How do you manage sparklessness?
November 14, 2011 4:29 PM   Subscribe

How do you, um, tell if you're attracted to someone without there being a spark?

Until recently, I based all of my relationship and dating decisions on "the spark" which, for some reason unknown to me, only chooses to ignite itself around the type of guy I have dubbed "the alpha nerd"-- charismatic, risk-loving nerds who have a passionate interest in something (one of them is really into HCI, another was into heterodox economics, and another into interactive government), but that something is generally not being in a relationship with me. Instead, the way it turns out is that I end up in these horrible situations where I'm having these long, sparkling conversations, and learning all sorts of weird things I've never even heard of, and talking about childhoods and dreams and fears, and having crazy awesome sex, but am at the same time completely miserable because I am desperately in love with someone who isn't really interested in being with me but, you know, thinks I'm great and beautiful, and wishes he were at that place in his life where he's ready to really commit to someone, and so on, like it has gone on for all time, which is why we have art and poetry and Taylor Swift.

Holy run-on sentence, Batman.

So, given that I've hit my mid-twenties without ever having a real, mutually-supportive, committed, normal-person relationship, but instead a number of amazing, passionate and incredibly short and painful fizzles, I've decided that maybe the spark just isn't for me and I should probably at least try a different approach to relationships and dating. And this is where I'm stuck.

I recently went on a couple of dates with this guy who is very smart and cool, but introverted and quiet (although assertive enough to actively ask me out on a date, which is pretty awesome), and seems to want to actually spend time with me. Let's call him Redfoo*. I like him but...there's no spark so I'm not sure if I, for lack of a better term, like like him. He's kind, and I think he would treat me well, but this sounds very self-centred and much like the language of settling, which isn't fair to him or me.

This isn't something I would ordinarily think about at all, but this weekend, we hung out with my friend Justin Bieber and his friend Lady Gaga, and I found myself getting kind of annoyed and jealous when Lady Gaga started flirting with Redfoo. She later asked about him and commented that she found him kind of cute and I felt myself getting like a weird sympathetic nervous response--my heart started beating faster and I could feel blood rushing to my face. So...does this mean I'm into Redfoo**? Or just that I'm kind of a possessive bitch and am incredibly competitive with other women?

Without the spark, how can you tell if you're attracted to someone?

Sorry, this feels like a stupid question because you should probably just know but...I really don't. Like, is it when you can picture a future with them? Or if you're comfortable? Does getting jealous mean anything? How long does it usually take to figure out your feelings? I don't want to lead this guy on. Would we still be able to be friends if it doesn't work out?

So clueless! This is all new and unknown territory to me as I'm generally not very good at identifying my emotions. I also feel like sort of an idiot for overanalyzing all of this.

*Because, I am semi-ashamed to say, I am listening to LMFAO right now. Don't hate. I mean, they have an album called "Sorry for Party Rocking". IT'S CATCHY, OK?
**OK, I guess these names are sort of distracting. Sorry.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
You're doing pretty good; you've found guys you're attracted to, and you've found guys who like you and treat you well. And you're only in your mid-twenties! Now you just need to hold out for a guy you're attracted to, who likes you and treats you well.
posted by davejay at 4:33 PM on November 14, 2011 [6 favorites]

oh, and feeling jealous because another person likes the person you're with is not an indication of spark; some jealousy is normal in a relationship with spark, sure, but sometimes we (meaning: people) get jealous just because someone else wants what we have, even if we really don't want it. Try not to get the two feelings confused.
posted by davejay at 4:35 PM on November 14, 2011

+1 on the other girl jealousy response; it has nothing to do with how much you actually like him.
posted by trevyn at 4:37 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

This "spark" you are referring to is not a universal thing, and most of us can tell we're attracted to someone because we are attracted to them.

The "spark" is a post-hoc perspective that people learn about from their culture.

