In a world overflowing with robotic swipe rights, unprecedented dick pics and exhausted millennials, it’s no surprise that anxiety surrounding infidelity has grown perpetually worse year-on-year. With folks deeply concerned that infidelity actually ‘lurks in the human genes’ and equally obsessed with how to define the intricate boundaries of monogamy, the topic of ‘cheating’ has become synonymous with sharp intakes of breath and racing heartbeats. This is why a vast number of people in relationships today have grown increasingly worried by the idea of finding someone who is not their partner attractive.
Now – this article is not for the people who have (unfortunately) found themselves in toxic, tumultuous relationships that consist of multiple break-ups per month. This is primarily for those in loving, healthy and overall happy relationships.
The real question is: when we’re in such a positive place with our other half, is it acceptable for us to find someone else attractive? Why would anybody find anyone other than their partner attractive? The answer to these questions are simple – finding another person attractive really depends on our circumstances. There are several different stages of attraction, and there are several different ways to deal with being attracted to someone else. This is obvious, we know… but allow us to explain it a little further.
You are normal
Let’s just put it out there now before we get down to the nitty gritty of attraction – you are completely normal for finding somebody else other than your partner attractive. Yup, it’s true. Writer Aletheia Luna writes:
“If you have made feeling attracted to other people a crime in your life, you will most likely feel dirty, flawed, and irredeemably guilty like I have often felt before. Furthermore, you were probably indoctrinated with the unrealistic, fantasy-land ideal of “True love means that it is IMPOSSIBLE for you to be attracted to others. Let me tell you something very simple . . . this is a completely unrealistic, and completely false.”
Often, the way we see relationships portrayed in popular culture distorts our understanding of how a relationship should pan out (if there even is such a way). An attractive couple will meet and fall in love at first sight. Their relationship will slowly blossom into a romantic love story. One half of the relationship will unexpectedly screw up by sleeping with somebody else. The couple will most likely have a series of dramatic arguments. Eventually, they will come to the conclusion that they cannot exist without one another and get back together again.
Okay – this narrative doesn’t exactly depict relationships as perfect fairytales, which is a positive thing. It hints at the notion that relationships can be troubled and uncertain – a realistic representation of modern-day life. However, it also insinuates that every part of a relationship journey has to be entirely hyperbolic. The actions made throughout the journey have to be morally black and white. Of course, this is not how the world works. And we all know this. Turns out we all love a bit of grey every now and then…
Relationships are filled with intricate and difficult-to-define ups and downs. Arguments here and there, sprinkled with complicated uncertainties here and there. Being attracted to somebody else while being in a healthy relationship is one of these difficult-to-define moments. It is not a crime. It is not unadulterated infidelity. In fact, it is a perfectly natural, biological reaction.
Some folks even argue that experiencing attraction to other human beings is a fundamental part of our ability to recognise and appreciate beauty. Writer Daniel Dowling writes:
“The emotion of attraction is one of the most important ones because it is evoked by beauty. If we stop being moved by beauty, then we can lose the joy and richness of living. Not only that, but our species could die out.”
Finding another person attractive is a perfectly natural emotion, which, in many people’s opinion, actually improves the overall human existence. But when does this attraction become confused with emotional infidelity?
What exactly is attraction?
To put things into perspective for those feeling painstakingly guilty about being attracted to somebody else – attraction is often something that we cannot physically or emotionally control.
Unlike being in love or in a wholesome relationship, attraction is more of a chemical, almost caveman-like response to the people around you. From the impact of pheromones (hormones secreted externally to the body), to dramatic hormonal shifts, to an alarmingly addictive takeover of the limbic system – the biological process of attraction is very much uncontrollable.
That being said, it is a process very much associated with fantasy. We tend to project onto those who we are attracted to an idealized and entirely fabricated image of sexual power. When it really boils down to it, being attracted to someone else is more of an escapist idea. We might feel the need to detach ourselves from the safe routine of our current relationship, so we idolise somebody else as a means of experiencing the excitement of sexual arousal and chemistry. This is when being attracted to somebody else can become dangerous…
Stages of attraction
Of course, there are many stages of attraction with someone who is not you’re partner. Here’s where you might be able to identify whether or not you are committing emotional infidelity, or using attraction as an escapist fantasy.
The initial stages of attraction are nothing to feel ashamed about. You see somebody that you like. You admire their appearance, their mannerisms and their overall character. You might give them a second glance as they walk past you on the street, or even catch their eye as they sit across from you on the tube. This kind of behaviour is harmless and completely normal – if anything, it’s merely an expression of human kindness over anything. If you are experiencing this stage of attraction, you have nothing to worry about.
Eyeing someone up on the tube is different from actually ‘flirting’ with someone. If you are able to flirt with another person, it’s most likely because you see them often enough to engage in such behaviour. Perhaps they are a work colleague or a friend of you and your partner’s. Of course, the scale of flirting is complex and huge. Compliments and eye contact with a colleague are far more acceptable than full-on pick-up lines with a stranger at a bar. The flirting scale is up to you to consider the boundaries of. Are you overstepping the line with this one? Your gut instincts will most likely know the answer to this.
Fantasising about someone on a regular basis is a dangerous territory. This simple yet distinctive action takes the sudden leap from harmless attraction to harmful attraction. If you’re lying in bed at night fantasising about the person you’re attracted to (whether this be in a sexual way or not), or you find your mind going over and over conversations with them – then you might feel more than simply appreciative of their appearance and behaviour. You probably crave a more intimate and meaningful connection with them. Writer Kris Gage nods to this stage of attraction when writing:
‘Like most people, I have enjoyed the sweet, sodden satisfaction of crushes. I have obsessed over the way they smile, or sit, or stand, or the wrinkled folds in the hips of their jeans when they’ve done both. I’ve listened to songs they sent me —like Best Coast “Want You” or xx “Angels” — about a billion times. They’ve been the last thing I thought about before falling asleep each night..’
