Thoughts on the ‘sexual tension triangle’ and the importance of the ‘phases of attraction’

Recently, I recalled an incidence when I was in high school:

Basically, a friend of mine invited me to his friends house to play cards.  His friend was a female, but they were not dating or anything.  He just knew her from class.  Her mom and dad were gone for the night so we had the house to ourselves.

We sat and played cards and talked, of course.  As we played I noticed a weird “tension” starting to develop.  I can’t say how exactly.  I just seemed to feel it.  We continued to play and talk.  And then I made some remark and she got mad.  It seemed she yelled at me and called me some names.  If I recall right, my friend just said that we would go and we did.

I still can’t remember what I said.  I recall that my friend apologized for her behavior and said that I did not say anything bad or insulting.  If I recall right he said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen her act like that”.

It happened that this was the period of time when I was deciding to become a Psychoanalyst.  As a result, I tended to interpret things in a sexual way (which, in this case, I still feel is correct).  I told my friend that I felt that it was a result of ‘sexual tension’.  This is not surprising as we were three teenagers – two males and one female – in a house by themselves.

Thinking about this years later, I feel I can add more to it.

Normally, the tendency would be to say that she was attracted to me as she yelled at me.  I don’t feel that this is the case though.  I felt it was more complicated.

I felt that she felt a sexual attraction to my friend which she had developed just by being around him at school and which has grown stronger and stronger through association.  I do not feel that it was a romantic feeling but a sexual attraction.  More than likely, he felt the same.

But she, of course, cannot act on it.  She had to develop restrictions and prohibitions in her mind to, in a way, hide it from everyone and even herself.  For example, she wouldn’t allow herself certain thoughts or feelings and she had to act in a “restrained” way.  As a result, the sexual attraction was coupled by strong restrictions and prohibitions.  Since she knew him for a while she had developed strong feelings which required strong restrictions and prohibitions.  Because of these strong restrictions and prohibitions, there developed a “wall” between her and him.  This ‘sexual tension wall’ seems to be a cause for a lot of problems between people, it seems to me.  It can become so strong that it can literally put an end to a relationship and make it go “sour” or become “passionless”.  It can also cause a frustration.

Now, because I was his friend I was viewed by her as “part of him”, or his “twin”, so to speak.  In other words, I represented him because I was his friend.  This created a unique situation . . .

Because I represented him, the sexual tension, that was associated with him, became associated with me.   But there was a big difference:  I did not have the restrictions and prohibitions of the ‘sexual tension wall’ that surrounded him.  As a result, she found herself sitting in front of two boys with a dilemma.   She had a strong attraction for my friend, based on a long association, but she had developed strong restrictions and prohibitions toward my friend as a result:  the ‘sexual tensions wall’.  The other boy (me) was a friend of his, and so was associated with him.  This made her identify me with my friend and, accordingly, all the strong sexual attractions and feelings she felt for him.  But there were no restrictions and prohibitions in my case . . . no ‘sexual tensions wall’.  This condition of tension without restriction and prohibitions, it seems to me, was “released” in the outburst and why it was directed toward me.  In reality, it was not because of a sexual attraction to me but to the long-standing sexual attraction she had to my friend.  I was his “stand-in”, so to speak, who had no restrictions or wall to hinder the tension she felt.

This condition, I feel, is very common.  I see it often when I am even around the wives of friends I know.  Because it involves three people, I speak of it as the ‘sexual tension triangle’.  This triangle may be why girlfriends will often end up going with the friend of their boyfriends, for example.  In addition, I think it also makes “other girls” or “other guys” more appealing when one is in a relationship.  In some respects, it may be a major impetus for infidelity and “stepping out” . . . there is simply no restriction with the “other person”.

