How to tell when there’s a connection

A point of contention I find myself facing often is whether you should date someone you don’t necessarily feel a ‘connection with’ and, if so, for how long.

I find this both a critically important and endlessly frustrating subject, because there is so much room for misunderstanding and misinterpretation. I believe this is largely due to the sheer ambiguity of words like “connection”, “attraction” “chemistry”, etc.

I once had a gigantic argument with my sister – one person you’d think would be on the same page as me when it comes to definitions – over the importance of feeling “sparks” or “chemistry” with the opposite sex in order to have a relationship. After a long, painful back-and-forth, I finally thought to ask a question I should have posed at the very beginning of the conversation: what do you think I mean when I say “chemistry” or “sparks”?

Turns out, we were using significantly different definitions of the words. We weren’t arguing with each other, we were arguing past one another.

I suspect this is one of the major reasons couples and even friends disagree and argue. I think they often agree more than they realise, but understand the words they use somewhat differently to each other.

The subject of mutual attraction is no different.

If you’ve listened to any of the podcasts I’ve spoken on, you’ll know this is something that almost always comes up.

What muddies the water even further is that men and women use the term “attraction” differently to each other. As we all know, men are more driven by the physical, and women by the emotional.

As such, when men hear the term “attractive” they tend to think more specifically of physical attraction. I.e., Chris Hemsworth or Scarlett Johansson are “attractive” in this sense; they’re physically good-looking.

When women use the term, it has a more holistic meaning. For women, this word encompasses the physical as well as the personality. This is why women will rate actresses like Emily Blunt over Megan Fox.

Men tend to become attracted to women right away. Women tend to feel attracted to a man only once there’s an emotional connection. Of course, women will say this or that guy is good-looking on face value as well, but tend to be a bit more guarded about looking at men as potential partners until they find themselves attracted to their personality, as well.

In the This Catholic Life podcast, I defined my use of the term “mutual attraction” to mean a very base-line attraction, as there being the existence of some feeling beyond the purely Platonic. To make my meaning absolutely clear, I said someone who you feel something for beyond that of a brother or a blood relative.

Bizarrely (to me anyway), even this didn’t seem to make things concretely clear – for what I believe to be the same reason that there is often disagreement about chemistry and attraction in general. The reason is this: people (especially women) are often unwilling to agree that there are people with whom you will never share a romantic attraction.

Why? Usually, because they don’t want you to potentially miss out on a chance with someone by dismissing them too soon.

I get where it comes from, I know people are trying to be helpful, because we’ve all heard stories about people who took a while, perhaps even a long time, to become more than just friends.

Yet whether they realise it or not, this line of argument is predicated on the idea that you could potentially become attracted to anyone. Of course, this is an untenable theory and I don’t think anyone really believes it. For starters, if you could become attracted to anyone, this would seem to imply it is an act of the will.

But we all know this is nonsense. If people could simply make themselves feel attraction to another person, then why don’t they? Why is there unrequited love? Why are people instinctively repulsed by thinking of a blood relative in anything like a romantic way? It is clearly not simply a matter of the will.

Each of us is acquainted with at least one member of the opposite sex who we know in our bones we will never, ever feel attracted to. People who, the mere thought of them touching us in any kind of intimate or romantic way makes us shudder with revulsion.

That’s what I meant when I said something beyond “what you would feel for a blood relative”.

I meant those funny feelings you get in your tummy when that person walks into a room, or when others start talking about him/her. I meant when you anticipate with excitement the chance to spend time with that person, because being in his or her company is so fun, so thrilling. When the thought of them holding your hand or hugging you is actually appealing.

When you both feel that way about each other, even just a little bit, that’s what I mean by “mutual attraction”, “chemistry”, “sparks”, etc.

And even for those people who become romantically attracted to each other after a period of time, I would argue that there must still exist some kind of connection. What do I mean by connection? That’s more tricky.

