WHAT CAUSES ATTRACTION?
“Attraction is not a choice.”
– David De Angelo
“It is the woman who chooses the man who will choose her.”
– Helen Rowland
Attraction is a force, or set of forces, that draws our attention toward something. On this website, we examine the attraction a person has toward a particular social object, but in this case, the social object is another person. Something draws us toward that person. That “something” is our main concern.
“The only way to appreciate something’s value is to distance yourself from it for a while”
In order to find out what is attractive to someone, we must first ask ourselves what makes anything valuable and thus, desirable? We will begin by discussing Georg Simmel’s generic definition of the concept “value.” In his book The Philosophy of Money, Simmel offers a useful examination of the concept. He sketches out a logical sequence on how social objects become valuable. For the purpose of discussing relationships, people are viewed as social objects.
In Simmel’s view, what makes something (or someone) valuable is the “distance“ between the “thing” itself and the person desiring “it.” According to Simmel, overcoming the distance between the person desiring it and the item itself makes a thing “desirable.” Because closing such distance requires one to exert some sort of effort, the object’s desirability is measured by how much work must be put into closing that distance. In other words, the more effort it takes to earn the object, the more value that object becomes. The less work it takes to obtain something; it is rendered less valuable. Simmel’s logic seems simple enough.
“… the most valuable objects are the ones that are neither too close, too easily obtainable, nor are too far; and/or difficult to obtain… ”
Simmel’s Model of Value.
For purposes of our discussion, let’s change Simmel’s VALUE label in the chart to ATTRACTION. After all, the “value” we are talking about relates to a person. The logic of the concept is identical; but in this case, our concern is with people.
Simmel’s Model with ATTRACTION Substituted for VALUE
Simmel argued that expending EFFORT to close some sort of “distance” between you and the object of your desire is what makes anything valuable to you (including people). For example, say you desire a Porsche. Under normal circumstances, a person would have to work long hours, or expend significant effort to acquire such a luxurious car. Thus, they would likely APPRECIATE that car. They would take care of that Porche!
THE VALUE FORMULA
Simmel begins his argument with the concept of “EFFORT.” It takes EFFORT to “earn” someone’s affections. Simmel says a person WILL NOT develop a liking for someone with whom they don’t have to put forth much effort to get to know. On the other hand, a person WILL develop a liking for someone whom they can’t take for granted. In short, you have to respect yourself before anyone else will respect you. Respect precedes LOVE. And you normally have to earn respect. So, like respect, LOVE is something to be earned.
There are three levels of EFFORT:
LOW … MEDIUM … HIGH
There are also three levels of ATTRACTION:
LOW … MEDIUM … HIGH
Low EFFORT = low ATTRACTION
Medium EFFORT = medium ATTRACTION
“The most valuable persons are the ones who are “hard to get,” but not “impossible to get.”
Simmel also cautions against conceptualizing “value” in too simplistic of terms. He maintains that if the distance is too narrow- too easy to overcome, it renders the object valueless. Yet, on the other hand, if the distance is too wide, and virtually insurmountable, the object also ceases to be of much value. Some think that high EFFORT should correspond exactly with high ATTRACTION. But as Simmel cautioned, if it requires TOO MUCH effort to attain someone’s affections, it may mean that “the juice is no longer worth the squeeze.” Thus, the optimal distance of a social object, according to Simmel, is one that is neither too close nor too far. When using Simmel’s logic to examine relationships, the most valuable persons are the ones who are “hard to get,” but not “impossible to get.”
THE OPTIMAL ATTRACTION
The OPTIMAL EFFORT / ATTRACTION balance is someone who is neither too FAR nor too NEAR. Simmel calls these parameters the “upper” and “lower” real-limits. If you’re too easy to get, you will get kicked to the curb. If you’re too distant, someone may feel that it’s not worth the effort to pursue you. Again, I reference the “juice” and the “squeeze.”
The logic described above is similar to how I view the weather. When I lived in Arizona, sometimes during the extreme heat, I would reminisce about the nasty cold spells that would descend on Denver every winter. Now that I live in cold Colorado, every time I shovel my walk, I reminisce about Arizona’s torrid heat. It works the same way with relationships. When you are with someone who you wish treated you better, you fantasize about a “nice” guy; so you think. In contrast to the unpleasant guy, the nice guy doesn’t seem like so much work! They aren’t draining either. So you convince yourself that you want a nice guy. When you finally begin dating that nice guy, how much time will go by before you find yourself wanting more of a challenge? This can seem like an unending cycle.
My mentor, Bob Snow, put it this way: sometimes when our lives become too stable and potentially boring (in a word, too PREDICTABLE) we tend to introduce some sort of chaos into them. It tends to make our lives a little more interesting.
On the other hand, when our lives become too chaotic, we may then attempt to gain back some sense of stability and thus, predictability. There are no set time frames for when this tipping point will likely occur; it may happen slowly or it may happen all-at-once. But at this juncture, we need to acknowledge that change is likely, whatever form it takes.
Unarguably then, value is associated with effort. Let’s take a look at how this works using a simple example. “Would you pick up a penny you spotted laying on the ground?” When I pose this question to students, invariably, a number of them raise their hands affirming their agreement. Next I ask, “Would you pick up that same penny on a crowded downtown sidewalk during a lunch-hour rush?” Almost all of the hands; the hands that affirmed they would indeed pick up the penny under the first scenario, now go back down. I then ask, “Why not?” When pressed, most of those who had previously put their hand up reply that it is just too embarrassing to put forth that much effort in a crowded environment in order to pick up a mere penny.
Next I inquire whether or not, under the same circumstances, any of them would pick up a $100 bill? This time all of their hands go up! “Why are there so many hands up now?” I ask. All answers tend to center around the logic that the $100 bill is worth more than the penny. And they are all correct! Under normal circumstances, a person must work harder to earn the $100 as opposed to the minimal effort they would have to expend to earn the penny. Pennies just aren’t very valuable and are often tossed, left at a sales counter, or put in some sort of container and generally forgotten about.
So, ask yourself … in your partner’s eyes, are you an APPRECIATED $100 BILL?
Or are you a nice BIG PENNY?
In other words, does your partner appreciate you, or do they take you for granted? If your partner takes you for granted, then perhaps you should consider scaling back your efforts to please them. I’m not suggesting that you be mean, or rude about it. I’m only saying that under normal circumstances, whenever we have to work for something, we desire whatever it is that we had to work so hard to get (or keep).
A related concept to that of Simmel’s is what I call invested effort. This type of situation usually involves a partner who has put so much time and effort into a relationship that they feel they MUST continue their pursuit of the aloof partner. These hopeful romantic types should probably end their relationships, and thus cut their losses. However, they feel as though such actions would be admitting defeat. They would end up feeling as though their efforts would have been a complete waste of their time. Therefore, these types find ways to keep their relationships alive, often fooling themselves in the process.