This was a letter asking advice (sort of), but I thought it would also make a great topic for conversation, so I’m framing it (and answering it below) thusly.
I’m so used to relationships with avoidant men, where I am having to pursue them at times and prove my worthiness, and I see where this comes from in my history of love and really don’t want to perpetuate these unhealthy patterns. He is a lovely man and we have a lot of have fun together (he’s also not in the dark about these feelings I’m having, though he doesn’t know I’m unsure about the physical attraction factor); I really don’t want to mess this up because of my own attachment issues.
I am not sure the problem is that I’m not used to being loved so easily and that with continued self-work I can get over this block, or if I’m really just missing that chemical attraction? Do you think that is a really important thing to have right off the bat with someone, or do you think it can be fostered? — Wanting to Be a Healthy Partner in a Healthy Relationship
Short answer: I think attraction can be fostered (to a degree), but I don’t think chemistry can. It’s either there or it isn’t. Chemistry is different than attraction. You can feel chemistry with platonic friends or even colleagues and co-workers. It exists in mentor-mentee or special teacher-pupil roles, and even between a caregiver and the person being cared for. You know chemistry when you feel it. It’s what makes things “click.” It’s what make you feel like you’ve known a person forever even if you’ve only met recently. It’s what makes you feel so comfortable together. Attraction, on the other hand, is what makes you want to make out. You can cultivate that, but, if you don’t have chemistry, there wouldn’t be much point.
So, the first thing you have to figure out is whether you do have chemistry. Nothing you’ve written indicates how you feel about this one way or another. You certainly seem to feel adored and cared for. But that’s not the same thing as feeling chemistry. Do you feel like you get each other? Does your connection feel natural and easy? Do you genuinely enjoy his company? You mention not being as “effortlessly into it” as he is; is it the physical part that takes more effort, or simply being together at all? Because if it’s the latter, you don’t have chemistry. Chemistry really is pretty effortless.
What’s not always effortless is attraction. But you can foster it. Since you’re questioning whether your lack of attraction for this guy could have something to do with your pattern of falling for avoidant men, you could work through that in therapy while increasing the romance in your relationship which is a natural lubricant for attraction. Moonlit strolls, candle-lit dinners, picnics in the park, and lying in bed listening to music are a few ways you could foster intimacy and see if attraction follows suit. But if it doesn’t — and certainly, if you continue recoiling at his touch — you need to do the kind thing and break this off fairly soon. The cruelest and most selfish thing you could do is lead this guy on if you simply don’t feel it for him even after giving it some effort.
Finally, it’s great that you are aware of your dating patterns and want to break them and start setting more healthy patterns in motion. Dating someone who is the wrong guy for you isn’t going to do that though. Even if someone is wrong for you for different reasons than someone else was wrong for you, it doesn’t make the outcome any different: the relationship won’t work. The best way to start setting a better pattern in dating is to move on as soon as you know a person isn’t right for you. So, do some soul-searching about this guy and listen to your gut. Guys who treat you well and are eager to commit can be just as wrong for you as those who treat you like crap and don’t want a relationship.
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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at email@example.com.
artsygirl May 5, 2016, 9:09 am
Wendy is right on. Conversely I found you can also discover that people get less attractive when you go to dislike them. I had a good friend who dated a girl who was beautiful- like seriously one of the must beautiful people I had ever seen in person. The first time I met her, I commented on how gorgeous she was. Unfortunately she was one of the meanest, cruelest people I had ever met. She was high maintenance and took pleasure in stirring up drama. By the time the relationship had ended, I thought she was horribly unattractive just because I superimposed her personality over her physical appearance.
kmtthat May 5, 2016, 9:34 am
I think the answer is nope, no. If it’s been 2-4 dates and you aren’t sure then yes give it a little time but that’s totally different than it’s been months and I’m still not feeling it. I guess I prioritize having a deep physical attraction a lot, so maybe it’s just my bias, but it’s sort of there or it’s not. I personally would HATE to be with someone who had to go to therapy to find themselves wanting me. And listen, I get it, I date the wrong men a lot too and I have questioned my own ability to be super attracted to a “good” guy. But I found one and I am and it was kind of a relief. I think you can become MORE attracted to someone that your are already pretty attracted to over time but if it’s at the backing away point, you really aren’t that attracted to him. I feel like with attraction I always picture magnets….if I am attracted to someone I am always feeling pulled towards them physically, whether a kiss or a hug or a touch. What she is describing is…the opposite of that.
Anonymousse May 5, 2016, 9:44 am
Firestar May 5, 2016, 11:09 am
I think this analogy is perfect. You can have a (weak) magnetic attraction that either grows stronger or weaker over time – but you need some underlying attraction to cultivate and grow.
