Relationship Connection: Does physical attraction matter in romantic relationships?

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Question

I met a girl recently in my apartment complex, and we’ve started hanging out a lot. I like being around her and her roommates, and I think she’s interested in me. The only thing that’s holding me back from moving things forward is that I’m not really physically attracted to her. I don’t want to lead her on by hanging out with her when I may already know in my heart that she’s not my type. Part of my worry is that I’m not sure if my expectations are all warped because of how women are portrayed in media. How important is physical attraction when dating someone?

Answer

I think you’re smart for pausing to question your automatic responses to this girl and your relationship with her. You’ve already felt enough attraction to begin asking questions, so that’s an important consideration. Attraction and chemistry are hardly scientific and predictable, but I think it’s helpful to drop the urgency of needing to know if this is the one-and-final-relationship-to-end-all-relationships and instead keep observing and asking yourself good questions.

Physical chemistry is probably the most common way people find each other. It’s normal and healthy to have a physical attraction to someone else. It’s the initial magnet that draws you closer to see if they are someone you want to spend more time with. Physical attraction just happens without even thinking about it, and then other factors – such as personality, shared goals, etc. – get added to the selection process.

However, it doesn’t always have to happen in that order. I can’t count how many romantic movie scripts have flipped around the “love at first sight” narrative to show how two unlikely people form a friendship and eventually become romantically attracted to each other. There are lots of ways to form a romantic bond with someone. Please don’t get hung up on the order of how things develop.

Even though physical attraction is a normal and healthy part of selecting a romantic partner, it can easily overshadow more important qualities that actually affect the type of relationship you’re going to have. You’re right that our culture puts an unhealthy emphasis on physical appearance and only pays lip service to the notion of “it’s what’s on the inside that counts.”

Attraction to another person is a combination of physical, emotional, spiritual, friendship and other qualities that contribute to building a secure bond. It’s wise to expand your definition of attraction to include more than just appearance.

I love Jeffrey R. Holland’s reminder about what really matters in a long-term romantic partner:

There are many qualities you will want to look for in a friend or a serious date – to say nothing of a spouse … but surely among the very first and most basic of those qualities will be those of care and sensitivity toward others, a minimum of self-centeredness that allows compassion and courtesy to be evident. … There are lots of limitations in all of us that we hope our sweethearts will overlook. I suppose no one is as handsome or as beautiful as he or she wishes, or as brilliant in school or as witty in speech or as wealthy as we would like, but in a world of varied talents and fortunes that we can’t always command, I think that makes even more attractive the qualities we can command – such qualities as thoughtfulness, patience, a kind word, and true delight in the accomplishment of another.

You’re feeling some kind of attraction that is clearly more than just physical. When you’re not sure, then keep nurturing that friendship and also expand your relationships to include others.

As you get to know other girls, you’ll learn more about what you like and don’t like in a partner. Now is the time to give yourself permission to compare and analyze the different mix of qualities in potential partners. Once you’re married, this process ends and you invest fully in your chosen partner.

So if you’re having hesitations now, it doesn’t mean you’re shallow and superficial. You’re allowed to have preferences. She’s not the only girl out there, so give yourself permission to keep meeting others, dating, and allowing yourself to discover the wonderful diversity of people that surround you.

Stay connected!

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

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