Sex & Sociability

Question and commentary on connections, both sexual and social

Your Physical Type and Its Importance

Do you know what attracts you in another person? Is it always the same thing?

I have always been attracted to witty men.  If a guy obviously likes women and has a twinkle in his eye, all the better.  I have always cherished the quotation of a 19th century woman about town, Mme. de Something-or-other, who first said: “Once a man has made me laugh it is no longer a question of whether but of when.” 

A sense of humor tops the list of most wanted attributes in a date or mate for both women and men but people need to spend some time together to make the discovery of that wit or humor. How does one choose a person with whom to spend any time? At a party, in a class room, online, at work, in a wide circle of acquaintances, or even walking into a room with other people in it, what draws you initially to Person A above all the others there? The answer is probably something in your preference for a physical type. 

If you’ve had a few or more romantic involvements in your life there is usually a common thread to most of them.  Sometimes it’s obvious, like a certain body type – tall or slim-waisted.  Sometimes it’s not apparent, but it’s remarkable nonetheless; something like all of them were heavy drinkers or only children. If all your past love affairs ended badly it’s certainly a good idea to assess that common thread and perhaps avoid it next time. (See my piece on examining old relationships patterns http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sex-sociability/201111/examining-old-relationship-patterns).

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People often deny having a preference for a physical type because they feel it might make them appear shallow (you know, like the playboy with a string of buxom dumb blondes).  But something has to catch your attention in order to bring you into closer contact so you can assess for deeper attributes. Certainly you may have a fondness for, say, redheads, but unless it’s a fetish (something without which you simply cannot become aroused), something deeper is likely to be the deciding factor in going forward into a relationship.  

What if in your search for love you are not  lucky enough to find the perfect package?  What if this person has a look that turns you on but is stingy with money or has a terrible temper.  What if you greatly enjoy this person’s company but are just not bowled over by what s/he looks like? “Looks fade; character is permanent” is an adage believed by many. Certainly many long-lasting happy marriages were never based on initial physical attraction; some were even arranged and the couple never even laid eyes on one another before the wedding. Will looks really not matter once you grow to love the other person?  In some cases that is true.  It’s certainly easier to accept the physical reality of a person you love than character deficiencies of a sweetheart, at least for many. 

If, however, a person whom you find admirable simply doesn’t do it for you sexually there is another old adage which says “When you’re hot you’re hot and when you’re not you’re not.” Many people believe that too and just can’t work up any heat even when there is a great deal of warmth. 

Part of any decision you make needs to be whether sex with love is the best sex ever for you vs. sex with someone whose physical type just makes it more intense, whatever the relationship. 

If you are lucky enough to find both the meaningful qualities you seek (shared interests and beliefs, for example) in a person whose looks match your physical ideal, your physical type, that’s one powerful package. Those long term couples who both like one another and also continue to find each other sexually attractive are usually happiest. 

So what is one to do?  Keep looking forever for the perfect combination of looks and personality?  I wish I had the answer to what one “should” do, but I don’t; not even for myself.  I write here to remind you that if you are a grown-up and you know yourself don’t pretend to ignore the importance of your physical type if you have one.  Settling in a mate feels like what it is – settling, rather than feeling incredibly lucky every evening when you crawl into bed. Know what you want, what qualities make you happy and what qualities make you hot and which is most important if you must choose one over the other.

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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