Chapter 35 Learning Objectives
Upon reading this chapter, the student should be able to:
- Describe how difficult, maybe even impossible, it is to know why some people are more attractive and attracting to you than others are, or, than they are to other people. “Chemistry” or attraction between two people seems to be somewhat accidental or random.
Watch this video or scan the QR code to see how you can practice emotional hygiene.
Non amo te, Sabidi, nec possum dicere quare; Hoc tantum possum dicere: non amo te.
I do not love thee, Sabidius, nor can I say why; I can only say this: I do not love thee. — Martial (cited in Roberts,
1940, p. 473)
paraphrased 1700 years later by Tom Brown: I do not love thee, Dr. Fell.
But why I cannot tell; But this I know full well, I do not love thee, Dr. Fell. (cited in Roberts, 1940, p. 473)
I know not why I love this youth; and I have heard you say, Love’s reason’s without reason. — Shakespeare,
Cymbeline (4. 2. 20-22)
If a man should importune me to give a reason why I loved him, I find it could no otherwise be expressed than by making answer, Because it was he; because it was I. There is beyond all that I am able to say, I know not what inexplicable and fated power that brought on this union. — Montaigne (cited in Roberts, 1940, p. 474)
I believe that if there are any particular or generalizable causes for feelings of attraction or feelings of aversion, they are as yet unknown. Certainly we may like someone who helps us out when we need help and we may like someone who is nice to us when that is particularly noticeable. And certainly we may intensely dislike someone who treats us ill in a particularly noticeable way. But as I have said repeatedly, this is not always the case. There are those we are attracted to no matter how poorly they treat us, and there are those for whom we have no particular attraction no matter how (noticeably) well they treat us. How many people have been attracted to another and tried everything they could in a nice way to make the other person attracted to them, only to have their efforts fail! How many times may two people behave very similarly (and even look similar) and yet we may be attracted to one but not the other! And how many times is there instant like or dislike for someone without knowing anything about them! Someone who treats us poorly may even entice our attraction for them at first sight or first nasty treatment. And someone who is nice to us at first may simply seem to have no spirit or personality. Again, one person may be attracted to you, another not, even though you treat both the same or behave the same way toward both of them. One person may be attracted to someone who is forbidden to them (by parents, custom, society, whatever); another may be so influenced by the taboo or prejudice that he or she cannot find attractive those who are forbidden; a third may be attracted to one such forbidden person, but not to any others.
I think the same thing might be said of the causes of our desires or of what we find pleasing. One person likes having his or her back scratched; another does not. I like having my back scratched in some ways but not others. Some people like to have their backs scratched the ways I do not and do not like the ways I do. When I was little, I hated having my ears cleaned out with a cotton swab; now I think it is about the second greatest physical pleasure possible (second to having your back scratched, in the right way, of course…). Some people like to talk, others do not. In my business, I answer my own phone instead of having a secretary. Some people find that terribly unprofessional and are put off by it; others appreciate that I take enough personal interest in people to communicate with them and answer their questions directly.
Most of us can probably think of things we like or dislike as well as people we like or dislike for no reason we can think of at all. When I was in high school and was in (unrequited) love with a girl I would gladly have died for, or to be with, I wanted to walk her home — miles out of my way. She had a girlfriend who by my or any objective standards was definitely beautiful, warm, nice, intelligent, friendly. The girl I loved told me that her girlfriend had said that I could walk her home if I wanted to. But I didn’t want to. I wanted to walk my love home, not her friend, regardless of how beautiful, available, etc. her friend was. Why did I love the girl I did? Why not the other girl? Why be attracted to the one but not the other? Who knows?
Or, as in the case of the student who badly wanted to water ski, though he had never been able to do so, why did he want to? He couldn’t know he would enjoy it because he had never done it. He did not want to just so that he could go fast on the water; he could do that in his boat, but that was not enough for him. He did not want to do it because he saw others having a good time doing it, since he had seen others enjoying caviar and he did not even have the slightest urge to try eating it. After years of trying, he finally did learn and he did enjoy it. Why did he want to learn that particular sport; why did he enjoy water skiing? I don’t know. I doubt anyone does. Psychiatrists or novelists can invent whatever stories they may like about why we like the things we do or the people we do, but it is difficult to verify that such stories actually capture the determining causes of our likes and dislikes.
So-called Aberrant Relationships
This leads me to a point that I have mentioned briefly before, namely that my talk about relationships has not been specifically about heterosexual relationships, except perhaps in discussions of pregnancy. There are numerous cases where individuals develop romantic attractions that are at least statistically abnormal, and often not understandable at all to many others. There are homosexual attractions, there are romantic and/or sexual attractions between siblings and between parents and children. There are romantic attractions between people of vast age differences, age differences that would be romantically repugnant to most people.
