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Dating Advice # 174: Double_Beauty

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

How much emphasis should be placed on physical attraction?

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I'm a 35-year-old Jewish male, looking for the right one to share my life with. I've read through almost all your columns and I can really see where I need to make some changes in my dating habits. But there is one thing that has been nagging at me about your advice. You repeatedly emphasize the need to date someone 4-5 times in order to see the attractiveness of the person. And you don't seem to approve of that "spark" that so many people seek. So does that mean I should not pursue women who trigger that immediate attraction?

I admit that when I've dated prettier women, I found it hard to stay objective because the chemistry was so strong. Furthermore, I usually ended the courtship because we really weren't compatible. But the concept of purposely seeking out less attractive women seems bizarre. Is there some kind of balance point and can you recommend how to get there?


Dear Nick,

It seems that there's been a misunderstanding. It's not that there's anything wrong with being attracted to someone from the start - quite the contrary. Our point is that attraction isn't always evident at first, and people who are dating for marriage should give it a chance to develop. The expression, "His looks are growing on me," describes a very common phenomenon: As people begin to get to know each other and form an emotional connection, they are able to let go of their first impression and see their dating partner from a different perspective.

Each of us has a certain idealized standard of beauty that colors our expectations about how our spouse should look. If we are not willing to look beyond that ideal, we won't be receptive to anyone who doesn't fulfill those expectations. However, many times if we are more open-minded and allow ourselves to start to enjoy a date's company, we are able to let go of that rigid ideal and take a less biased look.

As we begin to see more of the inner, spiritual qualities, we connect with that "beauty." This is actually a truer beauty, as it tends to improve with age, while physical beauty almost always deteriorates.

If you're looking for a spouse, this "long-term beauty" is a much more relevant factor. You can become attracted to a whole person, rather than how he or she appears to a stranger.

We have found that it can take four or five dates to recognize an attraction to the whole person, both the physical and spiritual beauties. Certainly, there is no guarantee that physical attraction will develop, even when a man and woman begin to like each other. And since physical attraction is definitely an important ingredient in marriage, we discourage people from continuing to date if one or both of them doesn't feel any attraction after the fifth date. In our experience, if attraction hasn't begun to grow by that point, it isn't going to do so in the future.

We also don't encourage someone who is genuinely bothered by a date's appearance to keep going out after the first or second date. Physical attraction is not something that can be forced.

We can't deny the fact that sometimes, people who have "immediate fireworks" can develop a great relationship and a long, happy life together. However, this romanticized ideal can keep you from making a connection with the person who is right for you as a life partner.

There's another problem with the belief that two people must be instantly attracted. We've seen this happen many times: two people feel a strong physical attraction, and only after the intensity fades they realize that they haven't put enough effort into developing an emotional connection. After weeks or months of feeling "head over heels," they come to realize that their goals or values aren't compatible, or that they don't really know each other very well. It seems to us that you've experienced this yourself -- your letter describes how you were sidetracked by the strong attraction you've felt for some of the women you dated.

Just as physical attraction often takes a while to develop, an emotional connection needs to take root and blossom over time. In fact, emotional intimacy -- the term we use for the connection that forms the foundation for an rewarding, enduring relationship -- takes more time to develop than physical attraction. That's the reason why we caution daters against expecting an instant "click." Those sensations are just as illusory as instant physical attraction, because they are based on a first impression that can have little to do with what the other person is really like.

Practical Tools

Whether you're attracted to someone in the first meeting, or whether you're ambivalent about her looks but willing to see how things develop, here are some suggestions to help you get to know each other better and see if you have long-term potential:

First, look for dating partners who seem to have goals and values that are compatible with your own. On your first date, assume that you're going out with a pleasant person, and try to enjoy the experience of the date: learn a little bit about someone else, savor a cup of coffee and dessert or an agreeable meal, appreciate the interior design or architecture of your surroundings, enjoy any entertainment you may have chosen, and have a little fun with your conversation.

Push certain thoughts out of your mind, such as, "Is this the one I'm going to marry?", or "How do I know she has everything I'm looking for," or "If I don't find out X, Y and Z it will be another wasted date." The only concern you should have on the first date is whether you get along well enough to go on a second date. That means if you are ambivalent about her, or feel something even slightly positive, you should go out again.

The second date should be similar: Lighten up and try to have a good time. At the same time, you can begin to open up your conversation to gain more insight into your date's personality, values, tastes, and way of dealing with different situations. We call this being "purposeful." Dating Maze #41 gives may suggestions about topics of conversation that you can introduce at different stages of the process.

While purposeful conversation shouldn't dominate your time together, it will help you add depth to the way you relate to each other, which in turn can strengthen the emotional connection. This approach will also help you decide at a relatively early stage whether you two are moving in the right direction.

We hope these suggestions help you date successfully and meet Ms. Right in the near future.

Rosie & Sherry


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