The art of attraction

Thursday, 7 February 2013

The art of attractionYou catch yourself smiling. Romantic songs take on intense personal meaning. Your mind boomerangs back to the same subject (read: person) over and over again. Your heart beats faster. There’s the queasy stomach, of course… All symptoms of the world’s most effective appetite suppressant: love.

What attracts us to The One? You might think it’s their smile, their sense of humour, their poet’s soul. In reality, however, physical appearance and personality don’t influence our choice of mate nearly as much as we think they do. When a strong attraction forms between two people, it’s often described as good “chemistry”, which is apt, because it’s true – quite literally.

There’s a reason you feel high when you’re developing profound romantic feelings for someone – basically, you’re on drugs. Not the Colombian kind, though many of the physical symptoms are the same (increased heart rate and blood pressure, feeling energised, not being able to sleep), but, rather, a heady cocktail of the biological kind.

Some of the most powerful brain circuits for pleasure are triggered when we develop an infatuation. First up, pheromones trigger attraction, subliminally sending out olfactory signals to entice a mate. Thereafter, dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin and oxytocin – chemicals manufactured by our brain – combine to produce the most powerful drug known to mankind: romantic love.

But that doesn’t explain why are we attracted to some people and not others. What causes us to set our sights on The One … on That Particular One?

Socio-economic factors play a part, apparently, as does age and culture – studies have found that we’re more likely to fall for someone who is similar in age, level of attractiveness, ethnic background and who has roughly the same financial status.

The reason we don’t fall in love with everyone who fits this criteria, though, is because there are unconscious psychological triggers that influence our choice of mate. In Psychology Today, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher writes: “Among the myriad forces that sculpt our romantic choices is … an unconscious list of qualities you begin to build in childhood. Your mother’s wit and way with words; your father’s interest in politics and tennis; what your siblings like and hate; the values of your friends and teachers; what you see on television. All your childhood (and adult) experiences shape and reshape your template of the ideal romantic partner.”

By the time we’re teens (which, not coincidentally, is when we first start to become sexually attracted to others), we’ve unconsciously created a deeply personal catalogue of traits, values, aptitudes and mannerisms that we identify with. “Then, when the timing is right,” says Fisher, “and we meet a person who registers on our love map, a cascade of brain chemicals is triggered that tells us with euphoric certainty that we have found The One.”

It’s only a theory, though. The truth is that no one knows why we fall in love with one particular person, and not another… Perhaps that’s what’s so magical about it.

Image: Warren Goldswain/

Other articles you may be interested in:
Romance on a budget

Written by

Rachel McGregor is a Cape Town journalist (and part-time narcissist) specialising in food, health and lifestyle-related features. In her spare time she loves to cook and poke fun at hipsters. Sometimes she dreams of giving it all up and becoming a millionaire.

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  1. Pseudo_kate

    Those feelings mentioned in the first paragraph make me smile. Such great emotions to experience.

    6 years ago •

  1. Pulane

    Falling in love is a nice feeling, thank you for the info.

    6 years ago •

  1. Livvy

    i’m not arguing, but the fact that opposites attract is so true,

    6 years ago •

  1. G

    Very interesting…I agree it may start out as pheromones but it’s definitely more than that after many years together.

    7 years ago •

  1. Vermeulen

    i love the feeling i get when i just think of my partner – like the article

    7 years ago •

  1. Leana

    Aaaaah I remember that feeling! ;-)

    7 years ago •

  1. Simone

    Haha this is the age old question…the answers are always cute though

    7 years ago •

  1. DIVA

    nice article, it puts a smile on my face.

    7 years ago •

  1. Noma

    I’m smiling now… thinking of my partner..!!!!

    7 years ago •

  1. Mpoyif

    It may statrt out with physical attraction but love is so much more than pheromones

    7 years ago •

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