Why Old Married People Know The Secret of Life — And You Might Not

old couple looking happy in a hug

Google the words, “The Secret of Life”, and you get over 66,000,000 results.

No, it’s not quite as many as Britney Spears, but it’s something that lots of folks have been looking for a long, long time.

Now, I’m not going to claim to know the secret of life — not yet, anyway — but I’m pretty sure I know the secret to a long-term relationship.

It starts with learning from the wisdom of people who are different than you are — old married couples, relationship counselors, and yes, even dating coaches — and considering how to apply their respective points of view to your complicated love life.

You’ve heard me talk about chemistry before. And in the dating business, I’m far from the only one.

Attraction’s not a choice. By the same token, attraction isn’t a very good predictor of relationship health.

A favorite relationship expert named Alison Armstrong says that when you’re lucky enough have your chemistry dialed up to 10 with a man, you should probably run in the opposite direction.


That sounds so counterintuitive. But consider this:

When you’re crazily attracted to some guy, doesn’t that feeling actually make you a little bit…crazy?

You start to obsess about when he’s going to call.
You become weak and needy because you’re so consumed by him.
You can’t stop thinking about him and have trouble focusing on work.

And this is supposed to be a good thing?

Take a second and think about who you are at your BEST around.

It’s probably not the person you lust after the most. More likely, it’s your best friend. Or your sister. Or your mom.

These are the people around whom you can truly be yourself — at both your best AND your worst. So why do you always choose men where you’re walking on eggshells?

“But I can’t help what I’m attracted to!” you might say.

You’re right. Attraction’s not a choice. By the same token, attraction isn’t a very good predictor of relationship health.
I’ve been attracted to HUNDREDS of toxic women. Most times, I was so driven by this attraction that I was willing to overlook their considerable negative qualities.

Have you ever done this yourself? I’m betting that you have.

Because whether you’re attracted to great looks, extreme wealth, or bountiful brains, you can’t help the way you feel. Yet that feeling is EXACTLY why you keep being drawn towards the same incompatible men.

You like a man who is very successful financially? Guess what? He’s likely to be a Type A workaholic. He’s likely to be opinionated and bossy. He’s likely to be on a bit of a power trip. He may have trouble compromising. He’s not necessarily interested in sharing his feelings and has even less interest in hearing your feelings. But congratulations — you’ve got financial security!

You like a man who is extremely attractive? Guess what? He’s likely to be a bit of a narcissist. He’s used to being given special attention for his looks and may not have developed the same kindness and generosity that you have. He may be underdeveloped in other arenas such as intelligence and worldliness, since so much of his life has revolved around people being attracted to him. Oh, and don’t forget, he’s extremely insecure; he needs the validation of constantly finding new women to tell him how gorgeous he is. But boy, is he hot! Enjoy your trophy, my friend.

You like a guy who is super smart? Guess what? Chances are he lives in his head. He’s over-analytical. He’s somewhat of a know-it-all. He has social insecurities. He’s kind of moody because he doesn’t see the world like everyone else does. He’s tortured by his potential. He can be wildly creative and unstable or blindly driven by money. He’s quite possibly depressed, and, at the very least, intense. But, yeah, he’s fascinating. Hang on tight, and embrace the drama!

So when you’re assessing your dating prospects and are thinking past the lust phase into “Who will be wheeling me to my chemo treatments in 40 years”, consider that everything that attracts you comes with a considerable downside.

And the people who REALLY have it figured out — the couples who’ve been married for 40 years — could probably tell you the same.

Ask an elderly married person the secret to her relationship. Do you think you’re going to hear words like: lust, money, and intellectual stimulation? No.

You’re going to hear things like friendship, compromise, laughter, and trust.

If you’re entirely driven by short-term attraction, you can’t be too surprised when you haven’t found a relationship that sticks.

How boring!

Yet it’s plainly apparent that THOSE are the qualities you should be looking for when choosing a partner. Those are the qualities that determine long-term compatibility.

And if you’re entirely driven by short-term attraction, you can’t be too surprised when you haven’t found a relationship that sticks.

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  1. 1

    Yes, yes, yes!!! Just about everyone in my family has been married for 30+ years, and while I know that some of them were crazy-attracted to each other when they met, when it came time for marriage, they made sure that they had shared values and had a genuine liking and respect for each other. So, all of the superficial things that people place so much importance on are just not the things that are truly important to a good relationship.

