Openness of mind
December 23, 2010 6:39 PM   Subscribe

Is there a way to expand who you are attracted to?

I've realized that I'm rather picky as to who I like. I'm 19 right now at the moment going on 20 very soon. When I was a bit younger, I used to be a lot less picky as to my attractions. I'm still exclusively into guys though just to make it clear.

I've had a lot of things that have went on over the past months, so I'm not sure if this is just a mental block (that I'm slowly recovering over due to past stress and depression that have finally ceased for about a month or so) or if this is a physical block somewhere.

So anyways, regardless of that, is there any way to make my mind more open in that regard (considering my orientation of course - I'm not trying to turn straight - which isn't possible anyways) or at least to see where the block is occurring? I've seen a counselor before, but it was mostly talking and advice that helped me get through a lot of difficulties. Just having someone to talk to in itself helped me out a lot during my most difficult times as well. And drinking doesn't count (though I bet it works wonders).

Just some extra background info: I'm going to a different college this upcoming semester (used to go to College of Staten Island - now going to go to Brooklyn College since this is where I'm living now and it's rather close to it).
posted by antgly to Human Relations (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I find that forcing yourself to go on dates with different people really helps to open yourself up to different types. If someone asks you out, make it a personal rule that you'll say "yes" to at least one date whether you're attracted to the person initially or not (feel free to give yourself some dealbreakers, but they should be *big* ones - not just appearance or job or whatever).

OkCupid is a great place to get started, even if you aren't interested in a relationship (or even if you aren't interested in sex). Just go on a bunch of dates with different people, and start learning a bit more about who you're attracted to. And have fun!
posted by auto-correct at 6:46 PM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

It might help for you to tell us, or yourself, what you are and aren't attracted to.

"When I was your age" (sorry) I found that I would be attracted to people for certain qualities, and then learn to like their other qualities, that I hadn't been attracted to before. This came through meeting a diversity of people and all the combinations of good-ish and bad-ish qualities they have.

Currently, I see attraction as not something inherent, but something that you learn, particularly by being with someone; you learn to like what they have, even if you hadn't before.

Enjoy the ride!
posted by squishles at 6:48 PM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Does it matter? I only like cute, funny, smart, confident guys, and because it turns out that combination of four traits is rarer than you'd expect, this means I have been attracted to about three in my life. (Only managed to date one, too, because geography got in the way of the others.) And that's okay. You like what you like.
posted by Xany at 6:49 PM on December 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

This may come with confidence and experience. Young people or people who have just been through something horrible can get caught up in the image of themselves as part of a couple or some other BS instead of just taking people as they are.

Do you think of yourself as having a type? Do you think you are a type? Do you start thinking about coupledom with a guy the second you feel a glimmer of attraction? Do you have some idea of what’s appropriate for you as a gay man? Maybe try being more open-minded about yourself and see if that helps.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 6:53 PM on December 23, 2010

As someone with pretty broad tastes, I'll say the types-you-like scale tend to broaden with age as you meet new people.Put yourself in situations where you interact with different types of people, moving colleges will help that a lot.
posted by The Whelk at 6:56 PM on December 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

If you read or watch porn, you could try expanding your horizons there. Look for porn with body types, races and ages different from the ones you are usually attracted to. You might find if you look at it regularly now and again, your tastes shift...
posted by lollusc at 6:58 PM on December 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Play a game where you look and random people (on the subway, at work, at the store) and try to find qualities you find attractive. Or try to think of scenarios in which you could actually imagine sleeping with them (revenge, desert island, you being suddenly less picky after enduring a serious disfigurement). Sometimes the gateway to finding a person more attractive is by focusing on a single quality -- hands, smell, lips, anything.

Sex isn't always about setting out to conquer one specific kind of person. It can be an adventure, a way to get to know others and yourself. It's a way of testing your own boundaries in a safe, non-threatening way. Surprise! It turns out you like it when someone grabs you this way. You never would have thought to ask for it before, but now here you are.

I've definitely had sex with someone just because I was especially attracted to his hands. Otherwise he wasn't ugly or anything, just not really my type. But when I saw the hands, I knew I would make it happen. Or because of their voice. When the emotional stakes are low, you can afford to let your guard down a little bit in the spirit of play.

