The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Carolyn Hax: Amazing chemistry, but only one-sided attraction

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
3 min

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: A guy I REALLY like just told me that, although he likes me too, he is not physically attracted to me and therefore can’t see starting a serious relationship. This was after three increasingly amazing dates where we laughed so much and flirted so hard that I, a lifelong atheist and cynic, began to wonder whether maybe soul mates really are a thing. I’m 33 (so not super young), but I don’t have a lot of serious relationship experience and am wondering whether this is why? Maybe I am shooting outside of my attractiveness league? Who knows.

The question is: What am I supposed to do now? I gained some pandemic pounds that I could probably lose. I would also probably be attractive to more guys if I learned how to do my makeup better. But I know those things are superficial. What really smarts is that I could have that much chemistry with someone (a true first for me), then have something as silly as my appearance ruin it.

That’s the part I don’t know how to deal with.

— Crushed! But, Like, Really Crushed

Crushed! But, Like, Really Crushed: Yeah, that sucks.

Besides his saying it out loud, though — who does that? — it’s pretty common. And I think you might be overstating the connection between physical attraction and appearance. Movies/TV shows remind us of this all the time. They’re filled with people who are paid to be looked at, and we just as often shrug at them as feel the pull of attraction. We can see someone as objectively beautiful and feel nothing beyond that.

It is absolutely appropriate to apply that logic to your own experience. In fact, it makes a lot more sense to do that — to recognize that beauty and physical attraction are two separate things — than to apply different rules to yourself and conclude that someone’s lack of attraction can only be explained by your own beauty deficit.

If you want to work on your appearance anyway, to make yourself feel better, then great. Be the steward of your body that you want to be, that your body deserves, that aligns with your values, preferences, tastes and schedule. For you. Learn how to feel good.

As long as you’re doing that, then a negative review from someone might still sting — of course — but it won’t be an existential hit.

Just make sure you also nurture the long-range emotional, intellectual and charismatic aspects of attraction, too. Specifically: Network for friendship, not dates. It may not be completely feasible, but getting to know people as friends will make room for the chemistry of like-mindedness to develop organically into physical attraction.

Doesn’t always happen, but it happens enough to be worth reorienting your social life — especially because, worst case, you have a bigger, more like-minded network of friends.

And now, a one-reader pep rally:

· Oh, Crushed! It’s not you. It’s him! Who knows what makes us feel attracted to someone — but it’s not because of your weight, or your makeup, or anything about you, really. It’s just … there or not. I’m so sorry this happened, and it must feel so bad. But now you know that you can feel chemistry with someone, which means you can feel it again, and I think you will. I think 33 is very young, actually, and dating over 40 has shown me it is possible to find both chemistry and attraction at any age.