So much of the demoralization and disillusionment so many of those in pursuit of healthy, nourishing and intimate relationships struggle with has to do with their inability to discern between attraction, intimacy and sex. As a result, their efforts are doomed and the deep connections they’re hungering for, remain elusive. They either never happen or when they get into a relationship, it doesn’t pan out. They often wind up dumbfounded and downtrodden. “How did this happen? How did I ever get involved with this person or this relationship? Where was I? How did it go from feeling so good to so bad so fast? What did I miss?
To help you navigate the stormy seas of connection, relationships and the co-creation of the intimacy you’re pursuing, I want to introduce The Eight Types of Attraction and Intimacy. When you understand and can distinguish between them and identify them if and when you find yourself in any of those situations. The key to not getting swallowed up by unconscious forces and unmet needs, i.e. by assuming more of a relationship than there is or getting over-involved prematurely and being able to communicate and act in a way that is consistent with what you’re ultimately after. Use this newfound clarity to remain mindful of The Eight Types of Attraction and Intimacy.
Flirting (“Look at me. I’m sexy.”)
Sexually Based Relationships (Sex is not intimacy.)
Projection of Images
Projection of Unconscious Emotional Needs
Contextual Attraction and Intimacy and Context-based Relationships
Attraction as an Outgrowth of Intimacy, Intimacy as an Outgrowth of Rapport
1. Pure Fantasy
Pure fantasy is the most common and innocuous type of attraction. Fantasy can be a healthy expression of our sexuality, as well as a healthy release of frustration, and a tried-and-proven stress reducer. It is both safe and inconsequential because it doesn’t necessarily involve contact with another person – it occurs entirely in our heads. We may fantasize about anyone, anytime, anywhere, regardless of who is around. No one has any idea we’re fantasizing, let alone what or whom we’re fantasizing about! Usually, when someone catches our eye, our imagination takes off, whether futuristic, romantic, or sexual. Then, in a flash, we’re back to our real lives as if nothing had ever happened. There is nothing inherently problematic or dangerous about fantasy life except when we aren’t aware that we are fantasizing and act on our fantasies, which is a setup for unanticipated and unintended consequences.
2. Sexual Attraction
Few things are more tantalizing than sexual attraction. Excitement takes over with tornado-like force. Our interest is piqued. Imagination takes over. There is an infusion of energy, suspense, and confusion. Excitement rocks. But, when there is too much reliance on attraction, you may never get to see what else is there. You’ll be less likely to connect, miss out on opportunities to get to know each other better and prolong your isolation and disconnection. “What’s the point if I’m not attracted?” “I have to be attracted to anyone I’m going to get involved with.” I hear a lot of faulty thinking and tunnel vision. These are faulty beliefs, faulty assumptions, screaming for a reality check. The reality, largely based on clinical experience as well as personal experience in relationships, is that sexual attraction is overblown, as if nothing else matters. “At every party there’s a pooper, that’s why we invited you, party pooper.” Whenever I get into a conversation about attraction is not the only thing that could turn you on,” I often hit up mass incredulity. There are other things that can pique your interest and motivate you to engage, like having a great time, great conversation or strong connection. I know for myself, a great connection or conversation trumps attraction. There is little to no correlation between how attracted you are initially and how a relationship turns out. Over time, attraction disappears into the background of the mundane, day to day experience of life, and attraction doesn’t matter as much in the long run as it does in the short run.
Sometimes you’re attracted one moment and not the next, one encounter and not the next. Attraction doesn’t sustain itself and doesn’t stay fixed, as in, “Once attracted, always attracted.” Not. There are a lot of intangibles involved. Attraction also depends on the prevailing conditions and circumstances operating at any given point in time. Sometimes attraction is the central focus and sometimes we’re a million miles from the excitement of attraction or sex. 3. “Look at me. I’m sexy.” Whenever we are attracted to someone, it is common to flirt or have fun trying to flirt with each other to see you far you can get. The pitfall though, is to not know when you are flirting. What is flirting? Before you can enjoy flirting without putting yourself at risk getting into a situation you’ll regret later, you must know what it is, but most importantly, when you’re flirting, and to being mindful to notice, “Flirting, flirting, flirting.” We’re making the unconscious conscious to empower you to take better care of yourself, make better decisions and act in your own best interests.
