Where do our most important relationships start? How do we determine who to spend most of our time with? The people we are attracted to may seem random, as we meet people all sorts of ways. But is it really random?
Or are our relationships already embedded in our DNA? How do we make friends, or fall in love? What are the laws of attraction?
Types of Attraction
First lets discuss the various types that exist. Perhaps you’ve heard of asexual or aromantic individuals. These labels exist because of different types of attraction. We can be physically, sexually, emotionally, and/or platonically attracted to someone, or any combination thereof.
We can feel romantically attracted to someone without being sexually attracted and vice versa, as well. If you never feel sexual attraction to someone, then you are asexual. If you never feel the need for a relationship or emotional intimacy, then you are romantic.
Like other sexualities/orientations, “ace” and “aro” exist on a spectrum. You can find more on this subject at a variety of responsible online and in person organizations, but The Asexual Visibility and Education Network is a good place to start.
The types listed above are self-explanatory. Physical means you are attracted to them based on their aesthetic attributes: how they look, how they dress, their weight/muscle mass, etc. The way they dress and choose to carry themselves can spark physical attraction as well, although there are complicated social implications that go along with that element of attraction.
Someone’s chosen style can cause attraction based on similarities you share, for instance, and have nothing to do with how the person fundamentally looks. Sexual attraction is exactly what it says – meaning you want to engage in sexual activity with that person with or without a relationship attached to it.
Emotional and platonic attractions typically take longer to develop, as they are based on interactions with the person and how you are treated by them. Platonic relationships can even develop after an initial physical and/or sexual attraction. For example you may have a “crush” on someone at first, but as you get to know them you find yourself satisfied with a platonic friendship.
How Does Attraction Happen?
Different types of attraction happen in different ways. As explained above, the platonic or emotional can develop over time, as you get to know someone. You see how they treat others in their life, find out what is important to them, learn more about their likes and dislikes, and either grow closer or drift away from them. But how do the more immediate or primal types of attraction occur?
Biology certainly factors into romantic and/or sexual attraction, however, the specifics of how are more complicated than you may expect. Romantic attraction “…has been thoroughly studied and examined, including facial and body shape, angles, and symmetry, armpit sweat and other body odors…there is still no conclusive…evidence to support any one scientific theory.” (Middlebrooke). While we know the “spark” behind both romantic and sexual attraction is biological, and largely subconscious, we still don’t fully understand all the moving parts.
Some theories include pheromones, or the unique smell each person puts off. Others include physical indicators of healthy childrearing, or traditional masculinity. These theories may work for a large portion of the population, but they certainly do not take into account the millions of variations that exist in relationships, such as couples who don’t want to have kids.
In an article for Huffington Post, Carolyn Gregoire writes: “While there is something of a science to the romantic and sexual partners we choose, at the end of the day, attraction is still completely unique to each of our individual makeups and preferences” (Gregoire).
Do We Have a Choice?
The answer to this question, unfortunately, is another giant “maybe?”. Initial attraction to another person is frequently subconscious – in other words, completely out of our control. We tend to find ourselves attracted to someone who shares major similarities with us, and who is close to us geographically.
That is why dating sites are popular – people want to share the most important elements of their lives with their significant other. Similarly, we make friends while taking part in social gatherings, local bars/clubs and events that you and the other person were drawn to independently. We spend time with and become closer to people who move in the same circles, the same tax brackets, have the same friends, etc.
Even when we make conscious decisions about the types of people we are looking for, it may be more out of our control than we think. As Noam Shpanser explains in his article for Psychology Today: “…the mate selection rules are dictated by the roles that women and men occupy in society. Thus, people’s preferences in the search for a mate are expected to shift as social roles and norms shift” (Shpanser).
Once again, these rules change depending on the individual relationship. However, the things we find “attractive” at large are often planted in our minds from an early age by societal norms and expectations. As Shpanser concludes at the end of an analogy where creating relationships is like shopping, “Biology and society…cannot determine which item we buy. That, we decide on our own” (Shpanser).
“The Asexual Visibility and Education Network.” The Asexual Visibility and Education Network, asexuality.org/.
Gregoire, Carolyn. “The Strange Science Of Sexual Attraction.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 14 Feb. 2015, www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/14/science-of-attraction-_n_6661522.html.
Middlebrooke, Sallie B (PhD). “What Causes Romantic Attraction?” PairedLife, PairedLife, 23 June 2016, pairedlife.com/dating/What-causes-Romantic-Attraction.
Shpancer, Noam. “Laws of Attraction: How Do We Select a Life Partner?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 2 Dec. 2014, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/insight-therapy/201412/laws-attraction-how-do-we-select-life-partner.