When someone feels so strongly that there is a connection between you, but you don’t exactly feeeeel it, what does that mean? Are they delusional? Are you missing something? Should you just give it a go? Or are you in danger or being swayed and wooed into complacency by someone’s admiration for you? What the hell is “a connection,” anyways?!
Not Feeling It
Dearest Not Feeling It,
I feel you.
I’ve been on both sides of this situation, and they’re equally surreal. When you harbor the vulnerable feeling of attraction you want to believe that it’s something mutual. Why? It’s scary to live in a world where you can generate one-sided feelings. They can make you feel delusional—like you’re “making it up” or otherwise fabricating realities for yourself. Likewise, when you discover that somebody is attracted to you but you don’t share that feeling, it can feel like you’re on the outside of a joke, naive or daft.
Here’s what I think: there are some people who are uniquely proportioned, blessed with symmetrical bone structure, superb muscle tone, flawless skin and youth. Those people tend to absorb the attraction of others for some period of their lives.
These people are attractive in the way the David is attractive. You want to admire them and you feel things at them as opposed to with them. They become models, movie stars and sometimes politicians (or the hottest guy or woman at your gym) and they are told that their physical beauty is their greatest asset.
Then, there’s the rest of us. “The rest of us” includes those people I described above. No matter how blessed you are in the bone structure department, even you’re still going to fall short by our society’s impossible standards of beauty. Likewise, most of us will receive another person’s affections through no effort of our own.
For “the rest of us” attraction is something that happens chemically—a response to somebody’s smell, the sound of their voice, the way they move their body, followed by a correlated response of elevated blood flow, increased heart rate and, if you’re me, sweating.
That feeling of attraction isn’t necessarily a “connection.” How many people have you been attracted to from across a room and then gotten up close and started talking to and lost interest? We forge connections over time; a different, less aesthetic kind of attraction can be borne out of a connection. That’s usually where things get fuzzy.
I’ve called in sexual anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher to help us sort through the murky waters of attraction and connection. She’s a senior research fellow at the Kinsey Institute and chief scientific advisor at Match.com. She has conducted extensive research and written five books on the evolution and future of sex, love and marriage.
WHAT’S A CONNECTION?
Fisher: A connection? Well, we have all kinds of connections with one another. We evolved as a group living species. Humanity has evolved three different brain systems for partnering:
• Sex drive
• Intense romantic love
• Deep attachment
But in this case the writer appears to be referring to a passionate romantic connection rather than a deep sexual craving or sense of profound attachment. In short, the partner is “in love” with him or her, but the writer doesn’t yet feel the brain’s dopamine rush of ecstasy, obsessive thinking, craving and focus on this would-be lover.
WHAT TO DO?
Fisher: Foremost, ask yourself whether this is the right kind of partner. Today American singles are foremost looking for a soul mate. A soul mate is:
• Someone who respects them
• Someone who they can trust and confide in
• Someone who is humorous
• Someone who spends enough time with them and whom they find physically attractive
Could you introduce this individual to friends and family? Is he/she interesting, adventurous, kind, smart, productive, generous? The time to begin a relationship, in my opinion, is when it opens more doors than shuts. So if you basically like this person and feel that he or she can really add to your life, why not try it? Romantic love is like a sleeping cat; this brain system can awaken at any time, even years into the relationship. And you don’t want to miss what could be life’s greatest prize—the right mating partner. Go for it!
The doctor has spoken!
I’d also add that there is nothing wrong with one-sided attraction. Embedded in your question there is a frustration at the danger of engaging in attraction and a fear of misunderstanding a situation. In our culture we often associate attraction with results. I am attracted to somebody. Will they kiss me now? Somebody is attracted to me. Will I date them? In my experience attraction is a fluid sensation. You need not feel shame for nonreciprocal feelings of attraction or connection.
One thing I don’t hear a lot of in your letter is an articulation of your feelings about this person. I invite you to ask yourself what you do feel for this person—interest, repulsion, fear, neutrality, friendliness? A combo? Your feelings are just as valid as attraction and by acknowledging them you’ll be able to engage more honestly and with less pressure on the situation.
Just the Tips is Playboy.com’s weekly advice column, with professional matchmaker Katherine Cooper. Have a question for Katherine about sex, love or dating? Shoot her a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.