This past week my friends Sarah and her husband Chad walked nobly through difficult posts about avoiding emotional affairs. Sarah is qualified to write about emotional affairs because she came a hairsbreadth from ruining her life via an affair that began emotionally. Chad is qualified because he was the one hurt most by her infidelity (they have a wonderful and healed marriage now, but that’s their story). I’m qualified to write about emotional affairs because I used to be manacled to a pornography addiction.

Sarah recently wrote, “It’s ridiculous to think that we can live our lives free from attraction to someone NOT our spouse.” Strong words, those. Her one-liner intrigued me though, niggled at my brain, invited me to explore the idea of attraction. I launched my study with the dictionary. My thoughts began simply, then expanded as I dug deeper. What I’m going to do, I think, is unpack a handful of words this week: Attractive. Attraction. Arousal. Attracted. Connection. Interest. Pursuit. Path. Death. In that order, too, because they lead one to another.

I had coffee with my lovely this morning and shared what I’m learning about attraction. We agreed that most teaching on affairs and sexual sin focuses either entirely on prevention or zeroes in on the threshold of dumb decisions. I’m going to try something different here. I’d like to dial the proverbial microscope down to magnify the sub-obvious level, to unmask the subtleties built into the progression of desire as it slips from innocence to destruction (Hint: it’s not an on/off switch). I hope understanding this progression will help us become less prone to prance like a deer in headlights into the accumulating roadkill of incarnational stupidity.

Enough preamble. Reader, I’d like you to meet word number one: Attractive.

Attractive means: “pleasing or appealing to the senses… having beneficial qualities or features that induce someone to accept what is being offered.”

Pleasing. Appealing. When we find someone attractive, they strum an invisible chord within us. And there’s nothing wrong with that. The woman takes our breath away. The man makes our knees turn to jell-o. And attraction isn’t just sexual or romantic. We find friends of both genders appealing in some way, or they wouldn’t be our friends. We might find that new jacket with the funky pockets appealing. A new job closer to the corner office might be appealing. And a sugar-glazed rhubarb pie slathered with ten dollar vanilla ice cream just starting to melt? Appealing, definitely. Personally, I also find God consumately appealing. Glorious. As I should. If you’ve got a pulse, beauty moves you somewhere, somehow.

So one of you wives might be watching the new Star Trek with your husband. In the middle of a scene highlighting the ebony Ohura (brought to life by Zoe Saldana) you might lean over to your man and whisper, “Do you find her attractive?” And he might say, “Well, sorta, kinda.” He pauses. It seems… safe. “Yeah. I guess I do,” he confesses, glad to get it off his chest. At which point your elbow finds his rib with diabolical precision.

“Hey, you asked,” he replies, sulking. He shifts his backside in his seat, trying to adjust the balance of power with it. The screen now features young Kirk, played by hunky Chris Pine. “What about him?” he asks, smirking. “He’s pretty good looking, huh?”

“No.” Aw, shoot.

Innocent enough, though husbands aren’t allowed to use elbows. Not even on the supper table.

But read the definition again and notice what lies hidden just beneath the surface. Attractive isn’t just about what’s “pleasing or appealing to the senses…” It’s also “having beneficial qualities or features that induce someone to accept what is being offered.”

This is big.

Apparently, “attractive” is not just about the innocent flutter of an irregular pulse or the sultry dance of intrigued taste buds. Attractive is laced with power, with raw potential. Something is being offered to a part of us that is beginning to want it. If something is attrac-tive, it has the potential to attract-us, like a powerful magnet draws iron to itself. Pretending that we don’t find some one or some thing attractive is ignoring the elephant in the room—the growing, unrealized potential hanging there. Playing dumb about our desires is like exploring a treasure-laden archaeological dig also infested by poisonous snakes… and wearing a blind fold while doing it.

It might seem counter-intuitive, but it’s important to name our desires and admit what and whom we find attractive. It’s the only way we’ll learn to face the life-changing potential of those desires with grace and responsibility.

Because not all potential is positive.

NEXT: The hidden power of attraction