Perhaps you know the feeling of walking into a room full of pleasant faces, and although each person appears friendly, only one face stands out. Even despite the fact that there may be a lot of physically attractive people in the room, you cannot seem to take your eyes off of one particular person. You can’t put your finger on the reasons why you are experiencing this, but you know there’s something that feels like a biological imperative driving you toward a specific person.
Today I write because I am fascinated with the concept of attraction: both initial attraction (instant) and derived attraction (over time). I find the idea of attraction deeply interesting. One might say I am attracted to the process of attraction.
Why do we occasionally feel it? Is it wrong to be attracted to someone even though you are “taken?” Who are we often attracted to? Do opposites attract or do “birds of a feather flock together?” Does initial attraction even matter or does the attraction you gain over time the only attraction that really means something? What does attraction even mean?
A definition would be a good place to start. According to god (aka google) attraction is defined as, “the action or power of evoking interest, pleasure, or liking for someone or something.”
As I instruct all my classes, textbook (or google) definitions are great though how might we define it in our own words?
Here is my offering: “That compelling positive connection one feels toward something or someone that results in desiring a deeper level of engagement with him/her/it. This feeling may or may not be reciprocated.”
At its core, attraction remains somewhat of a mystery, even for those who study it for a living. We have all heard various theories about attraction. One such popular theory is that we are subconsciously romantically attracted to someone who resembles our parent of the opposite sex (perhaps same sex parent if gay?). Or the idea of complimentarity, meaning that we are attracted to someone whose strengths are our weaknesses and vice-versa, meaning we then “complete” each other. But, of course, this does not entirely explain that initial compelling interest we may have towards a particular someone.
I suppose these theories are all partly wrong and partly right as attraction is vastly complex.
And let’s face it, sometimes we just find some other person really hot. The proverbial smokeshow.
Underlying Attraction Assumptions
Let’s continue with several general observations.
First off, the act of being attracted to someone else is not a volitional choice in most circumstances. I recall an experience when I observed a jealous boyfriend sensing his girlfriend being attracted to someone else right before his very eyes, however subtle those clues may have been. Upon hearing of this jealousy, I remarked that attraction is often unavoidable; of course what you do with that attraction is a different conversation. When two people connect there is not a damn thing you can do about it and we cannot hold someone accountable for being a human and vibing with another human. It just happens. It’s a beautiful thing.
Secondly, attraction is certainly not relegated to the realm of romantic attraction. People of all genders, ages, ethnicity, etc., can be attracted to one another on a purely human level for any variety of reasons. As a straight male, I am attracted to certain other males and desire to hang with them. Thus when I use the word attraction, it can apply in a very general sense. There are people I am attracted to, of all aforementioned genders, ages and ethnicity. Rene’ and I call this the “click” factor.
For the purpose of this writing, I refer primarily to romantic attraction.
Finally, I believe attraction to be a great gift and a wonderful human experience. Perhaps because I am attracted to so few, when I do feel an attraction to someone it is a super good feeling. I know when my partner Rene’ experiences attraction I see a spark light up in her eyes and I am genuinely happy for her. Simply, attraction can be fun and exciting. It is one of life’s special perks.
How Important is Attraction?
Now here’s the point: Attraction must be taken for what it is, attraction. Attraction does NOT determine future compatibility nor provide an indicator of future relational satisfaction. We can be attracted to someone for a wide variety of extremely dysfunctional (read: fucked up) reasons, ranging from one’s own personal abusive experiences as a child to our love of well-sculpted jaw lines. In either case it does not inform us if the person is in our best interest as a friend or lover, as there exists both healthy and unhealthy attractions.
In terms of long-term relational satisfaction, initial attraction may draw us toward someone yet does not necessarily keep us with them. I am certain we have all had the experience of feeling some initial attraction toward someone and after five minutes of conversation the attraction turns to a mild or deep form of disgust. Or vice-versa. Or somewhere in-between. A person we may not have been attracted to at all can magically become quite appealing after engaging in some dialogue. In the biz we call this Interpersonal Attraction Theory. By having positive and warm encounters with each other we can literally become more mutually attractive to each other.
Now is when I will go all pragmatic on your ass and rip away all the magic of attraction. Any two people in a particular time, place and circumstance have the potential to be attracted to each other. Put me in the right room at the right time under the right situation, and, voila! attraction.
As mentioned, attraction is a fun experience but please let us take it for what it is worth: A tingly fun feeling that draws us towards someone. Perhaps an analogy is in order here. If I drive past a burger joint, say an In ‘n Out Burger, who famously pump out delicious scents of tasty burgers in the air for passerbys, I may be attracted into the restaurant by the lovely aroma. However, if the food is actually horrible and sickens me, the lovely scents mean absolutely nothing. I will never eat there again.
Attraction may draw us in though is no indicator if we will stay or if the food is in our best interest. We have a rational left brain for those decisions.
Yes, when I was 16 years of age I was attracted to a beautiful young girl named Rene’. Now, 41 years later, we have stayed together for over four decades not because she is a young beautiful brunette with a killer bod who can sing the lights out of any song. I am with her because I love her. Yes, our scents attracted us to each other, though it is hard work and perseverance that has pulled us through every challenge and difficulty.
The Triangular Theory of Love
Finally, I would like to discuss a related theory deemed the Triangular Theory of Love. It is a rather straightforward theory that suggests any successful romantic relationship must possess three basic “love” components: Intimacy, passion and commitment.
The creator of this theory, Robert J. Sternberg states, ” The three components of love interact with each other: For example, greater intimacy may lead to greater passion or commitment, just as greater commitment may lead to greater intimacy, or with lesser likelihood, greater passion. In general, then, the components are separable, but interactive with each other. Although all three components are important parts of loving relationships, their importance may differ from one relationship to another, or over time within a given relationship. Indeed, different kinds of love can be generated by limiting cases of different combinations of the components.”
I would argue (and its creator may disagree with me) that of these three, commitment stands out as the most necessary for a satisfying relationship. Why? Attraction, which I would place as a subset of passion as well as intimacy, will absolutely come and go, ebb and flow, be up and down, in any long term relationship. We may have long extended periods of little to no intimacy or passion, yet if we abandon commitment, it is a near guaranteed certainty that passion or intimacy will never be reignited.
There you have it. So the next time you are swept off your feet by that person across the room and feel all warm and tingly inside, enjoy! Attraction is a gift. Just realize that all that has happened is a successful exchange of “scents.” Now the hard work of determining whether to stay and eat or leave and vomit comes to play.
Good luck. Attraction is the fun part. Though if you think you may be in it for the long haul, commitment is the important part.