Is it possible for physical attraction to grow over time?

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Is it possible for physical attraction to grow over time?

May 10, 2010 |Candice Watters
Question

Before I found Boundless I had already started a "buddy" relationship with one of my best guy friends. He moved across the country several months ago, but we still talk through email almost every day. He wants to call and write letters, but I've been holding off because I'm not sure if I want to encourage deepening our communication at this point. This is one of those occasions where the buddy relationship didn't involve a romantically interested girl and an oblivious guy; instead, I think he has liked me all along, but I was completely oblivious.

I'm almost certain now that he's interested in me as more than a friend, and I expect him to ask me out soon, if I just give him a little more encouragement. The problem is that I respect and care about him so much, but I'm not physically attracted to him. All of my girl friends I've talked to about this have thrown up their arms at that point and told me not to even bother; if I'm not attracted to him physically, it's a lost cause.

I think the media have given me this idea that when I really fall for a guy, I will immediately want to start making out with him. I don't feel this way about my friend. I'm not repulsed by him, but there's no sexual tension between us. I can't really put my finger on what it is about him that I'm not attracted to, it's just that he's not the type of guy I ever saw myself with. He's healthy and in good shape, and not a bad-looking guy, but I just don't look at him and think, "Kiss me!" According to all my friends who are in relationships, that's a problem.

I think it's appropriate that I have been protecting myself from forming physical/sexual desires for him while we're still just friends. I am very cuddly and comfortable with my girl friends, but with my guy friends I basically have a no-touch policy. I don't hug my guy friends except for rare occasions (like when we're saying goodbye before a long time apart), I don't give or receive back massages from guys, won't hold their hands or put my arm around them or let them do any of that to me. This has always been an important way for me to protect myself from having impure thoughts. I could count on my fingers the number of times I've touched this guy in the three years I've known him, and trying to transition my thoughts from viewing him as a brother in Christ to a potential husband is difficult.

The (Christian) friends I've asked for advice seem to think that if I don't have this overwhelming desire to touch him and kiss him, and even a desire to have sex with him now (though, of course, with the understanding that we'd never have sex before marriage), I should wait until I do feel that burning, passionate desire to be physically close to him before I accept his advances for a relationship. This seems ridiculous to me — why should I want to be tempted to sin with him? But so many people have told me that either you have this physical/sexual attraction or you don't, and if it's not there now, it never will be.

It's encouraging to know that for you and Steve, it took some work and some specific changes in your appearance to foster that attraction. I know that I'm not the "dream girl" he always imagined dating, but he likes other things about me and is willing to overlook my flaws, so I should do the same for him. Strong Christian men are hard to find and I want to get married and have a family more than anything. I'm graduating from college in a few weeks and he'll be going to seminary next year, and I think we would both be ready to be married soon. It might take some effort for me to grow to be attracted to him and to become open to a physical relationship with someone who has simply been my friend for so long, but I think he is worth it.

Do you think it's possible to grow to be attracted physically to someone over time? Should I give him a chance? I am starting to return his romantic feelings because I connect so well with him and he is a godly and caring man, but everyone says I'd be wasting my time and would only hurt him in the long run because if I don't find him attractive now, I never will. Because he's over 20 hours away, it's easy for me to ignore the physical factor, but I'm worried that if I allow him to pursue a relationship with me now, when I see him later in the summer my emotional connection will be strong but I will feel uncomfortable with him physically.

Thanks for any advice you can give or past articles you could point me to.

Answer

Thanks for writing. The attraction question seems to be coming up a lot lately! Usually it's the guy asking, but not always. I guess my first question back to you would be, "Is this about how he looks, or how he acts? Is it an issue of appearance, or one of character?"

I believe that men tend to be more swayed by whether they like the way a woman looks, while women, generally speaking, base attraction on what a man is like — his personality. And a guy with a great personality can become attractive to a woman as she grows in friendship with him. (I'll let the men address how they do or don't move toward a woman when she's not physically "his type.")

Given the vast numbers of Christian singles who are still unmarried long past their expectations, I always caution women in situations like yours not to be too hasty in turning a man down. I think it's fine to wait and see if he is willing to take the risk to ask you out. No need to feel like it's your job to move the relationship in that direction — it's his. But if he does, give him a chance. Physical features are so fleeting. And once you start loving a man, truly loving him in the fullness of marriage, they become even less important.

