Hierarchy of Relationship Needs - McElhenney

The Hierarchy of Relationship Needs: Four Levels of Attraction

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As the online dating universe continues to be ho-hum for me, I’m continually wondering what it takes for someone to light up my relationship antennae. It seems to me there are four levels of attraction.

Hierarchy of Relationship Needs:

  • Physical fitness – form
  • Attractiveness – smile
  • Intelligence – mental acuity
  • Joy – the energy of hope and happiness

Perhaps this is my hierarchy of relationship needs.

Physical fitness – form

There is no question I find a BMW more attractive than a Toyota. The lines, the fit and finish, the muscular approach to the road. When walking along the local running trail I notice a woman’s physical outline up to 25 yards away. And coming or going there is an animal response: BMW or not BMW. It’s as simple as that. My lizard brain is calculating the desirability of everyone passing by in some pre-lingual processing that goes on behind the scenes of my consciousness. Sure, I’m single, I’m heterosexual, and I’m naturally drawn to fit women, but my hardwiring is much deeper than my preferences. I’m surprised sometimes by the objectification. But it’s not a sexual thing, it’s more of a scientific observation. I recognize, however, that I have an affinity for the more agile, BMW-like forms. I’d like to be more BMW-like myself, at the moment.

Attractiveness – smile

As my initial interest is tweaked I will begin the process of seeking a glimpse of her smile. No doubt about it, I’m a smile man. And that does not mean she has to be smiling, it’s more about the potential for smiles all around. Again, I think we’re dealing with some deeply ingrained instincts about fight or flight, about nurture and comfort, and about familiarity with people from our past. It all adds up to some “attractiveness” factor that is as twitchy as a swipe left or swipe right.

It happens in seconds. My lizard brain goes into action again and sorts ruthlessly  YES or NO. It’s almost an auto-pilot. And, it’s not that my initial reactions are anything more than a nod towards chemistry as the next step in my mating ritual, but they are a clear indicator of the willingness to start. The dating apps are not particularly elegant, but most left swipes are pretty reflexive. That’s something deeper than “is she pretty.” I think our brains are processing thousands of data points to come up with a YES or NO. And, while I find this type of dating app quite superficial, there is an efficiency to the process.

Intelligence – mental acuity

As we move in closer for a view of the actual person we begin to enter into a conversation. This is the first opportunity to dig beneath the surface and learn about this person’s joy, fears, ambitions, and passions. I want someone to be involved in passionate work. I want to know how they are reaching beyond the daily mundane of making a living, staying fit, and getting the kids to school activities on time. I want to know what drives their inner core happiness. Happiness starts with intelligence. Are they moving towards something bigger? Do they have ambitions that keep them striving to be better, to do more, to celebrate their connection with a higher power? The phrase “spiritual but not religious” sums up my take on mental acuity. I believe we all need to be seeking a higher level of consciousness (meditation, prayer, yoga, acts of service) and this commitment is easy to recognize in the first conversation with a potential partner. The lack of some spiritual connection is part of what kills chemistry for me.

Joy – the energy of hope and happiness

If we’ve both been on the planet for over 40 years we’ve either managed to gain mastery over the mundane chores or we have not. An overwhelmed or overbusy person, in my mind, is showing signs that their inner compass might be aimed away from True North. A joyful person is a person who is in alignment with their guiding purpose. There is a joy in knowing you’re a sailing in the right direction, even if you have no idea about the journey’s length. Joy is that reflection of inner peace and confidence that trumps all of the previous requirements. Where there is joy there is passion, life, energy, ambition.

I want a woman with ambition. I recognize inner joy and celebrate our individual journey’s towards the fulfillment of that joy. Together we can support another person’s joy in a way they cannot do for themselves. I’ve had this joy-to-joy experience several times in my relationship history. And, once you have it, you’ll never go back to just “average.” We are not average. Our souls are not average. When you are tuned into your happiness and purpose you are exceptional. And exceptional people seek other exceptional people to co-create with.

“I want a girl with a short skirt and a long jacket” – Cake

I will not settle for average and I hope you will not either. Average will get you down the road a bit, but it’s not the lasting relationship you are looking for. That’s one of the reasons dating can be difficult. We don’t want to be alone so we might go on a lot of average dates. Seeking to find an average frog who can be turned into a prince. Well, I’m here to tell you, you have to start with the prince and princess. You have to start with the joy-to-joy as the measure of connection. Everything else, in my mind, is a distraction from getting the relationship you desire. The relationship I desire. The relationship we deserve.


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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