Is It Chemistry Or Is It Love?

Is It Chemistry Or Is It Love?
Have you ever been in a relationship with a person who made your heart flutter?

Who made your toes curl?

Who gave you butterflies?

Chemistry.

There’s no feeling like it.

Your eyes meet, your hands touch, and you’re suddenly consumed with a new partner.

You live for the present, you dream of a future, and your heart outraces your head.

All you know is that you wouldn’t trade this feeling for anything in the world. If this is how strongly you can feel, why ever settle for anything less?

Then it happens.

You start to fight.

You learn he’s jealous, or controlling, or irresponsible, or unethical.

He starts to pull away.

You begin to walk on eggshells.

You don’t know where you stand.

When we talk about being “in love”, we’re often talking about a feeling, as opposed to the enduring bond experienced between two people for a long period of time.

You crave the pure feeling you had before, but you spend more time worrying than feeling peaceful about your relationship.

And then it ends.

He tells you he needs space.
He tells you he wants to see other people.
He tells you it’s not right.

Or, who knows, maybe he doesn’t tell you at all. Maybe he just fades away.

All you know is that you let him into your heart and fell in love.

Or did you?

I mean, yeah, you loved him – intensely, unconditionally, with all of your being.

And yeah, he said he loved you – and, for a time, you never felt more connected to another human being.

But does this really meet the test of true love?

Not by my standards. And probably not by yours.

Love doesn’t flee. Love isn’t jealous. Love doesn’t cheat. Love isn’t cruel. Love doesn’t make you feel bad about yourself, or insecure about your future.

Love endures.

When we talk about being “in love”, we’re often talking about a feeling, as opposed to the enduring bond experienced between two people for a long period of time.

If you’ve mistaken the passion of being “in love” for true love, you’re not alone. My entire dating coaching practice is designed to illustrate to you how you’ve naturally been making the same mistakes your entire life, and how to course-correct instantly.

Now you know from reading my material that I have a whole bunch of challenging thoughts on love, but this “Chemistry vs. Love” theory isn’t something I pulled out of thin air. Even Wikipedia backs this up:

“Lust is the initial passionate sexual desire that promotes mating, and involves the increased release of chemicals such as testosterone and estrogen. These effects rarely last more than a few weeks or months.”

I’m guessing you’ve probably experienced this. The high passion that feels so good, but often comes to a crashing halt. You’ve probably also experienced this:

“Recent studies in neuroscience have indicated that as people fall in love, the brain releases a certain set of chemicals…which act in a manner similar to amphetamines, stimulating the brain’s pleasure center and leading to side effects such as increased heart rate, loss of appetite and sleep, and an intense feeling of excitement. Research has indicated that this stage generally lasts from one and a half to three years.”

Yep. This is when all the excitement and newness of a passionate relationship wears off.

When sex is no longer exciting. When you’re finding flaws with your partner.

When you struggle to remember how amazing it was in the first few months. Says Wikipedia:

“Since the lust and attraction stages are both considered temporary, a third stage is needed to account for long-term relationships. Attachment is the bonding that promotes relationships lasting for many years and even decades. Attachment is generally based on commitments such as marriage and children, or on mutual friendship based on things like shared interests.”

Ah. The third stage.
The third stage is the one that determines whether your passion actually turns into the love that lasts a lifetime. If you look back, you may be shocked to find that all of your lust and attraction has NOT resulted in stable, happy, long-term relationships.

Funny how that works.

The reason I’m sharing this with you is not to convince you that you’ve never truly been in love (although it’s possible).

What I’d like you to consider is that the EFFECTS of lust and attraction have been HURTING your chances of finding love.

What you’ll notice is that when you’re incredibly attracted to someone, all of your critical thinking powers immediately go out the window.

This is why you’ll put up with a man who only calls you once a week, a man who doesn’t call you his girlfriend after three months, a man who doesn’t propose after three years.

When you’re incredibly attracted to someone, all of your critical thinking powers immediately go out the window.

If you were thinking critically, you’d never put up with this, but you’re not. You’re under the biological effects of lust and attraction – hereby known as “chemistry”.