If you are not attracted to someone, then you are not attracted to them. That doesn't mean you shouldn't get to know them better, and it doesn't mean you won't some day be attracted to them, and it doesn't mean that you wouldn't be perfect together.
posted by General Tonic at 4:37 PM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Do you ever think, even fleetingly, about making out with Redfoo? Do you consider any other intimate activities with him? Do you enjoy looking at him?

If yes to all three of those things, then, um, you're probably attracted to him. If no to all three of those things, you are probably definitely not attracted to him.

Yes to some, no to others...the magic 8 ball says "I need more information." And by "information, I mean, another date or two."
posted by bilabial at 4:40 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Masturbate while imagining being intimate with him. That should get you sorted out pretty fast.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 4:44 PM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

By allowing yourself to romanticize certain (potentially superficial) traits in people and screen out potential mates based purely on this arbitrary standard, you are basically trying to exert control over whom you will love, and how you will be loved.

Guess what? Love really, really doesn't follow those rules. Sure, there are people who do somehow end up managing to connect with someone that fits the chalk outline they've already drawn in their head, and those people will think the rest of us are just crazy, or that we're settling for less than what we truly desire.

That thing in your head is a fantasy. Fantasies are fun, but not all of them translate to things that are practical or desirable in real life -- many are only exciting as long as they remain in the realm of fantasy.

Anyhow, I think you're making it unnecessarily hard on yourself (and the gentlemen in your life) by trying to conform your dating expectations to what you've heard about the way it feels to meet that special someone. I was in a relationship for 8 years with someone who caught me totally off guard, because he hadn't seemed like what I was looking for. After a few dates, I knew I had discovered something new.

In short, I think your problem is a crisis of imagination, and I urge you to expand and experiment further before you draw any conclusions about what it is you really think or want.
posted by hermitosis at 4:46 PM on November 14, 2011 [10 favorites]

You spend a lot of time around the guy and he becomes a friend and then he becomes a friend you really REALLY like spending time with and eventually you find yourself thinking about kissing him a lot. I mean, thinking a lot about kissing him. Or hey, the other way works too.

posted by wintersweet at 4:50 PM on November 14, 2011

With all due respect, it sounds like you may be trying a little bit too hard. If possible (and easier said than done for sure) try to just relax, let go of the 'what if' and 'how should I' bits and just see where it goes. It's a god-awful cliche, but a cliche for a reason: it'll likely happen when and where you least expect it, so stop trying so hard.

That said, just so you'll know, when it does happen it sounds a bit like being whacked in the head with an empty paper towel tube (if memory serves).

Good luck
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 4:59 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

"the spark" which, for some reason unknown to me, only chooses to ignite itself around the type of guy I have dubbed "the alpha nerd"-- charismatic, risk-loving nerds who have a passionate interest in something (one of them is really into HCI, another was into heterodox economics, and another into interactive government), but that something is generally not being in a relationship with me.

Here's my tip on this. The "alpha nerds" are going to be into you if they find YOU interesting. Especially if there's a topic they are particularly interesting, and it's one of your strengths, and you understand it much better than they do or have a lot more facility with it. The best, best way of all to lure them is to be publicly and confidently speaking on these topics.

having these long, sparkling conversations, and learning all sorts of weird things I've never even heard of

It sounds almost like you're drawn to someone you see as like above you in some ways, who will let you just sit at his feet and learn from him. I think a lot of these guys are dreaming of the same thing but the roles reversed.
posted by cairdeas at 5:00 PM on November 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

I think a lot of these guys are dreaming of the same thing but the roles reversed.

This is a good point. A lot of what you've described sounds like you want the man, the spark, and the relationship to happen TO you. I am having a hard time imagining the active role you would play, or what you feel you would have to offer such a person in return.
posted by hermitosis at 5:24 PM on November 14, 2011

You're not into Redfoo. It's ok to be competitive with other women but it would be gracious of you to throw back Redfoo and let him swim around a bit. Maybe you'll catch him again in a year or five and find him delicious? Good luck, but it basically sounds like you're doing pretty good with all this and you don't need it.
posted by Kwine at 5:29 PM on November 14, 2011

Do you like Redfoo, as a human being? Are you icked out by the idea of kissing him or kind of neutral about it? Or are you just not having the rush of crazy brain chemicals you associate with the type you go for?

