The Science of Attraction
Have you ever been flooded with feelings at the mere sight of a certain someone or inexplicably drawn to a stranger? It’s called chemistry. The term was coined ages ago, but recently, researchers are giving it a more scientific explanation. Below, you will find out what professionals say it takes for two people to have "chemistry" and we will tell you how to harness nature's matchmaker to help you in your quest for love.
To begin with, chemistry is activated by first impression attraction. That attraction is shaped by social influence, individual perspective, and human nature. Each society has a set of accepted guidelines for what is attractive. Beyond that, each sub-culture of people, grouped by common criteria like location, age, class, race, religion, workforce, etc. has its own set of “norms” as well. Your family and the media are two of the most impactful influences on your perspective. You begin to judge yourself and others through lenses created by these societal forces, however accurate or distorted they may be. Most of the world’s cultures have norms quite different than those in America. A good example is the Miss United Kingdom pageant compared to similar contests in the US. The UK contestants’ bodies were more like the average American twenty-something women than the rail-thin silhouettes you are likely to see in American pageants. What we call a little extra baggage, they see as fit and beautiful. The farther away we get from Western society, the more evident this difference is.
To further explain initial attraction as major factor in chemistry, we must also look at the way you see yourself. Your view of your own sex appeal is a major contributor to who you are attracted to. Research proves that people are romantically attracted to those they consider to be on their same level of physical attractiveness. If your internal measuring tape puts your prospective love interest on an equal playing field with yourself, it gives your brain the go ahead to pursue intimacy. If someone is struggling with their self-image, the internal conflict will skew their judgement of who is or isn't on par.
Physical attractiveness is, in part, determined by the human urge to breed. Women are intuitively attracted to men with physical features that suggest a level of testosterone ideal for procreation. They include a prominent jaw, chin, and brow, high forehead, broad shoulders, and a V-shaped torso. Both men and women are instinctively attracted to healthy looking skin because it implies good overall health.
The lack of testosterone in women develops full lips, big eyes, and symmetrical body types, all positive signs of fertility. Men are subconsciously attracted to substantial waist-to-hip ratios, or “Beyonce booties,” because the shape indicates a healthy reproductive system. The hips-to-waist rule crosses every cultural boundary, but make no mistake, it is the ratio rather than the size that attracts men.
The hormones that determine your body type are not the only signals your body is conveying to prospective lovers. Our bodies release “scents” that are detected subconsciously by other people. You might have heard these referred to as pheromones, or pheromone-like substances, because they work just like the pheromones that have been proven to play a large role in animals’ mate selection. These unique DNA “scents” tell the details of one’s MHC, or Major Histocompatibility Complex, the gene family that tells all about your immune system. The odorless scents are believed to be breathed in by others, received by the vomeronasal gland, or VNO, and sent to the sexual part of the brain. Erik Hozzle, founder of Scientificmatch.com called them “personal odorless fingerprints.”
Hormones are at the root of the receiving person’s interpretation as well. Their response varies by gender, but is also individual. Depending on the other person’s unique chemical make-up, they will be subconsciously attracted to a person sexually, non-sexually, or not at all. We are attracted to people with differing immune systems and DNA than our own. Experts say this is nature’s way of discouraging incest. During a woman’s especially fertile times, she is the most sensitive to male pheromones, especially those men with differing immune systems. During pregnancy, she is more attracted to people whose chemical make-ups are most like her own (other women and family members) than her mate. Some say that hormone birth controls have the potential to alter who you are attracted to as well, so watch out! If this is true, your guy may not look so great once you get on the pill!
Scienficmatch.com is the next step in technology-based matchmaking. They identify appropriate mates for you by collating DNA samples. They claim that mate selection through chemical comparison is likely to yield more satisfying sex lives, including higher rates of female orgasms, lower rates of infidelity, and increased fertility! Founder Erik Hozzle assured me that his service operates under the strictest confidentiality. The Today Show recently featured a story on Hozzle and his company. The reporter had her DNA tested and Scientificmatch.com didn’t come up with any matches. I think that Scientificmatch.com taking the high road when they could have easily been dishonest and matched her to someone for good PR speaks wonders about the company’s ethics.
Even though the company showed honest business practice, they may be missing the full picture. The Today Show furthered their investigation by having three couples who were at various stages in their relationships (all claiming to be incredibly happy) take the DNA test to assess their compatibility. One couple tested 100% compatible, while the other two were 67%. The female in the couple who tested to be the most likely to succeed said, “I think you just saved our relationship.” That just goes to prove that the scientific “chemistry” is only one component of the chemistry equation.
There are many pieces to the puzzle that seem unexplainable, like love at first sight or that magnetism that erupts between strangers. Bob Morgan, former psychology professor and current director of ADAPT, a counseling center specializing in addiction recovery, says that the initial feelings of lust or chemistry are ultimately about propagation of the species, so it makes sense that they are fleeting. They serve their biological purpose and dissipate when they are no longer needed. In order for a relationship to be both fulfilling and stable, the lust must be replaced with love. Morgan says that being in a relationship is the “normal state of being” for humans and that it is our natural drive to seek that connection; attraction exists as a part of our innate need to love and be loved. He quotes Father Joseph Martin saying, “People are most human in the context of a relationship.”
A better indicator of relationship longevity according to Morgan is emotional maturity. How well someone knows and accepts themselves is a direct gauge for what they will bring into a relationship. William Menninger, MD, co-founder of The Menninger Clinic, wrote these criteria for emotional maturity:
- The ability to deal constructively with reality
- The capacity to adapt to change
- A relative freedom from symptoms that are produced by tensions and anxieties
- The capacity to find more satisfaction in giving than receiving
- The capacity to relate to other people in a consistent manner with mutual satisfaction and helpfulness
- The capacity to sublimate, or to direct one’s instinctive hostile energy into creative, constructive outlets
- The capacity to love
Morgan’s standpoint is that each person’s situation is distinctive according to where they are on their life journey, how much wisdom they have acquired, and how emotionally mature they are. These things change how much each aspect of attraction plays a part in a person's mate selection and relationship dynamics.
Another point of view comes from Virginia Satir, world renowned and honored therapist, teacher, author, and creator of counseling methods used around the globe. She says that people “marry to get,” simple as that. When opposites attract, people detect attributes that they admire, ones lacking in themselves, and subconsciously envision their collective traits as completion of their best selves. According to Satir’s perspective, mate selection has little to do with compatibility and much to do with the psychological process of attraction.
Satir explains why opposites attract, but what keeps them together? When the fireworks fade, they have no common interests to fall back on. They must cling to what is deep inside to be successful. Bob Morgan says he and his wife are this way. They share core values, but are quite contradictory to each other in every other way. Given a pair of choices, the two will choose opposites nearly every time without knowing what the other chose. Having different interests and passions in life could easily be a growing wedge between them, but their love supersedes their differences. Bob’s favorite definition of love reads, “When your needs are as important as my needs.” This kind of love is more powerful than lust, attraction, common interests, animal instincts, social influence, and even self-esteem. When you are capable of this kind of love, you may find it with someone like you or unlike you in biology or psychology. There are plenty of rules in chemistry, but there are no rules when it comes to love.
Strive to be an emotionally mature person, ready to give and accept love. Challenge yourself to break out of your relationship paradigm. Get to know yourself first, and when you're secure with who you are and what you see in the mirror, you will be able to accept a partner in the same way. A healthy lifestyle where you are happy with yourself affects your psyche and hormones, making you attractive to others. The more aware we are of that, the easier it should be to allow the “magic” to happen naturally.