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Truth and Beauty: Attraction to Friends and Lovers

Ann Weber, Ph.D.

At almost midnight, Tasha breezes in the door, still chucklingfrom her "girls' night out." Her husband Carlos is waiting up for her. "Sorry, hon," she offers, "We just got lost in conversation, and I lost track of the time! I hope you weren't worried. I did call and leave a message to say I'd be late." Mollified, Carlos smiles, but asks, "Okay -- but what do you women find to talk about so long? You're old friends, I'd think you'd be all talked out by now." "It's funny, I really don't know what we talked about," Tasha agrees. "I guess even though our lives are different, we still agree on the important things. So it just feels great to get together and talk. I know I can always count on support, plus we do seem to laugh a lot!"
Why is it so important to have others agree with our basic values and attitudes?


When Allison first became friends with Deborah, it seemed they agreed on everything. Then Deb got involved with a religious group, eventually joining the community and having virtually no time to spend with Allison any more. "You ought to join, Al," Deb would argue, "We'd see lots of each other and I know it would make you happy. I promise you, you'll never be lonely again if you'll only join." Allison would politely decline, put off by the proselytizing, and now she sees very little of Deb. "We used to have so much in common," Allison muses aloud, as she trashes Deb's latest note, a cutesy card covered with religious symbols and smiley faces. "Deb says I'll 'never be lonely again.' But it was her conversion that really left me lonely. Deb, what kind of friend were you?"
Are some issues more important to agree on than others? Can friends survive some differences but be driven apart, once and for all, by others?


Stefan sees his ex-girlfriend Jennifer exiting the theater, holding the hand of some guy with movie-star good looks. It makes sense, he thinks. Jennifer herself is such a knockout! Stefan is good-looking but Jennifer was way out of his league. They had a lot in common and enjoyed their time together and he used to feel so proud to have such a beautiful woman on his arm, the envy of every guy they'd meet. But he soon felt insecure, then jealous, convinced Jennifer was bound to leave him for some man with better looks and a bigger wallet. His possessiveness made them both miserable and they agreed it was best to break up. Stefan's life is calmer now, true. The woman he's seeing is wonderful, attractive but not distractingly stunning. Still, seeing Jennifer again brought back a lot of the old fantasies: Jennifer was so beautiful! Couldn't they have made it work somehow?
Why are people with attractive faces and bodies so appealing? Are better-looking people also better in other ways?

So many qualities make a particular individual attractive. We seek out friends and partners who are talented, funny, pleasant, fun to be with. In particular, we like those who are similar to us and those who are physically attractive. Similarity makes sense as a criterion for intimacy: the more you are like someone, the more of a foundation you both have for building a close relationship. But why physical attractiveness? People who look good on the outside won't necessarily be more agreeable or, more important, kinder or smarter or more virtuous on the inside. Still, as Stefan, above, knows too well -- good-looking people can maintain an "attraction power" over others that defies reason.

In Session 2, we explored why we seek the company of others -- affiliating provides security, information and clarity. Others are a great source of comfort and support. But the human quest for companionship doesn't end with finding "warm bodies" for company; we go on to seek someone special, someone particularly attractive. In this session, we continue with a particular focus on two factors in interpersonal attraction -- similarity and physical attractiveness.

We will begin with a consideration of why similarity is appealing and in what ways others should be similar in order to be considered attractive. Then we'll move on, looking more closely at the fascinating subject of looks -- good, average and less so. By the conclusion of this session, I hope you'll feel you understand better your own rational or irrational choices of friends and lovers, and that you will better appreciate those to whom you have become close.

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