By Leila Levinson, LMSW
There is a saying that has been credited to Chaucer, the English poet who lived in the 1300’s: “Love comes in through the eye.” We human beings are very visually oriented, and so physical appearance is typically the first characteristic we notice about others and most emphasize. How often, when asked to describe what attracts us romantically, will we list height, hair or eye color, physique? And only roundaboutly do we get to personality traits? Sexual attraction is almost universally understood to be based on physical attraction, the notion that as soon as we see someone we know whether or not we could become romantically involved with them. Dating apps reflect this attitude, swiping left or right solely a function of how a person appears in a photograph. But is our physical attraction to someone the best indicator of compatibility?
It’s a valuable exercise to consider if our culture’s obsession with appearances has been beneficial to people making the best choice of marriage partner. How enduring is our appearance, when we are all mortal? If you ask anyone who has been married for any length of time how much of a role their physical attraction to their mate has had in the durability of their marriage, odds are they will answer it is relatively unimportant. What makes for a strong marriage is common values, mutual levels of commitment, shared interests, compatible temperaments, reciprocity; and often the physical attraction has become a function of these areas of compatibility that build intimacy in marriage.
It is an interesting phenomenon that as we get to know another person very well, our perception of their physical appearance changes. Discovering that someone is arrogant or intractable or selfish might greatly lessen our initial impression of their being handsome or beautiful. Conversely, as we come to know someone’s humility or quiet brilliance, what had seemed to be ordinary features become beautiful.
If you are single and wanting to be in a committed relationship, one way to go about finding someone who might be worthy of your time and interest is to see the process similar to finding a new friend. Have the intention of looking beyond their face and body as you spend time talking and exploring personality and interests. Can you see yourself having lots to talk about, having lots you might learn from this person, a common ground that would facilitate the hard work marriage inevitably requires? Would you be willing to refrain from quick sexual involvement so you might obtain a clear perspective of them? Exciting sexual passion may not endure over the long haul of a marriage. While it’s a great bonus if it comes in tandem with truly liking a person for their mind, their values, and their personality, it isn’t a successful premise in and of itself for a marriage. Better to fall in love with someone for the spiritual or intellectual affinities you have with them than the great sex. Because the former might well lead to the latter. But the latter in and of itself in no way guarantees the former.
For more, read Leila’s blog post on marriage and intimacy.
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