And all I’m pointing out is that while chemistry is an incredible feeling, it is in no way a solid predictor of your future. It’s literally just a feeling. A feeling that masks your partner’s worst traits and allows you to put up with them.

So instead of chasing chemistry at a cost to your own mental health, take a second to realize that if you feel that high feeling, you are likely ignoring something fundamental which will later break you up.

You don’t have to trust me. Just look back on the greatest chemistry you’ve ever felt and think about how those relationships ended. Ask yourself if you want to be in another relationship where you’re always fighting and you never feel secure in your future.

I’m guessing you don’t.

If you want to find love – a love that endures – you have to find a new way than the one you’ve been using for your whole life.

Start by distinguishing between chemistry and love, and you’re on your way. And if you need a helping hand, that’s what I’m here for.

Sometimes you can be the smartest woman in the world and still have blind spots.

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Comments:

  1. 1
    my honest answer

    They are totally different things, Evan, I agree.
    Chemistry doesn’t always result in love. In fact, more often than not, it doesn’t.
    But, I was wondering, do you think you can have the love without the chemistry? Or is it important that all long-term relationships start with that ‘spark’?

  2. 2
    Goldie

    Love love love this post.
     
    @ #1, my mom has always told me that she hadn’t felt the spark with my dad. She just felt secure I guess. Over time, she says, she developed feelings for him. They’re still very happily together… 47 years :)
     
    Interestingly enough, right before dad, she dated a younger, good-looking, popular guy where, I believe, there was intense chemistry. The guy wanted to marry her so much, he once sent his own mother over to talk some sense into my mom :) but mom felt it wasn’t going to be a good marriage. I think she said she had a hunch that he was going to cheat. Eventually he married someone else, and guess what, he did cheat on that woman. Like, on a regular basis.
     
    I remember hearing the hot guy’s voice on the radio growing up. He was a local radio personality, so, on any given day, you’d turn on your radio and hear his voice. From what I remember, both my parents found it hilarious.
     
    I still haven’t learned, however, to like a guy if there’s no spark. And I need to. Every ounce of my personal experience shows that spark makes you ignore all the red flags. Sure, he treats me like crap, you think, but he is so cute and awesome, ahhhh, can’t wait to see him again. Then one day he goes too far, you snap, and he cannot understand why. You were okay with all his bad behavior previously, what has gotten into you now? And the answer is, the spark has left the building. Logically, I completely understand. Now, if I could learn not to let my feelings get in the way of my logic, I’ll be a happy woman.

  3. 3
    Spiral

    True, the ideal pathway would be chemistry–love–attachment.
    But too often chemistry bypasses love and attachment and turns into co-dependency, where two completely mismatched people stick together for the kids or for the mortgage or whatever, when they really should be cutting their losses and moving on. They yearn for that magical feeling that was there in the beginning and neglect to focus on the reality of right now, or to properly evaluate their future together based on consistent behavior. It’s far too easy to think: “But he/she used to…” That was the chemistry phase!

  4. 4
    Raymond Bork

    The initial excitement of a new relationship certainly is the result of chemical reactions taking place in the brain. Yes it feels fantastic, but as Evan says it is only temporary, and when it subsides it can cause distress and confusion.
    I would think most of us have been there, done that, and felt the pain. I only wish someone had spelt out the whole human relationship mystery to me, I might just have handled the multiple trauma’s I experienced  a whole lot easier.

  5. 5
    Ruby

    I think that some chemistry has to be present in order to make two people want to bond more closely. A relationship without chemistry and without any passion is really just a friendship. Some people meet and feel the high of instant chemistry (and may have no where to go but down), for some, it starts off slowly and builds. I do agree with EMK that chemistry by itself is no guarantee that two people are going to get along well, nor will it necessarily result in a happily-ever-after scenario. But some degree of chemistry has to be present for love to grow. To to answer my honest answer #1, generally speaking, I don’t think you can have long-term love without any spark. 

  6. 6
    Michael

    I really appreciated this post and agree completely.

