Why You SHOULD Hold Out for Magical Chemistry

I’ve spent a lot of time discussing why lust, chemistry, and that “you just know” feeling shouldn’t be the determining factors in your relationship decisions.

This writer, Louise Rafkin – who also specializes in love stories – has come to conclude something differently. In her New York Times Modern Love piece, after talking to 200 couples, Rafkin wonders why the power of electric chemistry hasn’t hit her yet.

She writes:

AT times I feel like an anthropologist on Mars. So many of the people I interview have gut feelings and are hit with lightning bolts and simply “know.” But no matter how many times I hear these stories, and I hear them every week, I have yet to understand.

I’ve known things before, sure. The one time I really felt that magnetic feeling, for a charismatic blond Italian, I nearly ended up in the bin. Sure, the initial attraction was intense — ignited by a glance across a grocery store — but the flip side was like turning magnets’ backsides to each other. The repulsion — fights and jealousy and drama — was just as powerful.

And yet, despite this common tale, Rafkin hears enough tales of magic to keep her on her search. She recognizes that this may be a folly, yet she can’t help but to pursue that ultimate feeling.

My take – my highly nuanced take – is this. It is not that the “feeling” doesn’t exist. It DOES exist, as evidenced by Rafkin’s tales and thousands of others. It’s that, scientifically and logically, only a small percentage of those chemistry-driven relationships LAST.

So when millions of people are driven by lust…and 95 percent of them break up because lust is an illusion…we end up getting stuck on the tales of the rare 5% who DO make it. Their stories are what convince us that we must hold out.

We forget that lots of people who “just know” end up breaking up due to incompatibility six months, 1 year, 3 years, 5 years down the road. To be sure, MANY married couples once HAD that feeling, and that feeling wasn’t enough to sustain the relationship.

But if you’re looking for inspiration to hold out for the 5%, you can certainly find it here.

Your thoughts are appreciated.

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Comments:

  1. 1
    starthrower68

    Well, for those that have that and it works for them, congratulations. I don’t think that’s how it goes for the majority of relationships, however. I can’t imagine that you can go day after day after day without a “normal” moment or even feeling at times like you don’t even like that person very much. I don’t buy into it, but I do believe there are always exceptions.

  2. 2
    Alisa

    I have to agree wholeheartedly with your take on this one Evan. I’ve had the “I just knew” feeling twice in my life, both times within a year I also just knew that the relationship was making me anything but happy. While I would love to have that amazing attraction and feeling of being with “the one” and it last I think I have come to realize that feeling is just a “love cocktail” that happens when we feel highly sexually attracted to someone. As such, it doesn’t and cannot last long term. A small, very small number of couples seem to have it last for years but I could count on one hand how many couples I have known that fit that description.

    Far better to find someone that you’re compatible with and shares your values. And while finding someone compatible and with similar values may not sound terribly exciting and isn’t necessarily the stuff that has inspired poets since the dawn of time, I think it is more intelligent and more lasting. Attraction is important no doubt but lust, I have discovered, can be a big fat liar as to what is real and what will last.

  3. 3
    Alisa

    Due to frequent interruptions I posted without proofing for clarity. Below is my comment with clarifying punctuation. Thanks and blessings!

    I have to agree wholeheartedly with your take on this one Evan. I’ve had the I just knew feeling twice in my life, both times within a year I also “just knew” that the relationship was making me anything BUT happy. While I would love to have that amazing attraction and feeling of being with the one and have it last, I think I have come to realize that feeling is just a love cocktail that happens when we feel highly sexually attracted to someone. As such, it doesn’t and cannot last, long term. A small, very small number of couples seem to have it last for years, but I could count on one hand how many couples I have known that fit that description.

    It is far better I think to find someone that you’re compatible with that shares your values. And, while finding someone compatible with similar values may not sound terribly exciting, and isn’t necessarily the stuff that has inspired poets since the dawn of time, I think it is more intelligent and potentially more lasting. Attraction is important no doubt but lust, I have discovered, can be a big fat liar as to what is real and what will LAST. Holding out for that is I think a big mistake. Hold out for compatibility and attraction, not magical feelings.

  4. 4
    Jennifer

    This line from the article stood out to me:

    “How do people know with such certainty that their person is the one? Or do they not know and just decide?”

    I tend to beleive that people decide and retrofit their story as needed. If you *always* feel like someone could be the one, you’ll be right eventually, right? So that’s the story that gets told and all of the butterflies you felt in the past conveniently fall by the wayside.