Besides, even when you find someone that fits your qualifications, you are always going to find surprises.

"Oh, I didn't expect him to have hair THERE..."

"Weird, his calf muscles are practically nonexistent."

"I thought he was younger..."

"Oh man, this guy just doesn't taste as good as he smells..."

Could be anything. Sometimes these kill it. Other times they are unexpected bonuses. But mainly they are just more data. That's what you need -- data.
posted by hermitosis at 7:02 PM on December 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

First, congratulations on the perspective and equilibrium you've gained in a short time -- it's obvious you're in a happier and better place these days.

My experience as a late-20's straight male would be something like this:

We have some genuine attractions that are, to a much greater degree than we necessarily realize, culturally programmed. Through comparing notes with friends, as well as through participating in mass media, I've gathered that a majority of straight American males feel such an attraction to a very specific hourglass figure, thin, large eyes, blond hair. (Take a second to contain your shock.)

In addition to this, we have other genuine attractions that are more personally specific -- in my case, for instance, I've always liked short women with darker hair, clear laughs, and sonorous speaking voices. That describes my crush in 1st grade, my crush in 6th grade, my crush in 9th grade, my crush in 11th grade, and each of my three serious partners since entering the real world, too.

As a kid without much experience, I didn't really differentiate between the two sources of frisson (although I did recognize that the first category was more common among my peers). But over time, the first category of attraction has ebbed and flowed for me; the second category of attraction has been a powerful constant in my life.

I really don't mean to discount the first kind of attraction as "fake" or "cheap", since when I see an archetype of societally-specified standards of beauty, I certainly take a moment to admire her, and my appreciation is of the same substance as my appreciation of My Type. Maybe it's less compelling, but it's certainly still there.

But I hold no illusion that I'd feel the same way if I had never been inundated with images of that cultural ideal. If I had been raised in Polynesia, I think, I'd like (1) dark-skinned round women and (2) short, dark-haired women with nice laughs. When I am 70, I predict, I will like (1) whatever kind of woman has been on TV recently and (2) short, dark-haired women with nice laughs.

So to give a literal answer to your question using only my own anecdotal experience as a basis: although our externally-prescribed desires may change, our idiosyncratic desires are immutable and hardwired.

If I'm right that mine has been a representative experience, then the sad cases are those who can't reconcile their culturally-programmed interests with their inborn interests. Western mass media culture does not just extol one archetype; it also rejects certain anti-archetypes. I'm lucky in that the outside world is perfectly content to acknowledge the beauty of My Type. If I were into bald women or heavy women or masculine women, or whatever, I could imagine finding it very difficult to settle on an archetype I liked unconflictedly. I think to be really happy I'd need to make positive efforts to rid myself of cultural prescriptions.

How does all this relate to your experience? I'm not sure. The easy analogy -- is it right? -- would be something like, (1) you've experienced a cultural impulsion to admire a certain archetype of woman; but (2) Your Type is actually a certain subset of men. On that analogy, I guess, you've already overcome those interests that were prescribed for you by an external culture, and I wouldn't count on your remaining interests changing. (But I lack personal experience with same-sex desire, and so I don't want to make predictions that stray from my expertise.)
posted by foursentences at 7:21 PM on December 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Also, lollusc's advice is really really good. I think that I got a lot from thoroughly exploring sites such as Nifty Erotic Stories, where everything is sorted by categories, including a few I had never even pondered at the time. Some of the stories will turn you on and some will turn you off, but there's really something to reading descriptions of a particular fetish written by someone who REALLY loves it. Sometimes that enthusiasm is contagious, and you wind up turned on despite yourself.

But again, works best hand-in-hand with real life sampling.
posted by hermitosis at 7:23 PM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Fake it 'till you make it.