JuneBugg May 5, 2016, 9:36 am
WWS! LW please follow Wendy’s advise to see if you can form an attraction, but if you can’t do yourself and BF a favor and break up. I was in the exact same position that you are writing about years ago, but I married him. He was so perfect in every area, except for the attraction on my end. Four years later we divorced. He was still the same great person, but I couldn’t stand to be touched intimately by him. It really sucked for both of us, and looking back I wish I had paid attention to the feelings I was having and broke up then. The sexual attraction is a very important part of any romantic relationship, and as hard as you may try, you can’t ignore it forever.
kare May 5, 2016, 9:55 am
I think you can cultivate attraction, but there definitely has to be something there beforehand. For instance, one of the guys I’m seeing isn’t what I’d consider attractive. When I first met him, my friends thought we were perfect for each other, but I considered him not my type. However, we quickly developed a rapport. We have a similar sense of humor and can talk to each other easily. Over time an attraction did build. So I agree with Wendy – if you have chemistry, you can build an attraction. However, if you feel repulsed by the guy, I don’t think much can overcome that.
ktfran May 5, 2016, 10:17 am
THIS! At first, I didn’t know if I was attracted to “the guy” as I call him in the forums. I liked him. But I wasn’t sure I liked him like that. Well… after a few witty e-mail, text and verbal conversations, I got over that pretty quickly.
So to sum it up, I think attraction can grow… but as Wendy said, there has be something there in the first place, i.e., chemistry.
keyblade May 5, 2016, 9:57 am
I think if a person wants to develop a new attachment style, experience new things, and stop old destructive patterns, they can. The first step for this letter writer is already done, it is being aware of the pattern, why it exists, and what she gets out of it.
But I don’t think most can change their thoughts, deepest inner desires and hopes, or their feelings just by willing them to be a different experience. Wanting to want to be with someone isn’t the same thing as actually wanting that person. Some people can be honest with themselves enough to be comfortable settling for someone because their deepest desires can be met that way, even if that person isn’t the person they physically desire the most.
But in this case, I think it’s more about what the letter writer doesn’t want. She doesn’t want to have the block she does. She doesn’t trust herself or her instincts. She doesn’t think her feelings are valid because there isn’t a concrete reason NOT to like the guy. Not knowing why something is wrong, isn’t a good enough reason to assume that means it might be right.
The last sentence says what she really wants which is to be in a healthy relationship. I think if things don’t change and she were to settle with someone she wasn’t sure about, she would not be at peace with herself because her feelings don’t line up with her actions. I’d guess as she got braver and life with this person dragged on, she would shut down.
I think it would be very hard to go through life feeling compelled to have a physical relationship with someone who repelled you, regardless if that person was objectively attractive or not. But physical relations are important to me.
blink14 May 5, 2016, 10:10 am
I think it can happen sometimes, but it depends on the situation. Usually its something you see between people who have been friends for a long time and a deeper attraction develops. Its totally normal for you to not be attracted to him, just because he’s a great guy doesn’t mean there is going to be an innate attraction your part.
WWS – if you don’t feel like you’ve developed a stronger attraction to him in the near future, you need to do the right thing and let him go. You could both be the most beautiful, successful, wonderful people in the world, but if there’s no physical connection/attraction/pull to be near the other person, its not worth the relationship struggle, in my opinion.
On the flip side, many people do stay in relationships where there isn’t a lot of physical attraction, respecting each other as people, and loving each at some level, but necessarily being in love. If that’s the type of relationship you want, you need to make sure that the other person can accept it and be on the same page.
csp May 5, 2016, 10:15 am
LW, Wendy is spot on with this. When you are with this guy, do you see each other. I mean see the soul of each other? As far as looks go, ugly people get married and find love every day. Do you think they ranked the top of each other’s bangable list? no, they share connections outside of that. They love spending time together. And as someone who has been happily married for a decade, I will say that looks fade and asses get bigger, but I love my husband more than ever because we really connect.
Dear Wendy May 5, 2016, 10:59 am
Drew and I met (on a blind date) ten years ago today! I concur: looks do fade and asses do get bigger. I am 15 pounds heavier, saggier, and more wrinkled than I was a decade ago and Drew has a lot less hair (sorry, Drew, but it’s true). We love each other more than ever though. We’ve always had a connection, from the very first conversation, and now we have ten years of history (including big moves, a marriage, two kids, deaths and taxes and all that fun stuff) that have brought us closer together.
Attraction IS important; you certainly don’t want to be turned OFF by your partner or recoil at his touch. But it’s also important to think about the longterm (if what you want is a longterm relationship). In 20, 30 years, neither of you will look the same. You have to be more attracted to the person than you are to the package (but a good package helps, tee hee).
keyblade May 5, 2016, 11:02 am
True. Love is blind (at least to cellulite).
Firestar May 5, 2016, 11:14 am
Did you ever see that study where they showed men pictures of women with cellulite and some without and asked men which one had it and which ones didn’t and to rate the attractiveness and, by far, the vast majority of men were literally blind to it. But the women who took the test saw it each and every time?
keyblade May 5, 2016, 11:15 am
NO, But If you have a link I love to see it!
kare May 5, 2016, 11:25 am
I’ve heard that men’s brains interpret shapes differently. Like they see the outline and general shape while women notice finer detail. I’m not sure how true that is, but I have had to explain to multiple guys what cellulite is and that is does exist. I also had to explain to my mom that stretch marks are real because she thought since she’s never had them, they must not exist.
bondgirl May 5, 2016, 11:21 am
Maybe it’s just me but Wendy, if you’ve only put on 15 lbs in 10 years….pat yourself on the back for that one, I find that to be pretty damn impressive, especially after two kids.