    There is a question on OkCupid! as to whether the person answering thinks “passion” or “dedication” in a more important in a relationship. I had no problem selecting “dedication,” since that is actually my preference for any sustainable relationship. That doesn’t mean not wanting attraction. I do. But “passion” is an odd answer as far as I am concerned.

    Yet, almost every woman answering this question invariably chooses “passion.” I equate that to mean they want intense chemistry. Fine for an affair, but aren’t women who answer that way setting themselves up for failure if what they want is more than an affair? Is that you?

    Michael
     

  7. 7
    NN

    No chemistry = no sexual satisfaction for me => not a working relationship

    How is that a recipe for good relationship?

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110725123411.htm

    No thanks, I won’t let that frustration to happen again, nor will I want to cheat. I choose at least a man whom I feel attractive, instead of what is prescibed here to be the man of my life.

  8. 8
    Chris

    After 30 years of marriage my ex wasn’t feeling enough passion so we divorced. 4 years later the attachment phase is not phasing out for either of us, but especially me. Now what? 

  9. 9
    AQ

    Okay – this sounds good – but how do we do it – give us a paint by numbers to find it!? Maybe a great example is the movie “New World” where her flame with the first soldier burned bright then disappeared but the widower wanted her as a wife???

    I am going to guess that secure is more important than spark – we don’t want a fire – but we can’t be so turned off that we want to throw up instead of kiss? 

    Date everyone as long as they don’t turn you off and wait for one who really likes you and commits, probably not the alphamale of the neighborhood, let him pursue and then let the feelings build over time?

    Don’t pursue the Marlboro man, wait for the milkman to find you? LOL!!

     

  10. 10
    Saint stephen

    Interesting Topic and is true i must confess.
     
    What i have deduced so far based on experience is that Marriages built on sparks and chemistry eventually do not stand the test of time.
    And my advice for those seeking for true love.
    look for someone that has the qualities you seek for in your life partner then go for it and watch how the feelings and chemistry gradually develops later.
     
    Love can be built and nurtured but most folks apparently don’t know this, so they only believe in spontaneous love which is based on attraction and not compatibility.
    In Summary- Love and relationship built on Chemistry often wears Off in the long run While Chemistry thrives and love blossoms in a Relationship Built on Compatibility in the offing.

  11. 11
    Catherine

    Personally, I’ve learned to distrust the intense passionate relationships.  I have friends who seem to be addicted to that emotional high and live such roller coaster lives.  I married a man whom I liked but wasn’t incredibly passionate about (we met after a devastating over the top passionate relationship that left me looking skeletal once it ended)  We were married for 15 years and it was NOT the lack of passion that destroyed the marriage.  At this writing I am dating a wonderful man who I love dearly and who loves me.  The connection is there, but it is our friendship that is most important to us.  We broke up for a year mostly because the passion wasn’t as strong for him as it is for me, but after a year of trying to date and emotionally empty relationships, he came back.  He realizes how fleeting that intense “passion” can be and how wonderful just being together is.

  12. 12
    Debi

    This chemical is called Oxytocin. And it is strong stuff. Once you recognize it’s powerful hold on you its can become easier to keep your logic tuned in. 
    When you get that “falling” feeling that is exactly what’s happening!

    Also when you hear people say “follow your heart”  , don’t always. Your head should be in charge of your heart!

  13. 13
    Karen

    I wholeheartedly agree with you Evan, but if guys are of the thought that chemistry is what they think they need for that long-term relationship, how do I get him to convert to that mindset?

  14. 14
    BC

    As Debi#12 said, and I believe a few other posters alluded to, Oxytocin is definitely the bad guy here, that causes the all consuming, *falling* head over heels feeling that is the downfall of us all in these relationships.  Anyone who has ever been totally irrationally crazy about someone has experienced this chemical reaction, and the flood of hormones/chemicals/whatever you want to call them is what takes our minds hostage and gives our good sense over to our unqualified hearts!! 

    The worst two relationships of my life were without a doubt the most passionate…mutually passionate being the key.  When you are absolutely drawn together magnetically, cannot get enough of each other, sleep becomes a hindrance as it serves nothing more than to keep you apart…that’s passion/chemistry, and you’d better believe that when it burns out, the intensity of the misery is every bit as strong as the euphoria of those initial months of bliss.  I hope I don’t EVER let myself get into another one of those situations! 

