Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I am a 28-year-old woman and began dating a wonderful man six months ago. We have similar interests and life goals, he is very supportive, and I enjoy spending time with him. I like and respect him, and miss him when we're apart.

The problem is that I don't find him physically attractive. I enjoy our dates, but afterward I keep asking myself: How important is physical attraction? Can physical attraction grow?

The other issue I’m having is that this man is painfully shy. He has a very hard time opening up and I find this lack of confidence a huge detriment to our relationship. He does not properly express his feelings for me, and I am unsure of his long-term  intentions. Also, the things we do together have been a bit boring and repetitive.

He is a wonderful man and I believe he can grow in confidence. But how do I assess when things are stuck, versus moving slowly forward? How long is “long enough” to give someone?

Patti

Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

Rosie and Sherry's Answer:

“Long enough” is not something that exists on a calendar timetable. We’ll explain:

In general, physical attraction often grows between daters, usually over the first several dates. As a man and woman begin to feel more comfortable with each other, they're often able to let go of their preference for a particular "look" and start to become accustomed to their date's features. They realize that the other person's looks have "grown" on them, and can see him or her as "pretty," "cute," “handsome" or "attractive."

Sometimes, the attraction never develops. The daters may feel they're connecting on a personal level, but one or both of them can't seem to feel physical attraction. They're not comfortable with the other person's looks, or the idea of being physically intimate makes them uncomfortable. That's often an indication that they're not right for each other for the long term, because physical attraction is an essential element in marriage.

However, in a few relationships, something external gets in the way of developing feelings of attraction for the other person. For example, some are comfortable with their partner's looks, yet worry that they don't feel "fireworks" or passion, or because their date does not have model-like features. This is where TV, movies, and print advertisements have done a job by giving us unrealistic expectations of what attraction should be.

In truth, attraction is not predicated on thinking our partner is one of the best looking people on the planet, nor on feeling "fireworks.”

We’re sometimes too worried that our friends will think less of us.

Sometimes, a dater can be blocked from realizing or developing attraction when she hasn't resolved an issue that bothers her about the relationship. We sometimes see this when a dater likes the other person and is comfortable when they're together, but is afraid how friends will react when they see the couple together. "It doesn't bother me that he's a little socially awkward"… "he's losing his hair"… "he's a little overweight… but I'm worried that my friends will think less of me because of this." She can get past this fear by understanding that as her friends get to know this man, they'll begin to see him as a whole person and in turn will view the two of them as a "good" couple. That can lead to her feeling better about his looks and acknowledging that she is attracted to him.

Opening Things Up

Your discomfort with your date's lack of confidence may be keeping you from feeling attraction for him. You also may be holding back because you aren't sure that he's interested in moving in the same direction as you, and this is a way to keep yourself from becoming hurt or disappointed. We agree with your instinctual feeling that this courtship may be stuck in the same place for too long.

Since this man is so shy, it will be up to you to take the initiative to move things along.

You can start by encouraging him to vary the types of things you do together. Since you have common interests, find some interactive activities that relate to those interests. That's a good way to see different sides of each other. Make sure to have fun together. Introduce each other to some of the hobbies and activities you don't share, and talk about what it was like to experience something new.

What does he excel in? What strengths does he have? What can you do together that will focus on these strengths and abilities? This can help both of you – it can help you grow in your respect and admiration for him. It can also help him feel better about himself, because people strengthen their self-esteem by experiencing competence.

He sounds like a good man who is reliable and responsible. Think of the ways he's been there for you, and has earned your trust. Try focusing on his eyes, his smile, or any of his features that you find appealing. Speak together about deep topics and get his input.

Notice if his body language is more relaxed and engaging.

Above all, don't over-analyze your feelings or thoughts, not during your dates and not afterwards. Remove the pressure you're putting on yourself, and just allow yourself to experience the flow. In another six weeks or so, take a step back and see if your feelings for him are getting stronger, and if you're more comfortable with his looks and the idea of a physical relationship. If they haven't changed, then perhaps this isn't meant to be.

However, if you do feel better about him, try to take the "temperature" of things to see if he's also moved forward in how he relates to you. You may notice that he's become more open, more attentive, greets you with more warmth, and his body language is more relaxed and engaging.

At that point you can measure the progress of six weeks, and extrapolate how things might continue to develop.

As well, you will want to hear an assessment directly from him. While we usually encourage daters to talk about their dating goals (i.e. marriage!) early in a courtship, because of his shyness and the way your relationship has developed we think that the optimal time for you to bring up the subject is after you've taken your "temperature." It will be important for each of you to discuss long-term hopes for the relationship, whether you’re making progress toward that goal, and what either of you may need in order to move forward.

We wish you success in navigating the dating maze,

Rosie & Sherry