How Long Should I Wait for Chemistry to Develop?

How Long Should I Wait for Chemistry to Develop?

Dear Evan,

I have read through over 40 pages of archives from your blog, and I can’t find the answer to this one. I’ve been dating a guy (for a month). He really likes me a lot and has been clear about that. And he is great: cute, smart, successful, shares my religion and interests, we both value family a lot, and he is treating me like gold. Doing everything you say a “boyfriend” should. Texting, calling when he says he will. Wanting to see me. Hell, he even texts when he is running late. From what I am reading in your blog, I’m supposed to be happy with this guy. You want me to realize how great he is.

But I feel like I should look forward to seeing him more. I just feel so blah about the whole thing. Like the idea of him is better than the actual person. But he has all these great qualities. I should point out that I’m young (25) and attractive. I just feel like everything in your blog tells me to keep seeing this guy. Where is the line? Because part of me wants to give it time knowing he’s a good one, and part of me says if all I can say in this email is that he’s “great” but I can’t talk about how I actually feel about him…what’s the point? –TJ

Dear TJ,

Thanks for the important question, and for giving me a platform to clear up some misconceptions about what I teach.

For those of you who are new to this blog, one of my pet topics is the concept that chemistry is all too often an illusion. Of course, it’s still a wonderful feeling, but life experience and science have taught us a few things about chemistry.

Chemistry allows us to sweep under the rug the fact that he’s a selfish asshole or that she’s a crazy bitch.

1) Chemistry is temporary. Usually, chemistry lasts from 1 ½ to 3 years before it wears off. Soon, the person who was the “9” becomes a “6”. At this point, many women become disillusioned with their partners, even though all it means is that you’re finally seeing him clearly.

2) Chemistry is dangerous. When you’re under the influence of chemistry, you are under the influence of hormones that act like drugs. Can’t eat, can’t sleep, high highs, low lows, the feeling of obsessive longing…it’s all quite unhealthy. And what most of us have discovered is that because of the intensity of these feelings, you may completely end up ignoring your partner’s bad qualities.

Chemistry allows us to sweep under the rug the fact that he’s a selfish asshole or that she’s a crazy bitch…and later justify this behavior and fight to stay in broken relationships that make us unhappy.

This is why I have long advocated putting compatibility up on the same pedestal as chemistry, and perhaps elevate it even higher.

Simply put:

A relationship with a 7 chemistry and a 10 compatibility is a happy marriage.

A relationship with a 10 chemistry and a 3 compatibility is going to make you miserable.

Now, where readers have twisted my words – annoyingly, repeatedly – is by suggesting that I’ve somehow told you to give up on chemistry.

Feel free to comb through 800 blog posts and 41,000 comments over six years. I have never said this – or even suggested it. Never.

Yet somehow, many readers seem to struggle with the concept of a nuanced world, instead of a black and white one where a man is either your instant soulmate or a complete turnoff.

Which brings us back to TJ, our original poster:

You’ve got a guy who seems like a great guy and is doing everything right on paper. You think my advice is telling you to keep him when you don’t want to keep him.

Not true.

You need to have a personal chemistry with your partner. You need to fundamentally enjoy being together. You need to feel like you can relax around him and be your best self.

If you’re merely tolerating him, rather than enjoying him, you’re wasting both his time and your time. Dump him and move on.

Similarly, if there’s no physical chemistry – meaning, anything less than a 5 or a 6 in that department – cut him loose.

You shouldn’t need to get drunk to kiss him. You shouldn’t force yourself into believing that he’s cute because he’s nice. You need to have some spark to start – and that spark usually grows over time after you come to love the guy.

So those are two reasons – lack of a basic personal and physical chemistry – that you should break up with a perfectly nice person.

Yet there’s one big reason to keep a guy you’re not obsessed with:

If you’re merely tolerating him, rather than enjoying him, you’re wasting both his time and your time.

Your expectations of chemistry are way off.

In other words, you can have an amazing marriage to a man even if you don’t obsess about him, miss him mournfully while he’s gone for a few hours, or be positive he’s your soulmate.

That stuff means nothing. It wears off. It’s distracting.

