We all know we can’t force our sexual attractions. But what no one teaches us is that we can educate them! In this episode, I’m going to teach you how.
Even if you are relentlessly attracted to the bad boys and the bad girls, you can still develop this capacity. These are not gimmicks; they are the lifelong skills of romance and intimacy; the same skills you’ll use to keep passion alive in your next serious relationship.
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The Truth About Sexual Attraction That No One Discusses
Have you ever felt like the people you’re most attracted to aren’t available or aren’t good for you? And that the people who are available and are good for you are just not the ones you’re attracted to?
Today we’re going to tackle what might be the most common struggle of all, in the world of dating.
What to do?
We can’t force ourselves to be attracted to someone we’re not attracted to, just because that person is good for us, it doesn’t work, and if we try, it’s going to put us and our partner through hell. We can’t force our sexual attraction. Most of us have learned that the hard way. But, there’s something profound that most of us have never been taught. Even though our sexual attraction cannot be forced, and cannot be controlled, they can be educated.
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In today’s episode, I’m going to share some ways to cultivate sexual and romantic attraction to people who are good for you and available. Even if you are relentlessly attracted to the bad boys and the bad girls, or unavailable people, you can still develop this capacity. And these are not gimmicks that I’m going to be teaching you. They are the lifelong skills of romance and intimacy. They are the very same skills you’re going to use to keep passion alive in your next serious relationship.
The attraction spectrum
In my own life, and after working with thousands of people, I’ve learned that sexual and romantic attractions can change. Not quickly, but like if you picture a giant ship in the ocean needing to turn, that turn happens gradually, but it happens. Let’s discover how that change can happen, because if you learn to educate your attractions, you will be on the course to happy, fulfilling love. And these are lessons that we are not taught.
So, we can begin by creating a kind of measuring stick for our attraction, sexual and romantic. And I call it the attraction spectrum.
Every time you enter into a room full of people, you make choices based on your attractions. Who do you notice? Who do you pass over?
There was a woman I knew, a young stockbroker from Chicago whose name was Deb, and she said to me once: “You know, it’s just almost magical. I can go to a party and there is always one person I am most attracted to and, if I date him, within a few weeks or a few months, I discover that he has the same attributes as the guy before him, and the one before him. But, when I first saw him as a complete stranger from across the room, I had no idea that that would be true.”
Our attractions are forged in the deep space of our being
And they’re born of countless, and often unknowable, forces. When you encounter someone for the first time, your psyche and your heart begin an astonishingly complex scan. They begin to pick up obvious cues, like physique and facial structure, but they also register a huge amount of subtle cues, like body language, facial expression, the tightness or the looseness in the lips, the nuance of the voice, the muscles in the eyes and around the eyes, and what they tell us. You instantly process this information without even knowing it. All you feel is desire. Or the lack of it.
This is amazing. Scientists tell us that a silkworm can smell one other silkworm moth of the opposite sex from six and a half miles away. One moth, six and a half miles away. Our mating instinct might not be quite that developed but, nature has programmed you with a romantic radar with astounding sensitivity to find just the right person to trigger whatever emotional circuitry gets you the most, and most needs to be worked through.
Every one of us is attracted to a kind of type of person that stops us dead in our tracks. Physical type and emotional type, a personality type. So now, let’s imagine that you have a spectrum of attraction from let’s say 1 to 10, and the people who are around one just aren’t physically or romantically attractive to you at all. But, the people who are nines and tens, are like icons, they’re just compellingly attractive, and they leave you weak in the knees, and they trigger your longing, and very possibly, they trigger your insecurity too.
Harville Hendrix, who is the founder of Imago therapy, and just a brilliant, brilliant theoretician, illuminates this phenomenon in a way that just sheds light on our entire intimacy journey. He teaches that these people are so attractive to us, in part because they embody, not only the best characteristics of our parents, but the worst ones as well. Think about this for a minute. It’s breathtaking. The people you are the most crazy for, you are so, in large part, because they embody the worst emotional characteristics of your caregivers. Is that conscious? No. But all of us have unresolved childhood hurts, due to betrayal, anger, manipulation, abuse, not being seen, being neglected.