This fact shows a number of things:

  • That sexual attraction is impersonal.  That is to say, sexual attraction is a “power” that “knows no face”.  It can be directed to anyone at any time, in the right conditions.  This is because, contrary to popular belief, sexual attraction is impersonal at its core.  Its almost like a knee-jerk reflex.
  • The power of attraction.  As I said above, sexual attraction is a “power” or a “force”.  It can be so strong that a person is basically controlled by it.
  • The power of restrictions and prohibitions and how inhibiting they can truly become.  Restrictions and prohibitions are a “power” in themselves and can impair and, in some cases, put an end to an association.  
  • The power of “tension”.  The “power” of sexual attraction and the “power” of restrictions and prohibitions can create an incredible tension within a person that can become overwhelming.  Because of the nature of restriction and prohibitions, sexual tension is generally kept “silent” to the point of being unconscious to the person.  In this way, many people are not overtly aware of this tension.
  • The power of a “release”.  The tension can get so bad that an incident, or situation, can provoke a reaction primarily as a “release” of this tension.  Typically, these reactions are a form of “release of tension” which is not the same as a manifestation of the sexual attraction.  In other words, the satisfaction is in the “release of tension”, not in fulfilling the sexual attraction.  This, again, shows the “power” of the “tension” and how it can override even the sexual attraction.

The impersonal quality of sexual attraction brings out some interesting points, namely the process from impersonal to personal attraction.

The making of “personal attraction”, it seems to me, doesn’t just happen.  For it to become personal requires something more.  To put it another way, “personal attraction” is a step in a process.  The ‘sexual tension triangle’ is, in actuality, a demonstration of an early impersonal step of personal attraction.  It is only reflects the beginning.  It must progress through other steps to become personal . . .

When sexual attraction becomes personal there has developed other things to make it this way.  Usually, it seems to me, that it requires some form of an “agreement”.  In other words, there is a mutual understanding between the two people.  This is often “unspoken”.  That is to say, they don’t talk about it.  One can speak of this as being “casually personal”.  In actuality, it is still not strong enough for it to become “deeply personal”.  In other words, just because people are “attracted” doesn’t mean they have a “deep personal love”.  This seems to require a form of a social “agreement”.  This can appear in many forms making up something like a spectrum.  It can be as minor as a “mutual understanding” to a “recognized association” to “formal marriage”.   In other words, on one extreme it can be nothing but an agreement between two people.  On the other extreme, it is a formal social agreement.

Interestingly, for most associations to truly become “deeply personal” the “agreement” needs to have support in a greater social context.  That is to say, it must be a social declaration.  In other words, for a “deeply personal” attraction to develop it needs to be put into a greater social context and get social approval.  This is not all that surprising as, remember, the association between two people is social to begin with.  In this way, also, it also takes the attraction out of the “sexual” context, making the attraction have a greater value and put it into a greater context of life.   As a result, when the attraction becomes “deeply personal” it requires both personal and social connectionsIn other words, personal attraction, and feelings, isn’t enough.

There, then, seems to be these phases from impersonal sexual attraction to “deeply personal” attraction:

  1. Impersonal sexual attraction.
  2. “Casually personal” sexual attraction.
  3. A placing of the association in a greater social context as well as social approval making it more than a sexual attraction.
  4. “Deeply personal” attraction.

I can see that, in the U.S. especially, there is a tendency to equate impersonal sexual attraction with “deeply personal” attraction.  In fact, I think many Americans no longer know what a “deeply personal” attraction is anymore.  This, no doubt, is one of the reasons why marriages are failing and are superficial and fall apart so easily.  The attraction is simply too impersonal-based in the U.S.

All this shows that there are phases, and stages, in the process of attraction between male and female.  In other words, it doesn’t just “happen”, as I was told.  People don’t just all-of-a-sudden like one another and want to spend the rest of their lives together and live “happily for ever”.  Instead, we need to go through the ‘phases of attraction’ as if to develop and secure a good healthy attraction which becomes the base of a healthy association between male and female.  Without the development of this base the association between the sexes seems becomes shallow and easy to collapse.  This is no doubt why all over the world, since the beginning of time, the development of the association between the sexes (often called “courting”) has a controlled ritual-like quality to it, as it allows the phases to develop and grow from impersonal to “deeply personal”.  This establishes a good base for the relationship.  In some cultures, this can be very controlled, monitored, and entail great restrictions and prohibitions.  In other cultures, it may be very lax and liberal.  Typically, though, there are things like:

  • Some form of organization in the process.
  • There are restrictions and prohibitions.
  • Its a process that is given time to grow and develop.

Living in the U.S., and watching people here, has convinced me of the wisdom of the past in many things . . . and this is one of them.  This process needs to take place.


Copyright by Mike Michelsen

This entry was posted in Psychology and psychoanalysis, The male and female and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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