Relevant story: I was with my wife for nearly 2 years when we got married. If she sadly left me at the altar, I’d be devastated, but I would have recovered. After all, I saw her 3 times a week. We didn’t live together. I’d survived happily for 36 years without her; I would have been able to put things back together in due time.

4 years and 2 kids later, my love for my wife is so much deeper and meaningful. Frankly, I have trouble surviving a few days without her. I’d be 100% lost if she were to leave. THIS is love. That passion most couples feel for the first 18 months? It’s closer to obsession, hope and fantasy. Reality is when the passion fades and you start building a life together.

So what are you to do, TJ? Since you seem pretty ambivalent about him and you’re pretty young, it seems to me you have your answer.

It’s far better to be single than to be in a dissatisfying relationship.

Still, that goes for someone at any age.

My 62-year-old mom married a man who was kind and generous to the core, but she wasn’t attracted to him, didn’t respect him, and didn’t laugh with him. She married him just because he was a good person. The marriage lasted less than two years. As much as I stress comfort, some marriages should never happen at all.

I hope this clarifies – for all of you – what you should and should not experience with a romantic partner: a basic level of personal and physical chemistry, a realistic view on that person’s strengths and weaknesses, and a belief that although you’ve been more wildly attracted to other people before, you’ve never had a better relationship in your entire life. That’s why you lock it in.

That’s what I did.

I only hope you can experience this feeling as well; but it starts with finding someone whose company you really enjoy, not someone whose company you merely tolerate.

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  1. 61

    I’m really wrestling with the question of how long to wait.  I spent the day yesterday – really the whole day – with a guy I’ve gone out with now three times, and we made plans to get together again tomorrow.  I really enjoy his company – he’s fascinating conversation, he’s considerate, he makes me laugh, our values align, and on all of those three dates so far our plans have somehow fallen through and we’ve just ended up walking at talking for hours on end.  He’s pretty great.  And I have no desire to kiss him.
    Maybe I just haven’t figured out how to identify what I feel in a dating relationship?  I’ve never really “dated” before.  All of my previous relationships have been with men I knew from my daily life and saw them day in and day out for months or years as friends without feeling any pressure to figure out if I wanted it to be more than that, and then one day it just was. 
    I was surprised when I fell for the first guy post divorce about a year ago, ’cause he gave me butterflies in my stomach and I thought at age 45 I was past that.  He was also that magical combination of sweet and brilliant and easy to be with and good to me, but I wouldn’t describe him as traditionally beautiful and he grew on me.  How long did that take?  I’m not sure ’cause we weren’t dating for the first two years that I knew him – I just saw him every day at work. 
    I buy EMK’s advice to not fall for pure chemistry, and I don’t know how to fall for pure compatibility.  But if both of those things reveal themselves over time, how long should I wait for chemistry to develop?  I don’t want to waste this new guy’s time, ’cause he deserves better than that, but I also don’t want to walk away if he might turn me on somewhere down the road, ’cause he’s pretty great.

    1. 61.1
      Karl s

      It sounds like you have given the guy a reasonable amount of time to see if chemistry could develop. Nobody says you have to be with someone you have no desire to kiss. He might make a great friend though. The point is that you kept an open mind rather than dismissing him instantly, so good for you!

    2. 61.2

      As Evan says you are the CEO of your life. No need to rush but if you don’t have that desire I wouldn’t pressure yourself, follow your heart. You could be upfront with him if he asks you. I tend to feel the chemistry within the first three dates myself but we are all different. There is no right or wrong, only what is right for you. Good luck 🙂

  2. 62

    To the OP: I had a similar situation, although more recently. I was dating a very nice guy. We got along, he loved spending time with me, and in general he did all the “right” things. The issue was a lack of chemistry for me….I just didn’t have that with him. I tried, in fact, I let the relationship drag on for over 3 months in hopes that I would learn to like the nice guy who was about a 3 or 4 on the chemistry scale (I didn’t find him a turn off, but I had no desire there, either). After awhile I finally had to break it off as I found myself getting almost annoyed at him for being the nice guy simply because I wasn’t wanting to spend time with him. For both of our sakes so we weren’t wasting anymore time, I broke it off.
    I’m hoping he’s been able to find someone who can not only appreciate his nice qualities but can also develop enough chemistry to keep things going – at least now he’s not wasting his time on me (and vice versa).

