In some cases, people talk about their knees getting weak. Or being “drawn toward” someone. The attraction they feel is like some kind of seismic shift inside their very being — immediate and hard-hitting.
Other couplings start off far more calmly. Maybe two people feel comfortable with each other, but not particularly moved. Strong feelings develop over time. And even then, those feelings aren’t particularly dramatic.
You would think that one of these would be more successful than the other in predicting long-term relationship success… but you’d be wrong. Both are real and valid ways for romantic attraction to form and last.
But… why? How? They seem so different. Shouldn’t attraction just be one thing? What is it, exactly, that draws two people together — and in such completely opposite ways?
Here are a few different theories and schools of thought — and what Imago says about the mystery of attraction.
Theories of Romantic Attraction
Three of the main theories of why people become romantically attracted to each other are the Biological Theory, the Social Psychology Theory, and the Persona Theory.
Let’s take a quick look at each.
This theory is pretty straightforward. It basically says that we are attracted to people based on specific biological needs.
Men look for women who display qualities indicating they are in their peak childbearing years. Women look for men who display “alpha” qualities, indicating that they could “dominate” competing men and be good providers.
Social Psychology Theory
Here, the idea is that we pretty much instantly size each other up. And then we feel attracted to people who are essentially our equals in terms of traits.
Not just physical or Darwinian traits, but also things like intelligence, humor, kindness, and so on. When someone is right around our level — boom, attraction!
The gist of this theory is we choose people who make us look better to others by their involvement with us.
In other words, we are attracted to people who we believe will bolster our persona and therefore make us more valuable socially.
The Problems with These Theories
One major problem with Biological Theory, of course, is that it doesn’t offer any explanation for LGBTQ relationships. And a problem with all three of these theories is that, if they were true, every single one of us would have fallen in love at least dozens of times.
While that might be true for a few people, most of us tend to be a bit more discriminating.
It isn’t just someone who meets our biological needs that we fall for. Or an “equal.” Or someone who boosts our persona. Or even all three!
So, what exactly accounts for those exceeding rare romantic attractions we feel?
How Imago Answers the Question of Attraction
You’ve heard people say they’re looking for “the one,” right?
While it may seem a bit silly or naïve, Imago teaches that there is some truth to that.
Specifically, Imago says that we’re attracted to those who remind us of our parents in that they possess many similar qualities. And vice versa. The person who chooses you will be attracted to the same thing.
Starting to feel a bit uncomfortable? Hang on — this isn’t an Oedipal thing!
The reason Imago says we’re attracted to people who remind us of our parents is because we all have needs that were not met in childhood. We carry these needs with us. Sort of like open wounds. And falling for someone similar to our parents is our way of recreating that childhood situation.
Why in the world would we want to recreate a situation where our needs went unmet? Because in doing so our subconscious hopes to heal those wounds and become a more “whole” person.
In other words, Jerry Maguire wasn’t totally wrong. In a sense, we are looking for someone who can help “complete” us.
And they want our help in becoming more complete people as well. The purpose of your relationship is to do your best to help each other do that.
Partners who are successful at helping each other to grow and evolve will be able to experience a deep, lasting, fantastic connection that grows and evolves with them.
Need help reconnecting and maintaining that connection? Reach out to Dana Cole, LMFT for relationship counseling in Oakland, CA.