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Is Love Skin Deep?

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I wanted to like it — to dig the anatomical accuracy and artistry — because I liked him. But the truth is, it was a turnoff. Skeletons and synapses? No thanks. While my mind reeled, he kept talking.

"...And I can't wait to finish it."

Turned out, he hadn't had time yet to complete his masterpiece.

When my friends heard the story, they reminded me that not only are tattoos totally common (more than a third of 20-somethings have at least one), but ink is, for many, a big turn-on. Bottom line, they said: A tattoo, no matter how weird, should not be a deal-breaker. The guy had too many other great qualities. Plus, it was still winter — there were plenty of months of sweater weather ahead of us.

As the weeks wore on, I tried befriending the skinless man who slept between us. One night, after a few glasses of wine, I gave him a name: Telly Savalas, after the late, bald actor who starred in a detective series when I was a kid. Let's face facts: It's not like the tattoo was going anywhere. I was naming the elephant in the room.

Our meet-the-parents moment came in the midst of a serious heat wave. Even sandals felt stifling; long sleeves were out of the question. Although Telly peeked out just a few inches past my boyfriend's T-shirt sleeve, I was a nervous wreck, keeping tabs on which side of my mother my boyfriend walked on. Blessedly, my folks didn't say a thing.

By August, my boyfriend had amassed the cash to carry out the tattoo artist's original vision: bright swirls snaking down past the elbow that would demand multiple lengthy sittings. I hated the idea, but kept my mouth shut. One night I even popped by the tattoo shop to watch the process. It was as uneventful as he'd promised, but the patrons and artists were spectacular — their arms, legs, necks, and even faces decorated with designs that made Telly look tame.

As the work of art neared completion, strangers couldn't help but take notice.

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