Unconsciously, we do seek healing through our partner, and we try to achieve that healing by bonding. Get this. With someone we sense might hurt us in similar ways to how we were hurt as children, not by acting out the same exact behaviors, but by doing things that make us feel the same way. We sense that, and somewhere deep inside, we begin to build a hope that we can convince this person to finally love us right, and accept us fully.
This is a wild blueprint. And is something we need to know.
Our conscious self is drawn to the positive qualities we yearn for. But your unconscious, will draw you to the qualities that remind you of how you were wounded the most.
This amazing insight partly explains, well, it partly explains a lot of things, but one is, it explains why it might be that you get so awkward and insecure around people to whom you’re wildly, wildly attracted. And it also explains why our greatest heartbreaks happen with these most intense wild-fiery attractions.
Dating on the low end of the sexual attraction spectrum
So, some of us relate to that reality by only dating people on the low end of our attraction spectrum, we’re just scared of the intensity, we don’t want that painful loss again, when we approach those people we’re just crazy for, and often we feel safest with people who maybe don’t do much for us physically or romantically or sexually, but they’re comfortable and they’re safe. And of course the downside to that can be a lack of passion, boredom and frustration.
Dating on the high end of the sexual attraction spectrum
Others of us only date people on the high-end of our attraction spectrum, because they believe that that’s where real love and passion lie, because when you’re in that state, it feels like total, pure, healthy, real, right attraction. It may not be, but it feels that way. So with someone who’s a really high number on your attraction spectrum, you will be able to tell that you’re attracted in a fraction of a second. And that can be achingly exciting, but it’s usually not going to be comfortable or secure.
So, as someone who has worked with so many people in this arena, I have come to see that people who only date on the high-end of their attraction spectrum, think if that might be you, are more likely to remain single. And, people who only date on the lower end of the spectrum, are much more likely to be coupled, but unhappy and unfulfilled.
Finding the sweet spot
So, I am not telling you to stay away from people who make you weak in the knees from day one. They might be your soulmate. And I’m not telling you to stay away from dating great people who you’re not necessarily attracted to it first, because attractions can grow. But what I am saying is this.
There’s a sweet spot that you might not be focusing on, and if you do, it’s going to make a huge difference in your journey.
It’s the middle of the attraction spectrum where there is a spark, but not necessarily a tsunami. So, take a minute to think. It’s a great question for you to reflect on, if you want to create a conscious journey to love. What is your pattern? Where, on the attraction spectrum, do you tend to focus?
So, I want to talk a little bit about this sweet spot that I mentioned, which is focusing on people where there is a spark, who are somewhat more in the middle of your spectrum, they’re fives, the sixes, the sevens. So, with those folks, it usually takes a little bit more time to get a sense of how interested you really are. That is why we court. That is why we date.
Attractions can grow
I had a mentor, his name was John McNeil, and he taught me a lot about love. And I was dating someone at the time and it was someone who was a really nice guy, but I wasn’t crazy about him, and there were no real wild sparks, but I found him attractive. And I said to John, “I don’t know if I should go on a third date with him. I don’t know if it’s worth it. ”
And John said to me, “if you’re not sure, and there are no red flags, go on the third date, go on the fourth date, if you need to. Here’s what happens. Over a little bit of time, he’s either going to become more beautiful to you, or he’s not. And then you’ll know that.”
And I thought that was beautiful and wise advice. People who are willing to date in the mid-range are more likely to find real and lasting love. And you know, it’s not a matter of selling out, because immediate attraction is not the best forecaster of future passion.
It’s easy to get blindsided through intense attractions
Intense immediate attractions can blind you to the actual quality of your interactions with someone. And then you get blindsided. Because if you are blinded to someone’s actual character, you’re in grave risk.
So, attractions can grow. And many of us have had the experience of becoming more attracted to someone as we get to know them more and better.
Have you ever had that experience? You might want to reflect on that.
Now, once again, I am not telling you date people that you not attracted to, because they’re good for you. That will never work, and you have the right to a wonderful sexual passionate relationship. What I am saying is, don’t just think love lies in the places where you instantly feel like you’re falling in love.