  5. 5
    WithLove

    Chemistry…..well, I say if you find it and things do work out then you are indeed in a special category. I have experienced both. One of which I believe because of that
    “chemistry” kept me truly in love with that person. Not to say it erased things I didn’t care for in that person but helped me to smooth the road out. Yes chemistry can be the all lust version, or just a chemistry that you hit it off so well you feel as if you are kindred spirits. Can’t that be a sort of
    chemistry? Things ended in a divorce for me but because of circumstances that are way too long to go into….but what I will say is that if I saw him today, those sparks would fly and not just on my end….either. Sometimes the chemistry can be more of a glue that can bond you….so use it to your advantage. I agree that when it is all lust it never works…I
    think almost everyone knows that except for the delusional that think it’s “true love”. When you spend most of your time “intimately” and not just enjoying everyday life together….ok, that is your first clue…hmmmm. I guess you could say there is a certain amount of chemistry in all relationships….it just depends on what kind yours is.

  6. 6
    Ava

    I think the point is that nobody really does know how love works, and there is no single formula. I’ve known couples who *knew* instantly (I’m sure they were both very ready), and others who broke up and got back together a number of times, or were apart for years, and ultimately, got back together. I’ve also had friends tell me that they weren’t sure about their partner initially, but eventually, his stellar qualities and commitment won them over.

    Timing and readiness are always major factors. We all grow up to believe that the right person is out there somewhere. I haven’t given up yet, but I’ve come to wonder if that is really true. But I guess I still put myself out there because, as I said, you just never know.

  7. 7
    Honey

    I knew on our first date that the BF was different (I went on remarkably few second dates when I was single and seeking, so the fact that I did go out with him again was proof of something). We were long-distance after less than a week as well, which I also wouldn’t have done if I didn’t have “a feeling” (Lance and I dated about 8 months before I moved to Arizona, and we both knew that we were going to break up probably 3 months before I left – long distance wasn’t really even discussed).

    That said, I think I’m normal in the sense that at least 3 times a week he or I says/does something to make me wonder, “is he really the one? Is this worth it?” So far, however, the answer has always been yes :-)

    Honey´s last blog post…Vegas, Baby, Vegas!

  8. 8
    -NN-

    http://archives.chicagotribune.com/2009/jan/25/science/chi-lasting-love-better-0125jan25

    How about this why you should hold out for someone whom you really love, and forget settling for something less.

    Either those people are special, or most of us just lose hope, give up, and lose the chance of really finding someone whom we could be happy with – and just and only because we think we don’t want to be alone.
    I don’t see the point of relationship, without that what that study talks about – I am rather alone than take what most of people seem to settle for.

  9. 9
    Jennifer

    On a more general note, though i know it’s ‘realistic’, it always saddens me a bit when people say things like ‘i’m sure it (whatever it is) happens for some people, but not most of us’. Most people don’t attend Ivy League universities but does that mean it’s not worth applying? Most people don’t enjoy their jobs but does that mean you shouldn’t look for one that you will?
    I understand wanting to hedge your bets, but clearly these great exciting things happen to some people. Why not (the collective) you?

    I know, i know. This may be a little too pie in the sky for some folks (including Evan!). But that’s the mindset I’m in lately :-)

  10. 10
    Evan Marc Katz

    NN,

    1) To answer your query – yes, that group IS special. That study was conducted from a small pool of people who were selected BECAUSE they were still madly in love. As such, it only goes to validate the premise that there is a small percentage of people who keep both their chemistry and their relationships forever. The question isn’t whether it’s possible, but whether it’s wise to only hold out for that low-percentage outcome.

    2) You’re suggesting that the only way to really love someone is to have passionate chemistry. That is not the case AT ALL. Plenty of successful relationships have a “7″ chemistry instead of a “10″ chemistry. And if you would rather be alone than not have a “10″ chemistry, you will, likely be alone. That is not my opinion. That is a fact. As we’ve seen, “10″ chemistry doesn’t predict ANYTHING about compatibility. In fact, it usually predicts unrest and discord.

    No one has ever said to “settle” and be miserable. But if you’re miserable with “7″ chemistry, I certainly wish you the best in holding out for the “10″ chemistry and “10″ compatibility. Just know that such lofty goals are rarely successful. That’s what makes those passion stories all the more remarkable.