But in a sense, statistically speaking any particular romantic relationship could be considered an aberrant relationship, in that for everyone who might be attracted to another romantically, there are probably thousands of people who would not be. This does not, however, generally bother anyone, except in certain cases of public displays of affection where at least one of the persons is particularly repulsive looking to the onlooker.
The point is however that attractions can develop for ways that seem to have no reason. I do not know why I like some particular people and dislike some particular people. I do not know why I am attracted to some women and not to others who may be equally as pretty, articulate, intelligent, nice, friendly, conscientious, etc. I do not know why I like females of all ages better in general than I do males, not just in romantic ways, but even simply for talking to. Many people have said they think some men are men’s men; others, women’s men. Likewise some women prefer the company of men; others, of women. I find that, for me, women are generally easier to talk with, more open, less ostentatious, more sincere, honest, open-minded, introspective, and more appreciative of higher values than men. Some people find men more frequently that way than women. I simply do not. The idea of an outing, of whatever sort, with “the guys”, just for male companionship, has no appeal whatsoever to me. I may prefer the company of some men for some things, for example as a tennis opponent or partner at a particular time, but that is more dependent on their particular skill and personality and the kind of tennis I want to play that day — perhaps hard and demanding — rather than because they are a guy. If I knew a woman as good or better, I would probably be just as happy or happier with her as a partner or opponent. But I do not travel in some of the better tennis circles, so I do not personally know many women who play the way I would like to when I am in that sort of mood. But at any rate, I cannot imagine calling up a guy for tennis just in order to play tennis with, or to have the companionship of, a male. Of course, there are some particular men whom I like to talk with and some particular women I do not like to be with. But in general I am more likely to get along with women better than with men. I do not know why this is so. Nor do I know why it is this way, or the opposite way, for other men, or for women, or why it makes no difference to some. Some people also have some areas of interest with one sex and other areas for the other sex. The obvious examples are people who like to do most activities, except sex, with their own sex.
Attraction, particularly sexual and romantic attraction, being hard to explain, it is not clear why homosexual and other statistically abnormal attractions would not occur in some individuals. Intellectually, it seems to me no more odd that a man should have sexual attractions toward some man than that he should have sexual attractions toward some particular woman that I could also not possibly be interested in sexually. It seems no more odd for a man to be sexually attracted toward another man, in whom I am not interested, than that some woman should be attracted to him. If a woman could be interested in kissing some fellow I have no interest in kissing, why could not some man have such an interest.
Emotionally, of course, certain things may seem repugnant to certain people, but one has to be careful in trying to generalize about, or prescribe against, things just because they are personally emotionally repugnant. The idea of having sex with one of their parents is repugnant to most people, but happily it was not repugnant to your other parent. Even the idea of their parents having sex with each other is repugnant to most people, but that is not something we would want to forbid. There would be much celibacy indeed, if I were able to prevent women from having sex with anyone else just because the idea of my having sex with those women is repugnant to me. Whatever the good reasons there might be to try to prevent incest, homosexuality, etc., they ought not to be dependent just on our sense of repugnance. For example, there are genetic reasons against incest that would result in pregnancy; and there are the reasons for protecting minor children from sex since they are unable to give a realistic, fully informed, or meaningful consent to it.
The appeal or repugnance of masturbation also seems to be something somewhat inexplicable. Some people seem to enjoy it; others do not. It also seems to be something you learn during childhood because it feels good to you and you want to do it or else it is very difficult to learn to enjoy. What makes for good sex is generally your desire for it, not as with the girl previously mentioned, some intellectual curiosity about it. “Try it; you’ll like it” just is usually not true for any sexual experience, at least not the first time — and not if you really are not in the mood, and can not get into the mood. Further, masturbation, even learned early, usually has only particular ways that it is pleasant for a given person, and other ways that just do not work. It seems very individual and very much related to nothing else in particular.
Many sexual preferences and likes or dislikes, whether autosexual, heterosexual, or homosexual seem to appear most readily at some early stage in life, and are difficult to change later. Why different desires and preferences appear for different people, I do not know. But intellectually at any rate, homosexual attractions should seem no more strange or repulsive than heterosexual ones. And this may seem particularly easy to see when one is in no mood for sex of any sort. In such a mood all sex may seem unreasonable and repulsive.
- Even if you know what it is about someone that you find desirable and attractive about them, that does not mean you will find other people with those very same qualities, maybe even to a greater degree, to be desirable or attractive. That seems to signify it is not just those qualities that attract you to the one you do find desirable and lovable.
- Aberrant Relationship defined by the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “different from the usual or natural type”.
Chapter Review Questions
- Question: What are the reasons for attraction?
- Question: If you are attracted to someone who most other people are not attracted to, doesn’t that make your attraction for them abnormal?