How To Turn Me On (An Owner’s Manual)

There is a light that never goes out… but how does one turn it on?

“What are you looking for?”

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve been hearing it since I was a kid standing in front of the open refrigerator door.

“What are you looking for?” my mother would ask.

It’s been forever since Mom has put that one to me, but I still get it regularly. Only occasionally, though, do people pose that particular question when my search involves culinary cravings. If I’m not walking down the street constantly checking Google Maps, they’re probably referring to my love life, my career, or my existential crisis. And of course, there’s Grindr, where “What are you looking for?” is the question everyone hates to be asked but asks anyway.

So what am I looking for?

To slightly paraphrase U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart when describing the litmus test for obscenity in 1964, I’ll know it when I see it. And while I’m waiting for that day, I’ve come up with a list of 10 qualities that I’m not actively looking for but always love to find in another human being, be it a lover, a friend, a business associate, or just someone I pass like a ship in the night. If he or she can actually steer that ship, even better (see number 2 below).

Since this list isn’t really about sexual, or romantic, turn-ons, I’ve left off two qualities that some would deem to be of the utmost importance in others: physical attractiveness and a sense of of humor. The former is crucial mainly in the romantic/sexual realm. I enjoy looking at beautiful things, but if I were the type to “look for” friends, unlike so many Grindr guys, I wouldn’t have a physical checklist.

Meanwhile, as someone who loves a good sitcom but typically hates stand-up comedy, I have something of a love/hate relationship with humor. It can be as much of a turn-off as a turn-on, especially when used more than sparingly in everyday life. I love people who make me laugh, but humor isn’t the only (or even the best) way to do that.

Also, the way I see it, like congeniality (on which I’ve never placed such a high premium — some of the most appealing people I know are also the most prickly), “attractive” and “funny” are hard to quantify and extremely subjective. They don’t quite fit in with the characteristics below, on which one could possibly establish a general consensus.

So here we go…

1. Consistency No-one likes when the water in the shower vacillates between hot and cold, and it’s no less annoying when people do it. I’ve had way too many boyfriends and friends who loved me one day and were indifferent to me the next. Moody I can handle. I’m ridiculously moody myself. But ever-changing moods are best dealt with internally. They need not effect the way you treat other people. In essence, keep the psychological drama to yourself.

I’m equally wary of people with multiple personalities. A good friend recently told me that one of the things she admires most about me is that I’m the same person with everyone, from a child I encounter in the street, to friends at a dinner table, to colleagues at a work function. It’s one of the best compliments I’ve received all year.

I actually feel the same way about her, and it’s a large part of what makes her one of my favorite people.

2. Efficiency Slow and steady may win the race, but getting it done fast and getting it done right earns my respect. As much as I appreciate artistry on an aesthetic level, I don’t expect everyone to possess it. It wouldn’t be so special if everyone did. But being good at something practical and the ability to dependably deliver is the talent I admire most in everyday people.

3. Empathy Sympathy and compassion are relatively easy, and they’re more in danger of being confused with pity. To be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes means more than being sorry at a safe distance. It means you truly get it.

4. Flexibility I’ll never forget the day my first boyfriend called me “rigid.” It stung, because I knew he was right. While he was far from flexible himself, by calling my kettle black, his pot taught me a very important lesson: You get what you’re not looking for, so throw away the script and just improvise the chapters of your life.

I love it when people do that.

5. Humility I’m an old egalitarian soul. I don’t place others on a hierarchy of value, and I try to grant myself the same courtesy. A person who is humble is not only approachable, but he or she doesn’t demand constant validation.

6. Loyalty I’m the guy who’ll help you hide the body, and I won’t turn on you the way the kids occasionally do to each other on How to Get Away with Murder. I pride myself on being ride or die, and I appreciate anyone with those same shotgun standards.

7. Oral hygiene It’s no fun looking at a beautiful face if you have to hold your breath every time the mouth opens.

8. Passion You’re not really living unless you’re getting out of bed every day for something other than work. And if your work is your passion, then you’re one of the luckiest people on earth. Don’t let either go.

9. Patience It truly is a virtue. The more patient others are, the less rushed I feel — and I always feel rushed, which shows how impatient I am. I’ve got to work on that. It helps when I meet people who set a shining example for me to follow.

10. Wisdom Smarts, not just smart. Wisdom incorporates elements of intelligence and intellect, but it’s also distinct from both. It emphasizes action, the application of knowledge, particularly in practical real-life situations, rather than the mere possession of it. Think Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela, all of whom were so much more than highly intelligent men with great intellect… or smart.

For me, wisdom is most impressive when it’s imparted without complicated prose, as in the Ghandi quote above, which I found on a plaque outside of the late Indian leader’s tomb in New Delhi. Complex ideas benefit from a delivery that emphasizes clarity, brevity, and punch. (I’m still working on brevity.)

The smartest thing you can do while communicating is to remember the three Be’s: Be clear, be interesting, be done. I’m impressed, jealous, and totally turned on every time anyone pulls them all off.

Brother Son Husband Friend Loner Minimalist World Traveler. Author of “Is It True What They Say About Black Men?” and “Storms in Africa”