It means the other person gets you, and vice-versa. You understand each other on a level that others around you don’t. They’re a kindred spirit. You never get bored talking to them. You always want to linger in their company. I could go on, but I’m sure anyone who has felt this with another person (which should be basically everyone) understands what I’m talking about.

Now, this can happen without attraction. I’m good friends with several of my male colleagues who I share all these things in common with, but we’re not attracted to each other. I don’t get funny feelings when they walk into a room. I don’t feel a thrill if our hands accidentally touch when we reach for the salt shaker at the same time.

Something can’t come from nothing. In order for anything to grow then, by definition, there has to be a seed in the first place. So while I think it’s clear you can share a connection with someone without an accompanying romantic attraction, I don’t believe you can develop any genuine attraction to someone you share no connection with.

Maybe men can, but women can’t. Because if there’s no connection, there’s no also emotional connection – which women need. We can’t date men on physical attraction alone. I’ve been physically attracted to men who bored me to tears when I got to know them. And as soon as I discovered we shared no connection, nothing in common, my attraction disappeared. I suppose there are always exceptions, but this seems to be generally and universally the case, based on everything I’ve heard, seen, read and experienced.

I know of only one instance in which the woman didn’t feel attracted to the man until she’d actually prayed to God to feel attraction, if it was His will. And her prayer was answered, and they’re happily married now. I think that’s wonderful, but also an extremely rare exception. My guess is that in 99% of cases, attraction doesn’t spontaneously generate.

So how do you tell if you share a connection with another person (for the purposes of dating them)? Well, hopefully I’ve made that clearer throughout this post by defining what it is and how it looks. But if you’re still unsure – because it can be very murky sometimes – try the following:

  • Ask yourself honestly: does the conversation just flow on its own or do you have to work at it to keep it going?
  • Imagine kissing the person and see what your initial physical reaction is
  • Ask yourself whether you truly believe this person would make a good father or mother
  • When you’re with this person, do you find yourself looking at or thinking about other members of the opposite sex?

At the end of the day, I think it just comes down to being honest. If you’re really, truly honest with yourself, I suspect you’ll find that you already know. And sometimes it’s hard, because you’ll share a connection with someone that will never develop into anything beyond friendship.

If this is the case, I want to affirm you right now: there is nothing wrong with you! Even if a person is perfect on paper, that’s no guarantee that you’ll be attracted to them. In the end, the heart wants what the heart wants, and you cannot force yourself to “like” anyone.

Yes, you could argue that for centuries we got on just fine with arranged marriages, that people have far too many expectations these days and you could technically just learn to live with anyone and be reasonably happy.

And perhaps some people could. But I’m not one of them. I would far rather remain single than to be stuck in a loveless marriage (which is why I’m still single).

I don’t mean by this that I expect those same thrills and feelings that accompany attraction will last throughout marriage. Obviously they won’t, nor are they supposed to. But they do fulfil an important function: drawing you to the other person in the first place.

And maybe some need to be a little more open-minded about who they choose to date, even if they don’t fit their notions of an ideal spouse. I suspect there are those who know pretty much straight away if they share a connection with a person or not, and others who take a little longer to discern. Maybe the person you’ll marry is right in front of you, but they need to grow up a little first, or you do.

Who knows? Nothing in life is certain. But one thing I think everyone agrees on is when you know, you know.

