When attraction IS relevant (a clarification).

It was brought to my attention today that blogger Kirsten Andersen responded to my post called “When attraction is irrelevant,” which appeared on my blog in May, and on chastityproject.com last week.

I guess you could say she didn’t like it.

I responded to her criticisms in a comment on her post, which was published by Aleteia this morning. My comment currently awaits moderation. If you’d like to read her post in its entirety, click here. If you’d like to read what I originally wrote, click here.

I’d like to share Kirsten’s qualms, which center on what my friend Americo and I said in the post Kirsten criticized, and my clarifications, which are important clarifications to make:

“I’m honestly happy for Spenceley that she feels like she has spiritual justification to date men who don’t look like the stars of the next Marvel film, or whatever aesthetic she prefers.” -Kirsten

and

“I disagree that physical attraction isn’t a valid consideration when searching out a spouse.” -Kirsten

I neither wrote nor believe that I ought to date men who don’t look like [insert my aesthetic preference]. I also neither wrote nor believe that physical attraction isn’t a valid consideration when searching out a spouse (Americo never said that, either).

The post I wrote does not dispose of attraction as a factor in choosing who we date but is intended to challenge the reader to reconsider where attraction belongs in a hierarchy of standards. I do not encourage people to date others to whom they are not attracted.

The post I wrote also does not call all attraction irrelevant. It calls attraction irrelevant specifically when a person to whom you are attracted does not also bring out the best in you, when a person to whom you are attracted has no commitment to your sainthood.

“The fact that she was blown away by the very idea that dating a non-conventionally attractive person could be okay…” -Kirsten

I neither wrote that I was blown away by the idea that dating a non-conventionally attractive person could be okay, nor has that idea ever blown me away.

The post isn’t about what the world around a person says is attractive versus what a person him or herself finds attractive, anyway. The post was inspired by how blown away I was by the brilliance with which Americo articulated a very important truth: your attraction to a person does not obligate you to date him or her, and it is not enough of a reason to decide to do so.

“It sounds to me like what Americo meant to say was that Holy Spirit goggles are the spiritual equivalent of beer goggles, not their opposite, that just as beer goggles make physically unattractive people look better after a few rounds at the bar, Holy Spirit goggles do the same thing after a few rounds of Adoration or Scripture study.” -Kirsten

I don’t believe (and nor does Americo) that the “Holy Spirit goggles” to which we referred are designed to alter our visual perceptions of other people.

The point the post was intended to make was that when we seek first Christ, and are open to the Holy Spirit’s movement in us, He will refine our desires. Holy Spirit goggles turn us from people who stubbornly rule potential spouses out for stupid reasons (such as that they are not conventionally attractive) into people whose discernment in dating goes far deeper.

When we wear our “Holy Spirit goggles”, we don’t decide that a person isn’t fit for us because he or she doesn’t fit a specific, superficial mold — we toss the mold altogether. And we don’t confuse preferences (which are insignificant, such as “has a beard”) with standards (which are critical, such as “defines sex the same way I do.”).

“The bottom line is, it’s okay to pursue people you find attractive.” -Kirsten

I second this. And I’m sure Americo would third it.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • safeblonde

    Succinct and useful. I do like the ‘I never said…’ comments.

  • Allie

    Awesome!! I love your continual respect, humility, and wise words!

  • John Morgan

    I’ll be honest with you Arleen – Sometimes I’m not sure if I should even post on your site because I have said no to marriage and sex forever, not to mention that I’m only about 24 years older than you. I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that I still find girls attractive. The difference is that I have learned to control and sublimate them to other endeavors. So it’s sort of like walking a tight rope in public. I don’t want anybody to think I’m flirting or leading them on. But I also don’t want anyone to think I’m as cold as ice and have no compassion. What I find attractive has changed considerably over the years. It’s gotten less and less to do with appearance and more and more to do with openess and attitude toward me. Does she treat me like a human being? I know this may be different than most guys out there pursuing marriage, but little things matter to me – a lot. Can she look me in the eyes? Say hello? Talk to me? Help me if I need something? Return emails? Laugh with me? As far as what makes a guy and a girl compatible for marriage, I think it takes compatability on at least four levels. Not in any certain order: Spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and physical.

  • Perhaps much of Ms. Andersen’s puzzling take on your piece revolves around this unfortunate misconstrual of hers: “just as beer goggles make physically unattractive people look better after a few rounds at the bar, Holy Spirit goggles do the same thing after a few rounds of Adoration or Scripture study.” What’s bizarre is that she says that right after she wrote this:

    “If we’re open to looking at people like God looks at people,” Spenceley summed up Americo’s argument, “then people who once were too tall, or too short, or too whatever else, suddenly can become beautiful.”