  15. 15
    melie

    Yay Evan!  It is so true about chemistry fading.  Developing a friendship/love attatchment is so much more stable.  I just can’t do it, though!  If I don’t experience attraction, I can’t get into a relationship.  On the other hand, it is horrible being linked to someone you are devestatingly attracted to and have absolutely nothing in common with!  Ugh!!!  I was married to that man for 28 long and dreary years: arguing over how to spend or save money, where and what to do on vacation, how to raise children.  We both would have been spared much heartache had we determined the course of a relationship with someone we had absolutely nothing in common with but a dynamite physical attraction.  When the sparks were gone, he found other women to spark with.  I am happily divorced but still find it difficult to manage the friendship with a man and not become bored to death, or extremely critical of the least fault.  Though we may recognize our mistaken paths, it is erroneous to think patterns are broken easily and without subsequent hard work.  Bravo!  An article well written and astute. 

  16. 16
    Gem

    Is it chemistry? Is it love? Or is it BOTH?  I want, as most people do, both.

    Which is why I am a huge fan of not having sex right away. Once a woman starts having sex with someone she’s feeling chemistry for, (even someone she’s sorta feeling it for), it clouds judgement and ups the ante for “making it work” when signs show up that she should go.

    Waiting also helps me realize the men who actually want a relationship as oppossed to those who don’t, or aren’t sure but want to screw while they are figuring it out. It’s been my experience that men who know they want a relationship with someone, will wait for sex if they feel the woman they’re with is relationship potential.

    I like figuring a man out as much as I can before I invest my body because once I do that, my heart is sure to follow if he’s a decent man – or appears to be, until I find out he’s NOT. I don’t want to find out he lies, is still having sex with his ex, has a drinking problem, is controlling, or any number of things after the fact.

  17. 17
    jack

    This is the strongest argument against sexual experimentation and having “wild years”.

    All it does is ensure that some of the first, and most powerful bonding experiences are shared with people that are just temporary.

    The number of people who can sleep around and then find a strong, lasting connection are very few. Once again, this was my reason for looking for a woman who had as few of these experiences as possible.

  18. 18
    Diana

    I think of this initial stage as infatuation or lust, though I know chemistry is usually the most popular way to describe it. Just this week, there was an article posted on msnbc about how falling in love can actually make you feel sick. It was an interesting read, if not entirely new. They have scientifically proven how this stage lights up the brain in a way that is identical to what it feels like to be on crack. There’s also a small population that seeks this kind of high due to a deficiency of some type. And of course, it all happens for only one reason. I think we all know what that reason is. ;)
     
    I noted the writer’s reference to falling in love vs. chemistry. I think the falling in love part happens “after” the infatuation (or chemistry) stage. I also think that a couple can continue to fall in love with each other as they grow and experience different phases in their life together. For example, having children [assuming the marriage is happy and healthy] creates a falling in love kind of feeling all over again and an intense bond unlike anything experienced before; not just with the child, but each other. Sharing different experiences (adventures) allows us to see a new dimension in a person that we did not see before. Hopefully, a positive one. :)
     
    I also think that a couple has to have a certain amount of chemistry in order to make it to their 50th anniversary. But my definition of chemistry isn’t necessarily the same as the standard school of thought, such as having butterflies, anxiously counting the seconds until you see each other again, can’t eat or sleep, etc. Having good chemistry is about two souls who have grown to be in unison together, and they enjoy each others company on many levels. It’s an unexplainable click. :)

  19. 19
    Goldie

    @ #17, oh Jack, Jack Jack… must we go to extremes? Have you ever seen  45-50-year-old guys who get out of a 20-25-year marriage, that they’d “waited” for, fully convicted that the women of the world now owe them copious amounts of NSA sex so they can “make up for lost years”? I have. Not pretty!
     
