What Is Romantic Attraction? 6 Signs You're Experiencing It
Have you ever stopped to think about what it means to be romantically attracted to someone?
There are actually different components that can make up that attraction. For example, some people experience only romantic attraction to other people—without sexual attraction—and vice versa.
Ahead, we're diving into how to recognize romantic attraction and distinguish it from all the different kinds of attraction.
What is romantic attraction?
"Romantic attraction is an emotional response of one person toward another, which can be described as a yearning to admire and join with them," says therapist Christa McCrorie, LICSW-PIP.
While romantic attraction is different for everyone, many people will experience feelings of wanting to protect and provide for another person, wanting to keep them cared for, enjoying their company, and wanting to take on a role of responsibility in maintaining that person's happiness, she notes.
Some people see their romantic orientation—that is, how they experience romantic attraction and for whom—as a part of their identity separate from their sexual orientation. For example, someone can be homoromantic and bisexual, which means they're only romantically attracted to people who share their gender but they do experience sexual attraction to people of more than one gender. Those who experience little to no romantic attraction for others may be referred to as aromantic.
Not all relationships need romantic attraction. However, in healthy relationships where romantic attraction is present, it serves as a force that pushes partners to continuously be intrigued and interested in each other with compassion, acting as the glue to keep the relationship connected even as partners and the environment inevitably change, says McCrorie.
Romantic attraction vs. sexual attraction.
While romantic attraction is an emotional response, sexual attraction is a physical response. Signs of sexual attraction include the physical signs of arousal such as a flushed face, an increased heartbeat, erections and hardened nipples, and a desire to touch the other person.
"Romantic attraction is distinct from sexual attraction in that someone does not need to be romantically attracted to someone to be sexually attracted to them, and vice versa," explains couples' therapist Kyle Zrenchik, Ph.D., ACS, LMFT.
In other words, romantic and sexual attraction do not have to go hand in hand; it's possible to experience one without the other. That's why some people find it helpful to distinguish between their sexual orientation and their romantic orientation: Some people might prefer the nuance of biromantic as opposed to bisexual, for example, and combining two terms together like biromantic asexual can offer yet another layer of specificity.
(Here's more on the difference between love and lust, if you want more details on how to parse the two out.)
Types of attraction.
There are many different types of attraction, even aside from romantic attraction and sexual attraction. Here are some of the major ones:
- Romantic attraction: An intense emotional draw toward someone, characterized by a strong desire to intertwine your lives intimately.
- Intellectual attraction: Being pulled in by someone's cognitive abilities, thoughts, and opinions.
- Sexual attraction: A physical draw toward someone that leads to bodily sexual responses.
- Aesthetic attraction: An appreciation of and pull toward someone's appearance, which doesn't necessarily need to include a wish to be romantic or sexual with them.
- Physical attraction: A nonsexual physical urge to be close to someone and to be touched and cared for.
Signs of romantic attraction:
You feel infatuated.
"People may experience romantic attraction differently. However, many people realize that they are experiencing romantic attraction toward someone when they find themselves infatuated with another person," says McCrorie. You find yourself repeatedly thinking about the person and find ways to bring them up in conversation.
You want to feel things together.
People reporting romantic attraction will often express a strong desire to experience deep emotions with the other person, says Zrenchik, or otherwise have some sort of emotional connection.
You feel protective.
"When there is an emotional connection with someone, you want them to be happy," therapist Tracie Pinnock, LMFT, previously told mbg.
When you think of the person, you are struck by how their happiness feels tied to your happiness—and you would do anything to make sure that they're protected from any misfortune that might come their way. You feel upset knowing that it's impossible to protect them from everything and anything.
You want to share life experiences with them.
When you picture your life, you see the other person at your side. You want to wake up next to them, celebrate holidays with them, and possibly build a home together. When you think of yourself, the other person is also a part of that.
You want to have a family together.
If you're a person who wants to have children, then you might imagine having children with them. You think about the different good qualities your partner has and how they might manifest in a child that shared both your genes or who was raised by both of you. You feel soft and soppy at the thought of the other person holding your child and building a bond.
You want to share.
No matter whether you're experiencing a positive or negative emotion, your first thought is to share it with this person. You deeply value their point of view, and you know that you will find comfort and solace in sharing with them in times of sadness and more joy in times of happiness.
Platonic vs. romantic relationships.
Platonic relationships are relationships lacking sexual and romantic attraction—they're what most people call friendships. The bond you might have with your best friend is an example of a platonic relationship.
A platonic relationship can be just as central to your life as a romantic one, the only difference being that different feelings drive the relationship.
It can sometimes be hard to know if you're feeling romantically or platonically toward someone because feelings of friend love can be just as intense and compelling as romantic love. It's probably best not to worry about putting a definite label on the feelings you have for someone and instead focus on how the relationship makes you feel. Are you both happy and having your needs met?
People can experience romantic attraction in many ways. Some common romantic orientations might include:
- Biromantic: Biromantic people are romantically attracted to people of more than one gender.
- Panromantic: Panromantic people are romantically attracted to people of any gender.
- Aromantic: Aromantic people have little or no romantic attraction to others.
- Demiromantic: Demiromantic people do not develop romantic feelings for someone without an emotional connection, i.e., they don't fall in love at first sight.
- Cupioromantic: Cupioromantic people desire a romantic relationship but do not experience romantic attraction to others.
(Here's our big list of sexualities that also defines many of these and other related terms.)
Is romantic attraction real?
Yes! Romantic attraction is very real and can be an overwhelming and pleasurable experience. Just because not everyone experiences romantic attraction doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
What are the different types of attraction?
There are many different types of attraction, including sexual attraction, romantic attraction, intellectual attraction, physical attraction, and aesthetic attraction.
Is kissing romantic or sexual?
Kissing can be romantic, sexual, both, or even neither. You can kiss platonically, romantically, or sexually. It depends on the meaning you and your kissing partner imbue it with.
What does romantic attraction feel like?
The experience of romantic attraction varies from person to person, but you may feel like you can't stop thinking about the other person, you want to make them happy, you want to protect them, and you want to share your everyday life with them.
What causes attraction?
Romantic attraction can be understood as a "gut feeling." According to Zrenchik, "People will report a deep belief that they are emotionally connected to another person. Likely, this was not caused by one specific event but rather an accumulation of events and experiences over time."
Romantic attraction can manifest in different ways for different people, and there's a whole spectrum of perfectly normal ways to feel attraction (or lack thereof) for others. Figuring out what kind of attraction you're feeling toward someone can help you to understand your own emotions better and understand how to approach the various types of relationships in your life.
Kesiena Boom, M.S., is a sociologist, writer, and poet. She has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Manchester and a master’s degree in Gender Studies from Lund University. Her work has been featured at Slate, Buzzfeed, Vice, Autostraddle, and elsewhere. Her writing focuses on sex, pleasure, queer experience and community, feminist theory and practice, and race and anti-racism.