What is Attraction? Survey Says…

Okay, so I have a fun story to share. Well…I should qualify, funny if you (like me) tend to overthink everything.

A bit of background, I work for a university and I am sometimes stopped to participate in surveys. Surveys are a staple in daily campus life. I get it though, as a psych major and counseling graduate myself, I’ve peddled many a survey. Surveys can be fun and I get to see where the current thinking is in human behavior, at least on my campus.

The survey I recently participated in was straight out of Cosmo magazine, or perhaps I’m stereotyping. I understand Cosmo is well reputed for their love surveys.

Anyway, I was greeted by a bright-eyed 20-something and this is more or less how that exchange went down…

Her: Excuse me, ma’am? Could I ask you to take a survey?

Me: Sure, what’s the topic?

Her: *excited* What is attraction!? It’s all about what you find attractive in a partner. Just tick the boxes, it’s really easy!

Me: *briefly scans the questions* It’s all about demographics.

Her: Huh?

Me: I only see demographics listed; age, height, eye color, job…

Her: Yeah, you know, the important stuff.

Me: Oh. No. This isn’t attraction.

Her: *hesitant* What?

Me: Demographics are an accessory to attraction. Finding physical characteristics and hobbies and interests attractive in another person is essentially defacto to attraction already having taken place.

Her: I’m sorry, I don’t…

Me: I don’t particularly find any one physical characteristic to be mutually exclusive to attraction in a potential partner.

Her: *excited* Oh my god, are you aesuxal? If you are that’s totally cool, I would love to know more.

Me: *humored* No, I’m not aesuxal. What I mean is, attraction, real attraction, happens without us knowing it and when it does occur, you are more likely to appreciate the other person’s eyes, height, hair color, etc because it’s them as a whole person, and not because he or she just happen to possess those traits. Don’t get me wrong, physical attraction in human evolution evolved as a way of moving the mating process forward but as the human race stands now, determining lasting attraction is much more intricate. For example, let’s say your ideal mate…are you hetero or homosexual, by the way?

Her: Hetero.

Me: Right, let’s say a man walked up to you right now who embodied all those physical traits that you are most attracted to. Which would be…

Her: *excited* Green eyes, blonde hair, good build, strong hands.

Me: Great, very specific. Now let’s say Mr. Green Eyes Blond Hair walked up to you right now and you’re excited. You’ve been waiting for this guy. He opens his mouth to speak to you and then…he says something so stupid to you, you can’t help but wonder how he was admitted to any college.

Her: *laughs*

Me: I bet you’re “attraction” to him would dissolve almost instantly.

Her: Yeah, okay. I see your point.

Me: Attraction is more than what we see…I mean, it has to be. Green eyes and blonde hair don’t cut it when life gets hard, and believe me, life gets hard. True attraction is developed outside these parameters, and your appreciation for their physical traits and interests and hobbies and work raise as you in turn appreciate them more. And vice versa.

Her: *looking intent* Okay, so what is real attraction then? Because, like, I get what your saying but how do you know it’s, like, “real” attraction.

Me: Well, it’s in the actions. It’s in the voice. It’s in the eyes, not the color or size or shape, but the expression in them. It’s in the movement, how they walk and hold themselves. Thousands of signals being fired off for others to pick up, like breadcrumbs to a trail. The experienced and perceptive are more likely to pick up the trail and understand what he or she is pursuing, and should they bother pursuing it.

Her: *frustrated* Okay, just like, tell me how would I make a survey for this kind of attraction. Then maybe I can understand what I should be asking? Like, what are people supposed to be looking for?

My Brain:
[Attraction is…a movement. It’s a gesture. It’s in a pair of eyes that do not waver despite the many distractions of life. It’s stubborn persistence despite the size of the goal, or perhaps in spite of the goal. Attraction is knowing that the right thing to do is often the hardest thing to do. It’s the wisdom of knowing when to defy the norms; eschewing custom when it no longer serves you. It’s the balance of pursuit and restraint. It’s shutting up to listen and knowing when to speak. Attraction is being told, ‘no, you can’t do that,’ and proving everyone wrong. It’s not succumbing to the petty bullshit of others who would gladly see you mired in their own inanity. It’s recognizing when an apology is needed and having the strength to make good on it too. Attraction is being generous with one’s time, making it when there is none. Understanding that most attraction people experience is a lot like encountering napkins; napkins are everywhere: flimsy and disposable (helpful, but disposable). Attraction is what essentially defines a boy and a man; a girl and a woman. Attraction is being forced into the forge, hammered repeatedly by life and made the stronger for it. It’s an appreciation for things you don’t understand but would like to given the chance. It’s admitting ignorance and expressing a willingness to learn. It’s painting the picture you want to see. Attraction is both an ocean of differences and likenesses, but never indifference. Attraction is making a mistake and learning from it. Attraction is the silence in-between the words. Attraction is…].

Her: *looking at me expectantly*


Me: *sighs inwardly* Fuck it, just put me down for dark eyes.


For people who overthink, this kind of internal dialogue probably reads normally to you. In fact, your brain has likely picked up the ball and has more to say on the subject. Please sound off in the comments with your thoughts on attraction. I would love to read them.

PS – Yes, I swear in front of students. Real respects real. At the very least, I get a laugh from someone who didn’t expect the librarian-looking lady to drop the f-bomb.

Christina Schmidt, MA