By Evan Marc Katz
How important is physical attraction anyway?
Attraction is the big X Factor in any relationship. When you have it, you don’t think twice about it. When you don’t have it, it can be hard to overcome. Which would seem to indicate that if you’re not wildly attracted to your boyfriend, you should break up with him … right?
Not so fast. I’ve put a lot of thought into the pros and cons of how much you should weigh the lack of physical attraction in a relationship, and here’s what you should consider before taking any rash steps.
Ask most long-term married couples about the relative importance of sex in their lives, and they will generally say things like, “It’s the dessert, not the main course.”
And it’s true. It’s just hard to consider that when you’re 27. But realize that in 10 years, when you’re 37, you’ll likely be raising little ones and your life is no longer your own. By 47, your bodies have thickened and drooped. By 57, you’re probably finishing menopause and his libido is largely gone. By 67, you’re thinking of retirement, travel and grandkids. By 77, you’re hoping just to stay healthy, and… Can you see how making a decision based on attraction is a perfect example of short-term thinking? Like getting a tattoo with someone’s name on your back and breaking up four months later.
The truth is that life lasts for a REALLY, REALLY long time. And yet we base our relationship decisions on evanescent emotions, like lust, passion and chemistry. Fact: In relationship studies, traditional “attraction” wears off within 18-24 months of dating. This statistic probably corresponds to what you’ve experienced in real life — namely, that it’s hard to get “excited” about someone with whom you’ve been intimate with for two years straight.
That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to keep the spark alive, but if you ask most married couples, the nature of sex changes. Sure, you might be that rare “three times a night” couple well into your fifties, but most of those cliches about parents not having time or energy for sex are true.
So if life becomes more about responsibility, friendship, compatibility and all those other “boring” things that old married couples cite, how much emphasis should we put on physical attraction in our 20’s and 30’s? It’s no secret that compatibility is a stronger predictor of relationship health than chemistry. Yet chemistry is what we chase — somehow hoping that it turns into compatibility, as well. It rarely does.
Just look at your most “passionate” past relationships. Where are they now? Exactly. Yet, we can’t help ourselves. We’re attracted to what we’re attracted to — often to our own detriment. Which is how men end up with hot, crazy women and women end up with hot, emotionally unavailable men. This isn’t my opinion. This is life. Just look around.
Does this mean that you should stay with your amazing boyfriend, even if you don’t feel physically attracted to him? Ah, if it were only that simple.
As you know, sexual attraction rarely grows over time. With men, this almost never happens. With women, it tends to be correlated to her feelings about her partner. However, this is presuming that there’s a steady baseline of attraction from which to grow.
If there is no attraction from the start, then there’s no room for it to grow down the road — and that’s a rough proposition for you to endure with a boyfriend.
Thus, it’s impossible to convince yourself to give a shot to someone you’re simply NOT attracted to, and no amount of rational thinking is going to overcome your genetic and cultural biases. As dating guru David DeAngelo says, “Attraction is not a choice.” We’re still going to crave choice, variety and something approximating societal ideas of perfection, however unrealistic this might be. So we discriminate on age and height and weight and dozens of minute details of which we may not even be aware.
If you doubt this yourself, go to an online dating site and make a list of your “favorites.” Odds are, they’re going to be among the most physically attractive singles on the site. That doesn’t mean that you don’t care about who they are as people — what they do, what they earn, what they believe — but it all starts with attraction.The problem is that when we compare people side-by-side, great catches often lose out. Why respond to the 5’5″ guy when there are six-footers out there? Why go out with the heavyset person when you can write to a lean model-type? Why go out with the 45-year-old when you can try the 29-year-old?
Once again, this isn’t my opinion. 20/20 did a study years ago in which women were more likely to date a cute 6’1″ plumber than a 5’4″ heart surgeon or concert pianist. But hey, you can’t help what you’re attracted to. And no, that doesn’t mean you’re shallow — no more than anyone else. It just means you’re human.
The other long-term thing to consider about why it’s important to have attraction is that in a monogamous relationship. There’s only ONE person with whom you’ll be having sex with for the rest of your life. In that case, well, you’d better have some measure of attraction. Anything less is a recipe for wandering eyes and future infidelity. Which brings us to the moment of truth.
You know that sex is the dessert and not the main course, but you also know that this is the only person you’ll ever be with again. You know that companionship is more valuable than lust over 40 years, but you also know that attraction is important and won’t get better over time. So if you’re not that physically attracted to your partner, should you stay or should you go?
It all comes down to your own willingness to compromise.
Because there’s a difference between observing that your boyfriend’s got a paunch and being physically repulsed by him. Only you can decide. If you’re turned off by him, the whole thing’s a non-starter. You’re not doing yourself (or him) any favors by staying with him if he has no ability to excite you. However, if he’s somewhere in the broader spectrum — somewhere between a 5-7 on the attraction scale, you may want to think twice before you toss him back in the sea.
First, ask yourself if he (or another man) could dissect YOU physically, as well. How about emotionally? Intellectually? It’s simple to find fault with others, but there’s a certain grace and wisdom in loving people in spite of their flaws, just as you’d like to be loved in spite of yours.
Second, ask yourself if your boyfriend — despite your middling attraction for him — can make up for it in bed. If he’s energetic, passionate and devoted to your pleasure, he may be more valuable to your love life than someone who is more aesthetically pleasing with the lights on.
Finally, ask yourself if you can do appreciably better.
We often underestimate how rare it is to have a partner who loves us unconditionally. Very often, the second you assume the grass is greener is the second you may find yourself in an exciting new romance… with a guy who only texts you once a week.
Attraction is an intensely personal choice and is fundamental to maintaining a healthy sex life. Just don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re better off with a 7 in attraction and a 10 in compatibility than you are with a 10 in attraction and a 4 in compatibility. Your heart needs to be happy, first.
Evan Marc Katz is a dating coach for smart women who have everything but the guy. If you want to learn the #1 reason you’re having trouble finding him — and what you can do about it instantly, visit his website.