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Seeking Others, Finding the One

Ann Weber, Ph.D.

Katie's had fun with Jeremy on their first date: they laughed at the same points in the movie, agreed quickly on a restaurant because they like the same kind of food and enjoyed the conversation. But as the evening draws to an end, she wonders whether to agree to a second date. Jeremy really is a nice guy, a good person, she considers. So why doesn't she feel especially "attracted" to him? And should superficial attraction count for so much?
What makes someone "attractive"?


As Henry enters his apartment, he notices his neighbor leaving her place and they exchange smiles. Once inside, he wonders why he finds her so attractive. He doesn't really know anything about her -- not even her first name, just her initial from the mailbox downstairs. They just run into each other coming and going, checking mail, using the laundromat. Still, in the months he's lived here, he thinks more and more about the woman next door. What is it about her that he finds increasingly appealing?
How can I ignore the girl next door?


Mara collapses into her office chair, admitting to her cubicle mate, "I just made a fool of myself again." "Over Gorgeous Greg?" her girlfriend exclaims. Mara makes a face: "Unfortunately, yes. He said he saw me in the concert audience last weekend, he was there too. It was a perfect opportunity to say something about having common taste in music. But instead, I just blurted out something really inane, I must have sounded like a real airhead!" "Well, Greg is pretty breath-taking," her friend sighs, "but do you really find him all that interesting?" "No," Mara moans. "And I don't think we even have much in common besides working for the same office. Even his looks are a problem! He's definitely a '10,' while I'm barely a '6' - he could do better than me any time. Am I really falling for Mr. Wrong just because he's good-looking?"
Out of my league?


The Beginnings of Interpersonal Attraction

In many parts of the world, love grows from arranged matches. But in Western culture, love and marriage are based on free choice -- choices we make because we find a particular someone attractive. But most of us could find many different people attractive in different ways. And our very definition of "attractive" is likely to change with age and experience.

The vignettes above show the power of some factors that seem beyond personal control: liking someone but not finding that person "romantically" attractive; feeling drawn to the "familiar stranger"; favoring someone for his or her good looks rather than deeper, more lasting qualities. Writer Dave Barry has commented in his Dave Barry's Guide to Guys that a woman can indeed have a warm, genuine, close relationship with a male -- as long as the male is a Labrador retriever! Surely it's not that hard to find a human partner? But in that search, just what qualities do we seek?

Here, in Session Two, we focus on the mystery of what makes us seek out others in general -- why we choose to affiliate ourselves with others. From there we move into a consideration of what it is about certain situations that helps draw us to certain others. In our next session, we will look at some of what research has shown are the personal and interpersonal characteristics that foster attraction -- physical attractiveness and similarity. But keep in mind that these are the humble and often quite fragile beginnings of a relationship.

Attraction certainly isn't enough: a relationship in trouble, one with bad feelings or poor communication skills cannot sustain intimacy, even if the partners continue to find each other attractive. Wishing won't make it so. However, because interpersonal attraction is the first step in moving from being a social animal to seeking intimacy with one partner in particular, we'll begin our quest here. In a future session, we will begin to look at communication and conflict in "working" relationships and how to deal with both. Let's begin by having you get a sense of what your values and assumptions are as you approach a relationship.

For each pair of traits, if you could choose to be described only one way or the other, which would you choose?

1. Popular

2. A good leader
    A good lover

3. A good neighbor
    A good listener

4. A good team player
    A good partner

5. Sexy

6. Warm

7. Good-looking

8. Tactful

9. Nurturing

10. Generous

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