Avoiding snap decisions
So, Okay. Let’s follow this through. What you do when you meet someone who inspires you, and you do feel a spark of attraction, but not enough where you feel like, I know I could fall in love with this person? Well, sexual attraction is much more mutable than we’ve been taught. We all have types that turn us on wildly, immediately, intensely. But as I said, attractions can grow. Is really unlikely that you’re going to end up attracted to somebody who’s completely not physically appealing to you. But if someone holds a spark for you, of attraction, and has other qualities you love, your attraction absolutely can blossom.
So, the next time in your dating life that you meet someone for the first time don’t make a snap decision, based on whether you’re instantly attracted to them on a physical level. It’s not a valid thing to think that someone is only right for you if you know that, given the opportunity, you would be open to sleeping with them really soon. Even if you choose not to, because you know it’s not the best thing to do. If you’re not sure, go out with that person again. And remember that in time, something lovely might happen. He or she might actually become more beautiful to you. And if not, you will know that it’s time to stop dating them.
Learning to squint like an artist
If you’ve ever seen an artist working on a portrait, you’ll notice that oftentimes they’ll squint as they work, because squinting, I asked an artist about this once and she said to me, I squint because it helps me focus on the essence of my subject and it doesn’t distract me by their harsh outlines. We need to do that in our dating life.
It’s so easy to get lost in that hard and rigid, and instant assessment of someone’s imperfections, but it serves us better to simply sense their spirit and notice and taste the connection with them. And if it’s a good one, and you keep noticing it and riding with it, that is what makes attractions grow. As we start caring more deeply about someone, invisible tendrils begin to grow, in our thinking, in our sexual imaginings and longings and in our growing sense of dependence on this person. Our psyche, our sexuality and our hearts begin to create attachment to that person. And to make him our own, or her our own.
So when we build the muscle through exercise our bodies need to create new capillaries to feed it. When we create new love, something similar happens. New neural pathways and emotional pathways. New rituals, new sense memories. New appreciations of sense and touch and sexual activities and emotional need get created. An entire web of new connections gets created inside of us as our hearts allow this, one stranger, to become our loved one. So we become specialized in them in so many ways. And that’s why breakups can hurt with real physical pain because these lovingly billed tendrils are just ripped out. That’s an experience of anguish.
Inspiration or deprivation?
But the point that I’d like you to consider is this. When you choose someone whose character is truly solid, who is good and decent, and able to manage their life. Who really cares about you, and with whom your soul feels safe. You are decreasing the chances of that horrible pain occurring for you.
Remember that in the end, it really does come down to character. I speak about this more in other podcasts, but in a very binary way, there’re two kinds of circuitries of attraction that we have.
Attractions of inspiration
There are attractions of what I call attractions of inspiration. That’s where we get attracted to someone because of their goodness, their decency, their creativity, their solidity, the way they live in the world, the way they curate their lives, and their stability and their availability. And those are a different kind of stuff. That’s a different kind of circuitry. It grows slower. It roots down deeper. It brings much, much, much more joy. And it’s the rock upon which you want to build love in your life.
Attractions of deprivation
There are also attractions of deprivation, and they’re sexy and hot as hell. And those are attractions where somebody almost loves you right, and is almost ready to commit, and almost doesn’t neglect you, but they keep reverting back to that. And these people can be our types, for the reasons I talked about before, and it can feel like real love, and God knows, those attractions of deprivation just grab at us and pull at us.
But once we know the distinction between the two, and we reach a point where we make a choice to only choose attractions of inspiration, our world changes. But, in those attractions of inspiration, it could take time for your attraction to build. And, at those times it could be difficult to resist the impulse to flee, in search of something where you know you’re instantly turned on right away. So as a result of that, many, many, many potential wonderful relationships are cut off before they’re even given a chance to grow.
What you focus on, grows
So let’s talk about this now. Let’s talk about what you do when you meet someone who is like an attraction of inspiration for you and there’s some attraction, but maybe not full on attraction yet. Well, here’s a piece of instruction that will make a real difference with that. The more you focus on the things that trigger your desire and your connection with that person, the more your attraction can build.
