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Dating Advice #132 - The Mensch Who Looks "Okay"

May 9, 2009 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

He's the perfect dream. Except for one thing...

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I am a woman in my 20s and in a long-distance courtship that's gone on for about a year. We speak on the phone at least once a day, often twice and three times. We are able to see each other every month for a weekend. And every few months, one of us travels to the other's respective town for a week or two. So although it's a long-distance relationship, we know each other very well.

It has come to the point where a decision needs to be made. We both individually want to get married and carry on with our lives. The current state we are in has gone on for long enough and both of us want to move on to the next stage in life. This man is ready to get engaged to me yesterday. I, on the other hand, don't know if he is the one. I am in such limbo when it comes to this decision that I often wonder if it took everyone else so long to know if they wanted to spend their life with someone.

Everything about this man is exactly what I ever dreamed about in a husband... he is kind, considerate, intelligent, caring, ambitious. He is a medical resident so I expect he will earn an excellent living to take care of his family and live a comfortable life. He is a real mensch and cares about his family and friends before he cares for himself. He really listens to me and comforts me when I am down. Our life goals and dreams for family are so in sync that it's scary. He treats me like the queen of the universe. I know that I would have a wonderful life with him.

But... (isn't there always a but?!)... I think he is "okay" looking, but I am not so attracted to him. It sounds kind of vain, taking all things into consideration. It sounds like a minor detail compared to the way he treats me and the way our dreams and goals are so similar. It has always been an issue for me since the very beginning, but I didn't want to harp on it because I assumed my attraction for him would grow as I got to know him better.

Before we met, we spoke on the phone and e-mailed for a few months. I think that might have been a strike against us, because when we finally met, we were already emotionally invested in the relationship.

I always pictured myself being ecstatically happy and really loving the person, so that when he popped the big question, I would without a doubt say a big fat YES! Isn't that the way it's supposed to be? Could it be that my not being really attracted to him is preventing me from loving him? Does everyone rack her brain as I do trying to decide? My happily married friends describe a feeling of knowing that you have the best guy in the world and that there is no one else you'd rather be with.

Everything I read says that attraction and love really don't conquer all, but rather common goals and dreams are what really matter -- and we have that. We tell each other everything and I feel very comfortable with him, and he treats me incredibly. I love his friends and I get along great with his family. It is almost too good to be true... almost.

A very close friend told me that I am looking for the perfect person, but there is no one out there who is perfect. She said that if I find someone I'm attracted to, then he might not treat me the same way. She thinks that I am scared of breaking up with this man, for fear of not finding someone else who will fit everything else.

She is absolutely right that no one is perfect. But is there such a crime in wanting to be attracted to your significant other? Don't I deserve to love my husband and be so happy and know absolutely that he is the one? I pray every night for clarity, but every morning I awake with the same dilemma. I try to talk myself into thinking that I am being ridiculous, but am I really?


Dear Victoria,

Thank you for writing to us. It sounds like you've found a wonderful man, and we recognize that physical attraction has to be present when two people marry.

However, our definition of physical attraction is different than the conventional one. It isn't necessary to think that your partner is the most handsome man in the world, or even that he is exceptionally good looking.

Our definition of physical attraction differs for men and women. Men need a higher level of attraction to their spouse than women require, because men are more visual. They need to be attracted to their future spouse's overall appearance. Women can focus on just a few features of their dating partner and learn to appreciate them physically. For example, a woman may find a man's brown eyes to be very soothing and reassuring, or may like the way her dating partner smiles, or may think he has beautiful hands. If she is comfortable with his general appearance and can find one or two specific features that appeal to her, they can have a very rewarding and loving relationship.

From experience, we can tell you where your "problem" with physical attraction began. You are correct in assuming that it was because the two of you e-mailed for several months before you met for the first time. During that time, you developed a picture in your mind as to what your e-pal looked like. Because he was so sensitive and nice, your mental image was probably one that was very attractive to you. This is one of the reasons why we encourage people to meet their e-pals as soon as practicable. When you don't give that fantasy image time to become engrained in your mind, the actual meeting is less of a disappointment and you are more open to allowing your e-pal's looks to either appeal to you from the outset or, as is more often the case, to grow on you.

Since you can't undo the past, and since it sounds to us that you have really met a gem with whom you can be very happy should you decide to marry, we would like to suggest a few steps you can take to help you appreciate your dating partner's appearance and realize that you are not missing out on anything.

First, we suggest that you erase the picture you formed in your mind before you met your dating partner. This may be what you imagined he would look like, or even the image you always had in mind of the man you thought you would marry. Try to visualize everything about that imaginary man -- his facial features, his smile, the sound of his voice, the way he wears his hair, the way he walks.

Now, beyond the physical, imagine what he does for a living, what his interests are. Take a mental snapshot of that image and pretend to hold it in your hands so you can look at it whenever you want. Then, take the edges of that picture and tear it in half once, and then tear it in half again. Realize that you will never marry that image. Nobody marries that image. It doesn't exist, for anyone.

Give yourself a day or two to get that image out of your mind, and then focus on what is right about the man you have come to care about. You are already aware of the wonderful personal qualities he has. Now let's focus on those physical characteristics that you like: perhaps his smile, his eyes, or his gestures. Perhaps he's got a dimple or a cleft chin.

Another important suggestion is to stop talking about this subject to women who insist that they knew their husband was "the one" from the beginning, or that they were instantly attracted to him, or they think their husband is gorgeous. Neither of us felt that way about our husbands, and the majority of women share our experiences. Many of us saw our physical attraction toward our husbands grow as time went on. Other women did what we have recommended to you -- they focused on certain aspects of the man's appearance, and found they were attracted in this manner.

The bottom line is that -- yes -- physical attraction is important in a marriage, but the "S/he's incredibly gorgeous" feeling is not. As you already seem to know, physical attraction is not the most important element that will keep a couple happy. Emotional intimacy between a husband and wife is the more fulfilling quality that a couple needs.

If after all this you feel there is no physical attraction whatsoever, it may be that you should break off the relationship even though in all other respects the man you are seeing is wonderful. If you have any more questions, please write us again.

Rosie & Sherry

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