Here's Why We're Attracted To Some People But Not Others, According To A Doctor
Have you ever wondered why you've been attracted to tall people your whole life? Or maybe you just noticed a pattern in your dating history — say, the majority of your exes were super extroverted, or they all had dark hair and brown eyes. It might seem like a weird coincidence, but really, it all makes sense when you think about the science behind why we're attracted to some people but not others.
I reached out to Dr. Michele Kerulis of Counseling@Northwestern to find out more about the science behind who we are — and are not — attracted to, and what factors go into attraction in the first place. And as she explains, a lot of attraction is psychological.
"If we look at biological factors and go back to Darwinism, we look at survival of the fittest and species goals to mate in order to stay protected and to have their offspring live on, so that's the basic [biology]," Dr. Kerulis tells Elite Daily. "But I think people tend to get very interested in the psychological aspect of it, in terms of why is it that we might have that really strong attraction to a specific individual?"
As it turns out, a lot of factors go into what people find attractive in terms of romantic partners, and while sometimes your attractions are formed over time based on the people you date and your experiences with them, other times, attraction goes all the way back to when you were a kid. So, here's what you need to know about the science behind attraction.
Some of our attractions go back to early childhood experiences.
According to Dr. Kerulis, attraction is often shaped by "our patterns of experiences in life, going back to early early childhood." That means that you can look back at your experiences as a child and the kinds of people that were around you, and you can see how that affected some of the qualities you're attracted to in a partner as an adult.
"Looking back at what kind of people were around us and what kind of people did we see in a favorable light, we tend to be attracted towards people who can replicate those experiences or feelings," Dr. Kerulis explains.
For example, if a tall person comforted you in a time of distress when you were young, that could explain your attraction to tall people now.
"You've got this idea that tall people in the world are safe and make you feel better [because of that experience]," Dr. Kerulis says. "So that could be a very simplistic analysis of why somebody might be attracted to a tall individual. We can say the same thing with hair color or facial features."
But our attractions can change over time, based on experience.
Of course, as Dr. Kerulis notes, even these preferences that formed in early childhood can change over time.
"These kind of things can change throughout our adulthood, so that idea of who you're attracted to in your 20s is different than in your 30s, 40s, and beyond," Dr. Kerulis says.
That's because your life experiences and your experiences with partners once you start dating can also shape and change the qualities you're attracted to. For one thing, your experiences might lead you to not be attracted to qualities you used to find attractive.
"I think that experience also speaks to what people are not attracted to, too," Dr. Kerulis says. "So they might have experiences that didn't go so well, and they might associate characteristics of that person to other people they meet."
One major thing that tends to change as people get older, Dr. Kerulis says, is how they feel about aloofness or a sense of mystery when it comes to dating someone.
"When you're younger, I think people tend to be a little bit gamier — for example, if you're going out on a date, [you might] not contact somebody until three days after the date," Dr. Kerulis says. "[Younger people tend to] have specific rules that could seem intriguing in one sense and off-putting in another sense. So as we get older, I think people are more attracted to clear, and honest communication without playing games."
And it's not just about the physical things.
Physical characteristics are definitely a factor in attraction, but they're not the only factor — personality and charisma are important, too.
"We can say very clearly that there is something major to be said about physical attraction," Dr. Kerulis says. "So, you might look at another person and just have this flutter of feelings all around you, and those could be romantic sexual feelings. Or, they could be another kind of neutral feeling, where you might not have that strong sexual attraction right away, but there's something about that individual which we might call charisma."
As Dr. Kerulis notes, people also tend to be attracted to a person's presence in a room. "If somebody has a really strong personality, a lot of people are attracted to that," she explains.
Sometimes opposites attract, and sometimes like attracts like.
Attraction works differently for different people — as in, you might consistently be attracted to people who are total opposites of you, but your best friend might always date people who are very similar.
"If you're an introvert for example, if you're around an extrovert then that might mean you don't have to necessarily interact or engage with people as much as your extroverted partner, so that can also sometimes act as a shield, for example," Dr. Kerulis says.
"We could look at people who have experiences that are very different from us and be attracted to that to get exposure into different experiences, different ideas, different cultures," Dr. Kerulis explains. "And on the complete opposite end of that, like attracts like at times, so some people are very much attracted to people who have had a similar background or similar culture."
In any case, it's all totally normal — if you'd prefer to date someone who is the opposite of you and pushes you to try new things, great. If you'd rather date someone who totally gets you because they're the same way, also great. It's about what you like and what works for you.
Attraction is super subjective.
Like I said, it all depends on what you like — and that's because attraction is super subjective, Dr. Kerulis says.
"What is beautiful to one person — and we can talk about inner beauty, outer beauty, whatever that looks like — is not necessarily the same level of beauty or attraction to another person," Dr. Kerulis explains. "So, we see the world through our own eyes."
That's why, Dr. Kerulis says, other people might not get exactly why you're attracted to a certain type of person — it's because beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
"You might hear people say, 'Oh, I didn't see you with a person who looks like that, or a person who behaves like that.'" Dr. Kerulis says. "So what other people think is good for you or the type of person they picture you with might not be the kind of person that you're attracted to or that you want to be with."
And your maturity level is a huge factor.
Your maturity level plays a big part in attraction, too, even if you might not realize it. It's because the more mature you are, the more you tend to understand yourself — and that translates into how you look for a partner, too.
"I think that maturity level is a huge aspect of attraction," Dr. Kerulis says. "So again, if you're looking at people when they're younger and dating, they might be attracted to the entire external package and not so concerned with the internal package, meaning somebody's values or their ideas, or the way they treat other people."
That changes as you start to mature, and you start to factor in a lot more in the attraction process.
"When you start maturing, I think people look more at the overall picture and not just the way somebody looks or that initial sexual attraction," Dr. Kerulis explains. "I think that maturity and experience lends people to understanding themselves, which helps them understand what kind of a partner would compliment them. So it's going through that maturity process and understanding that we as individuals might function well together in a relationship."
In any case, no matter who you're attracted to, Dr. Kerulis says it's important to reflect on what attraction means to you.
"Sometimes people say, 'Well, I have a certain type.' What exactly does that mean? Does that mean that we're looking for somebody's physical characteristics? Does that mean that we're looking for values an individual has? Does it mean that we're looking for someone who likes the same activities we like to do, or someone who likes something completely different?"
Attraction isn't the only factor in a relationship, either — there's more to it, and just because you're attracted to someone doesn't mean they're a good fit for you.
"I think that there's an illusion about a perfect situation, and I think that people have to understand that you could have the most intense physical attraction to somebody, but if there isn't respect and connection in a deeper sense, then it's typically not going to turn out to be a healthy relationship," Dr. Kerulis says.
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