By Andrew Walen, LCSW-C, LICSW, CEDS
Most of us are taught that attraction is a physical asset – either you are or you’re not. As a result, we’ve been brainwashed to believe great effort must be spent to alter our bodies through adornments, clothing, makeup, weight loss, weight gain, muscle development, prosthetics, implants, fillers, and the like. But we all find different types of people and bodies attractive. Why is that? Where does attraction really come from?
Let’s differentiate sexual attraction, which is almost instantaneous, and attraction to a person in general. Sexual attraction can be influenced in myriad ways such as smell, hormones, voice pitch and timbre, being of similar genetic makeup or different genetic background, the way someone tastes, appearance of health/fertility/virility, body symmetry, and more.
Relationship expert Dr. Esther Perel discusses the concept of attraction in podcasts and YouTube videos. When we desire someone, she believes it’s because that person radiates “confidence with illumination.” This is not about sexual attraction per se, though can include it. More importantly, this confidence comes from seeing how that person engages the world around them. It’s the kindness they show to others, their intelligence, charm, wit and wisdom. We learn to desire people when we see how others desire them.
Sadly, in our society the focus is almost exclusively on the physical attributes. Advertisers make fun of anyone who is not an “ideal physical specimen” for both men and women. In real life, not TV and movie fantasy, we come to desire and ultimately love others for who they are and how they act. For instance, I am attracted to my wife when I hear here speak in another language. It makes her mysterious and interesting to me. People connect to her in a way that I can’t participate in, and by seeing how they respond to her with appreciation makes her more desirable to me. It’s a small thing, but add that to all the other important aspects of who she is (including kind, honest, giving, silly, quick to laugh, smart, talks with a Texas twang when riled up, and able to toss a baseball with the best of them) and she has me lock, stock and barrel.
The hard work for those who do not yet “radiate confidence” is to investigate and learn to appreciate those aspects of themselves that make them special. It may take an objective observer to help identify those traits, build confidence around them, and then practice appreciating them until that radiance shines through. But it’s doable.
That’s where attraction comes from. It starts from being attracted to yourself.