Flirting is an indirect way of piquing interest by sexualizing the back-and-forth communication. Flirting is titillating, a turn-on and lots of fun and laughs, usually, “wink-wink,” acting more familiar than you are. Flirting can make a conversation that’s lacking substance and depth seem amazing. Flirting, whether verbal or nonverbal, conscious, or unconscious, is also a means of seduction that requires little or no risk. It allows the feeling of being open while investing little to nothing emotionally. It is a game two people play at being close without really being close or revealing themselves. Flirting can also become habit-forming, because it is an easy and effective way to get attention, while not leaving your comfort zone. You can engage in a conversation without risking vulnerability. You’re animated instead, while settling for the illusion over vulnerability. Flirting can lead to a relationship in which flirting characterizes the style in which two people relate to each other. “Honesty begets honesty. Dishonesty begets dishonesty.” I want to add, “Flirting begets flirting.” Sometimes flirting leads to increasing excitement of desire and to an evening of great sex. It can also lead to an evening of terrible sex or no sex. If any relationship develops, the beginning foundation will likely have been built on attraction and excitement. Rarely does flirting leads to a deep connection or an intimate relationship.
4. Sexually Based Relationships
Sex needs some demystifying too. Almost everyone I know, including myself, gets a bit mystified when it comes to sex, just as we are around sexual attraction. Few things are more tantalizing than sexual attraction. Excitement takes over with tornado-like force. Our interest is piqued. Imagination often takes over. Our ability to feel sexual attraction, become sexually aroused and having sex are natural behavior that is part of our biological makeup. That there is nothing mystical or magical about sex itself. We’re sexual beings. When we’re relatively healthy, it’s usually an easy thing to do, to have sex, and we know how it feels. What’s better than an orgasm?! So, when it comes to sex, let’s not make more of it than it is. When it comes to sex, the biggest problem or pitfall mistaking sexual intimacy for emotional or platonic intimacy, and which often become sexually based relationships - those driven by and revolve around sex. When this unconscious programming has free reign over our psyches, we’re much more susceptible to assuming more of a relationship than there is, getting over-involved pre-maturely and to feel closer and more emotionally intimate than they are. As you might have expected, these relationships have shorter-lived trajectories. This confusion is evident in the words I’ve so often heard to describe how their meeting turned out. When I ask, “Did you have sex?” and their answer, “Oh yeah. We were intimate.” or, “We made love. Wow!” their faces glowing, before realizing that it was nothing more than sex. We live in a culture where the words, “being intimate” or “making love” and “having sex” have become interchangeable, leaving us wondering which were they referring to, a close connection or sex?
One explanation for this seeming confusion (not aware of being confused) is that when we’re physically naked, it might appear as if we’re intimate and vulnerable, while on an emotional level, there is no exposure or vulnerability. Mistaking (physical) nakedness with (emotional) nakedness also becomes problematic if the ‘nakedness’ for the same reason, if you’re only physically ‘nakedness’ and there is no emotional ‘nakedness,’ exposure, vulnerability, the relationship will lack necessary depth and substance to make a deep, intimate connection.
It’s also likely that seeing ourselves as strictly (sexual or physical) beings, void of our hearts, minds and spirits; feeling empty inside is beyond humbling, “Is this all there is?” “Is this what I’ve become?” Most people would prefer to see themselves as not being ruled purely by instinctual or libidinous impulses because in our culture mature adults are not supposed to act that way.
As a result, at those times when we are primarily interested in sex, not necessarily in a relationship, no less, an intimate relationship, we’re not conscious and connected within ourselves, and therefore can’t admit to ourselves that it is sex we are after. So, we have sex, but call it intimacy, and are crushed to find out that it was nothing more than sex.
The fact is that sexual attraction, sex, and even great sex do not translate to real intimacy, emotional closeness, or a great relationship. There’s little correlation between them. There is nothing inherently intimate about sex, and sex is a far cry from what goes on the sacred space of co-creation, where connection is conceived. If you’re mindful to stay cognizant of the distinction between sex and intimacy, you’ll be prone to unrealistic expectations and crushing disillusionment upon realizing that it was nothing more than sex.
5. Projection of Images Our unconscious imagination stores emotionally charged images from prior experiences, i.e., books we read, movies we saw or memories we hold, what connection or intimacy must feel, look and be like. If only it were so! We have the capacity to alter our perception in a way that merges with reality when imagination and reality become indistinguishable. These images become fictitious standards for what we expect people to be and how relationships work. The specific content of these images is often the expression of unconscious emotional needs or wishes. These wishes lie at the core of our motivation and become standards for what we expect real people and relationships to be. Who can live up to such standards? No one can.
Common examples of projection of images include memories of people in your past who you may have either idealized or demonized. They may be characters, images or stories that left an indelible impression in your psyche. Projection of images invariably leads to a disillusioning crash, when you find yourself dumbstruck, when your bubble bursts and you begin to see more than you want to see, or ever imagined, when discovering that there is more than met your eye and your partner is not who imagined or wished them to be. 6. Projection of Unconscious, Unmet Emotional Needs Whenever we’re with someone, our unconscious emotional needs demand to know, What’s in it for me? These needs have a life of their own, molding our perceptions and motivating our behavior and imagination. We then start telling ourselves stories about the other person and the potential relationship.
