In the past, I have started relationships by reaching out to someone I was really attracted to. We would start from our strong mutual attraction to each other and go from there. My current relationship started sort of by chance. I met them at a queer meet-up event and wasn’t wildly attracted to them, but I wanted to be physical with someone and ended up sleeping with them after the event. We started seeing each other from there, but with sex as the main focus, and eventually I caught feelings for them. We are now dating, and it is one of the healthiest relationships I have ever been in. However, I feel like my attraction is based on the fact that I have known them for so long. I didn’t see them as especially beautiful until a few weeks ago, when they became so familiar to me that I started to see them that way. How do I tell if I am actually attracted to them, or if this is only a feeling I get from being close to them for so long? Does it matter? How would I bring this up to them? And my biggest question, don’t they deserve someone who would find them beautiful from the first time they meet?
This is my favorite kind of advice question to answer, because in my opinion (and maybe some people will disagree!) you’re seeing a problem where there might not really be one — or at least, the problem might not be as big as it seems.
In the same way “love at first sight” can sometimes be a damaging thing to internalize, I actually believe that “attraction at first sight” can sometimes oversimplify and mislead when it comes to our understanding of desire and attraction. Yes, attraction can be explained by science. It’s a chemical reaction centralized to the brain. But the science of attraction also supports exactly what you say you’re experiencing: The longer we know someone, the more attracted to them we can become. Our attractions can change over time, affected by things like hormones. The specific ways we interact with others can also impact attractiveness; for example, lots of studies have indicated that when someone makes direct eye contact, it increases their attractiveness to others.
Now, I’m not particularly a science-y person, especially when it comes to matters of love and attraction. But I do think it can help to understand the psychology of what you’re experiencing! But let’s shift into a more personal and subjective discussion about your situation. I think it’s extremely possible that there were several factors at play that didn’t lead to an instant spark between you and this person. Was the queer meet-up loud and dark? Did you get very much time to talk to them at all? Were you distracted by anything? Because you went with the explicit intention of hooking up with someone, is it possible you were flattening your preferences into very distilled and rigid categories in an attempt to reach that goal efficiently? What I mean by that is say you know you have a tendency to be attracted to people taller than you, so when you entered the room it’s almost like you mentally eliminated people shorter than you, cutting off that part of your brain that might trigger attraction.
The potentially concerning part to me is this: “I didn’t see them as especially beautiful until a few weeks ago.” But because the idea of INSTANT ATTRACTION is so normalized, I again wonder if you’re overanalyzing. Did you really not find them beautiful? I’m not hearing anywhere in your letter that you found this person unattractive but rather that you just didn’t get that chemical experience of attraction at first, and I think there can be a difference there! I am not attracted to my friends, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think they’re smoking hot! If you do believe not finding this person beautiful is rooted in something deeper (like perhaps beauty standards, socialized biases, etc.) then it might be good to do some self-work on that, identifying why you did not find them beautiful. But if you sit with yourself and think about it and realize that actually this person was just different from other people you’ve been attracted to in the past — a deviation from your perceived “type” — then there’s no real need to get too far into the weeds of self-analysis. Humans can sometimes be unreliable narrators of our own damn lives, our own damn desires. We tell ourselves we like or want something specific, and it causes us not to see something that might be right there in front of us all along. If becoming more intimate with this person has increased your overall attraction to them, I believe that attraction was there initially and just needed to be nurtured and/or was inhibited by other factors, which could include assumptions about yourself!
I believe you can grow into loving someone, and I also believe attraction can shift, increase, and not always feel like an immediate punch to the gut the first time you set eyes on someone. Maybe that’s a tough pill for some people to swallow, but I think continuing to prioritize the weight of instant attraction can hold us back in relationships and even lead us to get into relationships that aren’t solid — and yours sounds very solid! Think about this: The opposite of what you’re saying also happens! Sometimes, we might look at someone and find them instantly attractive but then once we get to know them become less attracted. Does that make that initial attraction any less “real” of a feeling? No! It’s just temporary. So just because you didn’t experience attraction before doesn’t make your attraction now any less real.
To end, I’ll directly address each of the questions you have at the end of your letter:
How do I tell if I am actually attracted to them, or if this is only a feeling I get from being close to them for so long? Attraction is not an easily decipherable thing. For myself, I actually barely believe in having “types” because I feel like it can be super limiting and also is often entrenched with beauty standards. Becoming closer to someone is a perfectly valid reason for attraction to increase. I’ve seen the friends-to-lovers trope play out in real life with a lot of friends, and I think that’s just one example of how you see someone can shift. You said you weren’t wildly attracted to them at the initial meet up, but attraction doesn’t have to feel like a real, wild thing to be real.
Does it matter? I think the point when it would start to matter is if it’s starts affecting the way you’re intimate with this person. If it starts affecting your sex life or other parts of your relationship, that’s when it’s time to step back and figure out what’s going on.
How would I bring this up to them? You should not bring this up to them at all. Honesty and vulnerability are important in any relationship, but this is an instance where I think it would do more harm than good. As close as we may feel to the people we date, they cannot read our minds. I think explaining your brain’s attraction chemistry would be confusing and ultimately not very fruitful. I think you yourself are struggling to understand some of your brain’s attraction chemistry, and that’s alright! Again, there’s this belief that we should know what we’re attracted to, what our “type” is, but in reality, attraction is more complicated than that — even the parts that can be explained by science.
And my biggest question, don’t they deserve someone who would find them beautiful from the first time they meet? This person deserves to be in a happy and healthy relationship with someone who is attracted to them, and from what you’ve written, it sounds like they are!
You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.