  2. 2

    I had to laugh throughout this post. Love the sarcasm haha. Very true though and well written. Unfortunately it seems hard to find those simple qualities sometimes and when you do find a guy who you click with and whom you think is great, it seems like there’s always an obstacle in the way like he is getting over a breakup or is moving away or something else. Sigh, trying to keep positive though. Thanks for sharing this 🙂

  3. 3

    Evan, you’re spot-on here.   I can’t help thinking this is a very interesting post to put right after the one about the woman Elizabeth who wanted to move in with her best friend. I was one of the people who said that might be okay (better than okay), because they have friendship, and that is the most precious thing.  
    I’m not sure it’s fair to say that attractive people are likely to be narcissistic, though. The vast majority of the beautiful people I know are also extremely nice.  
    If I could boil down your perfect advice into two words when it comes to seeking a long-term mate, it would be: Avoid drama.

  4. 4

    Sorry Evan, I have to totally disagree with you here. Life is too short to settle. If you’re going to spend the next 50 years of your life with someone happily, you’ve got to have chemistry as well as trust, friendship, laughter, etc. I speak from personal experience…a marriage without chemistry will not last.

  5. 5

    The   Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything is 42 Evan.

  6. 6

    “Friendship, laughter, compromise, trust…” Hmm, that checklist is getting a bit long. 😉

    My best and most healthy relationship  lacked chemistry/passion. We were aware of that going in, but felt there was enough  there to work with, as well as having all the things you listed above.  But it ended.  Because…..you guessed it. Lack of passion/chemistry….

    I’d really like to think I can have chemistry AND the elements you listed. But I’m still working on that.

    I do agree that having chemistry for someone is NOT an indicator, in and of itself, of having found a good partner.

  7. 7

    Yes please clarify. Selfish for dating the guys your not attracted to for dating friend you’re not attracted to and foolish for dating the ones your are attracted to.  

    What am I supposed to do?

    Who are these slightly less attractive guys that have wheel chair pushing potential. I’ve never met one. Asking me to find one feel like being asked to bag a liger (tiger + lion) on safari. Damnnit there from two different continents.   

  8. 8

    Given the last post with Elizabeth, as well as personal experience, I have to say that having some “chemistry” with a potential partner is maybe not required, but probably is damned helpful.  
    It seems to me that so many of these relationship stories that get written up online fall into the two extremes. Either someone is broiled in drama with a person they’re sexually on fire with, or it’s someone like Elizabeth, who has zero attraction to a partner and wonders what to do about that. Neither of these kinds of situations seem to work out well in the end. They haven’t for me anyway.
    And having worked with English Language Learners who were in arranged marriages, I have seen that those who were most happy and healthy seemed to have some attraction to, and affection for their spouses. It may have developed over time, or maybe was there even at the beginning, but again the emphasis is on SOME. I can think of at least for or five former students who were in marriages where they felt absolutely zero attraction to their spouses, and all of them were also lacking other elements – like felt friendship or laughter as well.  

  9. 9
    Evan Marc Katz

    I will remind our readers that I never said that there shouldn’t be any chemistry.

    All I said was not to be so blinded by chemistry that you give up on values, trust, laughter and long-term compatibility.



  10. 10

    Gosh this is too funny. I’ve had exactly 3 ex boyfriends, and each of them belonged to the categories u mentioned in the post Evan! And yup, none of them worked out!

    I am now extremely lucky to be with a man who I have deep attraction to, is intelligent and handsome, PLUS he is truly committed to me and our relationship, and he deeply values our trust, friendship, compromise, and all those boring stuffs that constitute the foundations for a longlasting marriage/relationship.

  11. 11

    @ Evan
    I know you never say no chemistry. But the pseudo half-way chemistry you speak of if a strange concept.
    But what is half way chemistry. Repulsion is a clear sign of lack of chemistry. But is ambivalence good? What is the lowest dose of chemistry that still would be tolerable? I know what the awesome butterflies feel like and I know what disgust feels like. But what does sorta chemistry feel like? Does anyone know?

    1. 11.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      Sharon, I’m not sure what black and white world you live in where it’s either WHITE-HOT chemistry or ZERO chemistry, but it’s not my world. In my world, there’s a spectrum from 1-10. And if I’m seeing a woman and there’s 7 chemistry and 10 compatibility, I’d highly consider that relationship.

      Of course, you can keep chasing the 10 chemistry, but you might just find that your relationship is a very tempestuous and dissatisfying “4”.

  12. 12
    Christie Hartman

    Evan (9), I was going to say the same thing. It’s amazing how when you tell people that focusing on heavy chemistry won’t bring you long term marital happiness, all some of them hear is, “Chemistry doesn’t matter and you should ignore it,” like S (4) did.
    Chemistry is important and necessary in a relationship. However, a subtle and slower-growing chemistry can wind up building into something powerful and lasting. And, as I discussed in my last blog, I cannot tell you how many women have said to me, “I didn’t feel that much chemistry on the first date, but I gave him another chance and it grew, and now it’s really great.”
    Chasing instant or extremely powerful chemistry is tempting, but it can be a trap if you think it’s enough to sustain things over the long term. IT’S NOT. Without the compatibility to go with it, that chemistry will be dead in the water eventually. A lot of times, chasing only chemistry isn’t about love, it’s about ego.
    Helen (3): I don’t think Evan’s argument works for the woman in the previous post. She had a complete LACK chemistry with him, which doesn’t work either.  

