The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance: Chapter 3, Part 1

Chapter III

The Magic of Chemistry

My Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines chemistry in the context under which we are talking about it as a strong mutual attraction, attachment, or sympathy. But a “strong mutual attraction” could refer to a pair of magnets as well as two people in love. “Attachment” might describe a pair of Legos sandwiched together, and “sympathy” could imply a human element to chemistry in the absence of any romantic connotation.

I’m not berating Webster’s definition of romantic chemistry. I’m simply trying to unravel a complex phenomenon, an enigma of human emotion we all experience at random and often unpredictable moments in our lives. I titled this chapter “The Magic of Chemistry” because in some ways, it really does work like magic. More than just something you feel, chemistry defines something you experience when you hear a favorite song, watch a favorite movie, enjoy a live performance, or make eye contact with an alluring stranger across a crowded room.

From a romance perspective, two types of chemistry exist: romantic chemistry—or sexual chemistry fueled by emotion—and intellectual chemistry—driven by logic and reason. A new relationship can begin to unfold with only one or the other, but it takes both kinds of chemistry to sustain a meaningful and lasting romance. The nature of romantic chemistry seems obvious because it defines the type of chemistry we most easily recognize. Typically, when we first meet someone, we either feel a spark of attraction or we don’t. With intellectual chemistry, things get a little more complicated. Whereas romantic chemistry brings two people together, intellectual chemistry sustains a romantic relationship beyond the initial infatuation stage. Furthermore, intellectual chemistry stimulates our capacity for communication, compromise, and commitment. It occurs on a higher level of thinking and usually takes longer to develop or discern than romantic chemistry, which we often, but not always, gauge the first time we meet someone. The importance of intellectual chemistry should not be understated and ripples through the following chapters in this book. But for the purpose of this chapter, I primarily focus on romantic chemistry and its role in a meaningful and lasting romance.

To understand the fundamental workings of romantic chemistry, we start by taking everything we know about the science of chemistry and throw it out the window. The chemistry of love does not abide by the laws of physics or the laws of chemical reactions. It can’t be governed by theories or postulates. It can’t be quantified by the scientific method. It can’t be dissected into physical elements or described by the laws of quantum mechanics. And despite certain anecdotal evidence to the contrary, it cannot be predicted.

So how do we define the indefinable in chemistry? A person’s outward appearance? Their tone of voice? Their smell? Their touch? Their taste? Their air of confidence? Their aura? Their personality? Their feelings? Their behaviors? Their beliefs? A combination of a few factors or all of the above?

Sometimes chemistry appears subtle. Sometimes almost palpable. And sometimes we find chemistry with someone we least expect—someone who doesn’t fit our preconceived type; someone with the wrong height, wrong weight, wrong age, wrong hair, wrong demeanor, and so forth. Yet somehow we can’t fight the urge to get close to this person despite our intellect telling us they don’t fit our mold of how a perfect partner should appear or act. That’s because chemistry knows no boundaries and doesn’t hinge on someone’s physical characteristics or the make of car they drive.

People often choose their partner based on a list of personal preferences or preconceived notions of who they think a perfect match should be while ignoring the absence of chemistry. At times, partners fail to acknowledge the lack of chemistry and wonder why their relationship never felt right in the first place. In the absence of chemistry, romance wilts like a flower without sun or water.

Romantic chemistry isn’t governed by logic or reason. Unlike some aspects of romantic relationships, chemistry can’t be faked. Unfortunately chemistry isn’t something you can work on. It’s either present or it’s not. This partly explains why many promising relationships fail despite their best intentions. The chemistry we feel or don’t feel constitutes human emotion. It’s engrained in our DNA and just as complicated to understand.

Without romantic chemistry, you’re missing a key ingredient required to sustain a meaningful and lasting romance. When the right chemistry is present, it’s usually there in a big way. Part of this has to do with what scientists term our biological rhythm. Each and every one of us has a genetically determined biological rhythm inherent in our body movements, speech patterns, and emotional responses. When we experience romantic chemistry with someone, we feel in sync, or in tune with each other’s biological rhythm.

As the first of the 4Cs I examine in this book, chemistry sets the tone in our romantic relationships. Unlike communication, compromise, and commitment, you can’t work on improving the chemistry in your relationship. You can nurture it, certainly, and we’ll touch on this later, but fundamentally, chemistry is either there or it isn’t. Similar to the law of conservation of energy, chemistry cannot be created or destroyed. Energy can change form within an isolated system, but the energy persists. Chemistry can change form within a romantic relationship—through various stages of love, and if the right conditions exist—our needs are met—the chemistry will persist.

We frequently overlook the importance of chemistry, hoping that by the second or third date we’ll start to develop feelings for this person; however, “feelings” themselves, as defined by fondness, affection, or interest, do not entirely equate to chemistry. You can’t impose chemistry because you want it to be there. You can’t fake it. And you can’t wish it upon your budding relationship. You can only acknowledge if a spark exists. For some of us, it takes longer than others to determine if we feel the right chemistry or not. For many of us, our emotions ignite the instant we meet the right person.

According to a survey from the professional dating service, It’s Just Lunch, which polled five thousand single men and women, the importance of chemistry was rated almost twice as high as the importance of compatibility on a first date. The survey also asked the question, “On a first date, how much time do you need before you decide if you want to see your date again?” I interpret this as a question of chemistry. Of the five thousand single men and women surveyed, forty-four percent indicated they knew within twenty minutes whether they wanted to see their date again or not. And thirty-three percent indicated they knew within an hour. Although this survey polls a small sample size from a significantly larger general population of single adults who live across the United States, it supports the notion that we either feel a certain romantic connection on a first date or we don’t. At least one Harvard study corroborates this assertion by suggesting people can intuitively sense the basic impression they will have of the other person in the first thirty seconds of an encounter.

In general, we tend to feel attracted to people who fulfill important needs and desires. Most people are attracted to individuals with similar interests, philosophies, and appealing physical features. Women tend to be attracted to tall men with distinctive cheekbones, a strong jaw, and a symmetrical face. Men tend to be attracted to tall women with a certain hip to waist ratio. Regardless of the physical features both sexes desire, we are also drawn to a sense of humor, social and economic status, common interests, and goals. Psychologists add another dimension when they suggest we are prone to selecting mates who are similar to the parent with whom we have unresolved childhood issues, and unconsciously seek to resolve this natal relationship in adulthood.

At a biological level, we’re driven by a human impulse governed by our natural chemistry. For men, this primarily involves the male sex hormone, testosterone. For women, it primarily involves estrogen. The balance of these two chemicals, combined with others, plays a role in the strength of our libidos. Our brains naturally produce phenylethylamine, an amphetamine believed to be responsible for our feelings of ecstasy, euphoria, excitement, and joy. Dopamine, another important element, increases sex drive in men by stimulating the release of testosterone. In both men and women, elevated levels of dopamine in the brain produce exhilaration, hyperactivity, and accelerated breathing. Norepinephrine, a chemical derived from dopamine, also produces a similar effect for both genders.

Sometimes chemistry sneaks up on us. Other times it beats us over the head. And sometimes it tricks us into thinking it’s really there when it’s not. Although we can’t control whether we feel a certain romantic chemistry or not, we can learn to make better use of our “chemistry receptors,” to help us determine the presence of genuine romantic chemistry.

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