WHAT MAKES US ATTRACTIVE AND TO WHOM DO WE BECOME ATTRACTED?

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Whom do we really fall in love with?  And what makes us lovable?  Whether we have a partner or are looking for one, we all want to know why we are attracted to one particular person rather than another.

When we choose a partner, it often seems like love is blind.  It feels like we enter a relationship with blinders on—falling in love with whoever happens to be in close proximity to us (e.g. Tinder).  However, love is not blind, only a little myopic.  Moreover, this myopia is extreme at the time of the first encounter.  For love at first sight, the most important factor is the way we look, our physical attractiveness, as a study of preferences during a “hurry date” session showed.1 During the “hurry date” sessions men and women interacted with each other for three minutes and then indicated which of the people they met they preferred. Certainly, physical attractiveness can be important during the first encounter but, surprisingly, this factor is equally important to both men and women when selecting a sexual partner although men tend to put more of a premium on physical attractiveness when selecting a potential marital partner.2 Maybe that is why so many social media and matchmaking website descriptions and photos present a somewhat false front. 

It might be only a one-night hook-up that the most attractive women get because what predicted whether a couple would go out on even a second date, was a couples’ similarity in physical attractiveness rather than the degree of physical attractiveness.3 

If we want an attraction that lasts longer than just one evening, we look for one built on mutually perceived similarity.  After all, even two supremely attractive people can spend only so much time complimenting each other on their good looks.  The sexual attraction of the first encounter gives way to an attraction built on similar interests, values, and attitudes.4 Potential partners’ conversation quickly turns to fishing for what they have in common. 

The similarity we seek and that holds us together is in our image of ourselves.  We are attracted to people who are reflections of ourselves.  Indeed, a survey of people who married after initially meeting online found that those couples who had similar personalities were more satisfied with their relationship up to four years later.5 So physical beauty may attract the eye but personality attracts the heart.

  1. Kurzban, R. and Weeden, J. (2005). HurryDate: Mate preferences in action. Evolution & Human Behavior, 26, 3, 227-244.
  2. Walster, E., Aronson, V., Abrahams, D. & Rottman, L. (1966), Importance of physical attractiveness in dating behavior,Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4,5, 508-516.
  1. Folkes, V.S. (1982). Forming relationships and the matching hypothesis. Social Psychology Bulletin, 8, 4, 631-636.
  2. Murstein, B. (1976). Whom will marry whom?: Theory and research in marital choice. New York: Springer, p. 180.
  3. Gonzaga, G.C., Carter, S. & Buckwalter, J.G. (2010). Assortive mating, convergence, and satisfaction in married couples, Personal Relationships, 17, 4, 634-644.