So, if you are attracted to someone in the way I just described, the first step is to give yourself space, to recognize that no matter how wonderful is this person, you are not obligated to be one drop more attracted to him or her than you are. Forcing your feelings is only going to block the natural flow of attraction. Pressure and demand is death to new Eros, well maybe not death, but it’s kind of Kryptonite.
Reflect on your attraction
So instead, what I would encourage you to do is allow yourself to reflect on what attracts you to them. What turns you on, and what you appreciate. And when you do that, you’ll be building these new pathways of attraction and connection. So when you do that, think emotionally.
Think about how he is with his dog. Think about how she is in her career. Think about how he or she laughs, and how good that sounds and makes you feel, how it makes you laugh.
And think sexually, too. Take time to let your fantasies unfurl. Then maybe, the fantasy that you have is just simply, it would be nice to kiss, or I’d love to hold hands at the movie, that would be so nice. Or just gently to touch. Or maybe your fantasies are more sexual, may be they’re long lazy sex or quick hot sex or kinky sex or tender sex.
Allow yourself to honor whatever you’re imagining in your own head, and, as appropriate, and I’ll talk about that in about one second, see if you can ask for what you want, if the relationship develops, because that’s how we grow passion. And to listen to the same from our partners.
When to first have sex
And here’s my advice around this question of when to have sex.
When we desire someone and postpone the sex for at least four or five dates, we develop surprising new pathways of attraction. It’s a great way to grow passion.
And more important. Having sex too early is like miracle-grow for fear of intimacy. It makes us want to flee, or it makes us want to cling and grab. Neither of those things are good in early relationships.
So, go slowly on the outside. But inside allow yourself free reign in your fantasy life. And, if your desires are more sensual and sexual, that is fine to.
I know someone who met a guy who lived in Europe and she knew she liked him, but she wasn’t attracted enough to want sex. She just wanted to cuddle with him. And he invited her to visit and she didn’t know if she should make the trip. And she was speaking to a friend of hers and she said, “I don’t know if I should go all the way to Europe just to cuddle with someone.” And her very wise friend said, “Really? I can’t think of a better reason to go to Europe.” And my friend took the trip, and over time she fell deeply in love. And she was wise enough to take all the time she needed with this guy. And he was wise enough to let her.
Attraction is about chemistry, and that can be grown
See, another research shows that it’s so much less about the person you think is your exact iconic type, and it’s so much more about the chemistry. What I’m teaching here are tools that most of us are never taught. They’re the tools about how to grow attraction. They’re the deeper skills of intimacy.
I know I spent decades chasing people who didn’t want me. Who I ultimately couldn’t end up being with, because maybe I didn’t respect them enough, but some internal bell was ringing and saying, this is what attraction is. Thank God I learned better.
There’s a greater journey
And as you learn this approach, you find that the pain of dating and the ugliness and the disappointment that we can experience in dating, diminish. You’ll feel a growing sense of wisdom and sanity in this crazy making world of dating, when you practice these things. And you’ll feel more of a sense of hope.
But most importantly, you will see real life changes in your search for love. You will find your attraction growing for the right people. You will, over time, lose your taste for people who chip away at your sense of self-worth. And you’ll find yourself more and more likely to meet people like that, to find them interested in you, and to be interested in them back. It’s amazing how that happens. But that’s the wiser path to understanding our attractions.
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This is very interesting and I too have wondered what happens unconsciously when eyes meet across a room and how we “know” this is a match and wonder how much passes unconsciously. I have been interested in Imago Theory, trauma, attachment styles and somatic experiencing and studied these for a long time and see how this has played out in my single life for the last 20 years.
I was married for the previous 20 years and then became a single parent. My father was German (a foreign man). He died when I was 14 and he was the parent who “knew” me. After my divorce for around 10 years I had 3 relationships with foreign men which were loving and high on emotional availability and intimacy. All of these men left me to go back and live in their own country again. This was their plan although at least 1 was totally committed to our plans for our future which did not happen. This was devastating to me.
Over the last 10 years I have since has 3 relationships with Scottish men who were to various degrees still attached to their ex wives (wives cheated on them and left them)and not emotionally available. My last relationship was with a very closed man who had never had a long term relationship. I tried hard to make these relationships work and suffered intensely when I realised they were not available to meet my needs. I had become a fixer which also goes back to childhood. I had stayed in these relationships for too long. I saw my partners potential and projected many of my better qualities onto them. These relationships mirrored my and my sibling’s relationship with my late mum whose fear of emotions was such that it would cause a breakdown and admission to a psychiatric hospital.
