“I can’t help who I am attracted to”

A common source of frustration is when people are urged to date others whom they claim not to find attractive. Often the context is that such persons have rejected a large number of suggestions on the ground of appearance. Such people may be told that they should keep a more open mind or not be so quick to turn down dating prospects purely on external grounds.

Such advice is often perceived as criticism, questioning the soundness of their judgment. It is often taken as implying that they are being unreasonable and obstructive. But their argument is that they can’t control who they find attractive. Their position is that it is reasonable, and even necessary, to be attracted to someone one is considering having a relationship with. To date someone one does not find attractive, they state, is unfair to both parties.

They further assert that physical appearance is a matter of taste, and taste is personal. So, if one person does not find another person attractive, that is just how it is. There is no point debating it, they claim, as each person has their own distinct view of attraction. No one has to justify why they find something attractive or unattractive, the argument goes, as everyone is different when it comes to what they find desirable.

According to this position, it is gravely unjust to question anyone’s refusal to date another person on account of their appearance. The perspective is that everyone only dates those they find attractive, and it is not anyone’s fault that some people have a very specific taste in appearance. And if this results in many rejected shidduch proposals, or if seems that the person is being extremely demanding, that is not a reason in the least to question one’s approach.

Are instincts reliable?

But is it true that one should always follow one’s natural instincts when it comes to dating? Is it actually the case that people should rely entirely on what comes naturally to them? The answer is that a person has no reason not to rely on their natural inclination until this starts getting them into trouble. This is plain common sense. Some people have a habit of getting themselves into hot water – surely that would be an occasion when following one’s instincts would not be advisable.

When it comes to dating, there are many tendencies that despite being rather common are profoundly unhelpful. For example, some people are naturally avoidant, which leads them to become highly stressed when contemplating commitment. Their instinctive reaction is to back away from a relationship once it gets too serious. If such a person were to allow that response to go unchecked it will make extremely difficult to ever get married. That is just one example of many. So, no, it is not appropriate to give free rein to every tendency or instinct. When the way someone approaches an issue starts to impede their ability to achieve their life goals, it is time to call it in question. What does one do in such a situation?

The most common and validated approach to psychology is CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), and its most central premise is that distorted perceptions give way to unhelpful emotions, and that leads to rather unfortunate results. For example, if you have a paranoid view that all banks are out to steal your money, you are prone to avoid dealing with banks, which could greatly impede your ability to function in a modern world. It is not always easy to change one’s perceptions, but it is absolutely necessary to be a healthy functioning individual.

The same goes for people who have a strongly held belief that only dating a person looking a very specific way could lead them to satisfaction and happiness. It often is incorrect, and the results are clear for everyone else to see. Despite dating for an extended period – often many years – success remains elusive. The reason for the failure may well be because the assumption was plain false all along. A faulty cognition is leading to unsatisfactory results.

An insistence on only dating people with a specific type of appearance ceases to be a rational position once it is clearly not working. Whatever the reason for the lack of progress, the fact that it is not bringing the desired results should stimulate a person to question its viability. Of course, often people don’t attribute their struggles to the proper cause – but that sadly won’t change the outcome.

Understanding the nature of marriage.

One of the reasons why people get stuck on a specific issue in dating is because they struggle to internalize that how one feels about something as part of dating is not necessarily how that same person may feel about it in the context of a lasting relationship. A classic example is how some people are looking for an exciting person to date, and they get turned off by what they may term a boring date. The reality is that for most people those exciting features that they find so appealing will add very little to their marriage, in which stability is most important.

Clearly, there needs to be an attraction between two people for a shidduch to work out, but in an actual marriage, other factors are most likely going to play a much greater role. In the context of dating, the issue of appearance looms large, because for some people that is a major motivating factor to draw a person to the relationship. In a marriage, however, the quality of the relationship is what will most determine a person’s satisfaction – and appearance will contribute only a small part to the overall happiness in the marriage.

Now, it is understandably difficult for someone to relate to how they may feel some time down the line. It is human nature to experience things in the here and now. But, let’s remember that the essence of dating is to explore the possibility of a lifelong partnership. Thinking ahead is the name of the game. It is simply disastrous to pay all one’s attention to how one experiences the dating, and overlook the question of how things are likely to play out in the marriage.

