When I was younger and more idealistic, I believed that true beauty was on the inside. More so, I believed that everyone was beautiful because God made them. More importantly, I believed that a person’s character was far more important than physical beauty, especially by worldly standards, so much so that I felt appearances didn’t matter at all. In the search for a life partner, physical appearance meant little to nothing to me—or at least, that’s what I told myself. I never wanted to be vain or superficial. I wanted to be kind and encouraging. To make physical attraction important in my quest for love would make me the kind of person that I did not want to be, someone shallow and foolish. That is what I believed.
I was raised to be a good Christian girl who cared about what people were like on the inside, rather than the outside. Seeking inner beauty for my romantic partner was godly. Of course, boys and men weren’t told to seek character above beauty, but is that really any surprise? No, the lesson was always for girls to operate on the higher moral ground. Boys will be boys, after all. But I digress.
In romantic relationships, part of the purity culture I grew up with told me that I really shouldn’t even be a sexual being—until I was married, that is. Upon saying my vows, I was taught that I should immediately become interested in sex, so as to keep my husband satisfied. But before that point, and especially when it came to dating, I learned that lusting was sinful. And so, I suppressed my sexuality as much as I could, but that only led to it bursting out in moments when I inevitably lost my self-control. Those events were always followed by guilt, shame, and disgust.
But I digress, again! My point is that physical and sexual attraction weren’t things I was taught were important or valuable. If anything, they were sinful. A G-rated comment about the attractiveness of someone whom you intended to pursue a romantic relationship with was pretty much the most that was considered morally acceptable. When in a romantic relationship before marriage, it was important to honor your partner by remaining pure. Impure thoughts led to impure actions! So, it was easier to keep things “pure” by not even thinking about physical attraction in the first place.
All of that to say that when I fell in love with my high school sweetheart, who would later become my husband and the father to three of my children, I didn’t really think much about attraction. I fell in love with who he was on the inside, and I found things about him that I could see as attractive.
To be fair, I do still believe that character is more important than beauty. But, I also know now that attraction in a romantic and/or sexual relationship is actually quite important! At least for me, it is. I can’t speak for everyone, of course.
Throughout my first marriage, I struggled with sexual dysfunction. I felt ambivalent about sex, at the best of times. At the worst of times, I felt skeeved out, icky, and wrong. Sex became something I felt obligated to do, and it wasn’t something I initiated more than a few times throughout our ten years of marriage. I just didn’t want to have sex.
Don’t get me wrong—we did, obviously, have sex. We have three biological children together, after all! But our sex life was never exciting for me, and at times it became a source of great emotional turmoil. Don’t read what I’m not writing here—my ex-husband had all of the skills necessary to get the job done right! He was attentive, caring, and capable. It really wasn’t him, and I felt terrible that I couldn’t make myself feel what I was supposed to feel with and for my husband.
Near the end, it got to the point that I began to think I was asexual. But shortly after that, we opened our marriage and became polyamorous, and it became very clear, very quickly, that I was in fact a highly sexual person. I just didn’t have a sexual attraction for him. And as it turns out, having sex with someone who I don’t feel attracted to makes me feel pretty icky.
Looking back on our relationship, I can see so many signs that he just didn’t do it for me. There were times when I found him attractive, and I don’t think that he’s an unattractive person whatsoever. He just didn’t give me that tickle in my belly, you know? And I should have known. Because he told me every single day how beautiful and hot he thought I was. I was never in doubt about his attraction to me. And every single time I was happy to hear it, but I also didn’t know what to say because I couldn’t in all honesty tell him that I felt the same way about him. I almost never complimented his appearance, because doing so would have felt forced and awkward. Instead, I told him that I loved him and appreciated him and focused on the things that I believed mattered more.
Becoming poly introduced me to a whole new side of myself. I felt things I had never felt before. For once, I embraced those feelings of lust and desire and used them to make the world a more—ahem—loving place. In short, I came alive. Once I realized what I had been missing, I knew that I could never go back.
