Q: What’s a boy to do? After a long relationship, I’m back on the market, but having trouble because of tattoos. When I see one on a girl, I think "Skank!" (I don’t really believe that of every tattooed girl, but my mind leaps there for a second.) Even hidden ones that aren’t noticed early in the relationship put me off. I guess I just think getting a tattoo says something about you at a core level. What it says, I’m not sure. But, it’s probably something along the lines of, "Deep down, you and I are not very compatible." —Ink Stinks
A: There you are, trying to appreciate the nude female form, when you discover Winnie the Pooh beat you to her cleavage, and there’s Tigger, too, climbing out of her underpants.
Jack London once said, "Show me a man with a tattoo and I’ll show you a man with an interesting past." These days, it’s "Show me a girl with a tattoo and I’ll show you a bored teen with saved-up babysitting money." The stats on tats bear out your experience that uninked flesh is getting harder and harder to find. Thirty-six percent of 18 to 25-year-olds and 40 percent of those 26 to 40 have at least one tattoo, according to a 2006 Pew survey.
Soon, the only way for a hard-bitten bikerdude to stand out from the carpooling suburban mommies will be to cover up his tats with a Brooks Brothers cardigan, Top-Siders, and a button that says "Kiss me, I’m a Republican." Tattoos have been part of cultures throughout history, but in the 19th century Western world, before there were electronic tattooing machines, it was royalty and the aristocracy who had them, says Vince Hemingson, documentary filmmaker and human tattoocyclopedia. Winston Churchill’s mother was said to have a tattoo of a snake around her wrist. And, Hemingson added, after the dinner parties of "the absolute creme of (English) society," the men repaired to the drawing room for brandy and cigars, and it was "quite common" for them to strip down and show off their tats (a scene they never get around to showing on "Masterpiece Theatre").
While Hemingson believes men typically get inked to impress chicks, memorialize dead friends, or to build bonds in high-risk jobs (police, firefighters, and the military), he says women often get tattoos to mark emotional milestones. As for what a tat says about a woman, well, it might depend on where she has it. Research by Melanie L. Bromley, a grad student in psychology, suggests women with a "tramp stamp" — a tat on their hip or butt — are more likely to have a one-night stand. No, that doesn’t mean all will. But, the tendency seems to be recognized by men. Some guys draw the line at smoking, alcoholism, or psychosis. For you, it’s the dragonfly on the shoulder blade. This isn’t wrong or right — it’s just how you feel. If you’re unwilling to compromise, and willing to accept the consequences — fewer options for you — so be it. But, consider that all girls come with some fine print. And sometimes, a really great girl will come with some not-sofine print; perhaps some profound statement capturing the very essence of who she is — or that would’ve — if the Chinese characters up her arm didn’t actually read "Confucius has a big one." © 2009 Amy Alkon, all rights reserved.
The None That Got Away
Q: I'm a 34-year-old woman who's been unattached for several years. My life is awesome, and I don't want to settle for just any guy. The problem is acquaintances who act like this means I'm a leper, in need of intervention, or maybe just a lesbian. I'm really starting to be affected by their shock and speculation, and I hate: "You're so pretty...I just don't understand."
A: Tell people you're getting into the freak show biz -- maybe with the dude who pushes the power drill up his nose and the cat boy who had his teeth reconstructed as fangs. But, they're just side acts; you'll be the really big draw: "Unattached 34-year-old goes out with friends! Reads novel! Orders Netflix!" Of course, you could just tell all these buttinskys the truth: "I'm happy. Don't need to settle. Don't plan to. Perhaps we could move on to what you think is wrong with my hair?" Unconventional forms of happiness make people nervous about their choices. That's their problem. It only becomes yours if you, maybe just a little, buy into the notion that "single" pairs up with "desperate" and "miserable." If your life truly is awesome, let 'em worry. It'll give 'em something to do when they aren't sending the detective out after their husband or screaming at him in the grocery store.
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