Is Attraction Important?

How important is attraction? How do you find the right balance between attributing too much importance to it or too little? We look at these questions in the context of married couples.

The Case for 'Not Very Important'

We all know happy couples who appear to give very little if any importance to being attractive. Their relationship seems to be as comfy as an old pair of slippers. They seem to have a very practical and comfortable way of getting on together, and it would be hard to argue that anything essential is lacking. When you see couples like that it is easy to argue that attractiveness is not very important.

Then you can see the opposite - a couple who both seem to put a high value on attractive appearance, always stylish, and polished in their manner of relating. Yet they might be unhappy, and have a somewhat brittle relationship. When you see couples like that it is also easy to argue that attractiveness is not very important.

But of course these two examples are from opposite ends of the scale. They would be good rhetorical examples for someone in a debating club trying to prove the case that trying to be attractive to the other sex is not all that important. However, one could easily counter by giving examples of couples of the first type who are always unhappy and sniping at each other. Or examples of the second type who have a wonderful and natural relationship.

The Case for 'Quite Important'

So if you ask the question "Is attraction important?" the short answer is, well, it is and it isn't. The bottom line is - attractiveness of the more obvious kinds is not ultimately important. However, there is an important reason why making the effort to be more attractive is important.

It is this: we don't live all our lives on the 'bottom line'. Life is more than fulfilling the minimum requirements. Although a couple might have a good, solid relationship, each might harbour some quiet disappointment that the other is not more attractive in some particular ways. This is especially the case if it seems that the other could develop such attractiveness with a bit more awareness and effort.

The case for 'quite important' is simply this: if it is reasonably possible to be more attractive to the other, why not make the effort? It would add something to the relationship without taking anything away.

Striking a Balance

So how do you strike a reasonable balance? I won't try to give a comprehensive answer, but offer a number of points to consider.

1. Gift, Not Entitlement

The most fundamental factor is attitude, specifically, that you want to be more attractive for the sake of the other. Your attractiveness - whatever degree or kind might be realistic for you - is your gift to the other. Similarly, your wish that the other would try to be more attractive to you is a hope, not an entitlement.

2. Awareness of the Other

It is quite common for couples not to have a clear idea of what each other finds attractive. They might have some idea, but these might not run very deep. Partly this comes from the differences between the sexes, and a lack of clarity as to how the other is likely to feel about many things. Partly it comes from recognising that it needs to be a gift, so it would be inappropriate to raise one's disappointments as if they were disappointed expectations rather than disappointed hopes. The delicacy of the matter makes it hard to make the other clearly aware of one's hopes.

3. A Cultural Measure

Culture can play an important part in both the difficulties mentioned above. Men and women can learn something about the kinds of things the other sex usually finds attractive, and why. Even though this does not reveal the particularities of the preferences of individuals, it can provide a range of ideas to draw on. It also provides indirect ways to pick up clues about what your partner finds appealing. Let's say a couple is watching a movie. There are ways of commenting favourably on things you see there - without being too pointed or obvious about it - that would give the other some clues about your preferences of which he or she might not be aware.

4. A Mutual Measure

Although 'cultural resources' can play an important role, the essential measure is a mutual one decided by the particular couple. A couple can work out over time what works for them through a back-and-forth interplay between culturally derived ideas and individual responses. It might never be ideal, and is unlikely ever to be any exact fulfilment of the fantasies of either of them, but it can nevertheless be more fulfilling than either would have had if they never tried.