Can you help whom you’re attracted to?

Kind of an odd question for a married person to ask, I know. But I do have single friends.

My gut tells me “No.” It says “You can’t help whom you’re attracted to. Attraction is chemical. It’s coincidence or fate or something magical. It’s not like going to a store and picking something off the shelf or sifting through products online based on reviews.”

I’m not so sure if it’s quite that simple, though. I know quite a number of couples (both fictional and real) who were not attracted to one another at first but who developed an attraction later (for a fictional example, watch When Harry Met Sally…). I’ve also heard of some arranged marriages in which love (actual romantic attraction, not some kind of duty or obligation) developed over time.

And what do we mean when we say “Oh, just give him a chance” or “Wait till you get to know her better” to friends?

I think one of the reasons people tend to be skeptical of the idea of love at first sight is the knowledge most of us have that you develop love as you get to know someone. And it isn’t just getting to know facts about them. It’s the experiences you share together—the memories of the good times and bad times, the things you’ve taught each other, and the things you’ve fought about.

Surely we can’t just be successfully romantically involved with just anybody, but there is a little bit of choice or willpower involved. Just ask any het woman who has said something like “Oh, I used to go out with jerks because I thought they were exciting, and then I realized they were just jerks, and the drama wasn’t worth it.” If attraction were immutable, you would have to say “I’m attracted to jerks, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Even simple physical attraction can change over time, as your tastes change or as you get to know a person better. There are times when you initially see someone attractive (because of a confident presence or good bone structure) and get to know her or him and later consider that person ugly… yes, even physically. And vice versa: there are people who don’t have the best facial structure, but their smile and warm personality come through in their faces and seem to be the most physically attractive people you know.

Whether it comes naturally at first or develops over time, I think everyone wants to feel attractive to her or his mate.

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6 Comments

  1. When you say
    “Oh, I used to go out with jerks because I thought they were _excited_, and then I realized they were just jerks, and the drama wasn’t worth it.”

    don’t you mean

    “Oh, I used to go out with jerks because I thought they were _exciting_, and then I realized they were just jerks, and the drama wasn’t worth it.”?

  2. I have to agree that physically attractive people can perceptively become ugly after seeing their personality. In high school, I thought countless guys were hot; but when I saw some of their immature behavior, they suddenly became very undesirable in my eyes.

    I’m thankful for this phenomenon, though, as it allows me to easily get over how hot they once were and also recognize the beauty in those who aren’t initially as easy on the eyes. I’d say most people are beautiful, it’s just sometimes that’s not immediately apparent.

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