I talked in this post about how I don’t actually know what romance is, but in this post I mentioned getting crushes on guys when I was a teenager. So despite a lack of knowledge or certainty about the definition of romance, I’m pretty sure I have felt romantic attraction.
What did that actually look like? I would say that I experienced aesthetic and perhaps mild sensual attraction toward certain guys, which were both aspects of my romantic attraction to them. My thoughts toward my crushes were things like, “He’s so cute, I really like him, I hope he talks to me”, and if one of them did talk to me I’d be all happy. I didn’t really go so far as hoping for or imagining being in a romantic relationship with any of them, though, I think because that possibility was just so remote. But I did get somewhat jealous of attention they paid to other girls, so I did at least want them to like/notice me above other people.
Most of these instances were pretty mild and fleeting, though, based more on my loneliness and desire for any guy to pay attention to me than actual romantic attraction toward the specific person. But there is one example that was particularly strong and which now forms the basis for my definition of romantic attraction.
That definition, the best one I’ve come up with to define and distinguish my own experiences, is “a strong emotional draw toward a certain person which isn’t entirely rational/can’t be fully explained.” The main feature of romantic attraction, to me, is that element of irrationality. This is as opposed to platonic attraction, which you can generally pin down a specific reason for—you’ve hit it off with the other person, you have interests in common, you admire them. (Maybe for some people sexual attraction forms the basis of romantic attraction, so they would have that as an explanation, but that’s obviously not universal.)
So back to that specific crush. I was about 14 and there was this guy I really liked, to the point that I lay in bed crying when I found out I’d probably never see him again. I knew and interacted with him much less than my other main crush from my teen years, but I’d say my attraction to him was stronger, or was at least more definitely romantic in nature. I just… liked him. He was sweet and nice and easygoing and liked dogs and was just generally a good person (as far as I could tell) and was an oldest child like me, and I admired him and I thought he was aesthetically attractive—but those things are not enough to explain the strength of my draw toward him. Especially when you throw in the multiple ways that we were clearly incompatible—he was four years older than me (which is kind of a big deal at that age), and also one time he kept emphasizing how this book he’d read was reallllly long, but he had it right there and I could tell it was only a few hundred pages, meaning he obviously wasn’t a big reader, while I loved reading and writing and my dream guy was someone who was also a writer. But instead of taking that incident as a sign that he wasn’t for me, I just thought, “Aww, that’s so cute!” See? Irrational.
This is part of why I can’t really determine whether I’ve experienced romantic attraction to people I actually know and am friends with, because I do have a rational basis for my strong feelings toward them—our close relationship, our shared history, our common interests. Maybe there is an irrational, romantic element in there, but I can’t separate it out from the rational, platonic ones.
My definition of romantic attraction could actually be hindering my understanding, since it specifically shuts out instances of attraction that do seem completely logical. But I don’t know how else to describe my weirdly intense feelings toward that one guy (or some of the others who I’ve liked but really wasn’t very compatible with).
I’ve also seen the irrational element detailed as a factor before, like in this post by Arf explaining her experience of romantic attraction: “It feels a little more irrational than the love you feel for your best friend—like you always want to keep tabs on it in your mind and you want to think about it all the time. Kind of obsessive.” Which I relate to when it comes to some of my crushes; I definitely thought about them a lot and journaled about my feelings, which I’d never done with any friendships. Cianna also noted in this comment the aspect of seeing the other person as perfect, which also rings true for me as I would either not be aware of my crushes’ flaws or would see them as endearing.
Not everyone experiences or would define romantic attraction this way (Queenie’s comment just below Cianna’s is proof of that), but it’s the best definition I’ve come up with to help explain my own past feelings, as well as some of the feelings and behavior of people around me.