My friend texted me the other day asking to set me up on a date with her friend, Freddie*. She sent me a picture, and my first reaction was to say no. Call me harsh, but I wasn’t sexually attracted to him. If he had approached me IRL or I came across him on an app, I wouldn’t have engaged. (Don’t act like you haven’t had similar thoughts, we’re all humans with sexual reproductive organs and needs.) I was completely honest with her about my feelings. She responded promising me that he had an amazing personality, that she thought we’d get along really well, and that he would be “cuter once you get to know him.” This got me thinking, what exactly makes someone better looking once you get to know them? And, most importantly, should I give this dude a chance?
“You most likely won’t be able to put someone on the romantic spectrum if they aren’t visually agreeable,” says relationship expert Susan Winter. But that’s only at first glance. When you walk into a bar, of course your eyes are going to automatically go to someone who fits your type visually. “But in talking to someone throughout the night, having a great conversation, and hearing that you have shared perspectives, your mind starts to assess, given this additional data, how they visually appeal to you,” she says. “Now, your perception of who they are is altered and the scales have tipped to put that person into the romantic partner box.” Aka if someone’s a straight-up sweetie, they become radiant. And conversely, if someone’s a total shitbag, they become repulsive. Makes sense.
But what really allows us to measure if they align more with the former or the latter is being repeatedly exposed to them. This is especially true of colleagues (who we sometimes spend more time with than our own families). You can develop a camaraderie over what you’ve been through and a fondness for what you observe of them. It could also be somebody in your apartment building or somebody you see at the dog park, but either way, this repeated exposure creates a sense of bonding. “Bonding is what activates our sense of connection, which activates our sense of attraction,” says Winter.
Seeing someone more than once allows you to get the full picture: getting to know who they are, how they think, and how they respond to situations. “Now, the person who wouldn’t have shown up on our radar has become interesting and suddenly quite attractive,” says Winter. So, let’s ride with this for a minute. The sexual, physical, and visual attraction portions of a relationship, while important, are only small parts of the overall romantic equation. I’ve met many objectively hot dudes whose personalities were drier than a Triscuit and left with no desire to see them ever again. The more telling piece — and an overall better gauge of compatibility — lies within your verbal and non-aesthetically based connections and how those build over time.
This was true for Samantha*, 26, who had to be convinced by a mutual friend to go out with her current boyfriend of one year, Jonathon*. Although her first thought when she saw photos of him was “Omg, am I taller than him?,” their first date lasted five hours and their emotional and intellectual connection was instant. Even still, at the end of the night when Jonathon walked Samantha home, she didn’t want to kiss him. “I felt like I had spent the night with my best friend, not my boyfriend. But the more we spoke after our date, the more I realized that in my previous failed relationships, my attraction was physical. This was the first time my attraction came out of who the person was,” she says. As they kept dating, she became more attracted to the way Jonathon challenged her, spoke to her, and how he treated the women in his life. “He’s the most supportive, caring, patient, and thoughtful man I’ve ever met,” Samantha adds. “All at once he became the most gorgeous human in any room, and I now never think twice about the height difference!” They’ll be moving in together this July.
Now, there are times where this doesn’t hold true, like for Margot*, 27. She was also set up by a friend and while she wasn’t attracted to pictures of Colin*, the way he was described made her more open minded. “We texted for a couple of weeks since our schedules didn’t align, and the banter was super comfortable. He was smart, loved to travel, came from a great family, and was super quirky and funny,” she says. “The conversation on our date was also awesome; I was there for four hours.” Even though she had a great time, she still didn’t feel any sexual chemistry, so much so that when he tried to kiss her, she was even more turned off. “All in all, he was a cool dude and someone I keep in mind to set up with friends, but after that date I decided not to see him again. Physical attraction is so important to me in a relationship, and I didn’t see my view on that, or him, changing.”
While it may not always work out to be a fairtytale ending, after some consideration and writing this article, I acquiesced from my “fuck no” stance and told my friend I’d give Freddie a try. Since giving her the green light, I’ve texted with him a bit, and I like his iMessage persona. We’ll see what happens IRL, but if the first date goes well, I’m going to heed my own advice and allow for some repeated exposure (for the sake of research, of course).
*Names have been changed to protect innocent daters everywhere.