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You know that feeling that suddenly hits you. You’re traipsing about in town and notice someone who gives you a jolt. Or it could be your partner coming out of the shower, smelling irresistible. Or, all of a sudden your best friend seems…good-looking?

What you feel is – instant attraction.

As a sex therapist I often talk about desire. The reason for this is that desire for intimacy is so fundamental to many of us.

It’s also because it’s one of the most frequent reasons clients seek my help or the help of other therapists.

A related concept – is attraction. What’s so exciting about attraction is that it often seems mysterious, and difficult to define. You know when you experience it, but you don’t always know why you experience it.

In this blog post I’ll be focusing on why we feel instant attraction to some people and not to others.

Why We Feel Instant Attraction

Research says it takes less than one second (!) from meeting a person to decide how much we like that person, and whether we’re attracted or not.

It sounds like a very short time – and it is – but the important thing here is realizing that it’s about the initial feeling.

How much we like someone and how attracted we are to a person may of course change with time.

For some people, attraction appears after years of friendship. All of a sudden your colleague or close friend may seem incredibly attractive.

At other times it may go the other way, and the attraction to your partner, for instance, vanishes into thin air, only to reappear – just as unexpectedly – a couple of months later with a vengeance.

“When it comes to that instant attraction that many of us can identify with, we usually ascribe that to things we’re aware of, such as the way a person looks. It’s not unusual for us to have a ”type”, and that’s what determines that first jolt of attraction.”

But there are in fact many other factors involved at the same time, which may actually affect attraction more than just looks.

A person who’s written quite a lot about attraction is researcher Justin Lehmiller. In his book, The Psychology of Human Sexuality Justin has compiled research on attraction and how it works. He lists the following factors as some of the more essential ones for us to feel attracted to someone.


It’s more likely that we feel attracted to someone who’s closer to us geographically – such as someone who lives in our area or a person at work.


It’s more likely that we get attracted to someone who’s more similar to us than not. Being similar does not, however, predict the longevity of the relationship or how happy we are together.

Physical Excitement

When we meet someone we don’t know and are physically excited (for example have a higher heart rate as a result of an adrenaline rush), it increases the chances we’ll feel instant attraction.


We like people who make us feel good. We like other people more when we ourselves feel good – even if it wasn’t the other person who made us feel good.


When there are fewer potential partners to choose from we tend to view the potential ones present, as more attractive. When potential partners appear more difficult to catch we become more attracted to them.


People of all gender identities are more attracted to people they find good looking. But the attraction we feel may depend on whether others experience that person as attractive, and the context we’re in (that is if there are other attractive/less attractive people in the same room). A person’s looks tend to be more important at the beginning of a relationship compared to later on in a romantic relationship.

Hormones and Neurotransmitters

Attraction is also partly determined by our sense of smell, and what is referred to as pheromones. Higher levels of oxytocin and dopamine may also increase the level of attraction.

So, as you can see, there are many factors affecting whether we feel attracted to someone or not.

Learn How Attraction Works For You:

  • What do you think are important factors for you to feel attracted to someone?
    • For example: that we share the same values and/or that they’re good-looking.
  • Has what makes you attracted to someone, changed over time?
    • If so, in what way?
  • How does it feel when you think about what attracts you to someone? If you need help identifying a feeling you might want to follow these steps:
    • Where in your body do you experience the feeling?
    • How does the feeling feel?
    • What does it make you want to do?
  • Have you noticed anything else that tends to make you feel attracted, which isn’t listed above in the various factors?
    • If so, what is it?

Why we feel instant attraction to some people, and not others, is affected by lots of different things: mood, hormones and neurotransmitters, how alike we are, the shortage of other partners available, looks, physical excitement, and the proximity of geographical closeness. Now I’d love to know: was there anything in that list of factors you were surprised by? Or something that fitted you particularly well.

Originally published on Therapy by Leigh.