  13. 13

    all I’m looking for is a gentlman I both admire & enjoy…& historically, when I have found that, the chemistry actually develops on its own…

  14. 14

    I know what Sharon means. I usually have chemistry or I don’t. If I have it, that doesn’t mean it’s a relationship made in heaven.

    I did embark on a relationship with a great man in personality and I thought there was enough chemistry to work with. It’s hard to quantify on a 1-10 scale like Evan did. But let’s say, being physical with him was nice. Not awful, not fabulous. Nice, comfortable, just fine.

    My love and appreciation for him grew deeper over the years, but my passion did not. We were friends who also found each other attractive and thought it was a good plan. It was not. Life was dull, we both became complacent because trying to create romance felt artificial. We both longed for what was missing and could  never eject it into our relationship because chemistry is just that: Chemical, mysterious. It can’t be manufactured.

    I’m holding out for true chemistry but with a really great guy.

  15. 15

    I didn’t have zero chemistry – maybe a 5. I think it has to be stronger to last years and years and years. At least for me.

  16. 17

    Totally agree with you Evan!   My relationship with my boyfriend is the healthiest, most loving relationship I’ve been in, including my 4 year marriage to my ex.   Was I initially totally and utterly attracted to my boyfriend and wanted to jump his bones on the first date?   No, not really.   Was I repulsed by the thought of kissing him either?   No.   It was somewhere in the middle.   In the past seven months since our first date, we have grown from about a 6 on the chemistry scale to about a 9.   We can’t keep our hands off of each other now!   But it took a month or two for that to develop, and it keeps on getting stronger as we become closer.   Two years ago, I wouldn’t have given him a chance after a few dates, but now I’m on the road to what could be the man I am meant to marry.   Pretty damn sure of it actually, and by all indications, he feels the same way :-).  
    Chemistry is important, and it is necessary for a healthy relationship, but the kind that starts of hot and heavy from the very beginning is not always an indicator of a long-term, healthy relationship!

  17. 18

    I define “chemistry” as combined   sexual, mental, and emotional attraction. If you have one, but not the others – the relationship feels lacking and usually fizzles out.   But there seem to be a good many people who believe sexual attraction – instant,   and intense   – is the only real measure of chemistry and it’s yang, compatibility.

    I’ve found what Christie Hartman describes in #12:”… a subtle and slower- growing chemistry can wind up  building up into something  powerful and lasting” to be true – and also the composite of sexual, mental and emotional attraction.   If there is something to start with….why not take the bit of time to see what might  develop? Especially if you’ve noticed “instant” rarely develops into anything?

  18. 19
    Christie Hartman

    Gem (15): I had a situation like that once too. We got along great and there was enough chemistry to get things rolling, but not enough to keep me from checking out other men more than I would have liked. It wasn’t enough. I suppose everyone has a different threshold for this. But I have met men I felt little chemistry with at the start but then it turned into really strong chemistry.
    Selena (19): Yes, the other types of chemistry are just as important! People think of chemistry as physical/sexual chemistry, but it’s so much more. Oh, and your “42” thing cracked me up! I haven’t read that book in 20 years.

  19. 20

    “But I can’t help what I’m attracted to!”
    When people say this, they are actually kind of chickening out on personal growth.
    Let’s try a little experiment:
    “I can’t help that I’m not attracted to healthy food.”
    “I can’t help that I’m not attracted to paying my taxes.”
    “I can’t help that I’m not attracted to exercise.”
    “I can’t help that I’m not attracted to getting to work on time.”
    “I can’t help that I’m not attracted to being polite to other people.”
    None of us would accept at face value a 400# person saying “I can’t help it – I’m only attracted to ice cream and cookies.”
    Or a slacker-husband who says “I can’t help it – I’m only attracted to jobs that let me sleep in late and don’t require me to develop any skills.”
    Everything in life involves sacrifice, compromise, and getting only part of what we want. Why should love and romance be any different? Do people REALLY think that the universe is going to provide them with a ‘nearly perfect’ spouse?
    The amazing lusty connection felt by chasing the perfect match chemistry-wise is not your best marriage partner. Follow your heart, you say?
    Fine. Then follow your tongue at mealtime and stop eating those unattractive healthy foods and start indulging in rich, fattening foods.
    When I meet someone who has chased bad people for too long because of ‘chemistry’, I regard them the same way I do as a person who has no control over what they put in their mouth.

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