Attraction

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?

Attraction Defined

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.

jimmysintension

12 Comments

  1. Commitment. Such a hard subject for me. Do you have any advice about how to grow the commitment muscle in me? Are fears stopping me from committing to someone or something and they are helping me to be wise or are they keeping me from stepping into something great? Just kinda thinkin’ out loud here.

    • Well, it depends on what you mean by “commitment” as there are many different levels of it and can mean many different things to many different people. In terms of a romantic relationship, I believe “commitment” is essentially what two people (or more if you are into the whole freaky group relationship thing) negotiate it to be. I remember many years ago I met a woman named Kara at my gym. She told me she was divorced and asked her what happened. She said, “Well, we had an open relationship but he forgot to tell me.” Commitment is all about negotiated reciprocity.

  2. I so appreciate the ending remarks that attraction is the FUN part and commitment is the IMPORTANT part. Sometimes our culture prioritizes the attraction stage!
    WELL SAID!

  3. Growing up my mother always called this the “It factor” so I associate strong attractions to just that. The person has this “It factor” when you notice them in a crowded room and can stop and appreciate them. It doesn’t mean they’re the most beautiful person in the room according to society standards, it simply is something about them that gives you that feeling and often causes me to look at them more than the others in the room. I agree it isn’t always romantic because often times I will look at a female and am in awe of her. (Honestly, more often than when I have this feeling with a man) This isn’t because I am sexually attracted to her and want to be with her but I can appreciate her genetic superiority in a sense. Speaking of that, my job recently hired a new server and she is attractive. The first day we worked together she told me I was beautiful and although it was not a romantic attraction, it was satisfying to have that feeling reciprocated. Now we hang out during downtime at work and have built a great friendship. Earlier on at the beginning of my relationship, I felt insecure when someone else had the “it factor” in the room when I was with my boyfriend (possibly because of previous baggage from my past relationships or I was not as confident as I am now) but now I can even point her out and say “look at that perfect human being” to him and know its nothing but a quick feeling and nothing more. Maybe because he always replies with something along the lines of “she has nothing on you” or “meh” to possibly assure that I don’t feel inadequate since he always wants to build my confidence. In response to this, out of respect for my boyfriend, I do not point out this feeling when it does pertain to a male. I do not know if he feels the same way as I do in terms of nothing but a quick feeling and do not want to make him question his own self when he frequently tells me he is not attracted to anyone besides me (which I know is a lie but if it makes him feel better, I’ll go along with it). I really enjoyed reading this and getting deeper into that topic and basically just explaining my view on attraction since I don’t have many people to talk about this to.

    • Thanks Kennedy! I appreciate your response. I do not believe attraction is always based on looks. I have always understood the “it” factor to mean someone who MOST find terribly charismatic and charming (the Brad Pitt types). Unlike this, the “click” factor may or may not have anything to do with looks and often the attraction is unique to you and very few others, if any. Almost unexplainable, the click factor suggests you just, for whatever reason, really vibe with someone. I do not believe it has anything to do with gender, age, demographics, etc…and many times is not a romantic attraction at all. I’ve met people super older and super younger than myself that I have vibed with and just love their company. Thanks for reading!!

  4. Commitments are powerful because they influence how you think, how you sound, and how you act. I have always been a committed person because when I want something I strive to go get it. I feel we are here to love one another and provide positivity throughout our entire lives. Relationships can be challenging at times but if you genuinely love each other and balance one another’s needs you can conquer any obstacles.

