When we meet someone, there are obvious things about them that we are attracted to. They might catch our eye with their well-maintained good looks – their beautiful smile, their athletic physique, how they’re dressed, etc. Or, we could be attracted to less superficial aspects about a person. For example, we might be captivated by their social, outgoing personality, their financial success, their hard work ethic, or their love for the outdoors.
The science behind why we are attracted to a person’s physical appearance is quite well-known. While we all want the hottest person next to us for social bragging rights, it actually comes down to evolution. According to Psychology Today’s article Why We Want Who We Want, men are attracted to women that have “…markers of youth and health—bright eyes, clear skin, full lips, symmetrical features, a sprightly gait, and a narrow waist in comparison to the hips… Every product is designed to make women look as if they’re in that fertile stage of life.” And this goes both ways. The article proceeds to explain that “women are drawn to physical characteristics indicating good health and a likely ability to provide and protect—broad shoulders with narrower hips, athleticism, a strong jawline, and a deep voice.”
We’ve heard over and over again the phrase beauty is only skin deep. What actually creates a long-lasting relationship are the personality traits someone possesses, and unfortunately, there isn’t a “one size fits all” reason behind why we choose people with particular characteristics. Some people will argue that we choose people with traits that are opposite to ours. I mean, we have all frequently heard that “opposites attract” – it’s the idea that our partner’s traits can compliment our lack of that particular trait. Alternatively, we’ve also heard the saying “birds of a feather flock together,” reminding us that actually, we tend to choose people with similar personality traits or lifestyle choices as our own, mainly because it’s familiar and as humans, we like what we know. Others will argue that we choose people who have what our last partner lacked.
Now, let’s talk about what pushes us away from someone – their flaws, so to speak. What does one consider a flaw? There are the universally agreed upon flaws someone may possess, such as being rude, selfish, or right-out mean. But then there are the “flaws” that I hear friends mentioning when talking about their partner. They will say things such as “he works too much,” “she’s always out with her friends,” “she is too needy,” or “he jokes too much and never takes things seriously.”
I think to myself, were these not the very same things that initially attracted them to their partner in the first place?! I’d like to argue here that one’s greatest asset can also be their greatest flaw, especially when it comes to relationships and dating. Let’s take someone who works all the time, for example. We were initially attracted to that hard work ethic, their financial success…and now we are saying that actually, it’s a flaw because they work too much, are never around, or choose to work on their passion instead of on a combined hobby with you. Hmmm… ok. But you knew this about the person, they haven’t changed, and yet, their passion for their job is now something that can be considered unattractive.
Here is another example: you choose to date a wonderful girl because she is the life of the party, her smile lights up the room, she is fun-loving and super social, and has a solid group of girlfriends. Her outgoing personality makes you happy. She prioritizes you, but also thinks it’s important to spend time and maintain relationships with her group. Now, all of a sudden, it’s a flaw – she is too social. Next, you have the girl (or guy) who is attentive, texts back within a respectable time frame, and makes time for you. While this initially attracted you to this particular person, now you see it as being needy or clingy because they actually give you time and attention, when maybe you don’t crave it as much. Finally, you have the guy who cracks jokes and has a sense of humour that brings a smile to your face when you’re in a bad mood. After a little while, you find this irritating when you’re trying to have a conversation that is more serious, or you’re in a bad mood.
So what changes? What suddenly makes something that you saw as an asset a flaw? That person is still being the same person that they were at the beginning. Your partner isn’t necessarily working more, going out more, or joking around more. So, did you change? Maybe. Did your needs change? Also a maybe. While it is natural for people and relationships to evolve over time, and let’s face it, it’s totally normal to be annoyed with your partner from time to time; but how you handle it is what counts.
I am a huge believer in practising self-reflection when it comes to relationships, regardless of how long or how little you’ve known the person. When something or someone annoys you, it generally has to do with something you, yourself, are going through. Are you irritated with your partner’s love and affection – something you once admired – because you are needing your own space? Perhaps you’re feeling frustrated with his or her long work hours, not because you don’t want your person to be successful, but because you’re needing a little more attention than you normally do. Maybe you are insecure about your girlfriend or boyfriend going out with his or her friends because you are are feeling more introverted lately, and you’re silently suffering from FOMO.
Here’s a personal story: I dated someone for a short period of time who was older, drove a nice car, and successful in his career. He was intelligent, spoke well, was introverted but enjoyed going out and being social, and read a lot of “smart” books. He worked out regularly, and pushed me to do so as well. He asked tough and thoughtful questions, such as what difference had I made that day, or what was a goal I was working towards. On top of all that, he was a talented musician and could have been a Michelin-star chef. I genuinely enjoyed my time with him, as I recognized his talents and ambitions were assets to my life.
Over time, I started questioning myself. Initially, I was super attracted to his confidence, his work ethic, his creativity, and his zest for life. But, I started feeling as if I lacked something crucial because I read for pleasure as opposed to pouring over The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius (although, actually, that book has some good stuff in it.) I wanted to eat all the pastries and cake, if I was so inclined, without feeling guilty about it. I started seeing this guy’s optimism, positivity, and drive as flaws because I was feeling inadequate. One day, I found myself talking to a friend about it. She simply looked at me and said “well, isn’t that why you liked him in the first place?” She was right, of course. This person had never once said anything to make me feel less than I was, and yet, here I was feeling insecure about myself because of reasons totally unrelated, and subconsciously blaming it on someone else.
So how do we combat this? Quite simply put – take a step back! Of course, this is easier said than done. That’s why said we need to “practise” self-reflection. Try to look at your person from an outsider’s perspective, and ask yourself this: is your partner deliberately doing something to hurt you or others, or are they just being themselves? Also, try to ask yourself why you’re suddenly seeing their flaws more. According to an article by Bradford Health, sometimes we need to HALT. They say that “this handy acronym reminds us to take a moment (HALT) and ask ourselves if we are feeling Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. It seems simple enough, but when these basic needs are not met, we are susceptible to self-destructive behaviors,” including seeing flaws in others.
In the end, we need to be cognizant of our own feelings, needs, and attitudes when it comes to negotiating certain character traits. Being mindful of ourselves allows us to embrace these so-called flaws in our partners