Thursday, March 29, 2012

This Relationship Corner: Short and Long Term Attraction

We usually can't help who we're attracted to. The instant we lay eyes on someone we know whether we find that person attractive. It could be for a variety of different reasons, but before we take our next blink we know if we're attracted. It may not make any sense to us, or anyone else, or it could be the most obvious thing in the world. We've all found ourselves hopelessly attracted.

Attraction is tricky, but it isn't as big a mystery as we might think. True, sometimes there's no accounting for taste, but many times, it tracks. We 'fall' for very specific reasons, and if we look inside ourselves, we can figure out just who is our type, and why. We might also want to figure out whether we want to act on our attraction, as it could be leading us in a very bad direction. Other times, our attraction is telling us something our conscious mind hasn't quite figured out - this person could be a great match for us.

To get a closer look at attraction, I'm going to talk about two of the main categories: short and long-term attraction. Both types are essential in our relationships, and we need to understand the role each one will play as we enter into long-term relationships.

First, let's talk about short-term attraction. This is what you notice in the first few minutes you meet. Short-term attraction is very superficial, and you'll mostly pay attention to looks and physical attractiveness here. Their body type, height, physical attributes, hair, eyes, and smile will play a huge part in this initial attraction. A big factor is smell. If you love the way this person smells, if you catch a whiff and are instantly transfixed, then that is some very strong, even compatible, chemistry. (Likewise, if the way they smell repulses you, then you won't find them nearly as attractive, no matter how physically appealing they are.)

But short term attraction isn't just about looks. It's also about the details you may consciously or subconsciously notice. (Though looks can be deceiving, and more on that in a bit.) You might look at this person's clothing and personal style and try to figure out who he/she is. Does this person have money? Do they keep themselves well groomed? Do they keep themselves too groomed? Does this person seem laid back or high-maintenance? How successful is this person?

And that leads us to job as a factor of attraction. Some people are instantly more attractive when you find out what they do. I call these the "sexy" jobs, and some jobs are just inherently more attractive. Doctor and Lawyer are the classic sexy professions, as well as Firefighter, Police Officer, EMT, or anyone serving in the Military. You know it's a sexy job when it's an occupation men lie about having in order to pick up women.

One more sexy job that isn't talked about much is pastor or minister. Believe it or not, there are plenty of women out there who'd love to be a Pastor's wife, and they'll zero in on a single minister faster than you can quote Psalm 31. In fact, find any religious order that allows its clergy to marry, and you'll also find a very big fan club.

Other short-term factors may involve both of you having something in common, such as a mutual love or mutual loathing for a band, movie, or literary genre. If this person knows sports stats dating back to the 60's, can quote Monty Python extensively, or is a bagpipe enthusiast like yourself, you will instantly feel a bond and want to see where this could go.

Looks, image, career, and shared interests, are things you notice in the first few minutes of a conversation, and they tell you right away whether you want to explore a relationship with this person. There's nothing wrong with this as a starting point; in fact that's how it's supposed to work. You first have to be drawn to this person for one or many reasons, and once you establish mutual attraction, you can take whatever next steps you're comfortable with.

This is the moment people point to as "love at first sight," but I would disagree slightly. It is true that people can meet their mates, instantly fall for each other, have a nice relationship, get married, and live a long and loving life together. However, I argue that the diagnosis of "love at first sight" is retroactive. Once the two of you realize you are deeply compatible, then you look back at your initial, short term attraction as true love, an indicator of things to come.

How do you realize your compatibility runs deep? That's the second part - long-term attraction. While the short term gets you into the relationship, long-term keeps you there and tells you that this person is truly worth your devotion. If short-term attraction is the trailer, long-term attraction is paying money to see the whole movie.

Long-term attraction is what you try to build after short-term attraction is well-established. You don't get to it if you're just having a fling. This is what grabs hold of you when you see the future and suddenly find this other person in it. You see things that indicate this person will be good for you five, ten, fifty years down the road. You can also see some flaws, and decide that you still like this person despite, or even because of, their faults.  The best long-term relationships are based on this type of attraction, falling in love with what's well below the surface, falling in love with someone's character.

Character is a long-term quality. Charm can obscure character at first, but after a few weeks or a month, you'll get a good feel for his or her morals and values. (If this is still a mystery at six weeks, it could be a red flag.)  Is he always respectful to you and everyone else? Does she practice what she preaches, even when no one's looking? Does this person do the right thing and never take the easy way out? Looks fade with age, but character endures.

As you get to know each other, you'll also start to figure out where you both stand on some of the more important issues that can make or break a couple. For example, do you find your partner's financial habits appealing? Do you care if he/she is a spendthrift, or are you looking for a savings account or an IRA? (Some people find fiscal responsibility very sexy.) What about your partner's feelings and attitudes about sex? Is that a turn on or a turn off?

We are also attracted to family involvement. If your partner is close to his/her family, that might make him/her more or less attractive. Remember, too, that the family is a package deal, and how much you like or dislike the family may play a part in this person's attractiveness. When you think about forming your own family, you will also start looking at whether your religious or political views are compatible, and someone whose views match your own will be more attractive.

Shared interests, as well as a willingness to try new things, are another part of long-term attraction. If you want to travel, and you realize that this person has that same goal, you will fall more deeply in love. If you are a reader, and this person comes complete with a library that could kill you if it fell on top of you (or had to buy a new e-reader because the first ran out of memory) you will find this person very attractive.

There are hundreds more factors that you will notice in your long-term relationship, and when you find what you like, you will be closer. However, if you find that these long-term factors aren't attracting you, in fact they are a turn off, then that's also your instincts telling you something that you need to figure out. Not everyone you find fun and interesting short term will make the cut, and before you leap into a lifelong commitment, you need to make sure that there's long-term sustainability.

Sometimes the problem is that what we're attracted to short-term is actually a huge long-term deal-breaker. Let's go back to those sexy jobs: doctor, lawyer, police officer, pastor, etc. The one thing these jobs all have in common is the time and pressure they put on your significant other. If you get involved with someone in those fields, be prepared to not see a lot of them. If you meet someone rich and successful in business, again be prepared for them to spend a lot of time working, because how do you think they made that money in the first place?

Sadly, these high-stress, demanding jobs can take a toll on relationships. If you know what you're in for, then go for it. However, if you don't know if you could be married to a doctor or lawyer, if you don't know if you could take the stress of being married to a police officer, or have family events interrupted when your pastor spouse has to deal with yet another crisis, then you may not be feeling that long-term attraction.

That's one of the many dangers of relying solely on short-term attraction. If you aren't thinking long-term, it can lead you into an unhappy relationship, because all long-term relationships are sustained by long-term attraction. I've said it before, if you keep having bad relationships, you need to change yourself or your approach. In this case, if you are always disappointed long term, perhaps you need to work backwards.

I propose this to anyone either sick of being disappointed, or someone already thinking long term. Rather than immediately jumping into a dating relationship with someone you find short-term attractive and hope for the best, think about what you want long-term in a relationship. What kind of person do you want? What long-term qualities are you looking for?

Once you have identified those long-term traits, figure out how to find a person with those qualities. Perhaps that kind of person isn't who you'd notice just by looking for superficial qualities. You might need to get to know people outside of a dating relationship at first, get to know their long term qualities before you take it to that level. Yes that will take some time, but it's time well spent.

As you can see, attraction is more than just looking across a crowded room and having your eyes meet. It goes from the surface to very, very deep into this person's psyche. If you want your relationship to have staying power, take some time to go as deep as you can and make sure you like what you see.

What are relationships like in a fantasy universe? Find out in the book I wrote.

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