    People are not robots, you do not automatically bond to everyone you sleep with. You have to be really into the person for that to happen. This whole waiting for the right person business, sounds to me like a recipe for disaster, especially when applied to people in their late teens and early 20s. Finally they’d end up being so sex-deprived, they’d pick the first “right person” that comes along, just to get it over with.
     
    There’s got to be a golden medium somewhere…

  20. 20
    helene

    I think chemistry is the only thing which makes the opposite sex bearable to us! Without it, men are just annoying… and no doubt women are too. I would argue that the secret to a happy longlasting relationship is to keep the chemistry GOING… all those annoying habits your mate has somehow seem cute and endearing when you find them so gorgeous and fascinating. Its when the chemistry is weak or you let it fizzle out that the problems begin – and I don’t think that’s because you chose wrong in the first place, I think that’s because any man (or woman) is going to get on your nerves in some form or another after a while….!

    1. 20.1
      Lisa sahnger

      Yes 
      I agree with you. U think there needs to be chemistry/ butterflies
      in order for there to be a solid connection. I do think you need respect and
      common interest for sure.. And within 10 yrs on age… But chemistry is vital to like you said .. Overlooking the annoying habits that inevitably
      will emerge. I recently found someone with
      mutual chemistry but the timing was all wrong. So I will always wonder if I will ever feel that way again. 

  21. 21
    MH

    Boy, do I need help in this area. Great column to know when it’s wrong, but Evan please do more columns on how to know when it’s right. One thing I find I do with a nice guy is that I question everything and just don’t have faith in him in the future because I keep thinking something is wrong with him. Please help us to change this thinking completely.

  22. 22
    Jennifer

    I view Oxytocin similarly to how I view PMS: they both are real and exist, but the effect varies from woman to woman and neither is an excuse to act like you don’t have any sense.

    I doubt any woman here would argue that she behaves in ways that she absolutely can’t control when under hormonal influences, so let’s not make it sound like oxytocin renders women unable to make smart choices.

    Passionate feelings that make you feel obsessed and anxious to the point of unhappiness- bad. Passionate feelings that make you feel excited and contrent- could be good. Feelings that stir up very little to no passion at all- perfectly fine if that’s what you want, I just wouldn’t count on a rush of passion rising up later.

    No one positive factor about a person should make you ignore a gaggle of warning signs/ negatives, whether that positive factor is strong chemistry or anything else.

  23. 23
    BC

    Well, Jennifer#22, I’m no expert on oxytocin, but I can absolutely get the drift of how this stuff works to lull us into a trippy dippy lovey dovey can’t get enought state of mind.  It may not quite render women unable to make smart choices, but it tosses us into that crazy in love zone which can be mighty darn hard to just walk away from, especially when the object of our desire is showing equal, if not  even greater signs of attraction and bonding as we are.  Its pretty darn addicting stuff!  God help us. 

  24. 24
    Nicole

    @BC…yes but I think Jennifer’s point is that they make it seem as if any man who makes a woman have an orgasm is going to control her, and that simply isn’t true.  
    I think plenty of women can totally hook up with a hot man that they don’t want a long term or serious relationship with.  
    And what is the chemical explanation for men who cannot let go of toxic women?  B/c I’ve known plenty of men who got abused by horrid, toxic shrews that they would not let go of.
    So the problems with chemistry do not just render women powerless and foolish, and we should stop talking as though it’s a one-way street.  
    The advice about chemistry is good for both genders, and both genders are susceptible to staying with bad people because of the “heat” they feel towards that person.   

  25. 25
    Selena

    I concure with Diana #18.

    “Chemistry” as it is so often defined in this blog is merely initial sexual attraction – lust – infatuation. That fades because nothing can stay “new” indefinetly.

    Chemistry is that unexplainable click you feel with some people and not others. You may feel it with different friends, co-workers, relatives. In a romantic relationship, sexual attraction is part of it, but not soley it. Chemistry encompasses mental attraction, emotional attraction, and compatibility of personalities. Chemistry is what you feel when someone “gets” you.

    Infatuation is not falling in love. Infatuation is temporary. Falling in love is what follows infatuation – a progression. And that progression does not always happen. One may be highly infatuated at first, then find it ends either abruptly, or gradually as they get to know the other person better. Often with the realization the other components aren’t there – the mental and emotional attraction, the compatibility of personalities.

