I just saw an absolutely fascinating question posed on Twitter. The question is: “Assume you’re having difficulties finding a serious romantic partner. You meet someone who’s all the things you want, except you’re not attracted to them. There’s 0 spark. Would you take a drug (dosed weekly) that induces attraction to this person so you could be with them?”
I just have so many thoughts about this question and its implications that I felt I had to use space here to think them out loud.
First, my answer is an enthusiastic “yes.” Let me begin by actually drawing on an exercise I often use with my clients when doing career exploration. I tell my clients to draw a circle and divide it into some number of sections – somewhere between 4 and 8, doesn’t really matter. Then I tell them to fill in the slices with things they think make a “great job.” Common choices are: Satisfying Work, Great Boss, Good Wage/Salary, Location, Good Company Culture/Reputation, etc. We explore how each of those things matters, but there will always be trade-offs and you need to be prepared to examine those trade-offs in order to find a career you really love.
Now, some simple math here: if you have two people and they draw identical charts, but then one of them wakes up and decides that “Location” doesn’t really matter to them at all and they’re removing it from consideration, then that person has more options. It’s as simple as that. There’s absolutely a meta-trade-off between how many trade-offs you’ll accept and how many options you’ll have.
Now, the same thing can apply to romantic partners. Your “circle” could includes slices such as: Shared Values, Personal Ambition, Intelligence, Charm, Appearance, Social Status, Wealth, or any number of things. But if two people draw the same circle and then one of them gets to just remove ANY of the slices, that person will have more options overall. Simple math, no judgement attached.
Now, think of it another way – for better or ill, many people consider “wealth/income” (or at least wealth/income potential) as a factor for their ideal romantic partner. So imagine if the question was framed “You meet someone who’s everything you want, except they’re destitute through no fault of their own (i.e. they’re not lazy or irresponsible). They’re otherwise perfect. Would you date them if some organization was willing to give them a stipend equal to 50% more than the median income in your area while they dated you?”
What these questions both do is essentially take that slice of the circle out of the equation. Now, for some people, that slice is already absent. Some people don’t have “attractiveness” or “wealth” in their circle at all. Other people have it as a very large slice. People are so varied and strange and cool that anything you think is odd or unusual might very well be so in terms of statistical representation, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen or that it doesn’t work for those people. So when I tell you that there are already people who care absolutely zero about their partner’s appearance or income and are perfectly happy, don’t scoff just because you don’t feel the same way.
Or think of it like the career example, because that might be easier to wrap your head around: imagine that no matter what job you took, you’d get a decently above-average salary. Wouldn’t that significantly expand the number of jobs you’d consider taking? Surely there are several jobs that you know you’d love and would meet all the other criteria, but you don’t take because they simply don’t provide you with the amount of income you require. So by simply removing one of the many criteria you use to make such a decision, you broaden your pool.
So basically the interpretation I have is a straightforward one – anything that increases the mathematical likelihood of me achieving my goals without undue side effects is generally a good thing. So why then would anyone not say “yes” to the initial question?
I can think of two primary reasons: Associated Effects, and Moral Purity.
By “associated effects,” I mean the fact that no quality about a person truly exists in a vacuum. For instance: your healthy habits absolutely affect your physical appearance and on average, people in better health tend to be found more attractive to others. So assuming I took this drug and found someone attractive no matter what, it’s still possible that I may decide that I don’t want to partner with someone with terrible eating habits, lack of personal care, a drinking problem, heavy smoker, etc. I might artificially find them attractive, but I don’t want them in my life. However! While I think that many other people may respond this way, I think this is discounted by the phrasing of the question itself: “someone who’s all the things you want.” For me, that would mean that they’re healthy and have generally positive habits, so that eliminates the possibility of someone who is unattractive because they smoke a lot of meth or drink ten liters of soda a day.
Then there’s “moral purity.” I think some people might simply have a problem with the artificial nature of it all. Certainly I have a certain ill feeling when I consider the reverse: if I imagine discovering that my partner loves everything about me but has to take a drug to not feel physically repulsed by me, that might make me feel a certain way. I wouldn’t want a partner to feel that way. But that line of reasoning forces a very base, chemical/biological reaction to carry a lot of romantic weight! I mean, consider this scenario: you meet someone who you find wildly attractive. There’s 100% spark – but you despise everything else about them. By your definition, they’re a terrible person who would rank a 0 in every other category in your pie chart. Yet the spark is undeniable. Would you call that “love?” Would you date that person? Marry them? Would you advise a friend or family member in that situation to just take the plunge because truly they must be “the one?”
Certainly not! But if 100% Spark and 0% Everything Else isn’t love, then why should we say that 0% Spark and 100% Everything Else isn’t love? Find a couple that’s been married for 50 years and is still moon-eyed over each other, and I guarantee it won’t be because of “spark.” It will be because of lasting, enduring partnership built on all those other pie slices.
My honest guess is that if such a drug were invented and some people took it, it could wear off in six months and no one would notice. People who are fundamentally compatible bond, and whether that bond endures or not has to do with the people within it and the circumstances around it, not the spark. The whole reason we even use “spark” as a metaphor is because a spark doesn’t sustain – it either ignites something else or goes out.
So if the only thing standing in the way of you and something amazing is one tiny detail that is almost guaranteed to be temporary – physical attractiveness in a partner, a long commute for a job, the color of the paint on the walls of your dream home – just pretend that pill exists, and take it.