Why We’re Drawn, Why We Stay

Have you ever made a list of the reasons why you like someone you’re dating?

I have.

Have you ever wondered, as you were making said list, whether it was a completely ridiculous thing to do?

I’ve done that, too.

I’ve been thinking about this lately–this idea of trying to articulate and quantify what makes me attracted to someone, and whether it makes any sense.

And then, today, I came upon this article about Norris Church Mailer, Norman Mailer’s third (and last) wife. The one in the Sunday Times Magazine that those of you more presently engaged with politics and culture either saw or read several days ago.

Norman Mailer’s wife is not someone who most of us would immediately think to turn to for relationship advice. She was, after all, married to one of American history’s most famous mysoginists and philanderers.

But her explanation of why she stayed with him, despite an awareness of his many infidelities, rang very true:

“Why does somebody stay with somebody who’s not quite good enough? That’s a big question, and I don’t have a pat answer. It’s just the good outweighed the bad, and we loved those kids. I didn’t want to leave them, and I didn’t want to leave him because he was so interesting. If I had, I would have always wondered what he was up to.”

Pretty universally, the men who I have made lists about are not–to my knowledge at least–cheating on me; nor, I’m fairly sure, do we have children together. Usually, they are just guys that I feel some strong, possibly elusive attraction to but might have some, likely less elusive, reservations about.

Like, for example, a guy who was really funny and had excellent taste in music but refused to buy a bed and was kind of impossible to have a conversation with; or, soomeone who was very attractive and intelligent but drank far too much whiskey on Tuesday evenings, and also was really impossible to have a conversation with. (Note to self: this pattern is interesting, peculiar and ironic: I really, really like having conversations.)

But, despite our different issues, Mailer’s words rang true.

As I’ve recently written about, I’m not exactly sure what I’m looking for in a partner, or whether the qualities I’m drawn to are the ones I should be. And I’d like to think that’s something I’m getting closer to figuring out.

But I also know that it’s not something I might never fully nail down. That maybe it’s something I won’t know until I find it. And that it may not be something I will ever be able to explain by making lists.

I do think the reasons we’re attracted to people are elusive, and sometimes irrational. Sometimes they’re really simple, or random. I love the way Norris Mailer says she stayed with Norman because he was”interesting.” Can anyone really argue with that? Or with her decision to stay with him in part to keep their family intact?

I’m sure people can, and will. But I’m inclined not to. I’m inclined to buy unto the notion that what draws us to someone, or keeps us with them, might be as complicated and as simple as finding them intriguing, and not wanting to wonder that they’re up to while we’re gone.

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