For example, it would be a terrible idea to keep dating someone because you find them funny and charismatic, even though you are coming to realize that you have significantly different life goals. The dating may be great, but the marriage would be unhappy. In short, many of us are compelled to get real and put aside our short-term considerations for long-term priorities. In this respect, the issue of attraction is no different. It cannot be allowed to affect one’s decision who to marry to a significantly greater extent than it would actually impact one’s marital happiness.

So, what to do?

Look, dating can be tough. Many people struggle with internal struggles that make dating more difficult for them. Maybe they prefer being around louder people, yet this is not working out for them in dating. They have to face this reality, so they can start dating the right kind of person. This can be very challenging for that person, but we all understand that if the prize is a long and happy marriage, then it is a price worth paying.

The issue of attraction is much the same.  Even if that is hard for you to accept. So, here’s the bad news and the good news. The bad news is that your annoyance at this reality will have no bearing on it. It will not change the fact. The good news is that if you marry someone highly suitable to you but not exactly the appearance you initially sought, you will have a great marriage.

If you are able to wrap your head around this and make smart choices, great. If not – you are finding it impossible to get past your fixation on a highly particular expectation – then you need to get counsel from a competent advisor. This matter won’t go away, so please don’t ignore it in the hope that it does.

Having a formula.

The reality is that, for most people, physical appearance is something that blends into an overall sense of attraction. Very few people claim that the person they married is the most objectively beautiful person that exists or that they have ever met. Rather, they would like to think that considering all the factors that are important in their consideration, this is the overall person they would find attractive. 

For most people, the brain is designed to blend together in an automatic fashion all their priorities and weigh them in accordance with how important each priority is, so as to provide the right fit for a life-partner, all things considered. So, for example, you may value intelligence or a sense of humor, but you also value other qualities such as musical talent and being good with children. Realizing that it is highly unlikely to find someone who has all those qualities to a very high degree, you figure out a formula that works for you. Maybe you are willing to put less emphasis on the sense of humor, or drop the preference for someone musical altogether – if the person has some of the other qualities you value most.

But imagine you have a brain that does not operate that way, and which instead approaches each priority on its own. For you, attraction is not always experienced as an overall sense about the person, but needs each of the important qualities to be approached on their own. So, instead of a total attraction level, you find yourself dealing with several silos of attraction, of which physical appearance is one. This has the potential to get you into real trouble.

The reason why most people form a sense of attraction in an integrated manner described earlier, is because it is far more effective in ensuring you make a good choice. In reality, we do not experience life in silos. We end up married to a single person, with whom we live the entirety of our lives. Real-life involves a multitude of elements, so our choice of partner to share our life with needs to be selected within the context of what our life will entail in its totality. 

Our brain knows that and is usually attuned to factor all this in. It takes all those elements into consideration and helps us produce a rounded picture of attraction. If your brain is not naturally inclined to do this mental exercise, then it is important that you do it manually. By this is meant that you consciously conduct this process to arrive at a sensible formula for what attraction should look like for you. The experience won’t be as comfortable as if the mind did it on its own, but it will still allow you to make the same kind of sensible decisions that are necessary for dating success.

Once you have worked out your formula, you will realize what attraction means for you. There is every reason to expect that you will be happy being married to the person you choose based upon your formula. You will be aware that the person you married does not have all the qualities you want to their fullest extreme, but you will know that this person has the right mix and balance of qualities that mean you chose well. 

Attraction will come?

Some people think they are helping others by promising them that “attraction will come”. This happens when someone is complaining that they don’t feel physically attracted to the person they are dating, even though they are otherwise highly compatible. In these situations, some people are inclined to encourage the person to go ahead with the relationship anyway, assuring the wary party that attraction will come later.

Every situation is different, and it is not possible to make a blanket statement about such matters without knowing the details. Having said that, this is a highly risky piece of advice, and should not be given or taken lightly. It is not easy to see, minus prophetic powers, what would give a person the confidence to state whether attraction will or will not come. From what we know, sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. Assuring someone that attraction will definitely occur risks great disappointment in the event that it doesn’t.
Whatever we said above about physical appearance being part of a total blend of attraction is not based on a projection that the person’s view of the others’ appearance will notably change. It may, or it may not; but that is not the point. The issue is that in the here and now, a person should not be approaching any aspect of attraction in complete isolation. 

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