  3. 63

    Maybe if the words were spelt with different initials like an A and a B word we may be less inclined to mix them up. First this then that :)Two c words perhaps just confuse the issue- compatibility and chemistry. I must say I think the penny has finally dropped for me thankfully. Now to practice, practice, practice 😉

  4. 64

    I just read this post after googling a question and have yet to read your other blogs. I just wanted to say thank you. I’m 32 and have been working on finding a life partner. In the past, I’ve mainly been very attracted to people that were not good for me. I’ve spent many years working on myself. Now that I’ve been attracting good people, I’ve been wanting to settle for good people regardless of attraction. This hasn’t made me happy either. I’ve thought about chemistry fading with time and tried to settle with little success. Giving me a good example of a logical ratio for chemistry and other compatibility made sense to me. It was a light bulb that I appreciate. So, thank you.

  5. 65

    Um…..honestly if there is no chemistry drop it.. And i dont believe that chemistry drops down to a 6 after 3 years..How can you even start putting numbers on anything that has to do with emotions..I think a relationship or a person that comes in your life is like chapters.. It will come to an end no matter what, sad but true.. Enjoy it while it lasts and move on.

  6. 66

    Thank you, TJ, for asking this question and thank you to EMK and everyone who responded! I was in the exact same situation… I’m 29 (about to be 30 in two weeks) and was dating a guy for almost three months. He was great on paper… Sweet, caring, has a good career, dependable, etc. However, I felt very unsure about the whole thing. I felt like I liked the idea of him more than the actual person. When he would ask me what I was up to in order to make plans, I would secretly wish I already had plans. I couldn’t figure out why I was feeling this way. I thought there was something wrong with me– I felt like I should like him way more than I did. After reading these posts (and others on the site), I realized that what I was lacking was personal chemistry. As soon as I came to that realization, I called him and broke it off. I felt bad, but I know now that it was for the best. I agree with EMK– you need to have a balance of chemistry and shared values and interests. They both go hand-in-hand for a meaningful and lasting relationship.

  7. 67

    I don’t think this article says that it’s a balance at all.
    It suggests you should maximise compatibility and have a minimum standard of chemistry instead of just maximising chemistry.
    And then the comments are filled with comments  largely taking chemistry as absolute: yes or no instead of a scale, which is exactly the attitude not being advocated. 

  8. 68

    I’m going to say too many women settle for no passion and low chemistry under the assumption it can grow or doesn’t matter. This causes resentment and the often discussed,  by men,  lack of sex after marriage. While blind passion isn’t enough, passion and chemistry over a 5 must be there if men hope for a fufilling sex life post marriage.

    1. 68.1

      Exactly right! I have so many friends who settled for men they weren’t attracted to and didn’t feel enough chemistry with because they had been told that friendship and compatibility mattered so much more than sexual attraction. Now they see having sex with their husbands as a chore and their husbands feel neglected and unhappy.

      Of course friendship and compatibility are important but so is healthy sexual attraction and chemistry. Those two things are crucial in a marriage. If you don’t have those things, you are basically deciding to commit to someone who is no more than a friend and roommate. Some people are okay with that because they are not very passionate or sexual to begin with. But for most of us, that isn’t an option. Better to be alone than with someone you don’t enjoy or look forward to being intimate with.

  9. 69

    I am horrified by your post!

    The part about your mom brought me to instant tears. I’m 51 and I’ve known my 64 year old boyfriend for +16 years. He was married for all but the last 19 months of them.  I never once – in all those years – ever thought about him as sexually appealing in any way.  He just isn’t.

    We happened to be at the same conference in Miami the same weekend, and since we were polite acquaintances, we ended up talking for hours in the lounge of the hotel.  I thought nothing of it except, “What a sweet man!”  That’s pretty much still what I think…and we’ve been dating now for 14 months…since he got his divorce after 28 years married.

