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I FIRST SAW INDEPENDENCE DAY in 1998, during Christmas vacation. It was while watching satellite technician David Levinson save the world from intergalactic terrorism that I first became aware of the confusing allure of Jeff Goldblum.

I was 10.

Jeff Goldblum was a fortysomething nerd in Rivers Cuomo glasses, wearing a thin white tank top under a flannel, all sweaty olive skin and furrowed brow and vague dissatisfaction, with a disarming streak of magnanimity. Behold: the enduring psychosexual power of Jeff Goldblum, the original confusing crush for girls like me everywhere, and a whisper in my young ears: Forget the hot, simple guy you're supposed to like! Go for the cranky scientist with daddy issues!

To get to the bottom of my obsession, I punted to Facebook. Twenty-plus friends and acquaintances, most of them women, responded with fervor: "He has an elegance about him," said one. "Tall, dark, handsome but also doesn't look like most other men in Hollywood." "Wow, I thought this was just me," said another.

Goldblum embodies the clever, low-key magnetism of numerous other sleeper-hit crushes women think we're alone in having. In a political climate that gleefully polices women's bodies and sex lives, we're told a lot about what desires we're allowed to express, and the Hollywood-industrial complex is positive we're into conventionally handsome male models, who—with apologies to the Hemsworths—don't strike me as great conversationalists. The hubris behind much of what's marketed to women is a simultaneous claim of clairvoyance into our desires and a complete disregard for what those desires might actually be.

This was especially true in the artistic wasteland of the late '90s and early '00s, a low point in American culture and an objectively dull time to come of age. In a world of Jonathan Taylor Thomas, no one would have thought to ask if it was really Jeff Goldblum we wanted. But it was.