Ken Page, LCSW, reveals the truth about sexual attraction and how it applies to our dating lives. This article is essentially a direct transcription of his talk. Subscribe and listen to the Deeper Dating Podcast here.
We all know we can’t force our sexual attractions. But what no one teaches us is that we can educate them! In this episode, I’m going to teach you how.
Even if you are relentlessly attracted to the bad boys and the bad girls, you can still develop this capacity. These are not gimmicks; they are the lifelong skills of romance and intimacy; the same skills you’ll use to keep the passion alive in your next serious relationship.
Have you ever felt like the people you’re most attracted to aren’t available or aren’t good for you? And that the people who are available and are good for you are just not the ones you’re attracted to?
Today we’re going to tackle what might be the most common struggle of all in the world of dating. I’m going to share some ways to cultivate sexual and romantic attraction to people who are good for you and available.
What to do?
We can’t force ourselves to be attracted to someone we’re not attracted to, just because that person is good for us, it doesn’t work, and if we try, it’s going to put us and our partner through hell. We can’t force our sexual attraction. Most of us have learned this the hard way. But, there’s something profound that most of us have never been taught. Even though our sexual attraction cannot be forced, and cannot be controlled, it can be educated.
The Attraction Spectrum
In my own life, and after working with thousands of people, I’ve learned that sexual and romantic attractions can change. Not quickly, but if you picture a giant ship in the ocean needing to turn, that turn happens gradually, but it happens. Let’s discover how that change can happen; because if you learn to educate your attractions, you will be on the course to happy, fulfilling love. And these are lessons that we are not taught.
So, we can begin by creating a kind of measuring stick for our attraction, sexual and romantic. And I call it the attraction spectrum.
Every time you enter into a room full of people, you make choices based on your attractions. Who do you notice? Who do you pass over?
There was a woman I knew, a young stockbroker from Chicago whose name was Deb, and she said to me once:
You know, it’s just almost magical. I can go to a party and there is always one person I am most attracted to and, if I date him, within a few weeks or a few months, I discover that he has the same attributes as the guy before him, and the one before him. But, when I first saw him as a complete stranger from across the room, I had no idea that that would be true.
Our attractions are forged in the deep space of our being.
And they’re born of countless, and often unknowable, forces. When you encounter someone for the first time, your psyche and your heart begin an astonishingly complex scan. They begin to pick up obvious cues, like physique and facial structure, but they also register a huge amount of subtle cues, like body language, facial expression, the tightness or the looseness in the lips, the nuance of the voice, the muscles in the eyes and around the eyes, and what they tell us. You instantly process this information without even knowing it. All you feel is desire. Or the lack of it.
This is amazing. Scientists tell us that a silkworm can smell one other silkworm moth of the opposite sex from six and a half miles away. One moth, six and a half miles away. Our mating instinct might not be quite that developed but, nature has programmed you with a romantic radar with astounding sensitivity to find just the right person to trigger whatever emotional circuitry gets you the most, and most of this needs to be worked through.
Every one of us is attracted to a type of person that stops us dead in our tracks (physical type and emotional type, or personality type). So now, let’s imagine that you have a spectrum of attraction from let’s say 1 to 10, and the people who are around one just aren’t physically or romantically attractive to you at all. But, the people who are nines and tens are like icons, they are just compellingly attractive, they leave you weak in the knees, and they trigger your longing, and very possibly, they trigger your insecurity too.
Harville Hendrix, the founder of the Imago therapy and a brilliant, brilliant theoretician, illuminates this phenomenon in a way that sheds light on our entire intimacy journey. He teaches that these people are so attractive to us in part because they embody not only the best characteristics of our parents but the worst ones as well. Think about this for a minute. It’s breathtaking. The people you are the craziest for, you are so, in large part, because they embody the worst emotional characteristics of your caregivers. Is that conscious? No. But all of us have unresolved childhood hurts, due to betrayal, anger, manipulation, abuse, not being seen, being neglected.
Unconsciously, we do seek healing through our partner, and we try to achieve that healing by bonding. Get this: We sense someone might hurt us in a similar way as we were hurt as children, not by acting out the same exact behaviors, but by doing things that make us feel the same way. We sense that, and somewhere deep inside, we begin to build hope that we can convince this person to finally love us right and accept us fully.
This is a wild blueprint. And it is something we need to know.
Our conscious self is drawn to the positive qualities we are in for. But your unconscious will draw you to the qualities that remind you of how you were wounded the most.
