Tag Archives: attraction

Attraction, bodies and culture

Human bodies are such interesting things. We’re a diverse sort of species. We come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, colours and builds. Some of us are naturally quite furry and some of us are skinless landsharks and all places in between.

The bodies we have are affected by our health and our ancestry. What we eat and how we spend our time will all have their impact. Most cultures have standards for what counts as especially attractive and that’s diverse too.

To what degree is our capacity for attraction informed by our cultures? What happens when our desires don’t neatly match what we’ve been told to want? Or when our bodies aren’t considered socially acceptable? One obvious case in point here would be the obsession some cultures have with youth being the standard for beauty. We all get older, and fighting that process is pointless – but it does make a lot of money for beauty industries.

For me, attraction doesn’t begin with a body. I can find people aesthetically pleasing without feeling any urge at all to follow through on it. If I connect with someone emotionally, then I will find them attractive. I don’t have a type exactly, I’m not much affected by gender or gender presentation. I tend to go for high cheekbones, but that’s about it, and it’s certainly not a deal breaker.

How someone’s voice sounds is a bigger factor in attraction for me, than what they look like. I assume it wouldn’t be a dealbreaker but at the same time I’ve never been attracted to someone I didn’t think had a gorgeous speaking voice. I’m also really affected by how people smell, although that’s not easy to spot when it’s happening. We can unconsciously gather a lot of information about each other from smells, so for me it’s only been when people’s smells have changed that it’s registered with me.

I’m very much attracted to creativity, imagination and unusual minds. I like interacting with people who think deeply, and who are interested in things, and excited about things. What exactly they are into turns out to be less important. I like spending time with people who have passions and wild enthusiasms. 

Who we find appealing informs so many aspects of our lives. It’s not just about romance and sexual partners. It’s there in how we pick our friends and our social spaces. It can inform who we vote for and who we hire. There’s a lot of privilege that comes with conforming to certain kinds of beauty standards and lots of scope for abuse, shaming, disrespect and disadvantage the less you conform to those standards.

Love and other feelings

Love is generally presented as a reaction. It is styled in books and films as an unexpected, uncontrollable thing that just happens in response to one special person. As someone who loves plurally, I’ve always found that part of our stories about love rather difficult. And of course what just happens mysteriously can also be assumed to just go away, equally mysteriously. If we make ourselves powerless in face of it, can’t control it, can’t control ourselves… very little good comes of this.

Attraction can be very sudden – a simple animal desire based on the appearance of the other person. I chalk these up as entertaining but have never acted on it. Desire can be fleeting, and isn’t reliable. I have always been more interested in what a person has going on inside them than how they look.

It’s usually what people do that affects me – what they create, how they think, what they share of themselves, what I can do with them. Love, in all its various shapes and forms can take root in this kind of soil.

Then there are the others, the remarkable, life altering love affairs that have shaped me, and continue to do so. The people whose fingerprints remain on my soul. Looking at those relationships I am conscious of how important deliberate choice has been – mine and theirs. The choice to be vulnerable, to offer something of self, to care, to be open to care in return. Stepping deliberately into more involved ways of relating. Undertaking to love.

The most important love affairs in my life haven’t been accidents of attraction. They’ve been choices. Not just the choice to have a go, but the day by day choices about how I deploy my time and energy, what I pay attention to and what I choose to give. It isn’t something I’ve thought about in quite these terms before, though. I do not belong in the conventional narrative in which love is an accident. Love is something I choose to experience and bestow, and that people dealing with me choose to accept or reject.

Reclaiming Attraction

There are quite a few people I’m attracted to. I know what a loaded statement that is, and in this culture that is both sexualised and prudish at the same time, to say ‘attraction’ is to imply sexual attraction. To imply sexual attraction is to suggest following through with action. Attraction becomes a hazardous thing, perhaps even a threat to the person it’s a reaction to.

I think attraction is something we need to reclaim for broader and heartfelt use. There are so many things to find attractive in other people. Their ideas and beliefs, their passions, obsessions, creativity. And yes, faces, bodies, physical presences but even that can be non-sexual and we could allow room for it. With those in place, allowing sexual attraction to be one form of attraction amongst many, it might be possible to openly hold relationships with all kinds of shapes.

Attraction means a desire to move towards. A yearning to be closer, a keenness for the company of the one who attracts. A catalyst for action of some sort. We have evolved to be social creatures. We are designed to interact with complex networks of some 150 people, we are meant to be attracted to each other in all kinds of ways. Attracted to skill, to leadership, to ideas, to companionship, kindness, warmth. The pulls of attraction thread together communities, if we let them.

Try and talk about it, and all too often it’s seen as troubling, or weird. My attraction causes repellence sometimes, like two north ends of magnets. All too often, we’re only allowing each other to act on all those many forms of attraction if nobody talks about it. As soon as something is named, a kind of fear enters the mix, and a backing away. I’ve experimented repeatedly with an assortment of people of various genders over a lot of years. My conclusion is that almost any relationship shape is feasible so long as no one admits to it. Honesty is usually more difficult. This, I do not find attractive.

Fear of vulnerability, fear of giving too much away, fear of being misunderstood, fear of the power of attraction itself. Having no safe language with which to honour the pull. Feeling an element of sexual attraction to the other person and being ashamed of it. There are lots of reasons a person may not want to be honest.

On the other side of this, I know people who are able to be honest and open hearted about attraction. Some do it with more grace than others, but it’s not necessarily predatory or promiscuous. It can be a warm, affirming thing to encounter, even when highly sexualised in nature. It can be a gift. To enjoy and admire another human being, to treat them as attractive can be uplifting, if the recipient isn’t afraid of it, and if the one expressing it is good at issues of boundary. Attraction as something given, rather than an attempt to take from the ‘object’ of desire.

I have people in my life who have owned all kinds of attractions – mutual attractions. When it can be held honestly, without fear, it becomes something else entirely. Even when there’s a buzz of chemistry that you don’t want to follow through on. Not being ashamed of it, not hiding it, giving it room to breathe, it becomes something else. Not an affair, not a hazard to emotional wellbeing, not a point of tension or weirdness but something warm and worth having.

I speculate that attraction is far more common than most people admit to. I think there’s a lot of it out there, unvoiced, unexpressed, held in fear and in shame. I don’t think we need to be ashamed of feeling pulls of attraction to each other. I think if we were all more honest about it we might all be happier. I think non-sexual attraction is something that deserves a lot more thought and attention, and that sexual attraction is something to stop shaming people over. Perhaps if we could hold attraction more openly, we’d be able to have deeper, more fully consensual, safer and happier relationships with each other, in and out of bed.