The elements of attraction

6 Feb

How, exactly, does attraction work?

The ancients, absent our modern obsession with breaking things down into step-by-step instructions, put it this way:

There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not: The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid.

Holy Bible, Proverbs 30:18-19 (King James Version)

Typical dating advice focus on the things you should do and say to dial up attraction in a woman. This assumes that the outcome is a result of conscious, deliberate action. (“Fail to plan, plan to fail”, etc.)

There’s another category of actions that influence outcomes: Actions that are reflexive, and largely beyond one’s control. Obviously, these are actions most of us would have the most trouble with. 

Here’s what I consider to be the four basic elements of attraction.

  1. Eye contact: It’s something that seldom occurs to us, but all human interaction begins with eye contact. You can catch a woman’s eyes from across the hall, communicating interest before a word is spoken. That brief connection communicates a torrent of information–attraction,  affection, social protocols, relative social status, possible conversation approaches. To catch a woman’s eye, and to hold the eye contact, is to pave the way for a strong connection.
  2. Conversation: Of the four elements on this list, conversation is the most commonly addressed practical aspect of dating. It’s often said (and rightly so) that good conversation is really about listening, and that verbal communication only makes up a tiny percentage of communication. But words are still an important part of attraction, and two particular elements–honesty and vulnerability–are crucial to deep, meaningful conversation.
  3. Physical space: Possibly the least discussed of the four elements of attraction, but possibly the most important. Physical space comprises two parts: the space your body is occupies, and the space between you and another person. Body language and posture are actually a subset of this. Control of personal physical space reveals a lot about your self-image, as well as your relationship with the observer. Unfortunately, this is controlled (as well as observed) at a subconscious level, and very hard to manage consciously.
  4. Touch: Touch is typically presented in dating advice under the label of “kinesthetics”, or “kino” for short. Most writers talk about how to touch a woman in such a way as to make her attracted to you. I think of touch differently, as a reflex action to a physical situation (e.g. removing lint from your date’s hair), or a social situation (e.g. you need to guide her through a crowd). I don’t look out for opportunities to touch (it’s creepy), or permission from a woman to touch her (you’ll never get it). It’s about responding to the situation.

I will address these elements in future entries, but the moment I’ll note that three of the four elements listed above are usually categorised as “non-verbal communication”. “Communication” is a misnomer, because the non-verbal stuff are not typical ways to communicate “meaning”. They are more rightly described as “tells”—involuntary reflexes signs that reveal just how attracted, anxious, or bored your date is, and vice versa.

Because the majority of these attraction elements are involuntary, it’s difficult to engineer attraction when there is none. On the other hand, they are strong indications of attraction and chemistry once they have taken place. (And attraction is more frequently present in any given male-female interactions than most guys think. That’s why these guys inadvertently kill any attraction that might have been there–but that’s a story for another time.)

People often complain they don’t know if a date went well. If you probe into how it happened, almost inevitably you’ll find they allowed themselves to be distracted during the progress of the date, by their own thoughts and anxiety. Had they paid attention, they would have recognised a whole pattern of signs, both in their date and in themselves—the body language, their physical proximity and positioning, the energy of the conversation, the quality of the eye contact. These are all vivid indicators of your mutual attraction and comfort (or lack thereof).

Most advice talk about recognising signs of attraction in a woman. That’s only half the story. Recognising attraction is as much about being aware of your own emotional state, and how well you are responding to a woman. It’s about recognising if there is chemistry or not, which is never just about she’s responding or how you’re doing–it’s about how the both of you are doing.

Anxiety can cause you to miss or resist the natural flow of an interaction. If you’re constantly in your head, thinking of the right things to say, your responses will be stiff, or you’ll helplessly move from one topic to the next, eventually running out of things to say. It’s always better to acknowledge her (and your own) emotional state: “I guess you’re as anxious as I am. Is it your first time here too?”

Attraction is not about what you say or what you do. It’s about subconsciously picking up a woman’s reaction to your presence, and how you respond to it. At the very worst, you’ll be the best listener your date has ever met.


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