Can you control who you're attracted to?
December 9, 2012 5:50 PM   Subscribe

Can you control who you're attracted to?

A friend is adamant that she has complete control on who she's attracted to, while I certainly do not. i.e. I'm sometimes attracted to people who I know aren't right for me but I cannot just switch that attraction off. I'm curious to know where the majority lies. I've been thinking about this for a long time.
posted by Babushka to Human Relations (29 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I can decide which attraction I will feed with my attention and energy. That might be what she's talking about. The initial infatuation fades really quickly. As a quick fix I can treat them as though they aren't attracted to my gender. No matter how insanely attractive a guy is, as soon as I find out they're gay, the infatuation goes away. Magic.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:53 PM on December 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

This seems sort of chatfiltery but since it is sunday night and no walking dead til february...

I totally can because I have immense and terrible willpower, and I will stop being attracted to someone if I decide they are Not Right For Me. Or if they annoy me by chewing too loudly.
posted by elizardbits at 5:53 PM on December 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think it depends on how you're defining "attraction." I personally don't have much control over who I am physically attracted to - my hindbrain isn't handing over that remote no matter how much I plead - but I have pretty good control over who I actually want to get with in a non-theoretical sense.
posted by restless_nomad at 5:54 PM on December 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

While I can't force myself to be attracted to somebody if there's nothing there, or force myself to stop being attracted to somebody I'm crazy about, there are definitely things I do that can foster or head off attraction in the early stages. If I have a slight crush on somebody and I actively seek them out, check out their FB/Twitter, engage in conversation with them, then I'll start thinking about them all the time and fantasising about them. On the other hand, if I deliberately ignore/avoid somebody I'm crushing on, the crush vanishes pretty quickly.

Also, as small_ruminant points out - if I know they aren't going to be into me (because they're gay/have a girlfriend) the attraction vanishes. Which is often very useful!
posted by littlegreen at 5:54 PM on December 9, 2012

I can control how I act towards someone I'm attracted to. I can control how I act towards my husband, in the event I'm attracted to someone else--snogwise.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:57 PM on December 9, 2012

The key thing is data acquisition. I can't control who I'm attracted to - way too many sociocultural and familial influences affect my subconscious attraction to other people. So while I may go for the tall, scruffy-looking 20-something at first, I'd find it pretty easy to turn that attraction off if I discovered that he drove across town on Saturdays to have his mum do his laundry.

Society, culture, and family (at least I argue) set up the electrical wiring and turn the power on. Only you can decide if you want to *keep* it on after a certain point.
posted by Ashen at 6:03 PM on December 9, 2012

The very existence of gay people in an anti-gay culture seems like pretty clear proof that the answer is no.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 6:10 PM on December 9, 2012 [7 favorites]

Short answer: no. I, personally, cannot control who I am physically attracted to.

I can absolutely control how I deal with that attraction. I can choose to mull it over, or act on it, or refuse to let it take hold in my mind, or dwell on it for years, or push it aside forever. I can even feel vaguely repulsed by my own attraction (which will make sense to anyone who has ever experienced a similar feeling).

But initial, visceral, physical, loin-level attraction? Nope. It's its own animal.
posted by Salamander at 6:13 PM on December 9, 2012 [13 favorites]

I can't.

But like other posters say, I can make up my mind very firmly that someone isn't right for me, and if every time they flash a smile at me or things get flirty I remind myself "He has a drinking problem and has a history of treating his partners rather shabbily and I do NOT want to deal with that" then I remember to get some distance.

And the distance is what helps.

Maybe that's the key. I can't control attraction, but I can control distance. And with distance, attraction diminishes.
posted by bunderful at 6:27 PM on December 9, 2012

I can't. I've known certain people I just felt this really strong (frequently one sided?) magnetism toward. There's this one guy I saw just once a year every year for 6 years at a conference sort of thing, 3-4 days per year. Each time, I'd have these "I want you so so bad" sort of thoughts and was just in udder admiration of how he talked to people and his voice and posture and presence.

But then there's been other men, often kind of geeky ones, that I've consciously decided to have a crush on, then gotten obsessed with. Like there was a particular moment when I thought to myself, "Yes, he is a good one" and then all the romanticizing begun. I'm bad with crushes. I get so consumed by them.

I'd like to say that I have control over who I choose to dwell on after I get attracted, but I really don't think I do. I have had the good fortune in the past to be attracted to mostly really nice people in the past so that's a win.
posted by mermily at 6:49 PM on December 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

Nope. Life would be a whole lot damn simpler if I could.
posted by ead at 6:49 PM on December 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

I can make myself not like someone, but I can't make myself like someone.

