There’s this thing in relationship science that we consider to be the most important reason behind attraction. Let’s call it the Attraction Rule.
I want you to think of someone you are or have been attracted to. Just one person. Got it? Now we both know there are a lot of people you could have chosen, but you didn’t, you chose the one. I’m willing to bet that you thought of this person not because they are physically attractive, although I know you think they are. You chose this person because you’ve shared a laugh with them, and they’ve smiled at you or something you said. You like their smile. It gives you the warm fuzzies or whatever.
The Attraction Rule is this: we are attracted to what we find rewarding to us. That doesn’t just go for people, but also your choice of hobbies and reading material. The reason you’ve continued reading this article is that you need to know what the attraction rule is because the answer will give you a personal reward: a satiated curiosity. But what exactly do we consider to be rewards?
There are direct rewards, which are benefits someone else chooses to give, though they could withhold them. The 5 Love Languages are all direct rewards: physical contact, gifts, words of affirmation, acts of servicem and quality time. These can all be given out in small amounts from people you don’t know very well and will still make you feel those warm fuzzies we talked about earlier. There’s also interest, as in, if you find this person interesting, that interest is rewarding to you, like there’s a mystery you need to solve, a question you need to answer. There’s also approval, but I don’t think I have to explain how rewarding it is to feel approved by or interesting to someone else. Then there’s the two most effective: laughter and smiles. Seeing someone physically attractive already activates a reward center of your brain, but it activates it even more so when they smile. And when the two of you share a laugh, forget it. You’re hooked and already mentally stalking them. Seeing a cute person smile activates one reward center, but laughing at something they say activates several.
Then there are indirect rewards, which have more to do with the circumstances rather than how you interact together. These are things someone else can't really control. Examples of this would be having the same name, birthday, or associating them with a place that you like. These are rewarding merely because they offer you a sense of connection to them without having to actually connect to them. Physical attraction also falls into this category. For example, you subconsciously (okay, maybe not so subconsciously) find their appearance rewarding because they would make cute babies with you. This is indirect because how their face looks is out of their control and would benefit your future offspring, not necessarily you. There are plenty of people we find physically attractive without actually being attracted to them. The reason you chose that one person earlier is because they gave you direct rewards, which are much more emotionally salient than simply seeing an attractive person.
What does any of this have to do with mending? A lot! There are reasons why we're still attached to our exes after a breakup. The Attraction Rule is just one of those things. Now that you know how it works, you can analyze what it was about your ex that you found rewarding. Those things used to activate your reward centers, so part of why you're still holding onto your ex is because you want to continue feeling those rewards. The good news is that there's a whole world out there ready to give you all sorts of rewards too. The key is to find what rewards you associate with your ex (seeing their smile, physical touch, and approval are common ones) and go get it from somewhere else. Granted, at first it won’t compare to the reward you felt from your ex. No one smiles quite like them or hugs you just the way you like to be hugged, but the important thing is that you try. Get used to your friends' smiles. Get used to your families’ hugs. And get a lot of them. Start to associate these rewards with other things and people, rather than your ex.
Right now you feel deprived. Your main source of rewards may not be around anymore, but that doesn’t mean you need to be deprived of them altogether. There are plenty of other sources, be it people (they give love, smiles, laughs), pets (who give love, unconditional approval), plants (service, gifts, interest), or projects (interest, quality time). All of these can be rewarding! Try and you’ll see for yourself.