Q. I am a 44-year-old divorced mother of three. I was married almost 20 years and was never particularly physically attracted to my ex-husband. Now, when I date, I find that "animal attraction" seems to win out over other great qualities such as stability, reliability, etc. I have just started casually dating a man from my church who is pleasant-looking, self-reliant, very nice, a good cook, and lots of fun.
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My problem is that I don't really feel any physical "sparks" for him, at least not right now. Is this lack of initial attraction enough to stop seeing him, or is it possible that something might develop?
A. It is entirely possible, although not guaranteed, that physical attraction might develop. I suggest you give him a fair chance. Attraction is complicated. It’s a combination of biological hard-wiring, life experiences, and societal expectations. Just because you don’t feel sparks initially doesn’t mean you never will, especially if the guy is as great as you say. Many people find that attraction increases as their relationships grow.
Physical appeal is often a matter of degree. You cannot remake someone entirely, but you can help some positive changes along. Tell him what is attractive to you in an encouraging way, not a critical one. Say something like: “I love it when you wear jeans.” Or: “I prefer you nix the cologne.” Or maybe: “Let’s see what you look like without that goatee.”
Furthermore, people have different approaches to romance, and sometimes you need to figure each other out and grow comfortable with each other. If you teach or tell a partner what works for you romantically, you can increase your attraction. You can, for example, demonstrate to him how you like to be kissed.
So I suggest you date this man for a while before you make a judgment. If you have given him a fair shot and remain dissatisfied with the amount of attraction you feel, you can then rethink the relationship. It is certainly reasonable to want an all-in-one guy who is nice, stable, reliable, but who is also sexually attractive.
There are, of course, people you instantly find attractive. If these are always bad boys, then it’s unlikely you will ever find a nice guy who is attractive to you. If you are drawn only to cruel, sadistic, abusive men, you need to figure out what this kind of man represents and why he is so desirable to you.
Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: If you like someone, but don’t feel sparks, give him a fair shake. This way, you can make an informed judgment, not a premature one, about whether or not you want to proceed with the relationship.
Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” Her latest book, "Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts" (Penguin), helps parents deal with preschoolers' questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, www.drgailsaltz.com.