Can Chemistry Grow and Develop? Should You Feel It Immediately?
I spend some time on dating and relationship forums, and it seems like almost daily people are asking questions about chemistry. The two most common questions are related, so I want to address them here. They are “can chemistry develop?” and “should you feel chemistry by a certain time?” like on a first date (or second, etc)?
Usually it is women asking these questions, and I’ll explain why below. These questions are becoming more and more common as people use online dating and date into their 30s and 40s. As I have explained before, online dating is pretty unnatural, and it doesn’t do a great job of mimicking the process by which humans fall in love naturally.
In the past, people would connect based on chemistry. Chemistry had to be there from the beginning, because that’s what would spark the whole relationship process. When I met Brooke, my girlfriend during my senior year of high school, it began with chemistry. We flirted in the computer lab and I knew at that moment we would be dating soon. The chemistry was clear.
However, a lot of people meet online these days, and aren’t choosing potential dates based on a “spark” but based on people who seem logically compatible, “on paper”: they are stable, nice, have a decent job, a decent education, and would look very normal in Facebook couples photos. They also might share common interests. So, it seems like they should be a good date. They literally do nothing “wrong” on the first date, and are polite and intelligent.
And, as people date into their 30s and 40s and beyond, many people have been “burned” by past relationships with a lot of chemistry (but with very little emotional connection or shared values). So, they decide to “swing to the other extreme” and choose a person based mainly on whether the person would make a great friend, and ignore their desire for chemistry if it isn’t there.
In these cases, your friends would think he’s great. Your mom would think he’s great. You think you should think he’s great. But, there’s just no chemistry! You feel nothing. If anything, the thought of sex with him might even turn you off a little!
And, you become conflicted inside, because it’s like your brain is battling your heart and gut.
I never would have met Brooke based on this modern system. We didn’t really have much in common before we met, and it’s hard to tell if based on logical “on paper” metrics we would have even chosen each other. So, we both would have just gone on numerous boring dates and never have found each other.
Some people would say basing a relationship on chemistry is bad, but I disagree. Chemistry is the natural evolutionary determinant of a romantic connection. I am not suggesting going by chemistry alone (since you might ignore red flags), but chemistry must be the basis of a romantic relationship, which hopefully also has “on paper” compatibility.
I define “chemistry” as being sexually (or at least romantically and not platonically) attracted to the person. I know this is a very simple definition, but ultimately chemistry goes back to this. It isn’t logical, and probably largely subconscious. It expresses itself as sexual tension, flirting, and intimate body language. When it’s there, that person consumes your mind.
Men usually feel chemistry if a woman is attractive physically and is engaging enough (for many men, being attractive is enough). This is why many guys leave first dates confident they made a good impression, while women often are less sure. The guys were visually attracted, so what else is there to feel?
For women, attraction is more complicated. Looks are important, but so are things like confidence, humor, dominance, and a guy’s overall demeanor, personality, and sexual vibe. This is why it may seem to women like chemistry is something deeper than sexual attraction, but it boils down to whether the guy excites you. Unfortunately, many guys do not do this.
So can chemistry develop? Should you give it time to develop?
The answer is “maybe.” Sometimes it may be hard to assess someone’s attractiveness immediately. I have known women in particular who didn’t like a guy until he stood up for himself, got his life together, or showed her in some capacity that he was confident. It is possible that after a few dates someone could show a side of themselves that you never saw, a side that awakens some passion for that person.
On the other hand, people are pretty predictable. It’s not likely a boring guy on two dates is going to show up and be an exciting guy the third, or take your mind off of the guy you really want, like your boss or some ex you never stopped thinking about.
So, while chemistry may not develop on the first date, I personally wouldn’t give it too many dates. If you have to ask “will chemistry ever come?” then the answer is it won’t.
Taking the attitude that chemistry will hopefully come “at some point” is a recipe for disaster. The results are dead bedrooms, resentment from both partners, and ultimately emotional and physical cheating. I promise you that someone you do have chemistry with will eventually come along, whether it’s a co-worker, new friend, or whatever.
And, when that person comes along, it will awaken feelings in you that you really, really like. Feelings that you missed, and feelings that will leave you in a bind. If you act on those feelings, you’re betraying your partner. If you don’t act on them, you are reminded of just how romantically miserable your romantic partnership is.
If you don’t believe me, marriage researcher John Gottman found that passionate couples (even ones who fought regularly) were the only couples in his studies that still had a romantic marriage after 35 years! So, couples that lacked that passion were either divorced or basically “just friends” within later years of marriage.
The solution for a great relationship isn’t to go entirely based on chemistry or ignore it. Allow yourself to be single and date around for a while until you find someone who is both compatible “on paper” (i.e. common interests, emotional connection, stable, etc) and whom you feel chemistry for. It may mean sorting through a few more people or being single a little longer, but in the end it will make for the best relationship you can imagine.
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