    Just look at that first line: if we look at others as God looks at them. This doesn’t mean turning ugly into beautiful (which is how she views it): it means seeing the beauty that our previously clouded vision was unable to apprehend. I think it’s actually a fairly common experience among those who have fallen in love to realize that the one whom they love becomes more beautiful to their eyes without having undergone any objective physical change. Perhaps, if it is the love that God commands and intends for us, the essential change is in us. And I can’t fathom any reason anyone would take issue with such a thing, let alone devote an entire essay to trying to refute it.

    • John Morgan

      “This doesn’t mean turning ugly into beautiful . . . ” I agree Virgil. Ms. Andersen seems to have taken it a bit too literally. The only thing I think Arleen may have done is exaggerate the truth a bit in her title, “When Attraction is Irrelevant.” Her astute readers know she didn’t mean that in a literal sense that is true 100% of the time. We use exaggerations on a daily basis to make a point when we say things like: “It’s been eons since we last saw each other,” “It’s raining cats and dogs,” and “I’m starving to death.” If it takes a bit of hyperbole in a headline to get people to read a piece, I don’t see anything wrong with that.

  • Alma Martinez

    Well, before I had a spiritual life, I was attracted to guys who looked gorgeous, like male models…but they were bad for me. Not because of their looks, but who they were on the inside. Working on my spiritual life, and trying to grow closer in my faith, I’ve found that I am not as picky about the looks as I was before. I’ve learned that a gentleman with a charming personality and who actually has a spiritual life can win my heart over. I can swoon over him, choosing him over the bad boys with Adonis features. Lol, anyways that’s my little two cents.

  • Another Someone

    Lets also remember that as faithful Catholics, we strive for the will of God, and to unite ourselves with His plan for us, which will bring us the most eternal happiness. I find it hard to believe that God is going to will me to marry someone I cannot stand the sight of. The most important thing is to keep seeking His will, not our own wills and pursuing who we find attractive.

    • Freakshow26

      God may ask you to marry someone who will suffer a terrible injury that will disfigure them or suffer depression and gain 120 lbs and ask you to stay with them, despite you not being able to stand the sight of them

      • Arleen Spenceley

        Based on your comments (on here, and on Facebook, and on the Chastity Project) regarding this post and my previous attraction post, I get the sense that you’re picking some things up that I haven’t put down. So here are a handful of additional clarifications:

        — I do not equate one person’s attraction to another as synonymous with or dependent on whether the person to whom he or she is attracted is “conventionally attractive” according to the standards of the culture that surrounds us.

        — I do not believe that attraction is always necessarily explicable, and I do not believe that it is ever simple. What draws one person to another is complex.

        — I do not believe that attraction is necessarily everlasting, which is why, as I wrote in my original attraction post, it cannot be the paramount standard for picking a spouse. I think attraction is necessary for starting a relationship but insufficient for maintaining it. There must be more to what keeps a couple committed.

      • Arleen Spenceley

        Based on your comments (on here, and on Facebook, and on the Chastity Project) regarding this post and my previous attraction post, I get the sense that you’re picking some things up that I haven’t put down. So here are a handful of additional clarifications:

        — I do not equate one person’s attraction to another as synonymous with or dependent on whether the person to whom he or she is attracted is “conventionally attractive” according to the standards of the culture that surrounds us.

        — I do not believe that attraction is always necessarily explicable, and I do not believe that it is ever simple. What draws one person to another is complex.

        — I do not believe that attraction is necessarily everlasting, which is why, as I wrote in my original attraction post, it cannot be the paramount standard for picking a spouse. I think attraction is necessary for starting a relationship but insufficient for maintaining it. There must be more to what keeps a couple committed.

      • Another Someone

        in sickness and in health…

  • pastordavidrn

    Visual attractiveness is a shallow but strong element in temporarily bringing two people together, but only more substantial and enduring dimensions of personality supply the material for friendship formation. Marriage is basically longterm friendship-building. If you fail at the 1st rule of marriage, which is to marry your best friend, the 2nd rule, which is to make your mate your best friend, fixes the failure.

    Almost everyone wants a good-looking spouse, but smart people know they need mates with deep, solid inward beauty. Outward beauty is not what you marry “for better or for worse,” because the authentic matrimonial vow pledges fidelity in love despite next week’s catastrophic illness or accident changing the body from “richer” to “poorer” or from “health” to “sickness.”