If the other person says or does something that triggers a need (for example, a need for acknowledgement or for attention, or to feel wanted or special), the level of your attraction or interest increases. You may make the mistake of assuming that that person is worth pursuing or is right for you. If you were already attracted, you’ll feel even more attracted. If you weren’t attracted at all, you might suddenly find yourself becoming attracted. Projection of unconscious, unmet, emotional needs puts us at much greater risk of getting involved with the wrong people and in the wrong relationships; so you’re not left wondering, What am I doing with this person?! How did this happen?! Relationships often begin to crumble when your or your partner’s emotional needs change -- that is, when the foundation upon which the relationship was built no longer supports each other’s growth. 7. Contextual Attraction and Intimacy, Context-based Relationships Contextual relationships, attraction and intimacy are forged under unique conditions and circumstances, or in an otherwise unnatural or real-life setting. Contextually based relationships are those in which they came together in a particular context, of shared experiences, challenges and purposes that progressed their relationship and deepened their connection. The context forced them to have to stick close together, be in sync, rely on and trust each other unconditionally; a situation most conducive for full expression and engagement with each other, to act as two separate and autonomous Selves, but only under those conditions. The context, however, doesn’t make for a solid foundation when standing on context-specific ground. Change the context, game over, back to square one. The greatest strength of a context-based relationship is also its greatest weakness. While the relationship thrived in a specific context that relieved the two people of the responsibility of having to build a bridge of understanding on their own or co-create intimacy in a real-life setting. As great as two people might feel being together, as comfortable, compatible, close, and connected as they might feel in the context-based relationship, it doesn’t necessarily translate that way when they’re relating in real, everyday life. Many people fall into the trap of getting a ‘false positive,’ and conclude that their connection and chemistry is so solid and secure, they will continue in “real life,” which, unbeknownst to them, jeopardizes its future. Common examples of contextual-based attraction and intimacy are:
Meeting and being together when traveling on your own, free, and not bound by the everyday realities of your life.
Sharing and surviving an extreme experience together, such as a natural disaster, plane crash or terrorist attack.
Occupations that force you to rely on each other and have each other’s back -- such as police officers, firefighters, or military personnel--or actors in a love story.
Coworkers who share intimacies by virtue of spending so much time working together, then try to extend their relationship outside of work.
People who meet at personal-growth workshops, in an amplified field, where participants share deeply and personally with each other.
It naturally follows that people who meet in such unnatural contexts will want to test their connection in a real live setting. The question remains, will they be able to recreate their magic in a natural, everyday setting on their own. The pandemic had reversed the natural course of the evolution of relationships, from where they begin and as they continue from there. These extraordinary conditions had become the context of all relationships developing during this time. Pandemic conditions have the effect of accelerating the evolution of a relationship and creating an environment or context that forces one to respond in unpredictable ways, before separateness and autonomy were established. They forced a reversal of the natural order of a foundation-first and a relationship after, to a relationship-first and foundation after, paradigm, dangling the false security of a short-cut relationship, a relationship by default, so as not to have to be alone or lonely for too long. 8. Attraction as an Outgrowth of Intimacy, Intimacy as an Outgrowth of Rapport The most valid and reliable criterion for deciding whether to pursue a person or relationship is the quality of rapport. Intimacy begins with rapport. Rapport is the fertile ground where the seeds of connection (interest, honesty and understanding) sprout into an ever-deepening intimate relationship.
Strong interest in each other can be a turn-on. Feeling understood can be a turn-on. Emotional safety is a turn-on. Emotional connection is a turn-on, and combined with a physical and sexual component, becomes an even more compelling turn-on. Being Self-aware, and able to discern between the Eight Different Types of Attraction and Intimacy lowers the risk of losing yourself in the excitement of sexual attraction, mistaking emotional intimacy for sex, and getting involved in relationships based on projection of images or unconscious emotional needs. You will also be more aware of what you are looking for and what you’re not looking for. You’ll be able to make faster, more reliable assessments and healthier decisions about who you want to pursue and how involved you want to get. And you will dramatically increase your chances of making deeper and more meaningful connections. Ongoing Relationship Training Groups Relationship and Communication Skills Building For those eager to learn how to make deeper connections and create intimate relationship and become better communicators. Relating, connecting, intimacy and conversation are co-creative processes. As is the case with any art, basic principles apply and essential skills must be practiced and honed. Gain the knowhow and proficiency that makes you more conscious, connectable and creative; and more confident – when you know where you're going and how to get there. Open your eyes to the mystery and magic of connection.