Dipping into the Boundless mailbag, I found this question at the end of a letter from a guy who is wondering how to move on after a tough breakup. (I’ve edited it a bit, in the interest of space.)
“There is a girl I have worked with at my church. We have worked together for two years in the youth department. From what I know about her from working with her and hanging out in group settings, she fits most of what the Bible talks about for attributes of a godly wife and God-fearing woman. We share very similar views on faith and prayer, and she is very beautiful. However, I am not attracted to her. I am attracted to my ex. I suspect it is because I am still in love with my ex.
I’ve heard that whomever you are dating becomes more attractive. But attraction also helps us guys find the confidence to ask a girl out. Would it be wise to ask this other girl out even though I’m not attracted, but know that she is a quality person, mature in her faith? Will the attraction possibly come later? I don’t want to date her with no ‘passion’ to love and serve her. As a daughter of God, she deserves more than that.”
I understand that the author of this particular letter has a story that probably differs from that of other guys who may ask this question. As he is still trying to heal after a breakup, there are undoubtedly many factors that can complicate his decision. Still, I think he summarized the old dilemma pretty well: Should a guy pursue a great girl (and in this case a “beautiful” girl) when he is not attracted to her? Would dating her lead her on and give a false impression about the future of the relationship? Will attraction come later?
Yes, old topic — one discussed in some detail around these parts and often making a guest appearance in the comments sections. If you’re new to the conversation, you can check out Michael Lawrence’s two-part article “I’m Just Not Attracted to Her” for some good thoughts on attraction, beauty and how our culture often shapes these perceptions.
Years ago, I read an online discussion about a similar question. If I remember correctly, the poster was wondering if he should go out with a nice, friendly girl he’d met online, yet wasn’t really attracted to. The responses to this guy’s question seemed pretty varied, with maybe a higher percentage of comments landing in the “go for it” camp. A lot of folks made the point that online impressions do not necessarily correspond to in-person encounters. (A girl/guy that comes across as a dud over the Internet may be great in person, while others may fall desperately short of their carefully-crafted online image.)
I remember one strongly worded post. The comment suggested that going out and encountering the world, in some way, was always a better choice than sitting home on a Friday night watching old DVDs. Furthermore, the commentator suggested one never could tell how the evening might turn out. The two could really hit it off or just become good friends. Maybe they dream up a business plan together that makes millions. Or maybe they become outlaws on the run together. Or the guy could end up getting in an accident on the way home and meet a cute nurse/doctor/etc. Or maybe even fall in love with the waitress or the bus driver. It was always better to do something, the comment suggested, or you’ll waste your life away while the universe moves on without you.
I can’t, of course, condone everything that poster wrote, particularly the romantic take on running away as outlaws together. (Although, haven’t we all at some point daydreamed of pulling off the perfect Hollywood-style jewel heist? No? OK, maybe just me.) And I recognize that meeting up with an online acquaintance is a different thing than a date with a girl from your church. Still, I kind of liked the spirit of that old message, especially the advice that a cup of coffee or a lunch meeting isn’t too major a statement of romantic interest — and it might result in at least a nice friendship. I absolutely understand the point about giving the girl mixed signals, but it sure seems like a great, godly person like the one described in the letter is worth a nice little dinner some night. If that’s too big a commitment, maybe do another group thing. Host a Beyond Balderdash night, or organize a picnic with Ultimate Frisbee some Saturday afternoon. Take a few steps forward, even if it ends up being toward a different destination than what you’d have thought.
As for whether an attraction will form eventually, hmm… Can nothing become something? Frankly, I don’t really know. But I do know that something can become something much more. When I was dating my wife, I was continually discovering things about her personality, intelligence, and background that caused me to become more attracted to her. It was like I understood more about what was behind the smile and the eyes, and it made those things more beautiful. Like flipping the hood up on a sports car and seeing that everything you loved about the vehicle goes all the way to the core.
Yes, that is a horrible metaphor, and I recommend you strike it from your memory banks at once.
Anyhow, I’ll leave you with this quote from Leo Tolstoy, which I coincidentally discovered recently as I was flipping through The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood edited by William Bennett:
November 2, 1856
I already love in you your beauty, but I am only beginning to love in you that which is eternal and ever precious — your heart, your soul. Beauty one could get to know and fall in love with in one hour and cease to love it as speedily; but the soul one must learn to know. Believe me, nothing on earth is given without labour, even love, the most beautiful and natural of feelings.
(The letter was introduced as being from the famous Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, written to his fiancee Valeria Arsenev, but all you resident experts on Russian writers will, of course, know that Tolstoy never married Arsenev. I did not know this, but now do thanks to Wikipedia’s version of Tolstoy’s life.)
Would you encourage this man (from the letter above) to ask out this woman from his church? Why or why not?