  11. 11
    starthrower68

    I think many people go in with the notion that it’s all about the feelings, the passion, and the sparks, and then when that wears off, this person isn’t making me happy so I’d better go get another one. I would be wiling to wager that even in those great love affairs, those folks are commited to each other even on the days they don’t like each other so much. I would also be willing to bet that they have to work at it to keep that flame lit.

  12. 12
    Cilla

    I agree with WithLove’s take on it: why is chemistry defined as only physical attraction or lust? To me, it’s the whole package of enjoying spending both intimate and non-intimate time together, that feeling of just clicking on every level. So if that happens, are we supposed to assume it will eventually devolve to “unrest and discord?” Are we to assume a relationship will only work if it starts out as so-so? I think the title of this post is a little misleading, if not downright confusing. I’m getting mixed messages that it’s OK to hold out for magical chemistry, but I should know I’m a) unlikely to find it, and b) unlikely to have it last. Depressing.

  13. 13
    starthrower68

    There’s nothing wrong with good chemistry, but as in all things, balance.

  14. 14
    JerseyShortie

    I think if we take a little of Louise Rafkin’s story-book-happy-ending theory on chemistry and Evan Katz’s own more methodical-hormone-induced-scientific theory, then we come to a better answer then either one standing on their own can offer. It’s not about science and percentages (Sorry Evan, sometimes your man-side does make you partial), and it’s not all about fairy tell stories of perfection. It’s not the euphoric highs in the beginning or relationships that are the issue either. You feel those things for a reason. You can’t base a relationship on that alone but to completely right off that human and real element I think would be fool hardy. It’s the commitment to an individual that is key. It’s the ability to understand that when those emotional pangs of love addiction stop visiting so frequently, that you really want to be in it . I want that chemistry. I have met enough guys that are good on paper. Nothing is wrong with them but I know in my head and in my heart that they won’t inspire me and that I won’t want to fight to inspire them. I want the chemistry, then I want the hard work that it will entitle to maintain the relationship. They key is not approaching it all based on scientific data or whimsical how-we-met stories. But to find a balance in both.

  15. 15
    Diana

    I tend to think there’s more than one kind of chemistry. There is the physical chemistry which is a nice way of describing lust. This cannot possibly last with the same intensity as that first spark or shall I write, explosion. :) And there’s the emotional chemistry which can intensify and deepen as the countless years go by, carrying a relationship onward, even when the physical chemistry has faded. This is not to imply there is no attraction which is often confused with chemistry and vice versa. There can even be intellectual chemistry which some people get quite a high from.

    My own experience, based on my marriage of 26 years, started out rather interesting. He knew from the moment he saw me that I would become his wife ~ an instant falling in love at first sight. Guys are visual after all. ;) But I felt differently; I wasn’t really physically attracted to him in the least. However, he possessed the qualities that I was searching for ~ wit, hysterical humor, brains, respect for us both, manners, etc. And so it was that in time I grew to fall hopelessly, crazy in love with him. And what do you think happened at the same time? He grew so incredibly attractive to me that I didn’t know how I had missed it before.

    I think that if people place too much emphasis on chemistry, at least the physical, they sometimes miss the one they were truly intended to be with. People often think of chemistry as some kind of spontaneous combustion, but for anyone who has taken a chemistry class, they quickly learn that sometimes chemistry is a slow burn, too.

  16. 16
    Mikko Kemppe

    I think Evan is mistakenly lumping the ideas of lust, chemistry, and the feeling of “just knowing” together as if they were the same thing.

    I am sure all of us at one point or another, especially in our early years of dating, have mistaken lust for feeling like this is the right person for me.

    But, I think Ava is bringing up a good point about being ready. I believe it is possible to “just know” that this person is the one that you have come here in earth to share your life with. But for you to be able to have that knowing you have to have certain degree of maturity.

    I think Diana also wisely explains how there are different types of chemistry and how healthy chemistry often develop differently between men and women. I.e., where men usually develop physical attraction first, women develop mental.

    Mikko Kemppe´s last blog post…Dating in the 21st Century: What you should know before having sex in an uncommitted relationship?

