The subject of Attraction was widely discussed in one of my Lenten password protected posts, Picking On Me (now private, like all its kin). I found that some of the ideas mentioned in that post were especially insightful, in particular the discussion over “objective” versus “subjective” attraction. Since that post is now locked up, those ideas are effectively hidden away, constituting a loss in my book. I am creating this new post because I want to highlight them for all my readers, and to both save some of what was discussed as well as hopefully continue the conversation from before.
As far as structure goes, I’m first going to recreate some of my post below. Then I will rephrase some of the better comments out there so that their origin is unrecognizable. Finally I will add my further thoughts on the subject.
My commentary on “Types” was a major driver in the discussion of of “subjective” and “objective” attraction. Here is most of what I wrote:
Everyone has a preferred “type”, or possibly more than one. I think that “type” is a combination of features that we like which add together into a pleasing package. I know that I have a set of features in women which I prefer, which added together gets close to an “ideal” for me in terms of physical appearance. Some variations are acceptable in this, but overall I think that I have a clear set of preferences.
In the past there was a large enough pool of marriage-worthy candidates that most folks (although admittedly not all) could satisfy at least some of their preferences. But nowadays only those with a really high value can afford to be so picky.
I think that for most guys, and I admit to speculating here, that if a woman meets enough of the features we care most about, we are willing to give a lot of leeway on the others. Essentially, we have a sort of “good enough” level not unlike what I talked about in Romantic Architecture. So if a guy cares about X, Y and Z, in that order, then if he finds a woman with a high X, but the Y and Z aren’t high, he might not mind any deficiency in those features that much. But the opposite, a woman with only a high Z, might not cut it. Again, this is rampant speculation.
That led to some other observations and thoughts:
- Women have types just as much as men do. And like men, the pool is restricted given the current marriage marketplace.
- A preferred “type” can be personality based as well as physical based. Although for men, for whom physicality determines most of attraction, a woman’s personality has little to no impact on her attractiveness. Rather, it impacts her desirability.
- There is such a thing as “sexual draw.” Difficult to define or explain. Basically when a person feels a pull towards someone much stronger than would be expected from their apparent attractiveness. It is unique, between an individual man and woman.
At this point I offered the following:
1) Objective Attraction- the man finds a woman attractive on an objective, impersonal level. This is the “rate me by my photo” level of attraction. It is non-dynamic, meaning it requires seeing a woman at a distance or not in person.
2) Subjective Attraction- this is where a man finds a woman attractive on personal, even visceral level. This is what we mean by “chemistry.” This is heavily dynamic, and probably relies on body language clues, smell and maybe pheromones/hormones. As such, requires close proximity.
3) Personality Compatibility- this is where a woman’s personality matches up with a man’s, such that they “get” each other. This is what we mean by “fell for one another.”
More comments followed:
- Someone expressed the belief that subjective attraction might be a learned behavior. The possibility of it developing during the bonding that comes through sexed being one example.
- The dynamic of men being drawn to women like their mothers would be a possible manifestation of “subjective attraction.”
- The converse could also be true. Both in that this 3-step process would apply to women and their attraction to men, and that women being attracted to men like their fathers would be a subjective attraction example.
- A preference for a woman/man of a certain race is another manifestation of “subjective attraction filters.”
- Someone mentioned the role of smell and immune systems, and posted the following link: Major histocompatibility complex and sexual selection.
And that wraps up the discussion of the subject in my old post.
As I hinted at earlier in the comments of the older post, I see attraction as a three step process:
- Objective Attraction
- Subjective Attraction
- Personality Compatibility
Objective Attraction is based on universal criteria. For male attraction to women, this would include features like waist-to-hip ratio, breasts, lets, etc. For female attraction to men, this would be along the lines of the LAMPS/PSALM factors. These are criteria that all men and women have to one degree or another, although individuals will have preferences and might favor one feature over another.
Subjective Attraction is entirely personal. A combination of genetics, learned behavior and environmental factors might all play into it. Most of the subjective attraction factors are based on “triggers” that require close proximity to someone. My suspicion is that subjective attraction is heavily influenced by subconscious or unconscious triggers in our brain, which are hardwired to filter for specific traits as highly desirable (or the reverse). . This might be due to certain traits/features being ideal to combine with one’s own genetics in order to maximize the benefits to any progeny. While it is possible that at some point in the future we might be able to understand this for individual persons, at this point it is far outside our capabilities. As such, subjective attraction is a series of unknowns.
Personality Compatibility is also individual in nature. Although it is not, in my view, quite so occult as subjective attraction remains. Rather, using concepts like Myers-Briggs, we can get an estimate of what personality types we might be more or less compatible with. However, MBTI isn’t perfect, and doesn’t explain all the “deep” connections out there.
Now, this particular pattern might only apply to men. For women, where personality plays into attraction in a way that it doesn’t for men, it might be simpler or more complicated. My suspicion is that for women Personality Compatibility probably folds into Subjective Attraction, leaving just a 2-step process. Given the monogamous nature of women, and the desire for male commitment (preferably from a single man who encompasses all the positive male attributes), it makes more sense for this kind of arrangement. For men, on the other hand, who have polygamous instincts (albeit on a sort of sliding scale), it makes sense that there would be a separate personality component. After all, if we are going to stick to a single woman and invest in her (and our offspring), we need to be able to tolerate her presence.
One consequence of this formulation of attraction is that it highlights the inherent weakness of any kind of objective classification system. The “1-10” scale or my LAMPS/PSALM formulation are based only on objective criteria. Adding in personal, subjective criteria makes them much less accurate and effective at describing the attraction process. Of course, this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. In fact, there is a strong argument the other way.
If subjective attraction is something that can elevate a person’s attractiveness beyond what their “objective” measure would indicate, it means that a person should never consider themselves “out of the running.” Individualized and hidden preferences might mean that that you trip someone’s subjective triggers despite the fact that they would normally not be attracted to you on a purely objective level.
An interesting point is that usually we don’t differentiate between objective and subjective attraction. That is because most of the time we become familiar with someone through in-person contact. This close proximity allows that subjective measurement of attraction to take place. So most of the time we don’t realize that there is a difference. It is only when we get a non-personal image of a person- like through photos and video for example, and then later meet someone in person, that we can appreciate the distinction.
This has the greatest impact in online dating. That is a medium where objective attraction is established at first, without the subjective components being tested. Because of this, it is possible that someone might seemingly meet the objective criteria of another person and have that person convinced that they are attractive, only for that to be dashed when personal contact occurs. On the other hand, it might also mean that someone might be on the fence about another person’s attractiveness, but meeting them in person triggers their subjective qualifiers and pushes that person into the attractive category. Because of this phenomenon, it is best for folks engaging online to meet in person as soon as reasonably possible.
The major point to draw from this post is that nothing beats personal, face-to-face contact. However much your personalities might mesh, and despite whatever reactions photos and video might bring, meeting in person trumps everything. It also means that someone should never consider their cause hopeless. The occult nature of subjective attraction means that you just might be what someone else is looking for, even though they don’t realize it. And that brings this particular post to a close. If I forgot anything, or anyone has anything to add, please mention so in the comments.