The very existence of gay people in an anti-gay culture seems like pretty clear proof that the answer is no.

Which is why, even in my periods of deepest denial, I only came to convince myself I was asexual, never straight.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 6:56 PM on December 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

I wish that i could make myself be attracted to really nice people some times. But i can't.
posted by Kololo at 7:06 PM on December 9, 2012

I'm one of those weird people who can persuade themselves to like someone and feel attracted to them, but it is often against my better judgment and because I am good at figuring out what is likable about someone even if I know they aren't a good match for me.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:10 PM on December 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

I can't, but I try to treat it as annoying background noise if I don't want to act on it for whatever reason. I certainly can't convince myself to feel attraction to someone.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:25 PM on December 9, 2012

I cannot, but some can. A close friend of mine was for several years with someone she was unhappy with (partly because she felt she could not commit). She declared that the next guy she got involved with, she would be in love with. She has been together with the next guy for almost six years now, is engaged, and is by her own account extremely happy and totally in love, although everyone who knows them seems to find him an arrogant, uncouth, misogynist prick.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:17 PM on December 9, 2012

Like a lot of people have said, and it's something my therapist agrees with, you cannot help that attraction. You can help the action.

So if I'm attracted to someone I can either go "hm, that's awkward" and avoid fueling it and maybe work on why I'm attracted to them (I'm married). Or I can wallow in it and facebook stalk them and admire them in person and fantasise and feed the fire. Because the imaginary version of the person you are attracted to is ALWAYS better than anything else in the world, including the real person. When you feed a crush it's always gourmet fare, not reality.

I've never been able to fake/create attraction though. There has to be something there to build from.
posted by geek anachronism at 8:40 PM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I cannot force myself to feel genuine attraction to someone.

I can control my behavior and I don't need to act on every tingle in my girlie bits.
posted by 26.2 at 11:15 PM on December 9, 2012

overeducated_alligator: "The very existence of gay people in an anti-gay culture seems like pretty clear proof that the answer is no."

I think this is an oversimplification. I'm bisexual. I think I chose to be bisexual. Our culture is pretty anti-bi, to the point where even some gay people won't acknowledge bisexuality. Yet, I'm pretty sure I chose to be bisexual. My logic was: why would I let bigots prevent me from trying out new experiences in my life?

More to the OP's point, I think some people can control who they're attracted to. It's harder if you're putting pressure on yourself to change, as is the case after a breakup. It also definitely depends on the attraction and the individual person.

During my transition, it definitely helped me to be exposed to examples of gay relationships through books and television. For the most part, our society only shows examples of stereotypical (& often unhealthy!) heterosexual couples.
posted by grammar corrections at 11:24 PM on December 9, 2012

I don't think we usually consciously choose attraction, but at the same time our experiences and thought processes greatly influence it- i.e. we are more like to be attracted to people we admire or who have had experiences that we are interested in.

We also can feel attraction based on our psychological makeup and how that fits with others, and all of these things can change, sometimes consciously.(the example of someone always being attracted to the wrong man, then getting healthier and not feeling attracted to men who treat her poorly, etc).
posted by bearette at 11:40 PM on December 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have a friend who, when flying in an airplane, is certain that she is controlling the aircraft (if you see what I'm getting at here.)
posted by Obscure Reference at 1:16 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am very seldom attracted to people. When I am, there is no stopping it. Not for a very, very long time.

No, I cannot control it. Not even slightly. I am ignoring "hmmm, that guy's kind of cute," here, because I largely ignore that in my life as well. More significant attractions? Those are beyond my control, and are intrusive and sometimes excruciating, and I am stuck with them, whether I want them or not.

And I am glad I'm not your friend.
posted by Because at 3:38 AM on December 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

You can't really control attraction.
You absolutely can, though, control your response to that attraction. I suspect this is where OP's friend gets the idea she can control attraction.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:39 AM on December 10, 2012

You won't have success directly confronting emotion with sheer willpower, but, it is possible to train yourself, nurture some emotions and redirect others.
posted by teki at 8:18 AM on December 10, 2012

Or if they annoy me by chewing too loudly.

We would never work together. ;- )

Pretty much what everyone else said. You can control your reaction to an attraction. There is also the gay/straight thing mentioned up thread. But even within your preferred gender, there are things that are turn-ons/turn-offs that are beyond your control.

