Evenings out with her husband are fairly rare events, thanks to the kids,which puts even more weight on his response when she asks him the Question—usually just before they head downstairs. "It sets the whole emotional tone," she says. Sometimes she knows that she hasn’t really been able to pull herself together, and when he says, "You look fine" (that awful word), she wonders, "Is he even looking at me?" Other times he tells her, "You'll be the most dressed-up person there." Which makes her think, "He's worried somebody will flirt with me."
For an American-educated Lebanese woman who has been having an open affair with somebody else's husband, the Question is part of a continuing game of seduction, "a very subtle sexual dance," as she writes in an email from Beirut. "Do I exaggerate? If sexual desire still lives between them, then what he sees and what she hears still matters. If it does not, all you hear is silence, and then the opening click of the door."
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After a few long-term romances, a 20-something Parisian is of a similar mind. "What I'm looking for isn't an objective judgment on the choice of my earrings, or the way a color complements my complexion," she says. "What I'm really waiting for is the vague yet firm assurance that even if I were wearing a potato sack I would still be the one object of his desire and attention. In that singular moment when you're about to leave the intimacy of your home, venture outside, and mingle with strangers, it's a bit like reaffirming the trust you have in each other. In the question ‘how do I look?' there's a hint of the 'how do we look?' I can't help but think that the day when your lover or husband gives you an objective answer about the way you look, something may be a bit broken."