She's not there

Presumably well-meaning people, taking note of my chronic datelessness, have been known to ask me "Well, just what are you looking for in a partner?" Usually, I toss off some flip remark and change the subject. Of late, one of the favored responses has been "Actually, I'm looking for someone invisible, which, as you can imagine, is not an easy task."

Inevitably, they give me a look that epitomizes blankness, and I chime in helpfully, "Well, at least I'm not going after someone on the basis of looks." The trick here is to make the response sound spur-of-the-moment, which is not an easy task either, in view of the fact that I've been thinking along these lines for almost all of my life.

I started reading early, and had finished H. G. Wells' classic story The Invisible Man before age eight. But by then, I'd already been exposed to the concept, by way of a British TV series about a scientist, accidentally rendered transparent, who decides to make the best of the situation by becoming a spy. (One week, the show was preempted for a local sports event or something, and the guy doing the voiceover deadpanned, "Because of the following special program, The Invisible Man will not be seen tonight," which propelled me into paroxysms of laughter and still evokes a snort or two as I type this.) While Wells generally gets the present-day credit for the concept, it actually goes back quite a bit further. As one of three (later, five) children living in close quarters and therefore having no place to hide from the world, I was drawn to the idea of disappearance, even if it was, like Wells' poor soul Griffin's, permanent.

Somewhere around the third grade, I got it into my head that those odd creatures called "girls" (pronounced GUR-uls, for no linguistic reason I could fathom) were somehow possessed of strange, mysterious powers which they would not, or could not, reveal to us lesser guys. How else could they manipulate us so easily? Obviously, I hadn't discovered hormones yet, but I managed to get through school with my delusions (and my state of untouchedness, alas) intact.

And here, just into the 21st century, with my love life basically in the same state it was in when I was in high school (except for the greater threat of carpal tunnel syndrome today), sandwiched among the usual musings about various office workers, certain Playboy Playmates, and the like, I occasionally still find myself fantasizing about someone I can't actually see. As an approach to fantasy, it has a couple of distinct and semi-tangible advantages: I don't have to match up a face (or a body) to that of someone in Real Life, and I get to sidestep, or completely avoid, the question of whether I'm really obsessed about appearance (like most of my fellow males are alleged to be) or not. One could argue that focusing on non-appearance is just the flip side of focusing on appearance, I suppose, but I think my approach allows slightly more latitude I can't, er, see myself with a bumper sticker that says "No Visible Chicks".

An example Occasionally, the entertainment industry favors me with some visual aids. Universal's Invisible Series, sort of based on Wells, at least to the extent of giving him a screen credit, did one feature in 1940 about a young woman who undergoes The Treatment in order to get back at her boss, the nasty patriarch of a modeling agency. I saw this for the first time in 1972, when I was presumably at the height of my testosterone curve, perhaps enhancing the movie's permanent impact on me. A few more similar features, one of them X-rated (and which was the least appealing to me, for some reason or other), followed through the years, and commercials along the same lines appear on occasion. A video producer in Pittsburgh, in fact, developed a Web site devoted to his version of the concept. It's nice to know I'm not alone, even if I can't see anyone else in the mirror.

Updated 12 August 2006

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Copyright © 1998-2006 by Charles G. Hill
Screen shot from The Invisible Woman copyright © 1940, renewed 1968, by Universal Pictures