Don't reject him just because he doesn't fit the mold. Sometimes we think we know what we're into ... and then wow, gee, whoa. And sometimes spark takes a while to emerge.

But if you're grossed out at the thought of getting physical with him, it's best to let it go.
posted by bunderful at 5:33 PM on November 14, 2011

It's fine to date people who you aren't in love with, or don't see a future with, or can't imagine marrying -- all relationships are temporary, in the grand scheme of things, and sometimes someone you thought was just a Trick ends up meaning a lot to you. But I'm strongly against settling into a relationship because you feel like you should be in one and a guy checks off all the boxes on your features list.

You can learn to love someone, but you can't make yourself like them.
posted by modernserf at 5:59 PM on November 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

The spark IS how you figure out if you are attracted to them. But what it really boils down to is: do you enjoy making out with him? Do you want to have sex with him? If you never ever had sex with him, would you care? Because the thing about a romantic relationship is, you have to want to have sex with them. If you don't, it's Friend Zone or Settling Time.

I understand the logic of "the guys I spark with turn out to be bad, so I should date people I am not interested in and make myself, like them, dammit!", but it doesn't work so well.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:27 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

A guy having passions for his interests and passion for his woman are not mutually exclusive personality traits. Look harder!
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:18 PM on November 14, 2011

You all never did it so I guess I can't answer this question.

I dated someone super hot who on the first date I was "meh" about...but once we started doin' it that ambiguity cleared up right quick.

I suggest getting more naked. Or at least some makeouts. There's a reason it's called sexual dig?

TL;DR: this question is impossible to answer without makeout data
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:33 PM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Has there been any actually making out? I've had good, exciting, mutually supportive relationships with people with whom I didn't feel any physical attraction (I'm assuming this sis what you mean by "spark")...until after the first time we made out. And I'm not talking about kissing. The first couple of kisses may not do anything for me.

Spend a little groping, necking, making out time, and see if it makes you hot. If so, keep going out for a while, and if you feel like you're in a good, supportive relationship then you've got a home run.
posted by thelastcamel at 10:17 PM on November 14, 2011

How can you be attracted to someone without being attracted to them?

The guys you're attracted to are bad for you, therefore, the solution must be to train yourself to date guys you're not attracted to?


I really don't get it, if they enjoy your company and are having great sex with you, but don't want you to get carried away and think you're in a relationship, or that they actually want *you* or anything...

Then may I suggest that the problem is you're spending time with them and having sex with them? Who is doing the chasing here? It sounds like if they want the pleasure of your company, let alone access to your ladyparts, they could be doing more to earn it.
posted by tel3path at 7:02 AM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Think about this alpha-nerd-who-doesn't-want-you thing. That may be your problem right there - or at least it was my problem. I have this thing, see, for mean intellectuals. Historically, mean intellectuals do not want me but are happy to string me along because the type of person who becomes a mean intellectual tends to have a lot of shall-we-say issues about competitiveness and vulnerability and relationships and looking successful. I too had many awful situations - really awful painful ones, so bad that I would dread liking people. And I looked in my heart and found, after years, really years of awful, that I liked mean intellectuals who would never love me because of...well, in my case stuff about my dad and stuff about my insecurity and stuff about needing someone to make me feel inferior-and-worthless-but-maybe-if-I-tried-harder and stuff about being queer and stuff about not being able to have a direction unless I was struggling and in pain, but your results may vary. And it was those things that created the "spark".

Honestly, I think a lot of modern notions about "chemistry" and "sparks" and "innate sexuality" are just bunk. A lot of sparks and chemistry and all that are generated because of your issues and how the other person triggers them, not because of anything inborn/star-crossed/awesome.

I have managed to mostly turn off the mean intellectual thing by thinking it through and refusing to pursue mean intellectuals even when I really want to. But it's still a hang-up.

