Maybe It's Just Me, But...

Musings of a mildly mad multi-disciplinarian

A Question for Readers: What Do You Mean by "Attractive"?

Does "attractive" refer to physicality or more? This blogger wants to know.

This post is a bit different from my usual ones, and I thank PT and my readers for indulging me (assuming you will!).

I'm very curious about something, so I'm asking for your opinions. Here's my question:

When you say "I find that person attractive," exactly what do you mean by attractive?

Note that I'm not asking what the term means in general, but instead, I want to know what you mean when you use it. I realize that everybody means something slightly different by it, so I would like to hear from as many people as possible about what they mean by it.

For example:

1. You might use it as simply another word for appealing, based on whatever you find appealing in a person. This sense of attraction could be based on anything that you like in a person, but it also has the connotation of a conscious assessment based on traits you've decided you like in person.

2. On the other hand, you might use the term more literally, meaning that there's something in that person that attracts or draws you in on a more primal level. This could also be based on anything you like in a person, of course, but is often refers to physical or sexual attraction, based on unconscious, evolved preferences rather than conscious, deliberative ones. (I realize this is not a clear-cut distinction, but hopefully you get the general idea.)

These are just two possibilities, but these are the two that get to the core of why I ask. Based on what I read here at PT and elsewhere, many people mean the second sense of attraction, which conflicts with the traits they have decided they would like in a person. For example, some people describe being attracted to "the wrong people," while others say they like and have feelings for someone they're just "not attracted to." But there are also people who use "attractive" primarily in the first sense, and are not aware of or sensitive to the animal pull described in the second.

So readers, I'm asking you: What do you mean when you say you find someone attractive? There are no right or wrong answers here—I simply want to get a feel for how literally people use the term. Please leave your answers in the comment section; I don't plan on responding to comments as much as I sometimes do, but please know that your response is appreciated!

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For a select list of my previous Psychology Today posts on relationships, self-loathing, and other topics, see here.

I invite you to follow me on Twitter, visit me at my website, and sample my other blogs: Economics and Ethics and The Comics Professor.

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Image courtesy of flickr and is used under Creative Commons license.

Mark D. White is the chair of the Department of Philosophy at the College of Staten Island/CUNY.

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