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Je ne sais quoi...whatever it is, you can't bottle it.

Seeing the movie, Last Chance Harvey, recently and watching the growing attraction between Emma Thomson and Dustin Hoffman as the movie played out, lead me to discuss, muse upon and in general consider the question of just what is it that connects us with others.  Here we are in February, Valentine’s Day and the onslaught of a media barrage that would have us believe that all love is instant, is sexual and is there for the taking.  This film denied that instant and that sexual stereotype but it didn’t deny the fact that for two people to click, something has to attract.

More on relationships

I dog sat for my daughter last week and commented to a friend that the pooch looked lonely. “Take him to the dog park” she suggested. “He’ll love it there.” Boy, was she wrong. Poor shaggy critter hung around me like the new kid at school, got nice toys and the right outfit but all the other kids had their groups and he was excluded. A few sniffs and a tail wag or two but no instant rapport that sent him into an ecstasy of racing and woofing.  

We all know from sociology and anthropology lectures that early man met and mated with the strongest looking woman in the cave prompted by a genetic marker that told him to propagate the race. It’s this same instinctive, unbidden urge to propagate that fuels early relationships, only now we refer to it as sexual attraction.  Like it or not we are programmed to want to reproduce, to keep the race going. It accounts for the numbers of impossibly thin, scantily dressed young women out hunting and gathering for a mate; and for the macho behavior of men in the same age range. 'See me strong, I’ll keep the fire going and bring home the bacon', and she’s playing out 'see me healthy and beautiful and we’ll have attractive kids'.  I have a somewhat jaundiced male friend who once commented that the really smart guys would be looking for the woman with good child bearing pelvis...that is, hips! With few exceptions, most of us over 40 would agree that our  attraction to our mate in our twenties began with sexual attraction. The chemistry thing was there.

What happens though as we grow older, as we leave one mate and look for another? I’m inclined to think that priorities change.  I cornered my single friend Lois on a long drive to Phoenix last week; 50 something, very trim, attractive, self-sufficient, great career. She confided (and I did probe) that in the past three years she has met 24 men through either Internet dating sites or introductions by colleagues. Of that 24, only two sparked sufficient interest to warrant a second date and one of them became a 14 month relationship.  The second is under serious consideration as a 'keeper'.  “It’s instant”, she explained to me, “I know instantly if there is any attraction and I’m not talking about sexual attraction, I mean any reason to like, to think that we could be friends, that we could share interests. Through Internet dates I get a real feel from e-mail…hard to explain but by the third or fourth e-mail there is usually something that continues to spark my interest and, when we talk, I can tell from the conversation if it’s going to go anywhere.”  So what is this instant click, this chemistry, and this attraction? Lois is serious in her pursuit of a relationship and by no means would I describe her as closed minded to possibilities. She described characteristics of men she had met. A pattern began to emerge. Most of these men had teeth, hair and a job. They were professionals, they were presentable…. that’s what we are told women are looking for. “Any one of them would most likely have been good mate for life material on the surface but….”. The French refer to it as the Je ne sais quoi …the,  I can't describe it element that either makes something work or if it's missing, "the fish don't bite",  as my husband put it.

I called in a favor from two of the breakfast group, both had remarried in their late fifties. “Tell me, what was the initial spark?”  Turns out that an easy flow of conversation, a complete feeling of ease with someone, a shared sense of humor …all these flowed into a subtle flirting,  a teasing , an anticipation of meeting, of talking.  Both of these woman married men totally opposites of first husbands. A third member of our group, a widow, confessed to trying to find both the physical and intellectual clone of her late husband and not even considering men who did not meet her rather narrow criteria. “I know what I like” she defended herself, she was referring to her comfort zone. 

I know what attracted me to my second husband. We had a similar history and upbringing, we could touch on points of common experience , in a sense we shared a language and being able to really communicate with one another led to a growing attraction and realization that this was the stuff that love was made of.

Whatever it is that attracts people, it can’t be manufactured or forced. You cannot ‘make’ someone like you and no amount of Valentine Day hype can alter that fact. As for pooch and the dog park, I guess the same applies. He just needs to keep going there and become part of the gang.

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