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


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.

Join our conversation (55 Comments).
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  1. 21

    Also, it is interesting to see the way that many (not all – many) people here frame the discussion.
    They assert that there is “attractive” and “unattractive”. By erroneously framing the choice between butterflies in the tummy and ‘eww’, they are able to rationalize the continued chasing of people who are probably out of their league.
    Personally, I find the vast majority of women attractive to some degree or other.
    But a lot of that is because I had the emotional maturity to train myself to be more open. It doesn’t just happen. If you want to be attracted to the right kind of people, you will have to WORK, WORK, WORK!!!
    If you are waiting until you “feel like” exercising, you will never be fit. If you are waiting until you “feel like” studying, you will not be a success.
    Perhaps you are waiting for your preference in men or women to change. Or perhaps you are waiting for that perfect person – you know – the bag of carrots that actually tastes like hershey’s chocolate. Or the zero-calories hot fudge sundae that is packed with nutrients. Such perfect people exist, but they are rare, and most often snapped up early by similarly perfect people.
    That leaves the rest of us to TRAIN OUR IMPULSES AND APPETITES. It can be done, and we will be better people for it.

  2. 22

    As an introvert, I have a bit of a problem. I find socializing inherently draining, so there has to be *something* about a man that compels me to continue to maintain contact, or I have to schedule it like a chore and guilt myself into it. If a guy has a high looks, personality and or intelligence quotient, it’s easy. But if he’s got 5s across the board, I get lazy and procrastinate for like, a month before contacting him again.

  3. 23

    I think having strong chemistry initially is usually baseless so that may be why it fizzles.   Not really based on anything substantial.   But I agree with those that say the chemistry grows.     Chemistry to me is more of a click as opposed to strong attraction.   Its like to puzzle pieces coming together
    I have super chemistry with my boyfriend but it developed overt ime.

    FYI there are unattractive narcissistic people and not so smart people living in their head…..im just saying

  4. 24

    @Sherrell #24

    “Chemistry to me is more of a click as opposed to strong attraction.   Its like two puzzle pieces coming together.”

    Well put. I experience it the same way.   I also thinks it’s why instant infatuation often fizzles out fairly quickly – when you realize the other pieces to the puzzle are missing.

  5. 25
    my honest answer

    I’d just like to chime in and say there is no way I’m at my best with my mother! Holy drama potential batman.  
    But I agree that it’s those people who bring out your best qualities that you should strive to be around.
    Sorry Mom, can’t make Christmas this year.

  6. 26

    “I have super chemistry with my boyfriend but it developed over time.”
    Your statement, while not rare, is more the exception than the rule. Too many people want that chemistry to be immediate and undeniable.
    Kudos to you for understanding that soul mates are made, not discovered.

  7. 27

    I never said some one had to be nearing perfection for me to attracted. Not all the guys I’ve dated are at the same level of attractiveness. But when I want someone It doesn’t matter if the last guy I dated was hotter taller smarter. Whether objectively the last guy was a 10 and this guy is a 5 when I want someone I just want them.  

    How do you purpose training yourself to be attracted? If dating men you aren’t sexually attracted to is selfish than what course of action do you recommend?

    I have known men I would have loved to be attracted to because they were inherently good people but I know I could be fair to them because I can’t think of them as anything more than friends. Falling in love is usually easy staying in love is harder. So if it starts off being so much work how can you expect to maintain it?  


    Worth noting those ok cupid findings that conclude women find women find most men less than average are a little more complicated.

    For example I can grasp the concept that the guys from the jersey shore have great bodies but if someone asked how attractive I find them I would say 0 -1 because of the way they present themselves. Some other lady could rate them an 8 but he would still average as below average.  


  8. 28

    I was initially attracted enough to him, but maybe it is more indicative of my nature that the chemistry came later over time. That being said, when I say time I am not speaking years but rather months! After each date and converstions….Sometime you need time to take you where you need to be!!

  9. 29
    Karl R

    S said: (#16)
    “I think  [chemistry] has to be stronger to last years and years and years. At least for me.”

    Infatuation (the early stage of a relationship that’s driven by the  chemistry of endorphins like dopamine and phenoethalymine flooding your brain) wears off in  2 monthes to 2  years. It doesn’t matter how strong it was initially, it doesn’t last. Humans are not genetically designed for perpetual infatuation. If you require infatuation to sustain your relationship, you’ve set yourself up for failure already.

    Gem said: (#15)
    “we both became complacent because trying to create romance felt artificial.”

    I’m not compelled by chemistry to tell my fiancee that she’s beautiful or sexy. I recognize that it’s in my best interest to make her feel beautiful, sexy and loved … so I tell her that frequently. I did it often enough to turn it into a habitual behavior. It feels as natural as adjusting my glasses (which I do even when I’m not wearing them).

    Putting effort into a relationship is one choice. Complacency is another choice. One works much better than the other.

