Before movies and magazines proliferated our society, one’s perception of attraction was limited to the real people one knew in the community. Thus, average people were often seen as beautiful in a variety of ways and the occasionally striking beauties were allowed to be seen as less so as they aged. This allowed for realistic expectations that did not associate exceptional beauty as the defining quality that makes someone lovable. Relationships were based on more common and realistic expectations.
These days movies, magazines, and commercials immortalize the young and photographically altered, creating a myth that exceptionally beautiful people are more abundantly than they actually are. This leaves singles with the perception that if they wait, they will be able to be with someone similar to what others seem to have (independent of their own level of attractiveness). If their current partner does not seem ideal, they need not commit. They can find someone better.
Thus, attraction becomes the distraction that keeps singles from confronting their deeper issues, thinking errors, and fears. An attractive partner is a measure of their success, a personal reflection on themselves, and a statement of their lovability. Women need not criticize men as the primary culprits in this dance. Women have their own standards of male attractiveness (or worthiness) and can be equally as critical.
However, if being with an attractive partner was the solution, then why do so many singles walk away from relationships with highly attractive partners, stating that they simply don’t feel a connection?
As a dating and relationship coach, this is my primary struggle. Helping singles to create deep emotional connections and secure attachments is the real solution, but many singles keep coming back to attraction or minor incompatibilities as the primary reason for their seemingly legitimate concerns about their relationship.
I answer their dilemma by never taking a position for, or against, any one relationship. Instead, I focus on skill development. I ask them to confront their thinking errors, address their anxieties and fears, communicate their feelings and needs, become vulnerable and honest, and engage fully in the relationship. Only then can they truly measure the wisdom of their relationship. It is these things that create emotional connections, love, and attachment, not attraction.
Our culture has created a society that has left our youth deficit in these skills and attraction is the distraction that holds their attention. The higher their level of anxiety the greater the struggle, as illustrated in this article on Relationship OCD (a very real form of obsessive compulsive disorder).
I’ve outlined these issues and solutions in a variety of articles:
- Why We Can’t Commit
- He’s Amazing and Still Single! Why?
- Finding the Faith to Love and Be Loved
- Dating: How to Fight the Comparison Trap
- Single? Find What You Want By Letting Go
- 3 Dangers of Dating the “Best” Singles
- I’m Anxious So Let’s Break Up
- The Risk of Wanting a Perfect Marriage
- 4 Reasons You’re Not Progressing in Dating and Relationships
- Do You Act Anxious, Avoidant, or Secure in Dating?
- Relationships: Why Good Can Be Best
But I felt it was time to take on the Myth of Attraction directly. It is the most common complaint that my clients embarrassingly admit as the source of their commitment struggles.
Many of these singles will focus on one feature in their partner that is most distractingly unattractive. They fear that their attraction issues will result in them doubting the relationship later. The worry that they may find a better fit if only they wait a bit longer. They think that their sexual satisfaction in marriage will be negatively impacted as long as the issue remains. And they believe that attraction is the only thing that will make them feel the strong emotions they desire.
The problem is that God does not use strong and powerful emotions to motivate us. This is the source of their deception. Provided below is a handout I often use (with accompanying scriptural references). It is the pattern of God, truth, and love that strong and consistent emotions only follow actions. It is in believing in a true principle and then acting on it that brings about the powerful emotions that only God provides: peace, joy, love, self-respect, confidence, happiness, relationship satisfaction, and even lasting passion.
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When we wait for and expect emotions first, and as the motivating force for driving our behavior, we discover that we are never satisfied. The emotions are fleeting and empty. The connections we feel are short and shallow. And so we wait unendingly for the powerful emotions we believe are the true sign of the one we should pursue. In this way, we are driven and compelled by our emotions (or need for attraction and lust), rather than by our own agency, wisdom, and values.
Those who wait upon God for a strong emotional sign, will discover that His emotions are consistently provided only after they make a choice and take action. Thus, they are free to choose for themselves, not compelled or driven. When they choose what is good and take action, the feelings they desire grow with depth and meaning one step at a time. In this way God uses HIs emotions to reveal the wisdom of their choice.
Deep love results from our choices and behaviors in our relationships. Sexual satisfaction is not dependent upon attraction, as the world suggests. Sexual satisfaction in marriage is built upon kindness, investment in each others’ happiness, and an accurate understanding of sexual stimulation.
Although attraction is an important first step in the early stages of dating, it is not the most important ingredient in marital happiness. Thank goodness God has insured us this great blessing. Otherwise, we all would be doomed to marital and sexual dissatisfaction as we have children, age, or experience unwanted body changes.
We, and our relationships, are much more than our bodies. Until we move past this myth, we will be perpetually trapped in loneliness (even while in relationships).
Alisa Goodwin Snell spent 17 years as a marriage and family therapist before becoming a dating and relationship coach. She’s written several books for singles, been on over 100 TV and radio programs nationwide, and is a sought-for public speaker. To learn more visit LastingLoveAcademy.com.