Really, yeah, just give different types of guys chances. Cognitive dissonance will work for you - "why did I just go on that date with that guy? huh, I must like him." - and then you're golden.
posted by estlin at 7:48 PM on December 23, 2010

Is it a physical thing? Stop watching TV and movies for a while, and cut out magazines. I noticed that when I stopped consuming mainstream media's ideas of beauty (largely because of an insane study schedule, not out of virtue), I suddenly found enormous portions of the human race indescribably beautiful in ways I'd never noticed before. I had to stop myself from telling strangers things like, "You have the most gorgeous, unique nose I've ever seen!" because my mainstream brain would remind me just in time that said nose was well outside the norms of mainstream beauty and when you say things like that to strangers they don't always appreciate it. :)

(I did go back to my TV habits eventually, but this memory has staid with me and sometimes I try to media-fast so I can remember how gorgeous humanity is.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:09 PM on December 23, 2010 [5 favorites]

Alcohol is the traditional remedy here...
posted by musofire at 8:11 PM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Speaking as a born picky person, if you're truly picky (or what Xany said!), trying to force yourself to like people that you don't doesn't work. I honestly don't recommend it. Please, only go out with people that you can find a reason or desire to spend more time with, even if it's not necessarily sexual. Do not go out with everyone who asks because you got told to "give him a chance." I used to do that and I so regret it. I hurt a lot of guys' feelings doing that, and I shouldn't have.

I'd like to say, only date people that you WOULD want to spend time with again. If you've met them and they ask you out and you honestly wouldn't give a crap if you ever saw them again in your life, don't "give him a chance."
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:14 PM on December 23, 2010

My type is tall, excessively skinny, dark hair, dark eyes, usually glasses, geeky. There have been, to date, precisely 3 men who have fit this description well enough to do it for me. So far, that's about one every five years of my romantically active life.

I don't think I'm blocked, I just think that that's what I like in a man. Sure, I don't get hot and bothered by a new crush very often, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
posted by ysabet at 8:34 PM on December 23, 2010

Your not even 20 yet and you are worrying about expanding your "type"? As your experiences broaden and you meet more people I bet this will happen without too much effort on your part. I bet in 5 and certainly 10 years you'll back and see a variety of attractions.
posted by mmascolino at 8:51 PM on December 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

In my own experience, yes, it's quite possible to have who one's attracted to change. I don't know how possible it is to force that to change, but change is possible. During my teens and early twenties, I was very attracted to tall, slender, pale sorts (preferably with English accents). And then I met the guy I'm now married to, who is... not that.

Some years later, he picked me up one evening after I'd been at a friend's house watching Spider-Man. "So, what did you think of it?" he asked.

"Well," I said, "It was okay. Alfred Molina was..." and I started chuckling.

"What? What?" my husband said, somewhat (comic-geek) defensively. "He's supposed to be a big guy!"

"No, no," I said, "it's just that what I was thinking was 'Gee, Alfred Molina was really hot.' Which I never would have thought before I met you."

So, yeah, one's tastes can change.
posted by Lexica at 10:42 PM on December 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm going to be a voice of dissent here: you like what you like. That may change, or you might find yourself being attracted to someone you don't expect, but please, please please, do not "force" yourself to date against type.

I've dated guys who certainly seem attracted to me, and of course we have a lot in common and all those good things that spark a relationship, but the relationships end quickly, badly, and awkwardly because ultimately they're embarrassed to be with me. I've learned that some guys have literally forced themselves to date me out of some politically correct sense of "guilt"; they know, if it weren't for that one thing, they'd totally date me. But that "one thing" is a dealbreaker when it comes to having an intimate relationship in a way that it just wouldn't be in friendship. But that makes dating me a pity party, and ultimately, it makes me feel like less of a person and more of a thing.

Whether it's race, education, body type, or any of the other silly things that "shouldn't" matter, if a person can't imagine herself out in public with someone who is X (except as a crazy once in a lifetime experiment) -- much less introduce an X to their parents -- it's just not going to work.

By the time a person is dating, innate prejudices are extremely difficult to change; all anyone can do is be aware of them. Even though I hope everyone strives to expand their horizons as much as possible, do you really want your life partner to be an "affirmative action" pick? You'd always look down on them. I think the most anyone can do, as an adult, is to recognize their limits and raise their kids to be less limited.
posted by lesli212 at 2:58 AM on December 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

I think this is a really interesting question, especially since I am on the other side of a marriage, with kids your age. But I too would theoretically like to "expand" my type preferences now that I'm ugh dating. I've spent the last year giving it a heckuva solid try, and yeah, I guess it's true that once you open up, and give someone a chance you do start to notice physical characteristics that you can sort of kind of build into "attractive," and that some patience and good listening teases out mutual blah blah blah. But. Hot? No. No.

