Misconceptions about attraction: people at risk of infidelity

Photo of woman on swing

At the beginning of a liaison, before we know that other person on a completely familiar/equal level, we have only an idea of them. It is tantalising. It is our instinct to want more so we seek to be closer still to this wonderful creature. We want to completely ‘possess’ them. When I say ‘possess’, I don’t necessarily mean that both people want to be in a relationship with each other; it’s a state of mind. Both people push towards this point of complete familiarity/ownership, and as soon as they near their destination, the illusion breaks. We are now faced with a real person.

Sometimes people say that their partner stopped making an effort after the relationship became more committed. They feel deceived, as if they hadn’t previously been shown the real/complete person. They might say that seeing their partner for who he/she really was’ ‘killed’ the passion. Most of the time, gender stereotyping is to blame here i.e. the feeling in a man that he wants a demure, sweet girl who he can care for; or the idea in a woman that she wants a man to be in control, woo her and protect her. Some people carry these ideals about with them forever and find that they are forever disappointed. When it comes down to it, the difference that exists between men and women is not so profound. We must liberate ourselves and our partners and be enabled/encouraged to be people, first and foremost.

Have you ever listened to someone describe how different and special their new partner is? The type of attraction felt at the start of a liaison does not tell us anything about that particular partner. It tells us about a standard mental process; our desire to ‘possess’ the other. All ‘healthy’ relationships are heading to the same end-point.

The power at the beginning is intense, but we should not idealise it. For every bit of excitement there was equal measure of worry and self-doubt; a state of hoping. When we think back to before we ‘owned’ our partner, we must not overlook the entirety of the experience. Insecurity, separateness and unfamiliarity are what fuel attraction. They are closely bound to it – insuperable, like two sides of the same coin. And so, once we have reached a point of personal intimacy and trust with someone (anyone!), we forfeit that initial passion. We also should not expect our partner to enact our idealised version of masculinity/femininity; their true value can be found in their individuality, not their conformity.

Insecurity, separateness and unfamiliarity are what fuel attraction

We must let go of this latent aspiration, or sense of entitlement. It is an inadequate framework with which to understand our real experiences. It can be dangerous. It might lead us to conclude that a) we have failed in our relationship, b) there is someone better out there or c) monogamy is bad and our personal satisfaction should be prioritised. People talk about feeling alive again after having an affair. They justify infidelity as a fundamental expression of their identity – something which would be wrong to deny. But beware the buzz of hedonism – every high will have its own nasty fall.

A misalignment between expectation and reality will make us chronically dissatisfied. A long-term relationship is at once ordinary and precious, so easily taken for granted but felt so deeply in its absence. What’s more, we can play around with separateness and unfamiliarity to maintain a sense of interest and intrigue with our companion. But more than anything, we should be reminded that there is a limit to what anyone else can provide for us anyway. We have a responsibility to maintain our separate, personal sense of identity. If we do not attend to ourselves, we may start to harbour misplaced resentments. We must invest in our ideas, other relationships, passions and hobbies – that includes remembering that our sexuality is our own. By having a strong sense of ourselves as individuals, we also have fresher eyes when we look upon our partner; we are in a better position to observe and improve the quality of our relationship. There is so much to learn about, appreciate and nurture in our fellow humans.

We might think that the start of a relationship feels good but we must make sure we pay attention to the entire experience. Balance, calm and security have so much more to offer than we realise.