How can I be attracted to others when I’m with someone I love?
In my Relationship Therapy work, I see a lot of turmoil around attraction from clients. They come in agonizing over their guilt, shame, and despair about being attracted to other people while in a relationship – whether happy or otherwise.
Is it okay to be attracted to another while I’m happy with someone?
I thought being in love with someone meant that having feelings for another goes away. Right?
What’s wrong with me?
They say, looking at me through a veil of shame, asking me to judge them. But I won’t. I see them. I take a moment before I answer. “Nothing…nothing is wrong with you.” Although unsatisfied with my answer, I watch their eyes shift from “a judgement day” fright into a hopeful stare as they relax in their seat, waiting…waiting for me to literally remove the agonizing cage around them. But I don’t. I simply offer them the key…
Nothing we’ve been taught by our monogamy-militant-mono-culture has conveyed the realities about attraction and how it works. That it is quite normal, and even natural to go on finding yourself attracted to others while in relationship. On the contrary, we are taught it is abnormal and below us (with some breathing room for men, but not a full inhalation, and not even a breath at all for the ladies). “It’s shameful!” to even think it, feel it, and wonder. Let me be clear, I’m not anti-monogamy advocating for polyamory. Nor do I think monogamy is the only way. I’m simply a human advocating for our humanity. Stay with me…
First, let’s drop our narrow view of attraction for a moment, shall we? Attraction. Remove it from the context of “only sexual” or that it means you want to date the person you find attractive. Let’s also remove the Rom-Com fairytale fantasy “you’re the only one for me” stuff too. I know it’s a beautiful story, but let’s see if we can find the beauty in the truth.
Attraction. “To draw or pull, to draw objects or persons to oneself.” Attraction is a magnetizing mechanism that is a perfected evolutionary tool built-in for a reason.
Now that we’ve shelved all the baggage behind it (for now), let’s get real about how this evolutionary tool —attraction— works. As humans, we are a part of a grander Mammalian Family that biologically became wired as social, emotional beings. Which means, our social ties are not only valuable, but necessary to our health, well-being, and survival as thriving creatures. Attraction works as a homing device. It draws social ties to us in order to build lasting attachments (bonds/relationships) that nurture our basic human need for genuine connection. Despite popular belief that it exists for the sole purpose to pro-create, attraction also exists to simply relate. To the world around us, as well as support both our self-actualization, and our place and purpose within community-actualization. We are communal creatures. We need community. We know this. It quakes within our bones and swims within our genes. Yet our social orders and infrastructure get further and further away from this truth as we value modernizing over balancing nature into the equation. At one time, an entire community provided a number of basic human needs (physical, mental, emotional & spiritual) that now rests solely on one relationship—romantic partnership— and is even considered a realistic expectation.
So getting back to the modern conflict cloaked in a coddling security blanket of societal swaddling that induces guilt, shame, fear and doubt around our beautiful human wiring…
“Is it okay to be attracted to someone else?”
A resounding YES!
It is not only okay. It is natural.
Attractions are different and mean different things. The radar goes off for different reasons. Too many to count. They can show up as a variety of meaningful relationships:
friendships of all kinds, business partners, creative partners, non-blood family, collaborators, teachers, students, lesson bearers, counsel, safe-affection, one-time encounters with a stranger that left you feeling lighter, honest flirtations that excite your creativity or passion, inspiration and so on…to name a few.
The world of attraction is abundant and fulfilling. Our fixation with stuffing it into a pro-creation-only, not-so-pretty package (I’ve found) plays a part in a number of mental, emotional and social disorders. From the epidemics of loneliness and depression to narcissism and greed. While also contributing to the downfall of many marriages and other committed relationships.
Sexual curiosity is an aspect of attraction, yes, and may even spark the desire to draw someone in. Especially when we initially find the person beautiful. But it is not the absolute. When we feel this interest and leave it hanging on the tree of temptation as the forbidden fruit we’ve been spoon-fed it is —attraction— in it’s natural, healthy state becomes something else. Something entirely different. When imprisoned in the forbidden, it becomes obsession. Obsession turns the wonder of draw into a manic world of fantasy for whom we have an attraction. Obsession, although exhilarating for a bit, is an exhausting loop of drama and intensity that leads people into behaviors steeped in betrayal and self-sabotage, even by the most well-intentioned of us.
In my experience, when I follow my attraction radar, most of the time, it has nothing to do with romance or sex at all (even if that initiated the interest). Usually, it is about fulfilling one of the above mentioned relationships of community. Someone placed perfectly in my life at a specific time to support me in some way along my learning as a human mammal, and vice-versa. The times when it is more sexual/romantically inclined, I have enjoyed using it as leverage in my own creativity, or erotic play with my partner. I encourage many of my clients to do the same and ask the questions:
How can I use this feeling to enhance my own relationship with my husband, wife, partner?
Is there something that needs to shift in our dynamic that is no longer working?
How can I apply the passion into my own creative endeavors?
These questions unlock the cages of shame around attraction and falling into the dangerous antics of obsession. They open the doorway into a world of fun, creative, playful, passionate potential and possibility. The answers are different for everyone and every couple. The only key is to embrace our humanity to better understand attraction. It doesn’t have to be fatal.
♥♥♥ Relationship Tip ♥♥♥
I encourage people to feel through the societal constructs and the challenging emotions (especially jealousy-it’s not as ugly as it seems when you truly get to know it) that may arise to navigate toward an honest understanding and agreement around other attractions as a couple. If it’s too difficult to do together GET HELP working through this. Trust me, this is what true intimacy is about and is so worth it!
A great resource is Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic & Domestic by Ester Perrel, particularly the chapter on “Introducing the Third.”