Before movies and magazines proliferated our society, one’s perception of attraction was limited to the real people they knew in their community. Thus, normal, average people were often seen as beautiful in a variety of ways, and the occasionally striking were allowed to be seen as less so as they aged. This encouraged realistic expectations that did not associate exceptional beauty as the defining quality that makes someone lovable. Relationships were based on more conventional and healthy expectations.
These days movies, magazines, and commercials immortalize the young and photographically altered, creating a myth that exceptionally beautiful people are more abundantly available than is the reality. This misperception leaves singles with the belief that if they wait, they’ll eventually date someone similar to the ideal they desire (independent of their level of attractiveness or relationship skills). If their current partner does not fit this ideal, they need not commit. They can find someone better.
Thus, unrealistic expectations of attraction become a distraction from singles’ deeper issues, thinking errors, and fears. A superior partner is a measure of their success, a personal reflection on themselves, and a statement of their lovability.
However, if being with an attractive partner was the solution then why do so many singles walk away from relationships with highly desirable partners, stating that they simply don’t feel a connection?
The real solution
As a dating and relationship coach, I know that both genders equally engage in this dance. Men may be more motivated by physical appearance, but women also have high standards of what defines male attractiveness (or worthiness) and can be equally as critical.
Singles overemphasis on waiting for an enviable partner as a solution to their motivation, investment, and commitment problems has become prevalent. They often use a lack of attraction (or other criticisms) as justification for their difficulty in developing deep emotional connections and secure attachments, but in fact, they are often either deficit in these skills or reluctant to use them until they meet a worthy partner. This, paired with their anxiety and fear of failure, drives them to forestall commitment. And so they remain single well into their 30s and even 40s.
Anxiety unwittingly plays a driving role in this pattern, locking singles in on a particular physical or personality trait, compelling them to check and recheck their thoughts and feelings, and reducing the strength of their confidence and attachment (learn about Relationship OCD).
Singles can work past their over-dependence on attraction and achieve deep attachments if they confront their thinking errors, address their anxieties and fears, communicate their feelings and needs, become vulnerable and honest, and engage fully in their relationship. Only then can they truly measure the wisdom of their relationship. It is doing these things that create and maintain emotional connections, love, and attachment, not attraction.
I’ve outlined these issues and solutions in a variety of articles:
- Why We Can’t Commit
- He’s Amazing and Still Single! Why?
- I’m Anxious So Let’s Break Up
- Do You Act Anxious, Avoidant, or Secure in Dating?
- Finding the Faith to Love and Be Loved
- Dating: How to Fight the Comparison Trap
- Single? Find What You Want By Letting Go
- 3 Dangers of Dating the “Best” Singles
- The Risk of Wanting a Perfect Marriage
- 4 Reasons You’re Not Progressing in Dating and Relationships
- Relationships: Why Good Can Be Best
Chemistry versus attraction
Although attraction is neither the problem nor solution that singles believe it to be, chemistry is important and plays a critical role in happy marriages. Fortunately, independent of our God-given physical strengths and weaknesses, we can all find sexual satisfaction in marriage.
The body functions much like a computer. Press the right buttons and a computer runs its default programming. Similarly, stimulate the body and mind in specific ways and it becomes aroused. Once in an aroused state, attraction becomes less essential and even less distinguishable. Add the endorphins and dopamine released during marital intimacy with a loving partner, and you develop an enduring chemistry that will last a lifetime.
So the question becomes, how much attraction and/or chemistry is necessary during dating to reasonably assume you’ll have enough chemistry for a satisfying marriage? To answer this question, ask yourself:
- Do I frequently respond to their touch?
- Does being with them comfort, soothe, and consistently feel good?
- Do I often enjoy holding hands, cuddling, kissing, and being playful?
- When in their presence, do I typically feel a desire to be affectionate with them?
- Am I interested in their happiness and motivated to make them feel loved?
- When I choose to accept or give affection, even when I’m not feeling it at the time, do I tend to enjoy it nonetheless?
If you answered yes to many of these questions, then you probably have sufficient chemistry. The definition of chemistry above is very different from that promoted by our society, love songs, and movies. The romantic notions of love that our culture promotes may seem more intense and exciting, but the resulting infatuation is typically congruent with an insecure attachment rather than a secure one. Not surprisingly, the world’s promotion of early sexual contact also triggers insecure attachments. Thus, the best way to determine real chemistry is through engaging in appropriate affection, while focusing on the mutual happiness of both partners. Those who struggle to make this transition, from infatuation to healthy chemistry, often feel a strong desire to leave when normal issues arise. When emotions fade, those who aren’t committed to making real sacrifices in relationships find it easier to abandon relationships.
The definition of chemistry above is very different from that promoted by our society, love songs, and movies. The romantic notions of love that our culture promotes may seem more intense and exciting, but the resulting infatuation is typically congruent with an insecure attachment rather than a secure one. Not surprisingly, the world’s promotion of early sexual contact also triggers insecure attachments.
Thus, the best way to determine real chemistry is through engaging in appropriate affection, while focusing on the mutual happiness of both partners. Those who struggle to make this transition, from infatuation to healthy chemistry, often feel a strong desire to leave when normal issues arise. When emotions fade, and real sacrifices are required, it’s easier to believe their partner is the problem. Lasting love requires that they have the skills to choose their love and love their choice.
Lasting love requires more than attraction. Singles need the skills to choose their love and love their choice.
Choose your love and love your choice
Real love, versus infatuation, results from our choices and behaviors in relationships. The more deeply we sacrifice, the more deeply we love. By contrast, the common theories on love and infatuation focus on attraction, desire, lust, and need as the driving force for our actions in relationships.
Provided below is a handout I often use (with accompanying scriptural references). It demonstrates the pattern of God, truth, and love versus the pattern of the world, deception, or Satan.
God’s design depends upon us acting on true and lasting principles first. Doing so brings His emotions of peace, joy, love, self-respect, confidence, happiness, fulfillment, and even lasting passion.
By contrast, the world’s pattern, of using compelling emotions as the motivating force for driving our behavior, rarely requires deep sacrifice. It’s built on immediate gratification and self-interest, leaving the person never satisfied. This is why pornography and meaningless sexual experiences are so empty and relationships that don’t require effort become short-lived and superficial.
God’s pattern ensures that if you make a choice to love someone, engage fully in the relationship, and feed your chemistry and connection, you can have the power and skills you need to experience a full, loving, and passionate marriage (provided you and your partner both choose these skills). If this were not the case, we all would be doomed to marital and sexual dissatisfaction as attraction fades (due to having children, experiencing unwanted body changes, and aging).
Considering ending a relationship?
If you’re thinking of ending a good relationship in the hopes of finding a more attractive (or worthy) partner, I hope you will first consider the truth that:
- your partner is probably as attractive as you are (people rarely date those who are significantly more or less attractive than themselves)
- attraction is not as essential for happiness as chemistry
- your ability to love deeply depends more on how much you’re willing to sacrifice than it does on the partner you’re with
Before ending your relationship, explore the links above. The solutions you find there might make all the difference in making the connections you’re really missing.
Alisa Goodwin Snell spent 17 years as a marriage and family therapist before becoming a dating and relationship coach. She’s written several books for singles, been on over 100 TV and radio programs nationwide, and is a sought out public speaker. To learn more visit LastingLoveAcademy.com.