    Oxytocin isn’t super glue. If it were, all women and some men would be hopelessly bonded to the first person they ever had sex with. For life. Most of us haven’t.  Like infatuation, oxytocin is temporary. It’s not an excuse for making unfortunate choices and sticking with them. There are more psychological reasons involved for doing that.

  26. 26
    Jennifer

    BC#23- I can see how my comment can read like it was harsh and directed at you, but that’s not the case at all! Sorry if it came off that way.

    I just don’t want people throwing up their hands hopelessly in the face of any hormone; too many bad outcomes can come from that :-)

  27. 27
    BC

    Jennifer#26-Oh, yeah, I totally agree that we can’t just throw ourselves completely into the fates of hormonal highs and lows, in love or any other situation in life.  I’ve been in that infatuated state of mind, as I’m sure most of us, men or women for that matter have been, and its quite a roller coaster.  I’ve also been involved with guys who I liked an awful lot, and was super compatible with in most ways, while those feelings of getting all swept away were just not there.  Of course, as someone else was saying, I believe Nicole, the oxytocin overload is just temporary, so we come back down to earth soon enough.  Then its either sink or swim, with more of a basis in reality and trying to make a go of things or moving on. 

    This is interesting reading, and in case anyone thinks I am a nutcase with no control of my emotions, I’m not.  Ha!  But, when I was in my twenties, I WAS more easily led by raw emotions as opposed to trying to find that elusive blend of passion and stability…hard qualities to balance sometimes in a relationship.

  28. 28
    Babs

    Woow, this is so true, chemistry doesn’t last, sometimes when we say we are following our ‘heart’ we are actually following chemistry. Its a good feeling but our decisions can not be based solely on feelings. I have feelings for someone, they quite balanced thou, but he’s seeing other people and cohabiting with another, drinks, but has other good qualities. Eish am confused and I feel too old for this feeling (29). I don’t call him anymore but he does- we’re on a break. Am planning to telll him to leave. Meanwhile, my heart was ashed by a 60 year old man whom I had intense feelings for…online, only to discover that I was not the only one. He called me names and left my heart in ashes, but am ok now, when I consider his age, I knew it was never gonna work out.

    In summary, chemistry alone should not affect our decisions

  29. 29
    Anna

    I just want to address you a sincere huge thanks… Love your clear view on things and your witty illustrating examples. Reading this made me feel SO much relief and calmness and made me more confident about myself and everything… I’ve been having doubts about a situation for about three years now… Of course I’ve tried to work things out on my own and have touched some points from the article by myself…but it’s crystal now! Thank you so much :-)

  30. 30
    Annie

    @17

    I agree with you :) I can say it’s really nice to actually come across some-one who recognizes/believes this, particularly a man.

    I’ve have tried to patiently explain my position on this(and sometimes not so patiently) to so many people,and the truth is they just don’t want to believe it.

    To create a really great, monogamous , enriching, uplifting relationship, you have to leave the “exciting” parts of male female relations alone, till you are sure you want to create that excitement with that person due to genuine respect and compatibility. 

    To wait, is to “choose” some-one to experience excitement with. That is what creates the bond. This is the person you get excited over. Not “this is the sexual stimulation” I get excited over, and then get bored with as you need “new” excitment. Casual sex, dilutes the powerful bond that sex can create.

    Would you agree with my reasoning?

    It is something I struggle with Jack, especially in my country(Australia) which is honestly one of the most promiscuous countries in the west.  

    The most common response I get when I say I want to wait (and I explain my reasons) is “You have sexual issues, You want to withhold sex and manipulate a man, You want to control a man’s sexuality, You’re a prude,  I think I’ll win a man by playing hard to get, YOU DON’T Associate Sex with LOVE do you?HAHAHAHAHA…etc etc etc”.

    They don’t understand. They also end up in such horrible relationships and then blame the opposite gender. We have some serious gender War issues going on in my country because of this.

    You are a breath of fresh air on this blog. I’m glad for that :)

     

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