyes" examination (thanks to Bad4 for introducing me to that term) - what else do we need to "figure out" so intensely that encourages/discourages us to like the person?
In my own mind, a date should fit my generic understanding of what body shape I find attractive - including her facial features - and that's it for me with regard to inspection of her physical form. She just needs to pass that threshhold of what I personally feel is appealing - and this is a subjective feeling for each person in his/her own terms - afterwhich I move on to getting to know her better, hopefulling gaining understanding of just who she is and why we might be compatible. Looks/physical fitness is merely something I quickly check off in my mental list of priorities; if the physical attraction isn't there, then the shidduch won't get off the ground. But once I establish that she meets my fairly unrestricted criteria, I completely switch off my focus on her physicality, thereby aiming to comprehend her truer essence - her spiritual and intellectual nature, her demeanor and character traits, etc.
I've always had issues with the general male populace for looking at girls like pieces of meat, which is perhaps why I sometimes find it hard to become friendly with guys who seem to exhibit these blatantly neanderthal-ish sentiments. In any event, I hope we can all strive to put looks where they belong in our catalogue of priorities, devoting give more mental and emotional energy to the things that are truly important.