For instance, people are scented (their body odor) based on their chemical/hormonal/immunological makeup. There is a benefit to mixing dissimilar immunologies in that there is a greater chance of offspring surviving with a more diverse resistance to germs and stuff, so people with dissimilar immune systems tend to be attracted to each other by their natural odor. So you might think a given guy or gal is particularly attractive, but there is simply no chemistry (in a literal sense, actually) there. They smell bad to you because their immune system is a bad complement to yours.
posted by Doohickie at 10:22 AM on December 10, 2012

I think I might kinda know what your friend means, in that there are few people who are so repellant that I see no possibility of finding them attractive. To illustrate what I mean with a small sample: I've met 8 men via online dating. 3 of them looked exactly like their pictures or better. 5 were wildly different. In talking to all of them, I was only viscerally turned off by one of them. He was one of the "better looking than expected" ones, but was a terrible conversationalist and there's no recovering from that. I also found that once some of those guys turned out to be jerks, my attraction switch shut off instantaneously.

So yeah, viscerally I think a little desire to work with what's in front of you can be part of "controlling attraction". But I also think that maybe that's just how I personally operate and YMMV.
posted by houndsoflove at 3:47 PM on December 10, 2012

Yes and no. I'm attracted to various people from time to time, sometimes physically and sometimes for deeper reasons (great sense of humor, most sympathetic ally in a work environment, shared interests or values), and I don't select those people intentionally.

However, what happens next depends enormously on how much mental energy I give that attraction. What works for me is to embrace the Happy Crush. Happy Crush is the pet rock of romantic feelings. It requires no care and feeding. It's not going anywhere, so there's no possible rejection to angst about. No one's feelings are going to be hurt, no one's going to get cheated on or broken up with. You can have a Happy Crush on someone who's of the wrong orientation or married or asexual or moving to Russia next week.

What you do with Happy Crush is: when around the crushee, enjoy their hotness, charm, wit, etc., the way you might enjoy a sunny day or a picture of kittens. The awesomeness of this person is a source of happiness. Yay! Also, you do not have to feel awkward or anxious around crushee because you are not trying to get them to have feelings about you or sleep with you. You're just basking.

And the rest of the time: don't think about Happy Crush, don't talk it over with friends or fantasize or write poetry in a notebook, don't imagine long-term relationship plans, don't worry about how it might affect your existing relationship if any. Those things are food, and food is for real animals, not pet rocks.

I know this sounds like a Jedi mind trick, but it's worked for me many times way better than putting energy into stopping liking someone. Energy devoted to worrying about or trying to stop the crush is energy that in a way still feeds the crush. Whereas if you starve it of all attention except the in-the-moment enjoyment, it's likely to just fade away in time while being a positive thing in the moment.

(Note: this is a different suggestion from what I suggest if you find yourself developing serious emotional intimacy with someone you shouldn't. In that case, you need to step up -- making as gentle an explanation as you can, if an explanation is required -- and spend way less time with them until it goes away.)
posted by shattersock at 4:00 PM on December 10, 2012 [7 favorites]

I like the Happy Crush differentiation.

I'm attracted to very few people, and I certainly wish I had more control over who I was attracted to—it'd make dating a lot more convenient (and fun). I suppose there isn't a magic potion for this out there somewhere?

I do agree that it's possible to squelch attraction if you're willing to work hard at it—I pulled this off a few years back when an already-attached friend and I were getting too close, and I didn't want to be complicit in him treating his girlfriend poorly.

But I'll tell ya that it's not exactly fun for either party: I basically had to shun the heck out of him for a month or two until the warm fuzzies dissipated. We are now good, completely platonic buddies and I find him roughly as attractive as a dorky sibling, so I can report it worked.
posted by cheberet at 9:27 PM on December 10, 2012

It's a lot easier to start crushing on someone than to stop, in my experience. Or put another way: it's a lot easier to drum up feelings (listen to a lot of love songs, do a lot of thinking ahead, peek at their Facebook updates, you know how it works and how it's a terrible idea usually) than to shoo them off.

Actual attraction, though, is a lot harder to control (otherwise, someone would've figured it out by now.) The stuff about chemistry is real. I thought it was bullshit at first, a euphemism for finding someone ugly or annoying -- and it often is -- but oh man, there are few feelings in the world worse than being with someone who's decent-looking and funny and a comrade and otherwise great on paper, but who viscerally repulses you, as in "UGH GROSS GET YOUR SLOBBER AND GERMS OFF ME," for what seems like absolutely no reason.
posted by dekathelon at 2:03 PM on December 11, 2012

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