    We STILL don’t have the least flicker of chemistry. (Well, I don’t toward him.)  I find him either juvenile (his jokes, his mannerisms, his choice of reading materials, his spiritual perspective) or else like a doddering old man – he gets lost easily, can’t figure out basic things like ATM machines, repeats stories from the 80s (his professional glory days) over and over.

    In summary, I think of him as a friend I’d be happy to see once or twice a month if that.  Meanwhile, he leapt into my life as he was divorcing her (and she sounds like a better woman than I’ll ever be, although I’m a better cook!).  He moved from Dallas to San Francisco to be with me.  I sometimes feel like his babysitter!  I have to really work my mind up to be willing to have sex with him.  I make him sleep in his apartment on a pretext because I hate sleeping beside him.  I am grateful when he’s on a business trip.

    But he’s so emotional, vulnerable and needy. He’s also kind and funny and utterly adores me. At 51, I suspect this is my Last Chance. If I dump this poor man, he will be completely adrift at a time when he really needs supportive people around him.  (He asked his wife a few months ago if he could move back into their home if he decides to leave SF! She said no.)  I am not SUFFERING. He tells me I’m pretty, buys me flowers, takes me to restaurants, cuddles with me during movies.  That’s more than I had going on before he came along.  (OK, I had the restaurants but usually wanted to leave 10 minutes into most first dates!)

    I read this because I feel so confused.  Thank you for writing your response to this poor woman. She’s young and has more options than I have left, so I wish her well.


  10. 70

    I have read through many comments, but I haven’t read them all yet. I want to add my two cents because nobody is really addressing my experience. So, I feel like a month is not long enough to feel chemistry. When we are dating, everybody is on their best behavior. There’s no excitment. Dinner/movies/walks along the beach… For myself, I tend to bond AFTER intimacy. Before i’ve experienced that level of closeness with my partner, he’s just some guy – nice guy, albeit, but still no real “chemistry.” I really think that the qualifications the writer mentions establishes criteria to trust him enough to share intimacy…and that’s when the fireworks start. I find that my “type” morphs into what my partner is. If he’s short, stocky and authoritative; that is what I find attractive in my partner. If I bond with a guy who is tall, lean and intellectual,  that is what becomes attractive to me. When you fall in love with your partner, your perception of them changes. I feel like it’s wholey unrealistic to expect fireworks in response to a *stranger on his best behavior after only four weeks. No?

  11. 71

    Sometimes it’s not supposed to be chemistry.  The worlds caught up in chemistry.  Sometimes love just comes softly.  In that case it’s real love and a rare gem to be cherished.  Good luck in all your choices.  All the best to you.

  12. 72

    Good timing Evan! I take all of your advice to heart. I went out three times with a guy that ticked all my boxes (age, no kids, a job that would ensure he would have time for me, an active social life, and he was polite, took the lead and always followed through. He also owned a beautiful house which is quite the bonus!) However on our third date I spent the meal asking myself if I wanted to kiss him. Even if he turned out to be a Nobel Prize winner who donated a kidney. I just didn’t find him physically attractive. A counselor friend of mine says that in the end, we’re all animals.  I was disappointed in myself,  but better to let him go find someone who will…attraction is subjective so there must he someone out there for him. Damn, shame about that house though…lol 🙂

  13. 73

    He is being too needy.

    And it is killing your attraction.

    You see him as low value because he is not being a challenge.



    Everything else in this post is rubbish.

  14. 74

    Thank you! Such an awesome post with sound wisdom!

  15. 75

    I really liked what you had to say about chemistry and compatibility. I’m not the kind of woman to feel butterflies in my stomach, but I do find attraction matters. I had been involved with a man that I was attracted to. The relationship was purely sexual. The sex was great according to him, and he loved our conversations, but he never felt any chemistry. I didn’t necessarily feel butterflies in my stomach, nor would I get really excited to see him. It was a calm sense of comfort and I enjoyed being around him. I know he felt comfortable around me, but no chemistry. So we decided to just be friends. I told him I was not ok with just sex and that in the end his friendship was more important than a relationship that was never going to be more than just sex. He agreed.

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