    The kindling of attraction, especially sexual attraction, can get a fire started, but logs of character and commitment are needed to keep it going. And the fire of sexual love requires the safety of a fireplace constructed by lifelong wedding vows, if homes are to be filled with warmth and lives are to be free from forestfires.

    Again and again, the average person has seen attractions come and go. From this repeated experience, all but fools realize that you don’t hop on a pretty train unless its track record promises a faithful journey. And the only worthwhile destination is to grow beautifully old together.

  • Freakshow26

    I’m going to sum up my feelings with one question, does your sense of physical beauty come from God or selfish desires? Does your gauge of attractiveness come from the Lord and His Spirit living inside you, or from your lust? If you can’t answer the former, then yes, your physical attraction to any given person is completely irrelevant and not only irrelevant, it’s something you should be purged of before you even consider dating someone.

    I’m not married, I was engaged for a total of 48 hours and I’ve never once made a relationship work. But if there’s one thing I know about, it’s that there is a certain criteria for women to find a man attractive that reaches across all religions, all races, all countries and backgrounds. And I have never once fit that criteria.

    I’ve been mocked, manipulated, lied to, made fun of, scoffed and alienated for my looks. But most of all, it has been made apparent by more than one woman that I must be absolutely out of my mind to even think that a woman would want to date me when they could date some guy who looks like he belongs in the next cover of GQ.

    And I used to think it was just a secular issue, I used to think that it was just girls that go to nightclubs every night and bar hop or women that only go to parties and enjoy the hook up lifestyle that believe this. But after attending the Franciscan University of Steubenville, I learned the horrific secret the most Catholic women want no one to know, that they can be just as shallow and superficial as Kim Kardashian herself, if not more so.

    In fact, I think I prefer secular girls when it comes to this respect, cause at least they’re honest about it. They won’t lie to you. if I went up to a secular girl in a nightclub and asked her to dance she’d look me up and down, shake her head and say something like, “yeah, someone that looks like me doesn’t dance with someone who looks like you.” And while that sounds harsh, its a heck of a lot more honest and authentic then being told by a “Christian” girl, “I don’t think that God is calling us to be together.” Or “I think you need to pray a little bit longer before asking anyone out on a date.” (By the way, those two excuses were used on me specifically).

    And hey, before you get all defensive and think that I’m just bashing women, men are just as capable as acting like this as women are. I’ve seen men who are Mission Trip Leaders and they act like Indiana Jones going to save everybody’s life, what are some girl has the misfortune of trying to ask them to get some coffee, they drop you flat. This is not meant to cause division at all, its meant to call everyone on to a higher form of holiness. If your internal sense of attractive attraction doesn’t come from God, but instead comes from and is dictated by by selfish lust, what good is it? Catholics like to talk till their blue in the face about expelling things that don’t glorify Christ from your life and integrating things that do into your life. Then how is it, that’s the bottom line ability to find someone attractive remains in the dominion of the flesh? Seems pretty screwed up if you ask me.

  • Well, not to prolong the discussion too tangentially (but, rather, for the far nobler purpose of showing off how smart I am, hardy har), since there have been a few remarks that have mentioned vows and in particular the famous richer/poorer, sickness/health promises, let me just point out the fascinating fact that in Eastern Orthodox marriage we have no vows. I think that, despite the fact that weddings are different for the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches (and despite the fact that our hostess is Catholic and thus writes from that perspective), this could nevertheless be instructive. There is a hint in our talk of marriage of seeing it as promises you must keep even when attraction (physical or otherwise) diminishes. Among the many things I like about Orthodox matrimony is that in this we draw attention away from the sense that the union of man and woman is a contract (an exchange of promises). It is, rather, a mystery, which is to say μυστήριον, to use a word the Apostle Paul uses in Ephesians 5. We speak of a mystery, this two becoming as one. I should scarcely think that a man should reject his own body, if it falls ill, suffers injury, grows old and infirm, or what-have-you, just as I should scarcely hope that two who have mysteriously become as one would do such a thing. And of course none of this is to say that this wisdom about marriage is absent from the marriages of heterodox Christians: but it does anyway get special attention in the way Orthodox marriages are conducted.

    Well, as I said, just popping back to be a smarty-pants. Please forgive me. In real life I know far less than I make people think on the Internet.

  • Val

    I really love your articles Arleen, you talk about everything I’m struggling with and give me the correct answers. Everytime I try to compromise, you just write an article about the exact topic I was struggling with and help me think.