The Science of Attraction

Updated: 02/13/2014 5:33 PM
Created: 02/12/2014 9:45 PM
By: Maarja Anderson

Every Monday, Kristen Saxhaug likes to watch the Bachelor and sometimes her husband, Jan, does, too.

"She makes me think I'm funny even though she claims I'm not actually funny, she laughs at everything I say," explained Jan.

The Saxhaugs have been married for eight months, but they just met two years ago.

They met online and after exchanging emails they decided to meet up for a date.

"She walked in wearing her big puffy Patagonia coat so I could barely tell what she looked like, but I knew right away she was cute, I could see her face," said Jan.

"He was wearing a sweater and some jeans that I have since, now that we're married, have banished him from wearing," said Kristen. "He has a great smile and pretty eyes."

The attraction was immediate.

"The reality is, the first thing we notice about somebody is the way they look," said Dr. Michaela Merrill Mayfield.

Dr. Mayfield is a licensed psychologist at Essentia Health St. Mary's. In her day to day work she deals with human behavior and relationships.

We wanted to get some honest answers about attraction so we asked some UMD students about their "type."

"Let's just say I'm 5'8" and I like to wear heels so he has to be 6'2"," explained one female student.

"I prefer blonde hair, blue eyes, athletic," said a freshman.

But it's not all about looks.

"She's got to have a sense of humor and definitely use sarcasm sometimes," said another freshman.

After that initial look up and down, Dr. Mayfield said sense of humor is high on the attractive traits list, but the importance of it is different for men and women.

"Men are attracted to women who find their jokes funny and women are attracted to men who make them laugh," she explained.

Kristen and Jan have done quite a bit of laughing in their eight months of marriage, but Ken and Mary Broman have been laughing a little bit longer.

"It's been a good 50 years, I think," said Ken.

We wanted to know what it takes to stick together for the long haul. Despite all their differences, Dr. Mayfield said there is one trait that men and women really value.

"The number one thing that tends to draw the attractiveness is fidelity," she said. "When people are asked what they are looking for in a partner, especially in a long term relationship, fidelity is the number one thing."

For Ken and Mary, their first meeting and first impression came at a friends wedding 54 years ago.

"He was cute," said Mary.

Five children and eight grandchildren later, you can find the couple at the Duluth Curling Club four nights a week where Ken watches while Mary curls.

It comes as little surprise that following the initial physical attraction, people are drawn to others with similar values and activities. Ken and Mary like to travel. Jan and Kristen like to be outdoors.

But Dr. Mayfield said for it to work, in areas you are not alike, you need to be compatible.

"She's a great cook and she bakes," explained Ken. "And doesn't allow me in the kitchen!"

It may end in marriage, but Dr. Mayfield said it all begins with attraction, and for it to last 50 years, it takes a little work.

"It isn't easy, you know, you have to work at it every day," explained the Bromans.

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