  5. I’ve always had an issue with the distinct separation between attraction and “romantic attraction”, and knowing what would even be classified as true attraction. I believe that attraction works like a lock and key. The characteristics of yourself and the individual you might bond with need to lock together like a key and its tumbler. If two individuals’ characteristics are similar or complementing opposites, then attraction will often develop and the teeth in the keys find their complementing pins along the way creating a better fit between the two. Now as you stated, I really believe true attraction is a gift. To find those who fit our locks is rare. Yet, I believe “romantic” or what can be deemed as “sexual” attraction ruins this ideology. When we find someone who fulfils our sexual attractions, we make exceptions for the key theory that we otherwise wouldn’t make for another platonic relationship, one that we might even consider a closer bond or attraction. Although our sexual partners may not resonate with our personality as well as a non-sexual partner might, I would argue that we hold these relationships as stronger attractions or bond because romantic attraction clouds our thought processes. We talk about commitment as the primary factor that creates long lasting attraction in romantic relationships, yet commitment is never brought up in platonic ones. So, is this platonic bond or attraction not as important or shouldn’t be as highly valued as a romantic one simply because you are not trying to become sexually intimate with the person? What is attraction if not the factor that holds together individuals in a long-lasting bond? Personally, I have had longer relationships with platonic friends than I have with my partner, yet none have been even close to as intimate. However, I have also had greater confrontations within my relationship that I chose to work through, were as if these issues had risen between myself and my platonic friends, I most likely would have ended that bond or become un-attracted. Since the start of my relationship, I have valued my current romantic attraction greater than most of my platonic ones but is this right to do? Was it truly a stronger attraction than any of my platonic ones, barely after a month of being with my partner? If I truly have a question, I would have to ask, is true attraction even a real feeling, or does it simply stem from sexual desire?

  6. I’ve always been a firm believer that attraction is the initial spark in the interest for a relationship, followed by passion and intimacy. However an individual has to intentionally choose to stay committed to their relationship, and that is the most important element for the relationship to continue to thrive and grow.

  7. This was very reaffirming; it used to scare me if I was dating someone and I “clicked” with another individual while also finding them attractive physically. In my head I knew I would not cheat, yet would feel guilty.
    The click should be celebrated and enjoyed, as Jimmy once told me “I have finally found my people!” What a feeling, and one to be understood just as a human behavior.
    There is, of course, a respect to this as well. One can see the most stunning person in the world outside, yet they must also make it clear their commitment, admiration, and inability to trade the other person. It is a hard balance to achieve, and while I never used to consider myself jealous I had experienced it for the first time in my last serious relationship- not because I had felt he would cheat or leave, but because of the condition of the relationship itself along with my own insecurity.
    Now that I possess confidence and understood self-image this attraction blog post is an achievable model.

  8. I agree completely that having an attraction DOES NOT have to be romantically or lustful I guess. I have met some people who are just such beautiful people and our personality’s just connect. I have a guy in my class and we both don’t see each other romantically, but we have that connection of attraction for each others personalities? If that makes sense. I have also met women who I think the same way I can talk for hours and just know that ahh this is one of my people I connect with and it feels amazing. I also like what you said about maybe not being attracted to so many that when you find that person the feeling is just comforting, I can completely agree, I feel like I connect with the people that most wouldn’t want to connect with, I don’t mean to find those people, but I guess that is what makes attraction.

  9. I love this topic so much! I wish we could have talked about this more in class.
    I never really understood attraction. I mean i did but, i figured it was more of a lust thing, depending on the situation. Normally when you have a significant other and you find someone else attractive, its like a stab in their back, a shot at their confidence. But when you put it into your own context the reality of it is it’s just a beautiful thing that happens naturally, just like you said. As humans on this earth we have to except That. I feel if we keep trying to fight against it then it will only make things worse. Now if your single and find someone attractive that’s totally fine, but what i found interesting out of this whole reading was, the triangular theory of love! This was the first time hearing about that and wow, it really made me think. I’ve had my fair share of experience with girls, but it never really worked out. I always thought, what am i doing wrong? while i was reading about the theory, i thought of something! maybe i’m lacking one of these 3 love components. I know i can stay committed like no other, but maybe that’s not the problem. Maybe i was missing the passionate part, possibly even the intimacy. Now that i am aware of this theory i’m going to put it to the test! this was a great read! It gave me a lot of information that i was unaware of. Looking forward to reading more of these in the future.

    • I want to thank everyone who weighed in on this blog post. I particularly liked Nico’s take on sexual attraction as that could cloud other factors of attraction. For straight people, perhaps this is why our good friends are (typically) of the same sex as there exists no sexual tension to get in the way of the relationship. It is true “click” with no sexual strings attached.

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