17 thoughts on “How to tell when there’s a connection

  1. Anna, your post is very informative about what “attraction” means for women.  My wife told me something very similar years ago. You’re correct that it includes more that simple physical attractiveness.
    I disagree, however, with your characterization of arranged marriages.  Your description of foisting a couple together into a “loveless marriage,” hoping that the couple will “just learn to live with [each other] and be reasonably happy” seems to describe a FORCED marriage, which is different than an arranged one.
    Now, I want to preface my argument with the admission that my more positive view of arranged marriage has come later in life, now that my sons will be of marriage age in about a decade.  However, I also will acknowledge that, with 20 years of marriage experience, our successful marriage came more from guidance from the Holy Spirit than from anything I did! I was supremely blessed to meet, be attracted to, and marry a woman who had (a) the same religion, (b) similar orthodox religious beliefs, (c) similar educational attainment/goals as myself, (d) similar views about money/thrift.  In fact, as a dude in my very early 20s, I wasn’t focusing very much on those things when dating; I don’t think many dudes of that age think about those areas of compatibility with great depth!
    An ARRANGED marriage is different than a forced marriage in a key way: As Kevin O’Leary notes, in the run-up to arranging a marriage, each party’s parents, grandparents, and perhaps a matchmaker are “taking a long, hard look at what [the parties] will bring to this marriage and why they should or shouldn’t endorse it.”  The man & woman have at their disposal perhaps 14 pairs of eyes & 7 brains instead of just 4 eyes & 2 brains. More importantly, the parents, grandparents, matchmaker, etc. are viewing the information before them without the clouding of emotions & are able to assess the data with more equanimity. They will take into account — based on experience & their knowledge of the parties — whether any particular match may bear fruit.
    I’m not arguing that arranged marriage is a perfect system: we’re fallen creatures, after all.  However, I believe that using the acquired wisdom & knowledge of extended family plus human traditions that we may heretofore have believed were passe MAY indeed lead to happier, more stable marriages than the system currently in place.

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    1. Thanks for your insights, Carlos. I’ll admit I’m not very familiar with the culture surrounding arranged marriages as I’m from an Anglo background.

      Without that culture, though, it seems to me that it would be extremely difficult to make it work, which is perhaps why arranged marriages are virtually unheard of in Western countries (in modern history). If anyone has any insights on this, though, I’d be glad to hear them.

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      1. I’ve been thinking about your reply regarding the “culture” or lack thereof in Western nations re: arranged marriage. You’re correct, of course, but I do believe that

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      2. Oops! I accidentally pressed “send” on that too soon! I told you humans are fallible!
        Anyway, I would note that in Western culture, we are very willing to receive advice from professionals like physicians and lawyers. If we view the search for a spouse in a similar way (searching for such a person is, perhaps, even more important than our physical or legal health), maybe we would be more willing to accept the advice handed to us from family members or professional match-makers.

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      3. Anna I can’t deal with this on the arranged side of the equation- in the west we have freedoms that have been endowed to us through Judeo Christian roots- because of the wealth embedded in freedom ,this has given life ( for good and bad) to the consumerist culture, which has empowered people’s rightful sense of autonomy and as such has allowed them in an ever increasing fashion/sense to take and have individual control over their lives; technological changes and advances have reaffirmed in our psyche that rightful passage of our individual autonomy – which in a nutshell says that people identify true worth and ” happiness ” by being able to exercise their freedom of choice( and I’m not talking about the abhorrence of abortion or euth, although this does prove the point) and I’m not saying that these concepts and couplings of worth and happiness and the ramifications their of,have been wisely appraised or for that matter understood at the level of the collective consciousness or conscience. But what I am saying is that by intent or otherwise it has disempowered and led to the dismantling of the western patriachial arrangements and the disintegration of marriage as a valued institution (derangement ) . Therefore it is very hard to conceive the idea of arranged marriages in the western mindset, other than a time and date to book the Church and catering at the reception.

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    2. As we discussed before Carlos I think that the Wisdom of others particularly acquired through hindsight is invaluable here,especially when the parties are either young or are lacking in the realities that are the embodiment of worldly experience or wisdom. Putting an old head on young shoulders is admirable and makes perfect sense ,but in this day and age!or did we take heed of that type of loving advice – I can say this is a genuine but a tough call. Carlos I have four Sisters and would be scared witless to even contemplate broaching or arranging that discussion- discretion is also a key part of valour,isn’t it?! Ps your last paragraph is sage and worth youthful contemplation.

