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Interpersonal Attraction: Why We Like Some People and Hate Others

We all know it when we like someone and feel some sort of connection to them. But have you ever wondered what exactly is interpersonal attraction?

Interpersonal Attraction

Usually when we hear the word “attraction,” we automatically think of romance. We think of physical attraction as the only type. But there are many different types of interpersonal attraction besides the one in the romantic sense.

Have you ever met someone and felt or thought, “I feel like I’ve known them forever, and we’re going to be really great friends!” Well, if you have ever experienced that, then you know what interpersonal attraction is. But let’s take a closer look.

Definitions and types of interpersonal attraction

The types of interpersonal attraction we have for other people can be either romantic or platonic. And it can be with someone of the same sex or the opposite sex. That’s because human connections are very complex, and how we feel about someone is related to a lot of different factors. So, here’s a look at the two different types of interpersonal attraction.

#1 Short-term initial attraction. Sometimes we meet someone and think we’re going to be friends or lovers forever. It’s almost like fireworks go off for us both and we are caught up in a frenzy of excitement. That’s called short-term initial interpersonal attraction. It’s the feeling of connection when we first meet someone, and it can continue for a while afterwards. But sometimes… it doesn’t. [Read: The secrets to getting someone to like you in the very first meet]

#2 Long-term maintenance attraction. You’ve probably experienced the “fire go out” in either romance or even in friendship. After a while, they really bug you, and you realize that the two of you really aren’t that compatible. If that happens, you don’t have the long-term maintenance attraction. Because for attraction to last long-term, you need to have an enduring connection that nothing can break. [Read: Falling out of love and why it happens to the best of us]

What fuels interpersonal attraction

Have you ever wondered why you are immediately attracted to some people and not others? And why some of your relationships last – friendship or romantic – but others don’t? Well, there are a lot of reasons. So, let’s take a look at what fuels interpersonal attraction.

#1 Appearance. This is an obvious one as far as romance goes. That’s usually what we notice first and attracts us to someone – their physical appearance.

But regardless of whether it’s a sexual attraction or simply noticing how someone looks or dresses, appearance plays a role in whether or not we have interpersonal attraction with someone. [Read: The 12 rules of attraction as explained by science]

#2 Similarity. When you meet someone and you discover that they like doing the things that you like doing, it’s exciting, right? And also, if they have the same political views or outlooks on life, you are somewhat amazed.

It fires us up to find people who are similar to ourselves, and when we do, we want to be around them. Not that opposites don’t attract, but finding similarities does draw us to people.

#3 Complimentary traits. On the other side of the coin, sometimes the opposite traits do attract us. Maybe you’re an introvert, but you find yourself drawn to extroverts. Or maybe you have great social skills but are a technological idiot *like myself*. So then you might be intrigued by people who do and think things the opposite of you. As the saying goes, sometimes opposites do attract. [Read: In a relationship with a polar opposite? 15 truths revealed]

#4 Reciprocal attraction. When someone expresses that they like you, it makes you like them back, right? I mean, if they like you then they must have great taste in people!

When someone likes us – romantically or platonically – then it automatically makes us like them a bit more. That’s not saying that you can become physically attracted to all people who are attracted to you, but it does make it a little more likely. [Read: 13 lusty signs of sexual attraction to keep your eye on]

#5 Competence. It’s not surprising that a lot of people are drawn to others who seem like they have their act together in life. If they have a successful career, or have some other aspect of themselves and their lives that you find impressive, then you will likely have interpersonal attraction to them. Whether the feeling is mutual, however, well… that’s a different story.

#6 Self-disclosure. Self-disclosure is how much we reveal about ourselves, our thoughts, and our feelings to another person. It’s difficult to become emotionally intimate with someone who doesn’t tell you much about themselves. So, when we do learn about another person, we automatically do feel like we have more interpersonal attraction to them.

#7 Proximity/distance. You might love your best friend from kindergarten with all your heart, but if she moves to San Francisco, and you’re in North Carolina, well, the friendship might take a hit.

Not seeing or talking to each other on a regular basis might diminish your interpersonal attraction over time. Plus, you’ll both meet new people with whom you might form new friendships with who are geographically closer to you. [Read: Are you losing a friend or are you two just drifting away?]

#8 Life stages. Sometimes, whether you have interpersonal attraction with another person depends on what life stage you are in.

For example, let’s say you’re 22 and just got married and had a baby. But if all your college friends are still out partying every night, then your compatibility with them has gone down. Therefore, maybe you’re more likely to hang out with a couple in their mid-30s who also just had a baby because you are all in the same life stage.

Social Exchange Theory

Finally, another big factor in interpersonal attraction is what researchers call the Social Exchange Theory. In a nutshell, it says that we are likely to form a relationship with someone if we perceive that they will make our lives better in some way. And we’ll stay with them until we think the costs are getting too high and they’re making our lives worse.

So, basically, it’s the whole cost-and-reward scenario. And the “what’s in it for me” syndrome. It sounds kind of selfish, but it’s how we humans are. We want to hang out with people who make our lives better… not worse.

[Read: 20 signs of attraction in the first conversation]

There you have it – all the ins and outs of interpersonal attraction. As you can see, it’s a complex phenomenon. But it sure does explain why we are insanely attracted to some people, and are indifferent to others.

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Carol Morgan LP
Dr. Carol Morgan
Dr. Carol Morgan has a Ph.D. in communication and is a professor at Wright State University where she loves corrupting young minds. As a relationship and succes...