It's my hope that single believers are holding both looks and personality lightly enough to weigh character. That's more important than the other two. And where the character is godly and sound, there's at least the possibility that attraction will grow. Is there enough between you — in the form of friendship and mutual enjoyment and respect — to give love a chance to develop?

That's what happened with Steve and me. I wasn't completely attracted to Steve when we first met. He didn't have "the look" I always imagined myself with, though I thoroughly enjoyed being with him and was eager to grow in friendship from the start. And the more I grew to know him, the more attractive he became. I suspect I looked even less like what he'd imagined himself with. (For my part, I grew my very short hair long, lost 25 pounds, and traded my power clothes for a more feminine wardrobe. (I talk more about that here.) But he too talks about feeling utterly comfortable talking with me, and the vast shared interests we had and common faith and similar sense of calling.

Though it wasn't romantic from the start, our friendship was full of potential. I'll be ever grateful that he took the advice of Dr. Morken, who recognized that potential, and told Steve it was OK to give ourselves time to "let love grow."

As for your friends who are quick to dismiss him as a candidate — precisely because you're not thinking of bedding him — I'd be more wary of them than him! Their counsel resembles that of the foolish woman in Proverbs.

Jesus was pretty clear that giving our thoughts over to lust is a sin. Referring to the Ten Commandments' prohibition against adultery, He said, "But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:28).

When Steve and I started dating, officially, the first time he kissed me, it felt so weird! I almost didn't like it. I think that's often the case when you've never really kissed a man before, though. I suspect our grandmothers would say they could relate to feeling that way.

That said, it was only a matter of days between that feeling and feeling like I wanted him to kiss me all the time. And boy did the temptation come on us like a tsunami. I say far better to hold off on cultivating the physical desire. It will come. Hormones are dependable like that! Song of Solomon says "do not waken love until it so desires." Other translations say "until the time is right." There is great wisdom in that!!

It's exciting when the feelings of early love and infatuation kick in. They're intense, like rocket boosters designed to get a marriage into orbit. But they don't last. The high-flying emotions of attraction fade in every relationship (they're documented to last 18 months to three years, then they settle down). And what's left when they do will (in a healthy marriage) look a lot like a deep and abiding friendship.

Companionship. That's the word that comes to mind when I think about what I love most about being married to Steve. Yes, the sex is good. And an important part of our relationship (see 1 Corinthians 7:2-5). But it's proportionately a very small slice of it.

All the gooey, emotionally-charged stuff has its place, but the starting point of a biblical marriage is far less dramatic. What drives our commitment isn't feeling a certain way, but learning how to love each other in the 1 Corinthians 13 way. By being patient and kind and humble, giving the other the benefit of the doubt, choosing to believe the best. It's sacrificial love.

If he's full of godly character, a man who fears the Lord and is on the path to wisdom, and if you're striving for the same, then the superficial things won't be the most important things.

Have you identified specific things about him you're not attracted to? Those things often become less important, and even likeable, as you grow in relationship. If they're substantive things, however — like his level of spiritual maturity, his integrity, or even sinful patterns in his life — then it's quite possible your lack of attraction is a symptom of something deeper. If that's the case, it may be more a matter of trust than attraction. Feeling protected — that when you're with him, you're safe — is a huge part of what makes a man attractive to a woman.

Is this illusive issue of "attraction" the only reason you'd resist his efforts to date you? If so, be very prayerful about that. Godly men who are willing and eager to marry and form families for God's glory seem rare these days. That's not to say you should marry him out of fear that he'll be your last or only shot at marriage. God forbid. But that you should be a good steward of this opportunity that God, in His sovereignty, has placed before you.

What does that look like? Give him a chance. Spend some time with him. Let love grow. If it doesn't, you can be honest. Agreeing to date, or be courted, isn't agreeing to marry him. It's saying yes to a season of testing the potential of the relationship. If you're intentional in that season, applying the principles laid out in our Biblical Dating series, you can trust God to guide you.

Sincerely,
CANDICE WATTERS

Copyright 2010 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.

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