    Jadafisk said: (#23)
    “there has to be *something* about a man that compels me to continue to maintain contact,  […] if he’s got 5s across the board, I get lazy and procrastinate for like, a month”

    That’s why I recommend waiting at least 2 years before marrying. I want the infatuation to disappear so I can discover if my partner gets lazy about the effort required to maintain a relationship.

    Gem said: (#15)
    “chemistry is just that: Chemical, mysterious. It can’t be manufactured.”

    I’m not going ask what kind of marks you got in your chemistry classes. Chemists manufacture chemicals all the time.

    Your brain is flooded with endorphins which produce all the feelings and  physiological reactions you associate with “chemistry”. No more mystery.

    Pick-up artists are wildly successful at short-term relationships because they  have learned  how to manufacture chemistry in relationships. They’ve taken what you find mysterious and inexplicable and turned it into a science.

    So when you feel that mysterious pull of chemistry, it may be just because he knows what psychological and sociological levers to pull.

    Sharon asked: (#11)
    “What is the lowest dose of chemistry that still would be tolerable?  […] what does sorta chemistry feel like? Does anyone know?”

    If I can  look at a woman, focus on her best physical features and think “yeah, she’s kinda cute,” that’s sufficient.

    As jack stated (#22), you have to mentally train yourself to be open to a wider variety of people. For me, focusing on their best features is an easy way to do it. I’ve been mentally training myself for 20 years, so it’s habitual now.

  10. 30

    @ Southern34, Sherell and anyone else willing to answer.

    1. Was the chemistry off at first because of physical attraction or the conversation didn’t flow easily different senses of humor?  

    2. Are we talking good bye hug, peck on check kiss first date send off.  

    3. If a friend asked you how your first date went would you describe it fun, good, pleasant, boring, awkward, has potential. Were you excited about date two or was it more of a mind of matter  senario?  
    4. Did it feel kinda like a business meeting or was it comfortable?

    5. How many dates before your did it take before you knew you were interested?

    6. Do you think most relationships with that start as a six have potential or do you feel you got lucky? (You gotta kiss a lot of frogs before you find one that becomes a prince phenomenon)


  11. 31

    I think it depends on how you define chemistry. Is is a a fireworks kind of excitement and a rush of passion? Or is it a combination of physical attraction, liking, and a sense of connection? If you always expect the former, you will probably be disappointed. I remember asking my father what made my parents’ marriage work and he answered “Trust and respect.” Pretty straightforward. After my mother passed away, a close friend of hers confided that my mother adored my father, and when they met she felt that he was “the answer to her prayers.” I’m not sure my mother would have told me that herself, so it was nice to know that my parents had a connection that worked on multiple levels.  She had already rejected a couple of other marriage proposals, so my father really made the cut!  Knowing that my parents had that has made it harder for me to settle for less.  

    Oh, and my healthiest relationship was with a man who was definitely “super-smart”. He did live in his head a bit, but he did not have any of the other negative qualities EMK mentioned. A man doesn’t have to be as smart as my ex, but intelligence is definitely a tough one for me to compromise on.  

  12. 32

    Evan @ 9- Why do you think we would be so blinded by chemistry that  we give up on values, trust, laughter and long-term compatibility?     Maybe the women who come to you for coaching have that mindset but I have found my peers and friends of both sexes in my age group(40+) do not have this unrealistic expectation and just want to meet someone that  they find  attractive  and then  explore getting to know them.getting blinded by chemistry is a teenage thing..surely:)

  13. 33
    Christie Hartman

    Karl (30): “Your brain is flooded with endorphins which produce all the feelings and  physiological reactions you associate with “chemistry”. No more mystery. Pick-up artists are wildly successful at short-term relationships because they  have learned  how to manufacture chemistry in relationships. They’ve taken what you find mysterious and inexplicable and turned it into a science.”

    Yes, and no. Feelings of infatuation do come from neurotransmitters and other chemicals flooding the brain, but it’s a stretch to say that there is no mystery to this, and an even bigger stretch to say that pickup artists have turned the “manufacturing” of chemistry into a science. Brain chemicals do play a role in feeling chemistry – the real mystery is understanding why one person will trigger these chemicals in you right away, another over time, and still another won’t trigger them at all. This is where the psychology piece comes into play. Ever read Harville Hendrix’s books? And I think even the pickup artist himself would admit that what he does is an art, not a science (hence the phrase “pickup artist.”)

  14. 34

    @Karl R and Jack.

    Agree with you completely on this one. You can “train” yourself in a sense, to be more open to other people. I pretty much ignore chemistry now, and in fact if the chemistry is too strong, I stay away. It’s strange, how it used to be “exciting”, now it actually feels almost fearful.(And I’ve read “fear” is exactly what chemistry is, hence our active response to it).