For a short time, my ex-husband and I tried to maintain our sexual and romantic relationship. But it started to become harder and harder for me to force myself through the motions (god help me with these innuendos; I promise they aren’t intentional!) It didn’t take long for me to decide that I couldn’t be with him in that way anymore. We shifted into a platonic relationship and were planning to stay married. But, in the end, I wanted to pursue other relationships more than he was comfortable with, and it felt like it was time to call it instead of trying to keep something alive that was already dead.
The story of my first marriage and subsequent divorce is one that I go over in my head a lot. There are so many facets of it to reflect on. There are so many what-ifs that I will never know the endings to. There are regrets and uncertainty and there is sadness and grief. But, the longer I’m with my new husband, the more clear it becomes to me that attraction for my partner is something I cannot just sweep under the rug. It matters to me. It adds so much to our relationship, and to my life.
RJ is, ironically, not someone who I was initially attracted to at first glance. From his online dating profile, I surmised that he was a sweet, smart, and interesting guy. But I also thought he was kind of goofy looking. (Sorry babe! You know that now I think you’re the hottest thing to walk the earth, but at first I wasn’t so sure.)
That all changed the moment we met in person. We spent a lot of time chatting beforehand and our banter was excellent. The chemistry was there, over text, but I had concerns about whether I would feel the spark in real life. Those concerns were obliterated on our first date.
You see, attraction isn’t the same as vanity at all. Vanity is having beauty standards that are superficial and usually set by society and culture. Vanity is saying that you won’t date a fat person, or someone with scars, or someone with a certain skin tone. Vanity is not giving someone a chance solely because of their appearance. Vanity is when someone tells their partner that they aren’t attracted to them anymore because they’ve aged or gained weight or changed in some physical way. And all of that is bullshit assholery, by the way.
But attraction is different. Attraction is a feeling you get when you have chemistry with someone—and it extends across the realms of the emotional, physical, and intellectual. Of course, there is also a more basic definition of attraction, which is simply appreciating someone’s physical appearance. And yes, that something that I still feel and can even enjoy feeling towards people who aren’t my husband, because it means nothing! I can appreciate a good-looking guy, gal, or non-binary individual as much as the next person. RJ has the same freedom, and it’s not something we have to hide. Oftentimes we can appreciate them together, in fact! A hot person is a hot person; we’re married, not dead as they say.
Being attracted to someone in a deeper way still has that physical aspect. It often starts there, but that isn’t where it stops. Deep attraction is like a magnet. That person draws you in, without even trying. Their very existence and the most mundane things that they do can get you going, because it’s them. You want them, in all of the ways. You crave their touch, and you feel no shame or inhibition when you’re intimate together because it feels right. Being physically close with them is how you were made to be. You’ve found your magnetic match, and whether they are someone who turns head wherever they go by their sheer hotness, or… not so much; it doesn’t matter because the way you feel for them pulls you in. That is deep attraction, and in a romantic relationship, it is important. For those of us who want partnership, we all deserve to find that person who lights us on fire (in a good way).
I still believe in the “friends to lovers” path to romance, when it’s right. If you have the hots for your bestie, and they feel the same way, then hooray! Friendship can be a wonderful foundation for an amazing love story. But, if you don’t feel butterflies when they walk into the room, then pursuing something more with them is probably not going to end the way you hope it will.
Love can be powerful and deep and strong, even when it’s platonic. And you can fall in love with someone who you aren’t attracted to. You can also develop attraction over time with someone whom you love.
But for me, falling in love with someone who really does it for me has been an experience I wouldn’t trade away. We have a fire that just keeps on burning, and it is a powerful force of connection in our relationship. My attraction for my husband, my lover and eternal flame, is something I never take for granted.
I’m in love with the shape of you
We push and pull like a magnet do
Although my heart is falling too
I’m in love with your body
Every day discovering something brand new“Shape of You” by Ed Sheeran
I’m in love with the shape of you