While I do think YOU change as time goes on and your desires mature, which naturally transforms those upon whom you gaze, I'm with the others -- there's no forcing it. If your strong response/impulse is, Just can't picture it, well ... it's probably not going to work for you.

As a side note, check out celebrity couples, the wedding section of the paper and then your own circle of couples. Similiar face shape -- particularly jawline/chin -- attract! (Look at ScarJo and RR for a good example!)
posted by thinkpiece at 5:26 AM on December 24, 2010

For me it took one Chinese woman being interested in me. I never thought of dating an Asian woman or any non-white woman prior to that.
posted by Gringos Without Borders at 6:08 AM on December 24, 2010

Perhaps you could make an effort to get to know people and connect with them before you definitively decide whether or not you are attracted to them. I've had it happen several times that a guy who struck me as just okay in the looks department — or whose looks I never even bothered to assess one way or another — suddenly became very, very attractive once I got to know him.

Also, just looking at someone doesn't tell you the whole story chemistry-wise — it takes actually being in contact to find that out. Of the guys I've been with, the ones who were objectively speaking the best-looking weren't the best as partners.
posted by orange swan at 6:36 AM on December 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do not go out with everyone who asks because you got told to "give him a chance." I used to do that and I so regret it. I hurt a lot of guys' feelings doing that, and I shouldn't have.

GOD YES. Dating lovely people to whom I was not and really knew I would not be attracted because my friends talked me into it. . . it's insulting and unkind to the people involved.

There have been people who I've come to be attracted to over time, as their personalities outshone their irrelevant physical characteristics, but that never happened from willing it or forcing it.

You're young. Really, I've found my tastes broadening and changing as I've aged. There are still people of specific physical/personality combinations who will knock my socks off, but there's this larger pool of people who I know I could be attracted to if I wanted to, but I don't, so I'm not.

So: to answer your question. Just try to stay loose. You really may just be kind of depressed. Pay attention to your least-conventional attractions -- those are often the places where it's easiest to observe something intense and new happening in your libido (because you can be more sure that it's innate to you and not programmed.)
posted by endless_forms at 7:28 AM on December 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you watch porn, seek out porn featuring guys who aren't your current "type" (if you're into Bel Ami boys, watch bear porn, and vice-versa). Amateur porn is also a great way to see the sexiness in lots of people who don't meet mainstream beauty ideals.

It can be really easy to reinforce particular habits of mind, sex-wise, by using porn/erotica that keeps pushing the same buttons. And it can also be really easy to broaden those particular habits of mind by seeking out porn/erotica that pushes other buttons. Not for everyone, but it's certainly worth a try.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:51 PM on December 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

If dating the same type of person always ends in the same bad way, you'll eventually get tired of it and avoid those people. It's probably not going to happen when you're 20 though.

For 30 years, every woman I started dating was 18 or 19. Sometimes this turned into multi-year relationships; sometimes it didn't. But it pretty much always ended the same.

At this point in my life -- as much as I like looking at much younger women -- I've experienced enough negative reinforcement that as soon as they start talking to me I'm already backing away.

Good luck! Hopefully it won't take 30 years for you to make the change.
posted by coolguymichael at 5:51 PM on December 24, 2010

Just get to know more people! Make friends with the "type" of guy you like, and don't put those people on a pedestal. But also make friends with people you wouldn't normally go for. I found that when I was in college, I was insanely attracted to a certain "look" of guy but when I got to know the couple of guys on my campus who had that look they turned out to not really be for me. Then I unexpectedly got to know a guy who looked pretty much completely opposite of that type, cute in his own way, but a way I hadn't ever considered to be attractive to me. Add his ability to make me dissolve into tears with laughter, his gentlemanly ways, and his ridiculous smarts, I fell HARD for this fellow. We were together for five years. So, just remain open to who's out there...dudes may surprise you.
posted by medeine at 10:56 AM on December 25, 2010

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