    The other thing is, as Karl has intimated is that you can train yourself to habitually “give” your partner what they want. It should almost become like 2nd nature, to notice them and provide for them what they really need and desire in a relationship. But that takes effort. If 2 people are doing that, constantly showing each other that they care, feelings of love and attraction will naturally follow.

    Chemistry is highly, highly overrated.

  15. 35

    oh just to add to my last comment, I meant that “initial” chemistry is what is highly overrated. Chemistry that builds over time, due to genuine affection is far better imo.

  16. 36

    “How do you purpose training yourself to be attracted? If dating men you aren’t sexually attracted to is selfish than what course of action do you recommend? “
    I used to crave crappy food. I ate enough raw veggies and other healthy foods that I now finally crave healthy meals. It is all about exposure.
    It would be easier to to retrain myself to eat fast food, since it is salty, fatty, and sugary. Same with preference in women.
    Whatever things you pay attention to, you will learn to appreciate. If you are a guy who can’t stop thinking about a girl’s chest size, then you will be forever [email protected] into a puerile world of chasing b–b size.
    Women who are always looking for a Mr. Big awe-inspiring experience will also likely be stunted in their growth.
    Look at it this way: When I was 15, I though black Trans Ams were the coolest car in the world. I wanted one as bad as you could imagine. Thankfully, my taste in cars matured before I ever had the money to buy such an embarrassing display of male over-compensation.
    When I meet a late-30s woman who is still looking for a “bad boy”, except now she want one who has a great job, I think of all the pudgy middle-aged guys driving Corvettes. It only shows their lack of maturity.
    Anyway, back to the point: You train yourself by CONCENTRATING on, and THINKING about the qualities that you know you should be attracted to.
    You will not learn to love salad overnight if you are accustomed to french fries. But you can learn it, if you want to.
    One last thing that might help: When you meet one of those “nice guys” who have all these great qualities, but you just don’t “find attractive”, just keep repeating this over and over to yourself:
    “I should be attracted to men like this. Therefore, this is a problem with me that I must learn to overcome”. If you learn to view yourself as the one needing improvement, you will find it much easier to give those nice guys a “chance” (ugh, how I hate that phrase).

  17. 37

    I wonder what people think about the issue of online dating and the need for instant (or fairly instant!) chemistry? I met a guy online and have seen him twice in the past week. He was keen for a third date, but I have decided not to see him again. Why? Because after 2 dates, I have absolutely no desire to go to bed with this man. I got on well with him in conversation, and I felt he was “suitable” in many other respects – age, divorced for a decent length of time,financially stable, some similar interests, someone I could reasonably imagine socialising with my friends etc..etc… but although he was perfectly average looking, like I said, I simply felt no desire to have sex with him. Its all very well to talk about seeing if chemistry develps over time, but I know that if I were to see him again, we’d be at DATE THREE and there would be an expectation for things to get sexual. Of course, I could say I wanted to wait, and as he seemed keen on me no doubt he would have agreed to keep seeing me for a bit without having sex, but the expectation would still hang in the air between us. He’d be WAITING. And I’d feel under pressure to develop sexual desire for him, or to let him move on.

    When you meet someone at work, say, or through a leisure activity, there is time to get to know someone BEFORE you go on a date with them. If, over time, an attraction develops between two people at work, THEN they start dating. The workmates you’ve known for a while and don’t develop an attraction to, you wouldn’t accept a date with, as you already KNOW you aren’t attracted to them.

    With online dating, this is not the way things go. I’m not knocking online dating – the vast majority of dates I go on are with people who’ve contacted me online, and I do think it is a fantastic way of meeting people whp are interested in a relationship, but I do feel the dynamics of online dating somehow demand a quick decision on the chemistry front. Does anyone understand what I mean, or am I just rambling here?

  18. 38

    @Evan, is there a Nobel Prize for Dating Advice ? Because you should win it !

  19. 39


    I’ve mentioned this before, and I think you have hit onto THE problem.

    There is an expectation that sex will happen quickly. Therefore, chemistry needs to happen quickly. Meaning if by date 3, you don’t sleep with some-one it means you dont’ “like” them, and they leave or you leave. The other belief is that you dont’ like “sex” if you don’t have sex straight away.

    Falacies, that will be very difficult imo, for people to overcome in the dating world, while they look for a partner that is actually compatible.

  20. 40
    Christie Hartman

    Helene (38): I agree completely that this is a problem. People seem to expect chemistry to develop quickly when meeting someone online, despite the fact they’re a complete stranger. As you said, there are certain expectations – by the 3rd date, you’re expected to have some sort of physical intimacy. In regular dating, you have the benefit of getting to know someone without this sort of pressure. And if you do feel chemistry quickly when meeting someone online, can you really trust it when you don’t even know that person? To me, this is one of the biggest drawbacks to online dating. I suppose the only solution to this is to be aware of it.   

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