...I am utterly mesmerised by watching my male friends light up. And yes, I have to admit, whether I fancy a man or not, I find it incredibly sexy.
Damn. Probably not something I should have let them know.
Before we move on, no, *I* don't smoke. It doesn't appeal to me, except for the idea of being able to gesture and pose with some kind of coolness and authority. Liquorice cigarettes in a holder would work just fine for me. I'm not keen on how my clothes or hair smell after I've been in a roomful of it, and yes, I DO worry about the health implications for my friends who smoke.
End mandatory disclaimer.
What has always really interested me is why it's so hypnotically sexy, and my interest was further piqued by the fact that Ari, who hates smoking like I hate Edward, the Oratory choirmaster, finds it sexy as well - and she can't explain it either, despite being one of the most articulate people I've ever met.
Things that make you go hmmmm.
First, let me narrow the definition of lighting up: cigarette, not pipe. The latter is lovely in its own way, as a calming ritual, and the smell of pipe smoke brings to mind affectionate, avuncular figures who smelled of Imperial leather and sandalwood.
With the definition out of the way, let's look at the obvious reason: there's a whole Humphrey Bogart/classic leading man association - tough, male, capable, smouldering, just plain hot. But that's only the tip of the iceberg.
Going a bit deeper, part of it is that I love watching people's hands. Hands perform so many actions, punctuate our words, mark out our territory, hold someone close, heal through touch. In the darkest night that words won't penetrate, a hand on a shoulder or a hug often can.
Watching a man's hands as he lights up not only allows one the aesthetic pleasure of looking at the shape of his hands, but more importantly, it allows you the pleasure of watching how his hands move when he's not consciously directing them: for example, I have a friend who is so controlled that his speaking gestures are staccato, but when you watch him light up, his hands flow much more, indicating a more sensual, relaxed worldview beneath what he perceives to be the required Catholic uptightness.
And that's really the crux of it all. When a man lights a cigarette, he withdraws from being in relationship with you and moves back into relationship with himself. The mask drops, and suddenly, in the matchlight, you catch a breathtaking glimpse of the beauty of the man behind the defences - the vulnerability, the grief, the gentleness. If you're lucky, the glimpse lasts through the first couple of drags as he slowly refocuses and comes back into relationship with you.
I've been moved to tears by that moment: the sudden relaxation of a face perpetually tense; the glimpse of a grief that won't be verbalised; the sight of the young boy he once was; the wound that won't heal. I've been hard put not to somehow acknowledge what I've seen, but it would feel intrusive to do so, as they're not revealing it to me, they're simply allowing themselves to be.
It's sexy because it momentarily opens the curtain on the window to their soul.
So, boys, don't mind me.
Keep lighting up.