This amazing insight partly explains, well, it partly explains a lot of things, but one is, it explains why it might be that you get so awkward and insecure around people to whom you’re wildly, wildly attracted. And it also explains why our greatest heartbreaks happen with these most intense attractions.
Dating on the Different Ends of the Sexual-Attraction Spectrum
Dating on the low end of the sexual-attraction spectrum:
Some of us relate to our reality by only dating people on the low end of our attraction spectrum, which is scared of the intensity. We don’t want that painful loss again so we don’t approach those people we’re just crazy for, and often we feel safest with people who maybe don’t do much for us physically, romantically, or sexually, but they’re comfortable and they’re safe. And of course, the downside to that can be a lack of passion, boredom, and frustration.
Dating on the high end of the sexual-attraction spectrum:
Others only date people on the high-end of our attraction spectrum. They believe that that’s where real love and passion lie because when you’re in that state, it feels like total, pure, healthy, real, right attraction. It may not be, but it feels that way. So with someone who’s a really high number on your attraction spectrum, you will be able to tell that you’re attracted in a fraction of a second. And that can be achingly exciting, but it’s usually not going to be comfortable or secure.
So, as someone who has worked with so many people in this arena, I have come to see that people who only date on the high-end of their attraction spectrum (think of if that might be you), are more likely to remain single. And people who only date on the lower end of the spectrum are much more likely to be coupled but unhappy and unfulfilled.
Finding The Sweet Spot
I am not telling you to stay away from people who make you weak in the knees from day one. They might be your soulmate. And I’m not telling you to stay away from dating great people who you’re not necessarily attracted to it first, because attractions can grow. But what I am saying is this:
There’s a sweet spot that you might not be focusing on, and if you do, it’s going to make a huge difference in your journey.
It’s the middle of the attraction spectrum where there is a spark, but not necessarily a tsunami.
What is your pattern? Where, on the attraction spectrum, do you tend to focus?
Take a minute to think and reflect.
The sweet spot is focusing on where there is a spark with those who are somewhat more in the middle of your spectrum (the fives, the sixes, the sevens). With these folks, it usually takes a little bit more time to get a sense of how interested you really are. This is why we court. This is why we date.
Attractions Can Grow
I had a mentor, his name was John McNeil, and he taught me a lot about love. And I was dating someone at the time and it was someone who was a really nice guy, but I wasn’t crazy about him, and there were no real wild sparks, but I found him attractive. And I said to John, I don’t know if I should go on a third date with him. I don’t know if it’s worth it.
And John said to me:
If you’re not sure, and there are no red flags, go on the third date .. go on the fourth date if you need to. Here’s what happens when you do that. Over a little bit of time, he’s either going to become more beautiful to you, or he’s not. And then you’ll know.
I thought that was beautiful and wise advice. People who are willing to date in the midrange are more likely to find real and lasting love. And you know, it’s not a matter of selling out, because immediate attraction is not the best forecaster of the future.
It’s easy to get blindsided through intense attractions.
Intense immediate attractions can blind you to the actual quality of your interactions with someone. And then you get blindsided. Because if you are blinded to someone’s actual character, you’re in grave risk.
Attractions can grow. And many of us have had the experience of becoming more attracted to someone as we get to know them more.
Have you ever had that experience? You might want to reflect on that.
Now, once again, I am not telling you to date people that you are not attracted to because they’re good for you. That will never work, and you have the right to a wonderful, sexual, passionate relationship. What I am saying is, don’t just think love is only in the places where you instantly feel like you’re falling in love.
Avoiding Snap Decisions
So, Okay. Let’s follow this through. What do you do when you meet someone who inspires you, and you do feel a spark of attraction, but not enough for you feel like, I know I could fall in love with this person? Well, sexual attraction is much more mutable than we’ve been taught. We all have types that turn us on wildly, immediately, intensely. But as I said, attractions can grow. It is really unlikely that you’re going to end up attracted to somebody who’s completely not physically appealing to you. But if someone holds a spark for you, and has other qualities you love, your attraction absolutely can blossom.
The next time in your dating life that you meet someone for the first time, don’t make a snap decision based on whether you’re instantly attracted to them on a physical level. It’s not a valid thing to think that someone is only right for you if you know that, given the opportunity, you would be open to sleeping with them really soon. If you’re not sure about them, go out with that person again. And remember that in time, something lovely might happen. He or she might actually become more beautiful to you. And if not, you will know that it’s time to stop dating them.
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This is Part One of a two-part series. Find Pat Two here.