Dear Wendy May 5, 2016, 11:38 am
Well, thank you!
keyblade May 5, 2016, 11:38 am
Happy ten years!
keyblade May 5, 2016, 11:39 am
I was so busy thinking about my own heavier, saggier, wrinkly self that it didn’t process before.
Dear Wendy May 5, 2016, 11:53 am
dinoceros May 5, 2016, 10:51 am
I agree with Wendy. I think there are situations where you might not initially be super attracted to someone and find that you become attracted later. However, I think that this is not universal and it’s not something you can actively make happen. I also think that it would happen fairly early on and becomes less likely as time goes on. To me, it’s more like you see someone and don’t really find them attractive, but then get to know them and develop feelings. Not where you are dating someone over time and then suddenly become attracted. I also think there’s a difference between being essentially physically repulsed by them and not finding them super hot. The former, to me, is unlikely to improve that much.
Something to think about is that this situation’s occurence depends on how “picky” you are in the early stages of dating. I used to have this happen, but then I got to where if I didn’t feel the chemistry within a few dates, I was out. So I don’t get to the point anymore where I’m close to someone and find them super great and still don’t have attraction, because I would have moved on a lot earlier. That’s not to say that’s what you *should* do, but I think that this is partially why this is such a hard decision because it has gotten a lot further than it might have otherwise.
SasLinna May 5, 2016, 11:05 am
The one question I have is whether OP has ever made out or been intimate with this guy. A few times, when I had just started dating someone, the first times touching each other were pretty awkward. It took a while to warm up. That said, I always felt attracted to these guys in some way (it’s just that I wasn’t 100% clear how into them I really was until I had been intimate with them). If there’s no attraction at all I think you shouldn’t try to force it.
Brise May 5, 2016, 11:15 am
Given all the great qualities you mention about your date and your relationship, I would give it a serious try. Perhaps are you afraid of intimacy – hence the tendency to pursue avoidant men. Chemistry can be misleading too in relationships: it is easy to be attracted to sexy people who make poor partners. But I suppose you do have an attraction to this man, because you date him, right? An attraction must be there for a love to work, and it is cultivated by good sex.
for_cutie May 5, 2016, 12:11 pm
Yes this. It sounds like you are dating out of your type – which is great! It also sounds like you are used to being in the drivers seat, and now you have someone who is putting the effort into you. As long as it is not aggressive in a bad way and you are still having fun, then see where it leads.
I was once pursued by a friend in college, and it took me about six months to give in to go out with him on a date. It ended up being a great relationship experience for me, one I don’t regret. It also taught me to expect more from a partner, since he put so much effort into fostering a romantic relationship, beyond our friendship.
Anon May 5, 2016, 11:40 am
I agree that attraction/chemistry is important. But the fact that the LW says she’s consistently attracted to unavailable men makes me very cautious about the usual “if you’re not attracted, do him a favor and break up” advice. It’s likely there’s more to her feelings about this and pulling away from him than an ordinary lack of chemistry. I’d be very cautious about ending this relationship without giving it a serious go and simultaneously exploring the “attracted to unavailable men” dynamic with a good therapist.
Of course, if she suddenly finds herself overwhelmingly attracted to an available, wonderful guy, she has her answer. But since she hasn’t done that yet, I’d hesitate to call this issue just lack of chemistry. People who’ve never been attracted to someone available often feel that every available, wonderful person “just doesn’t have chemistry” and wind up in places they don’t want to be. I don’t want that for the LW.
T May 5, 2016, 11:41 am
As others have mentioned, I think it really depends how long they’ve been dating. Familiarity breeds intimacy, which can lead to attraction. So if it’s only been a handful of dates, you’ll just have to wait and see what happens, and I’m sure it will become clear soon whether attraction is developing or going down the drain. If it’s already been a few months and you’re avoiding his touch, you should probably cut both of your losses. Have faith that there are other good guys out there, not just this one, and you deserve to be with one of them. Do you think that because this guy treats you super well you feel like you’re the “better catch” than him, making him in turn seem less attractive?
At the end of the day I don’t think we can reach a conclusion as to how attraction can develop, because even the scientists studying love and attraction don’t really know. There’s a mix of objective attractiveness, pheromones, DNA, familiarity, nonverbal communication, personalities clicking, imprints from our parents and personal histories that lead to attachment styles and can make the wrong people for us seem irresistible, plus probably a bunch of other stuff we haven’t figured out yet. I think the term “chemistry” is often used to describe a science we don’t really understand yet. Even though that kind of chips away at the great and mysterious concept of “chemistry,” our gut feeling can really be important when we don’t have a better way of understanding it.
Meghan May 6, 2016, 2:14 pm
LW here! I just want to say a big THANK YOU to Wendy and all who commented. I really appreciate your advice and insight! <3