5.2
December 31, 2022

What the Portia-Jack-Albie Triangle in “The White Lotus” (Season 2) Says about Instant Attraction vs. Slow Burn Chemistry.

Among the star-studded cast of “The White Lotus” season two were Albie and Portia, two of the younger hotel guests, both single and receptive to (even eager for) a romantic and or sexual adventure.

“So you’re like, the nice one in your family,” Portia says to him over dinner one evening. “Are you like that in relationships and stuff? The nice guy?”

“Yeah. Um. I try to be,” sweet Albie responds. “Girls always complain that guys aren’t nice. Then if they find a nice guy, they’re not always interested.”

Following their meal, Albie walks Portia back to her hotel room and (earnestly) asks if he can kiss her. She seems taken aback by the innocent request, but not altogether turned off. 

They share a tepid, underwhelming peck that’s true to Albie’s character—so gentle and nice. It does little to fluster Portia.

Cue Jack, the handsome vacationer from Essex. He and Portia meet for the first time out by the pool, then cross paths again at a jovial gathering put on by new friends of Portia’s employer Tanya.

That feeling that was lacking with Albie, Portia finds when talking to Jack. Jack is charming. He is take-charge. He is almost overly sure of himself, and, oh yeah—chiseled as the rocky outcrops that overlook their Sicilian beach.

We can gauge that Portia finds Albie cute, but that he just doesn’t light a fire in her the way Jack does.

Unfortunately, their dalliance turns out to be short-lived. When Portia discovers Jack’s undercover involvement in a plot to kill Tanya, fear and revulsion quickly put out that initial fire. 

By the close of the season, the potential for a slow burn with Albie seems suddenly more appealing to Portia. Sure enough, the two reconnect at the airport at the end of their trips, each of them sharing of their respective botched romance attempt.

~

Daters seeking out emotionally unavailable people while overlooking the “nice ones” who consistently show up. Swooning over the exciting, the adventurous, and the care-free, while growing bored by what’s too readily available. Repelled, even, by those who care too much.

Often repeated as the trope may be, it’s undeniably common out there in the real world. And there’s basis to it, rooted in attachment theory.

Roxy Zarrabi has encouraged her readers to “think about [their] attachment style as the blueprint for the partners [they] are drawn to and how [they] relate in [their] relationships.” 

“If you have an anxious attachment style, you may be prone to being drawn to emotionally unavailable people,” she writes.

Thomas P. Seager takes it further, writing that “The romantic partner with whom you feel such extraordinary chemistry is exactly that person your brain has selected to recreate your trauma. The love of your dreams is also your worst nightmare, as both partners attempt to gain control of the relationship for the purpose of resolving their trauma.”

But it can be hard to disentangle from these “connections” with inconsistent and emotionally unavailable people once we’re in them. 

I’ve been in my share of them, and they really shattered pieces of both my heart and ego when they ended. Yet walking away from them felt difficult. From my perspective, the women and I had strong chemistry. Words came easily. We talked about vulnerable things while also laughing plenty and enjoying the lighter aspects of life. I found them extremely physically attractive.

According to Healthline, “Recognizing emotional unavailability can be tricky. Many emotionally unavailable people have a knack for making you feel great about yourself and hopeful about the future of your relationship.”

The heart and loins want what they want, right? We don’t have much control over that. If Portia wasn’t feeling it with Albie, she just wasn’t feeling it.

Yes and no to that. 

~

In a quest to break my own unhealthy choosing patterns, I, too, have tried to date “nice people” who didn’t immediately sweep me off my feet.

With some, the spark never lit. I can see years later that I was veering way too close to trying to force a relationship and unintentionally stringing people along—confusing them and, most of all, myself (at a certain baseline level, attraction’s either there or it’s not).

With others, though, it did. I remember thinking that a girl I dated many years ago was cute—though I felt myself maintaining some distance even after two or three dates, not fully feeling a “spark.”

Looking back I can see that my walls were up initially in part because my brain had (unconsciously) placed us into separate boxes. I wasn’t aware of the behind-the-scenes paths it had taken to that initial conclusion of we will never understand each other. All I knew was that I’d reached it and that it had birthed the instinct to keep her at arm’s length.

That gradually shifted though. Talking to her became easy; we laughed a lot. Both of us turned out to be more than those roles I’d reduced us to in the beginning, which weren’t the full truth of either of us (the majority of us, I think, are too multifaceted for any box we might try to contain ourselves or others to). 

We forget that people can surprise us when we let them. And this is where we give the slow burn a chance.

Anyways, this latter example brings me to how judgments, associations with past experiences, unconscious assumptions, and countless other “thought meteors” that fly through our heads all influence our level of attraction toward a person. It’s not just the way they look, talk, or move. Internal stuff on our end plays a role as well. And, with time, this internal stuff can and does often shift. Positive associations might begin to replace them.

We can help this process along by shining a light on those thought meteors. This doesn’t mean entirely discounting our intuition, or ignoring a strong gut feeling that’s telling us no. But it can mean seeking to understand why it’s there and what it’s trying to tell us. It can mean fixating less on the little things that may be clouding potential attraction. 

For some people, attraction can grow based on how connected they feel to another person. Jo Koy and Chelsea Handler had been friends for decades before they started dating. And in the movie “Don Juan,” Don (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) meets a woman (played by Helen Mirth) for whom his attraction isn’t instant the way it was for Scarlett Johansson’s character. In fact, he initially seems slightly put off and unsure how to respond to her forthright interest in him. Over time, though, a genuine romantic connection forms.

It can sometimes just take time and clearing space in your heart and mind to connect on that level.

~

Personally, I’ve noticed that inconsistency and unavailability are less attractive to me as the years pass—where qualities like consistency and decisiveness are increasingly attractive the more I process and heal from my past trauma. They feel vitalizing, while ambivalence and mixed messages zap my energy.

I no longer find the emotional ups and downs of a cat and mouse situationship sustainable. I want something calmer. A relationship where all of me is accepted and cherished—just as I hope to provide the same in return.

It’s made me want to encourage other daters out there to realize that you, too, are worth a relationship with a person who is consistent. A person who won’t constantly keep you guessing, or wondering where you stand. A person who won’t turn out to be working for a Mafia-like cohort.

This doesn’t mean force a connection we’re blatantly and undeniably uninterested in. When, at least, a baseline level of attraction is present though—we think someone’s cute and we share interests and values, like Albie and Portia seem to—I think there’s room for attraction to grow.

Granted, Portia wasn’t looking for a relationship (she wanted adventure and fun experiences), so perhaps Jack and his secret crime group involvement only fell slightly outside the range of these specifications.

Maybe Albie and Portia will fall in love—or maybe their dalliance will fizzle out. But there’s certainly no harm in giving it a chance.

~

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