I feel that I have relived my history with my parents and wonder how emotionally available I now am. I have listened to you speak of relationships of Inspiration and Relationships of Deprivation.
I have also dated men that I am slightly attracted to and stopped dating them when the attraction did not grow. I would hate to give someone false hope and 1 man was very angry with me when I sensitively told him that I did not want to continue dating him. Sorry about the saga, even after all this I remain optomistic.
Thank you for this. May I post this with the other comments. I am so appreciative
You are amazing snd so right.
I love your articles and wish I had them years ago.
I will do as you said.
Every article if yours is awake up call to our souls.
It’s also so nice to hear your relaxed voice, you are sooo clear.
It’s good to read your thoughts on taking it slow and easy, without a sense of urgency. I’ve been dating Jerry for almost 4 years, but he has no desire to live with me, maybe scars from three marriages that didn’t work out. Another woman is his housemate (once his lover), she pays no rent, but there isn’t even warmth between them. He and I have fun camping, singing in a choir, and sharing simple meals about once a week. The sexual spark is much less than in early months, and while he says he loves me, my feelings are more mixed because we’ll never live together. It’s a commitment to be sexually faithful, but I am 73, and would like a real partnership, someone I could live with and not have another woman he feels an obligation to, but it’s not a romantic one at all.
This was so interesting and I will definitely be paying greater attention when I’m ready to date.
I lived in a relationship that was codependent, unconsciously we both nursed each other’s childhood injuries. It worked we were loving parents and successful in business.
But always I felt a little emptiness, as I began to read, heal, do some therapy and step out of the pattern the relationship disintegrated and sexual attraction that had remained strong … died overnight.
Looking at how people live, there values , how they are in the world is great advice.
So you just need to squint and lower your visual acuity? Basically just lowering your standards. Lol. One day you’re gonna wake up, roll over and forget to squint.
Most men have the potential to become a woman’s sexual partner. I’m 43 and I have never shown [sexual/romantic] interest in any woman. I observe other men and it’s clear I do not have what it takes to compete for women’s attention on those levels. Women enjoy receiving attention from attractive men and not from those, who – like me – are unattractive. As such, I have many women friends but have never expressed romantic/sexual interest in anyone – even though I have been / am very attracted to several women – because I’m certain doing so would be offensive.
This is an amazingly fascinating article! I identified and was able to walk through every part of it, from my attachment to my caregivers to the attraction spectrum.
I’ve figured out through introspection and therapy that I have an insecure attachment style to my mom. Often, the men and women I end up dating will have the good qualities of my dad (smart, soft spoken, good listener) and the unattractive emotionally unavailability of my mom. Or maybe I just do that because they feel safe and I’m not ready for real intimacy?
I also realized that I date on the high end of the attraction spectrum because my brain interprets intense feelings as real love. I am also very independent and don’t want to be frustrated or unfulfilled so I avoid comfortable relationships. Yet, somehow I’m still bored with the people I meet. It’s a seemingly never ending cycle of happiness and sharp, painful loss.
I’m here because I got involved with a female friend of mine on new year’s eve 2020. I’m attracted to her in some ways but haven’t fallen in love with her. Far from it. I just have this aching feeling that I keep skipping out on opportunities for relationships because they don’t receive the time and attention to grow – and this one could. These words made me reconsider how I think about her.
Thank you for sharing this gem of an article. Wish me luck! ❤️
I’ve always known inside that no woman could ever be attracted to me at a sexual level – I just don’t have what other guys have that turns women ‘on’. And when I say this, I mean any woman – not just conventionally attractive ones. I check all the usual boxes – I’m in shape, dress well, have a cool haircut, a great job, my own place, have many female and male friends, and many hobbies that take me all over the world. I’m very well educated and well travelled (95 countries visited and counting). None of this is of any value whatsoever. I have never expressed sexual interest in, or asked, a woman, out, because there is zero chance of her feeling the same way about me.