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.