  17. 17
    JM

    As most of the readers have stated above, I think most of us confuse chemistry/infatuation with being attracted to a person. Haven’t we all been in a situation where we are in the company of someone who is extremely attractive at first sight, and then as their personality starts to unfold, they become very unattractive? I think it can also work in the reverse (whereby, of course, the person isn’t too unattractive) when we are in the company of someone we might not initially be attracted to, but something is drawing us in – maybe it’s their self-confidence, keen intellect or witty sense of humor. I think there has to be some quality or qualities in that person that “sparks” an interest, but l don’t think chemistry must always be a physical attribute. I think Diana’s “success story” is something we could all learn from!

  18. 18
    Diana

    Thank you, JM. I want to clarify that unfortunately, my marriage ended last year. It was a great run though! I learned a great deal, especially about how vastly different men and women think and do. I hope to hit the repeat button again someday, but I don’t know if lightning will strike twice in the same spot. And if it doesn’t, that’s okay, too.

  19. 20
    JerseyGirl

    As most of the readers have stated above, I think most of us confuse chemistry/infatuation with being attracted to a person. Haven’t we all been in a situation where we are in the company of someone who is extremely attractive at first sight, and then as their personality starts to unfold, they become very unattractive? I think it can also work in the reverse (whereby, of course, the person isn’t too unattractive) when we are in the company of someone we might not initially be attracted to, but something is drawing us in – maybe it’s their self-confidence, keen intellect or witty sense of humor. I think there has to be some quality or qualities in that person that sparks an interest, but l don’t think chemistry must always be a physical attribute. I think Diana’s success story is something we could all learn from!

    ——————————————————

    I never got the sence that Evan was just talking about lust based on looks. I am usually more turned by a man’s intellect then his looks. I dated some smart but ugly men and i was very attracted to them. And usually a situation where you think someone is attractive and once you get to know them, you find them less appealing, happens in the early stages more often then not. I got the impression that the article was more referencing couples that established a relationship and felt “in-love” but months or years later discovered that the feeling wore off. Instead of people that had the hots for each other first and then upon learning more about the person were more turned off.

  20. 21
    Erika

    I just too once “just knew,” until that guy cheated on me after 4 years together. After that I can honestly say that I am no longer certain of anything. I do not “just know” anything. Some people might look at me and say it’s just because of a negative experience, but I think it’s just the natural process of experience living and being in the world. The older we get, the more we experience, and the more we experience the less certain we become, because we have our assumptions and beliefs tested and we have to revise them. I think it’s great that a small minority of people have that–good for them. I don’t and I’m ok with that.

  21. 22
    shalini

    I have seen people driven by such lust or chemistry continue a rlationship with someone for more than 3 or 4 years.. And its not even like they are happy.. What i see is they started their relationship because they had that feeling once. But now both of them know the other person is not compatible with them. And almost dislike each other fight almost every night, they will be miserable but won’t brea up just because they want that feeling that brought them together to come back.

    And i have also noticed how calm and relaxed those same people looked when they were out of those relationships. The most happy couple i have seen were almost like best friends. And the same was the case with me. The most fulfilling relationship i have was with a guy who was initially a really good friend.. and that’s how we still see each other.

  22. 23
    Lance

    That was a pretty cool article.

    EMK is interchanging chemistry and lust. Chemistry for me is another way of saying compatible. The article is talking about instant attraction, long lasting love, and even a bit of DESTINY, which is what really kills yearning single people. A lot of people, including Louise Rafkin I suspect, feel like if they don’t meet someone where it seems like they’re DESTINED to be together, then it’s not going to work. That’s folly. Destiny is what you see in movies and it’s incredibly rare. Only a writer of a relationship column would bump into those destined couples.

    My take on attraction is attraction is very much a skill, and it’s your attitude, and the way you carry yourself when you first meet someone. If you don’t have those skills, and 99% of people don’t, attraction falls back on other stuff: looks, social status, etc, neither of which (usually) generates flaming lust or great relationships. So if you don’t feel that spark, it’s usually because you or your date or both don’t know how to generate attraction in the other person.

    One last thought, I think people still feel a bit of shame for meeting their partner online, because it seems too easy, or too not like Destiny. We can’t all meet our life partners through a French pen-pal organization.

    Lance´s last blog post…Vegas, Baby, Vegas!

  23. 24
    JM

    Diana – 26 years with one person is very admirable! Sometimes 26 minutes with someone can feel like a lifetime! My sister was married for 23 years, got divorced, and is now remarried and couldn’t be happier, so I hope you have the same “luck”.

    I think there is no rhyme or reason for what makes couples stay together – there are so many different scenarios. If we all knew the “secret recipe” I’m sure we’d all be in loving, healthy relationships right now.

