Sex & Sociability

Question and commentary on connections, both sexual and social

When the Attraction Disappears

Reasons are explanations to oneself for a purely chemical response.

Recently I had a reunion with an old friend. In the 1960s and 70s when this man and I knew each other we both had young families. The parents got along with each other as well as the children so the two families would spend time together at least once a week, often more. I harbored a mad crush on the husband so I looked forward to these get-togethers.

From the time I was first married I always entertained someone in the starring role of what I called Isadora's Fantasy Follies. At first it was a co-worker, maybe a neighbor, later a parent of a child in my daughter's school. It was harmless fun. I never intended to DO anything about my attractions beyond enjoying them in the privacy of my mind. Each would fade soon enough and a new star would take its place.

My attraction to this man was particularly strong because we saw each other so often and now, after forty some years, we were meeting again. My current partner and I were to have breakfast with him and his second wife on a sunny Sunday morning at a dockside restaurant in Sausalito. I kept scanning the crowd, wondering whether I would recognize him. I did. He was still a very good looking man whom I would have noticed even without recognition.

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We four had a very enjoyable brunch and made a date to meet again several weeks hence. Throughout the meal with conversation filled with our catching up and the introductions of our mates I studied his face. Yes, he was as handsome and clever and interesting as I remembered, a very likeable man. Was I still attracted to him? Not at all. Likeable, but no sparks.

I thought back to the early 1980s when I was a single woman enjoying all the good things that came with that state in San Francisco at that time in history. At a dance bar my eyes met another pair across the room. That man came to me and wordlessly took me into his arms and off we glided in a Texas two step. The attraction was immediate and powerful and lasted a matter of weeks and then... poof, it vanished as immediately and decisively as it had arrived. I called it "a flash in the pants" when I tried to explain it to myself, friends, and to the poor guy himself. Gone, as suddenly as it arrived.

There really is no explanation to an attraction's arrival or departure, I decided. One can create a laundry list of positives about another person when one is attracted and call those reasons. I don't think they are. They are explanations to oneself for a purely chemical response to another. Scientist Dorothy Tennov in her groundbreaking book of the 70s, Love and Limerence, tried to parse the makeup of this kind of temporary infatuation or attraction and distinguish it from love, an emotion of far more substance and depth.

I think she did a fine job of illuminating the characteristics of this state she called limerence, of categorizing its symptoms and the course of its duration, but she never offered a satisfactory explanation as to why it affects a person or why it is over when it is. Some people are limerent many times throughout their life. Others experience it seldom or never. Some enjoy it when it happens and seek it out hopefully. Others endure it as an affliction, try to avoid it like the plague, and rejoice when they are "cured." I fall somewhere between those two camps.

I strongly recommend reading Tennov's Love and Limerence and a similar inquiry into the nature of attraction by Robert C. Solomon, About Love. Both offer much to think about on the subject but, at least to me, never come close to explaining what happens when an attraction simply disappears. I'm still pondering it.

 

Isadora AlmanM.F.T., is a Board-certified sex, marriage, and family therapist, lecturer, author, and syndicated advice columnist of "Ask Isadora."

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