It’s true – this stage of attraction can verge on obsessive. You most likely haven’t felt these feelings (amplified tenfold by the biological effects of attraction) in a long time – since the first months you spent getting to know your current partner. It’s exciting. It’s captivating. And the sexiest part of it all – it’s forbidden territory. This can get people hooked on this stage of attraction. This, mixed with the escapist fantasy people create surrounding the person their attracted to, can lead to the next and final stage of attraction…
For obvious reasons – this is the stage of attraction where you know things have gone too far. Now – the taking action stage does not solely fulfill the form of kissing, or full-on sex, or both for that matter. If you reach out to the person you’re attracted to via text and start messaging them every night, or if you start purposefully seeking out moments to flirt with them and talk to them… if you find you literally cannot get them off your mind – then you need to start reevaluating a few things.
Why are you attracted to someone else?
The real question you need to ask yourself if you’ve reached the final stage of attraction is… why are you taking this action of infidelity with someone else? At this stage – there is mostly always a definitive reason for this. Of course, by the time you’ve reached this final stage of attraction, it is unlikely (for obvious reasons) that you are in a happy and healthy relationship. Attraction is normal, even in the healthiest of relationships, but taking action is a different situation altogether. Here’s just a few reasons why you could be doing this, and the important steps you need to take in mending what’s broken.
You feel untouched
You might be seeking attraction from somebody else because your current partner is not showing you the attention that you need to feel valued in the relationship. You might have been together for a long period of time and you feel that the initial ‘spark’ has died out, leaving you craving the surge in dopamine that comes with the classic ‘honeymoon period.’
You are trying to make your partner jealous
It might be that somewhere deep down you want your partner to discover that you are talking and flirting with somebody else. Maybe you crave their attention and believe that them finding out about your emotional and/or physical infidelity will show them what they’re missing. Of course – this is never the case, and trying to make your partner jealous will undoubtedly end in heartache for both parties.
Your partner has become controlling
Controlling partners push their partners away, forcing them to turn to others for emotional support. This is why partners who are being controlled might turn to somebody at work, or somebody that they know well, for guidance. Naturally, this situation might lead to an initial attraction that blossoms over time.
You’ve clocked out
This one is sad but true. It could be that your relationship has reached the end of its sell-by date. It’s time for you and your partner to go your separate ways. Although breaking up can be a dramatic and difficult process, there’s no point in stalling it for much longer. Your attraction to somebody else could be a sign that things are just not meant to be.
Of course, there are other potential reasons that you could be attracted to somebody else. The list goes on and on – relationships are not in black and white like the rom coms.
So, what do you do when you feel the initial stages of attraction and you do not want to get to a stage where you take action? There are a few steps you can take to ensure that you protect your happy and healthy relationship.
Think about the future
When you experience the first stages of attraction and are caught up in the surge of dopamine that it often brings you, you forget to think about the consequences of your actions. Instead, you tend to live in the moment and adopt a rather selfish mindset. It’s extremely important to think about your future when this happens, as well as the relationship you have cultivated with your partner over such an important period of time. Is it worth throwing all of this away, and potentially regretting it in the future, for a feeling that could be superficial and in-the-moment?
Communicate with your partner
You know that you and your partner are in a strong and healthy place, so one of the best options that you can take at this point is to communicate to them how you feel. If you are an open couple who communicate with one another frequently – this is the opportunity to get everything off your chest. You might be overthinking, and your partner might laugh the entire situation off, making you feel 100x better than before. Sometimes these moments of communication bring everything into perspective. Plus, if there is an underlying issue happening between you and your partner, these moments allow for you to get to the bottom of them.
It’s time to face the reality – they might not be that great. As previously mentioned, so much of attraction is about building up an escapist fantasy about someone in your head. In reality, they might not be that great a person. You don’t them exceptionally well. You have no idea whether or not they are truly kind, funny or decent people. It’s important to keep this in mind if you feel that you’re attraction is getting out of hand.
Avoid the person
If you are becoming increasingly worried about your attraction to somebody – avoid them. It’s that simple. If they get on the same tube as you every morning and are starting to exchange eye contact with you that bit too intensely – take a different tube. If they are a colleague at work, remember to keep your distance at all times without making it personal.
Take ownership and control
Often, attraction to other people has a way of controlling us. This is because the entire thing is a mixture of biology and primal instincts (as we’ve already mentioned). You need to take control of this emotion. Remember that it does not have to define the future of your relationship – your relationship is far too valuable for that.
Remember the grass is not always greener
This one is exceptionally important. In a technological world filtered by social media, it’s far too easy to compare our lives to those of other people’s, and forget that not everything we see online is gospel truth. This makes it equally easy for us to compare our relationships to those of other people’s.
The moral of this article is… do not beat yourself up if you are feeling the initial stages of attraction with another person – no matter who they are. Attraction is normal and an inherent part of your genetic makeup. Heck, it even reminds us how beautiful life can be.
That being said, if you start to feel that your level of attraction to another person is verging on emotional infidelity, you might want to consider the above options. Something so fleeting and chemically driven is not worth wasting a happy relationship over.
To read more about the science behind pheromones, attraction, and sex – click here.