    Evan really does have a knack for finding topics that we can all relate to so well. At the very least, we all know that all of us are dealing with the same issues, perhaps in different ways.

  24. 25
    Selena

    It’s been said on this blog in many ways by many people but, I like the way Lance summed it up in #23:

    “EMK is interchanging chemistry and lust. Chemistry for me is another way of saying compatible.”

    That’s how I feel as well. Lust and chemistry are not the same thing. More like components of each other.

  25. 26
    searchingwithin

    Through research I have learned that what so many don’t realize is that much of that “chemistry” feeling, is just that, the chemical reaction that your body goes through in response to many subconscious triggers, some of which consists of their body DNA, and your prior emotional history(s). It is not based on values, goals, etc. Often, it is a pure lie your body is telling you, and we fall for it hook, line and sinker.

    It IS a powerful feeling, and can easily take you over, but it is temporary, and unless an intimate bond, and commitment is formed, based on additional criteria, the “chemistry” can’t hold you together through all those trials and tribulations that life has a way of throwing at you.

    Another point is, many people believe that if aren’t experiencing that chemical reaction that they aren’t “in love”. So when your bodies chemistry levels back down to normal, they declare, “I love you, but I’m not “in love” with you”, and then go off in hunt of those “greener pastures”. They become addicted to that “chemical high”.

    searchingwithin´s last blog post…How Will We Love?

  26. 27
    JerseyGirl

    It’s like love crack.

  27. 28
    sapa

    Looking back every relationships I’ve had in my life, I can notice that I always tried to ‘explain’ or ‘convince myself’ that this is and will be a good relationship. I always tried to rely on my brain rather than my heart to ‘understand’ what I am feeling. I think I was terribly wrong.
    I’d rather wait for my 10 chemistry that doesn’t require any rational explanation than be satisfied with 7 chemistry and be haunted by the unfulfilled 3, which is reasons, doubts, persuasion etc.
    Not only his theory of 5% vs 95% is statistically unfounded, but also he does not explain how much more chances the relationship without first chemistry have to LAST forever. Obviously, as we can see all around, many relationships without first time chemistry end up in disaster.

    1. 28.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      Sapa, you’re having an overreaction to YOUR experience. You entered relationships where there was no chemistry, and, from there on, decided that you MUST have that feeling. But FAR more failed relationships start with magical chemistry than without it. Which just goes to show that it’s not a great predictor of anything, except chemistry itself. Let me know when you get your 10 chemistry AND 10 compatibility.

  28. 29
    Just me

    There is some science behind chemistry that ought to be considered in the advice you give. Chemistry is not necessarily trivial. Women whose DNA profile is too similar to their partner can experience fertility problems with that partner.

    In a practical sense, women can tell f the chemistry is in the right range by the scent and the taste of the guy when he kisses. If he’s in the right range, you will like the taste of his kisses. If you don’t like the taste, then it’s not going to grow and develop over time.

    Guys chemistry is more related to visual elements that correlate with health and fertility. Ie how many kids can she have. Woman’s chemistry based on how immunologically strong the offspring will be. If there is enough difference (but not too much) in the DNA profile, the offspring has the strongest immune system.

    So what you have in essence is a two-track system that selects for the most and strongest offspring. Elegant if you ask me.

    I agree with a lot of the advice you give and I agree that women shouldn’t pass up a good guy just because they weren’t hit with a lightning bolt of lust at first, but I also think if a woman feels like she is kissing her brother the woman should take that as a sign and move on.

  29. 30
    oneK

    I think there is a major selection bias in the statistical analysis of chemistry vs little-chemistry argument, which is similar to the argument supporting arranged marriages.
    More arranged marriages last specifically because the kind of people who agree to them are not the kind of people to end marriages (unless there is major abuse).  Similarly, those willing to enter a relationship without that chemistry are probably willing to endure long periods of discontent for the sake of maintaining the relationship.  If you define the success of a relationship by its longevity then yes, those starting out with little chemistry will be more successful. But this says very little about relationship satisfaction, which is far more difficult to assess.
    Personally, with the feeling of being in love so universal and seemingly part of the human condition, I don’t understand wanting to deny it, one of life’s true pleasures.  Surely, while acknowledging that it does not last for long, it can be seen as an essential foundation on which other elements of a fulfilling relationship are built?
     

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