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      1. We did indeed discuss it. I have come to this position very gradually; I certainly wouldn’t have had it before I had my own children. Truth be told, I’m not even sure that my sons would all gladly accept my advice/assistance in finding a spouse: I’m pretty sure that one would balk, one would be okay with it, and one would be a wildcard. I do want to stress that I am NOT recommending FORCED marriage: the parties MUST make an un-coerced decision.
        Such a momentous decision as picking a spouse requires the intake & processing of vast amounts of information, more information than can be handled by a single brain. I do not mean to be crass with this comparison, but how often do we read 6 to 12 reviews before buying a vehicle, which is a depreciable asset?! How much more care must/should be exercised when we are dealing with the immortal souls of two human beings!

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    3. Hey Carlos – 4th rung on your ladder. I do a bit of rowing and kayaking and am well acquainted with drift wood. Question – are you secretly using agony and hope as a spring board into “intentional chaperoning” or well intentioned disaster coordination ?Could your mission statement be (should you accept it)the avoidance of forced marriage by arrangement only – an uncoerced approach – or should that be the forced avoidance of marriage – the arranged approach😬🤔,or could it be poor humour on my part the – the dyslexic approach😃🙃. PS ,I take it that one is espousing that at all times a potential wife is to be considered an appreciable asset?

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      1. LOL! You ask good questions!
        Actually, Anna’s original article made me think deeply about my sons finding wise, godly women to wed in the future. Because Matrimony is a sacrament that will assist them in reaching Heaven, I was somewhat alarmed by Anna’s anecdotes.
        Secondarily, I hope that any wisdom I can impart may assist readers of this blog to find a spouse that will help them reach Heaven. I can attest that having my wife to support me during troubling times here on earth — our miscarriage, my loss of a job — has been a tremendous blessing.

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    4. Thanks Carlos. I do feel though, that it’s not a particularly clever questioning technique because the answer is in the question itself- I think it’s referered to as the leading questioning technique- you’ll never get in trouble saying Yes -not particularly enlightening if your trying to get at the real truth. Having said all that I hope you got a bit of a laugh out of it- and maybe laughing is an act of spontaneity and can’t be contrived- truthfully this is a good thing! Oh I agree wholeheartedly about your view on support- I long for that myself – I think this gives our lives a certain buoyancy- it’s all good stuff -thankyou

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  2. Getting to know a person better will help you get past a pretty face. A while back I re-connected with a girl from high school. I think she wanted to be more than friends, but I didn’t. In high school I had had a huge crush on her. But her current problems and bad habits (smoking and drinking) made her unattractive to me.
    In another case I really liked a younger girl who worked at a business in town. I was crushed when I found out that she was going out with someone else. But, as I got to know more about her, the attraction went away. Turns out she has or had serious mental issues. Bullet dodged there.

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    1. Sounds like Lady Luck is close by your side Seany, look at the bright side, your one step closer to the luck you need and would certainly appreciate. The ricochet will get you when you least expect it- keep doing those chin ups mate😊

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  3. Anna your right , men do it with their eyes, and women do it with their ears-” the connecting Anna”the connecting. This is slightly beyond the scope of your post title,but could be worth consideration. I think women, ‘in the main’really want this all to resonate in their hearts- their physical attributes are really the allure for feeling emotion. I had this very conversation with mum in my teens and she basically said the same thing, but a little differently-essentially men viewed sex as the important thing, whereas for women it really is the emotional connection and closeness that, that brings, that matters. Which is why women will give ground in the physical, in order to try to get the emotional connection from men .I think children are another indicator of this and confirm it as well? I don’t know if you have heard the saying, and it came from a man “that women really love their( Man’s) kids- because the connection is total and is unconditionally felt I guess. Yes it is an unfortunate fact that the same species inhabit different planets at a certain phase in the cycle of life. Ps, There is hope, Men do eventually grow up.

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