My suggestion is that you have some casual sex and making out with guys who 1. are actually into you and 2. meet some minimum criteria for attractiveness, brains and charm, then see where that goes. One of them will be suitable. A relationship comes into being by what you do; it isn't there inside you in a perfect embryonic state. If you think someone is fun and you have good sex with them and you have enough in common, you hang out, talk, build the connection.

For me personally, I have had to be the mean intellectual in my relationships. No, really. In my young day, I had a lot of confusion between what I wanted to be and what I wanted to have. I was drawn to mean intellectuals because I felt that I myself wasn't smart enough and couldn't be the intellectual one (I'm not actually that mean, most of the time) and so I felt that if I could attract one of these people it would...prove something? Have transitive properties?

Unpicking all the stuff about why-mean-intellectuals helped me to find attractions to other people. These attractions are, yes, weaker and less immediate, but they make me happier in the long run. If I want to know who in a given room is bad for me, will hurt me, is probably kind of an awful person, I have only to look for the one who attracts me immediately. I figure it's like being a former addict - the thrill of right living and good nutrition is nothing like the cocaine rush. Maybe you'll get "sparks" with regular non-harmful guys eventually, but don't count on it. And it's not really necessary.
posted by Frowner at 7:18 AM on November 15, 2011 [10 favorites]

Let me tell you a story about how I decided on an apartment.

My girlfriend and I were looking to move in together, and we weren't having a lot of luck finding something we liked in our price range (NYC real estate is the worst). Finally, we found a place that we really liked that wasn't in a neighborhood we had been seriously considering. The place was amazing though - huge, lots of closets, great kitchen, etc. We were standing in the apartment, going back and forth, trying to decide whether or not we wanted it, because in NYC, you basically have to say you want the apartment upon first seeing it if you want to have any shot at it at all. We couldn't decide.

Then someone else arrived to look at the apartment.

As soon as she walked in the door, my gf and I both had an immediate, visceral response of, "NO! THIS IS OURS! YOU CAN'T HAVE IT!"

And that's why we're living there now.

I guess what I'm saying is, don't discount your response to that other woman's comments as "just jealousy." I don't know about you, but I don't generally get jealous about things I don't want.
posted by Ragged Richard at 9:33 AM on November 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

I went on a few dates with a very nice, fun, and attractive woman. We had a good time talking and kissing some, but I didn't feel that pit-of-my-stomach spark which I associated with all my previous relationships, so I thought about just ending it there.

Then I thought, you know what? All those relationships with crazy sparks also turned out to be just fucking crazy. I like this person and am attracted to them, there's no reason to break things off just because it's different than what I'm used to. Let's give it another few dates and see where we're at.

We ended up dating for four years; it was one of the best relationships I've ever had, and I still consider her a close and dear friend, even though we ultimately parted ways romantically.

So I'd say, you don't have to know that you absolutely are smitten with this guy to want to keep dating him. If you're enjoying his company and he's enjoying yours, great. If you're not really attracted to him, of course that's a deal-breaker, but if you're attracted to him without being consumed by his physicality, that's ok and not actually that weird. Sometimes people grow into each other if there's a foundation of basic respect and attraction, and sometimes they don't. If there's no compelling reason to cut bait and you're being honest with and respectful of Redfoo, there's nothing wrong with giving it time and learning what this relationship is or could be, without comparison to previous efforts.
posted by Errant at 1:31 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Actually I would count a jealous reaction as a "spark." Ragged Richard speaks the truth.
posted by tel3path at 3:02 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mod note: From the OP:
So, I took the majority advice by trying to squash my preconceptions and making a go of it: spent more time with Redfoo, had a few more dinners and a few more drinks, made out, and more. We're still together. It's normal, and nice, and I've found the spark! I just had to give it more of a chance to ignite. Thanks mefites, for convincing me to give it a shot. I would have missed out on someone great otherwise.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:02 PM on March 30, 2012

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