We can’t force ourselves to be attracted to anyone, no matter how “right” we think they are for us. Yet there’s a life-changing insight most of us have never been taught: While our sexual attractions can’t be forced, they can be educated. This article will teach you the most important dating skill of all: how to cultivate sexual and romantic attraction to people who are good for you.
The Attraction Spectrum
Imagine being led into a room with a beautiful lighting console that allows you to play freely with a vast range of colors, tones and intensities. That console reflects the range of romantic, sexual and emotional attractions available to each of us.
Now, imagine being led away from that console, and brought to a simple, old-fashioned on/off switch. Two choices; that’s it. On or off. Either you’re attracted right now or you never will be. That’s how most of us have been taught to understand attraction.
This unsophisticated perspective sabotages one of the greatest missions of our adult lives: the search for love. And LGBT people, perhaps particularly gay men, have swallowed that perspective hook, line and sinker.
All of us are attracted to a certain type that stops us dead in our tracks. It’s useful to imagine a "spectrum of attraction," from 1 to 10; the people at the far end aren’t physically or romantically attractive to us at all, but those at the upper end leave us weak in the knees. They trigger longing, desire, and in most cases, insecurity.
Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt, founders of Imago Relationship Therapy, illuminate this phenomenon in a way which sheds light on our entire intimacy journey. They teach that these people are so attractive to us in part because they embody not only the best, but also the worst emotional characteristics of our parents. That’s right: the worst characteristics.
All of us have unresolved hurts that stem from our childhood relationship with our parents — no matter how positive those relationships may have been. LGBT people often carry extra burdens of shame, guilt or anger. Unconsciously, we seek healing through our romantic partner. And we try to achieve this healing by bonding with someone we sense might hurt us in similar ways to how we were hurt in the past, in the hope that we can get this person to finally love us right.
Our conscious self is drawn to the positive qualities we yearn for, but our unconscious draws us to the qualities which remind us of how we were wounded the most.
This partly explains why we get so awkward and insecure around people to whom we’re intensely attracted. It also explains why our most intense, fiery attractions so often go up in flames. Some people react to past heartbreaks by dating only those on the low end of their attraction spectrum.
In my experience, people who are willing to date in the mid-range of the spectrum are more likely to find real and lasting love. It’s not a matter of selling out, because immediate attraction is a terrible forecaster of future passion.
Attractions can grow — and shrink — based upon the connection we share with someone. Until we know how to choose healthy relationships and grow our attractions to people who love us for who we are, we’ll always remain at the mercy of the new “next one.”
Cultivating Attractions of Inspiration
So what do we do when we meet someone great, and we feel some spark of attraction, but not enough to fall in love?
Sexual attraction is much more mutable than we’ve been taught. If someone holds a spark of physical attraction for you and has other qualities you love, your attraction can blossom. If you’re meeting someone for the first time, don’t just focus on how they look to you. Notice how you feel with them.
If you’ve ever seen artists working on a portrait, you will notice that they often squint. Squinting helps them focus on the essence of their subject without getting distracted by its harsh outlines. We need to do the same in our dating life. It’s so easy to get lost in the hard assessment of people’s imperfections, but it serves us better to simply sense their spirit. That is what makes attractions grow.
As we start to care more deeply about someone, invisible tendrils begin to grow in our sexual imaginings and longings, in our growing sense of dependence on that person. Our psyche, our sexuality, and our hearts begin to create attachment to that person, to make him or her our own.
Here’s a sexual secret to growing your attraction to someone: The more you focus on the things that trigger your desire, the more your passion will build. To make an attraction grow, start by giving yourself space. No matter how wonderful the person, you’re not obligated to be attracted to him or her! Forcing your feelings will only block the natural flow of attraction. Instead, allow yourself to reflect on what attracts you sexually and emotionally in your new connection.
Take time to let your erotic fantasies unfurl. You might simply want to hold hands at the movies. Or to kiss, or just gently touch for a long time. You might imagine kinky, sweaty, wild sex, or long, lazy cuddling. Honor your fantasy, and, as appropriate, ask for what you want — that’s how we can grow our passion.
And try not to have sex right away. When we desire someone and then postpone the sex, surprising new pathways of attraction form. It’s a great way to grow passion. More important, having sex too early is like Miracle-Gro for our fear of intimacy. So go slowly on the outside, but allow yourself free rein in your fantasy life.
And if your desire is more sensual than sexual, that’s fine too. Years ago, I met a man who lived in Europe. I knew I liked him but at that point my desire was sensual, not sexual. I began to plan to trip to visit him in Europe. At dinner with a friend, I shared my misgivings. I told him, “I don’t know if I should go all the way to Europe just to cuddle with someone.” My wise friend replied, “Really? I can’t think of a better reason to go to Europe!” I took the trip, and over time, my European friend and I fell deeply in love.
No one should have to force an attraction that’s just not there. But we can all learn how to ignite the sparks of our healthiest attractions, and in so doing, we can change our entire romantic future for the better.
KEN PAGE, LCSW, is a leading Psychology Today blogger and author of Deeper Dating: How to Drop the Games of Seduction and Discover the Power of Intimacy.