“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” ~C.G. Jung
Everyone says it. They say chemistry is a must. I know I say it. But why do we say this? What exactly is chemistry, and is it really the best indicator of a good partner?
The man I had the most chemistry with (we’ll call him Tim) treated me like an option and was never particularly concerned with my needs, desires, or feelings.
I remember the day I met him, and he opened the door and flashed his ear-to-ear grin. I literally said to myself, “FML, this guy is going to break my heart.” Despite knowing he would, and despite his treatment, I stayed with him in a long-distance, off-and-on relationship for two and a half years. Oh, and yes, he did break my heart.
Not only have I done this once, but I’ve done it SIX times!
Why did I place my feelings for him and my desire to be with him over my own sanity, my security, and my needs? Why do we do it over and over again? Why do we value chemistry over caring?
What is Chemistry?
According to anthropologist Helen Fischer, chemistry is really a mixture of hormones (testosterone and estrogen) and neurotransmitters (dopamine and serotonin). In her book Why We Love, she lays out a framework indicating there are four distinct personality types, each made up of varying degrees of hormones and neurotransmitters.
The Four Personality Types
The Explorer, defined by high dopamine activity, is adventurous, novelty-seeking, creative
The Builder, with high serotonin activity, is cautious, conventional, managerial
The Director, pumped up with testosterone, is aggressive, single-minded, analytical
The Negotiator, more estrogen-influenced, is empathetic, idealistic, a big-picture thinker
But, underlying this biological chemistry is a psychological chemistry, which is when we are seeking out someone to heal the damage done in our childhood. This chemistry is where our problems come in.
Most of the time we don’t know that we are drawing this parental figure toward us in some quest to get them to do things right by us this time, thereby fixing our wounded hearts. Sometimes we know it, but we keep moving forward anyway.
With Tim I knew immediately. I felt his avoidance and his emotional unavailability. My intuition told me to run the minute I met him. Unfortunately, my hormones, my soul, and my heart told me otherwise, and I continued a pattern of push and pull, love and disdain for over two years.
With all of my other boyfriends and even my husband, it wasn’t so obvious. Some it showed up later and some were worse than others. But I felt an immediate connection with every single one of them and went from being single to being in a relationship within a matter of days.
So, Is It All Or Nothing?
Not once did I take the time to determine how they treated me. Not once did I take the time to observe their behaviors and their willingness to meet my needs. I let chemistry and my feelings toward them override common sense.
This isn’t to say they are to blame or that they were bad guys, because they weren’t. My childhood issues were running the show and have been since I can remember.
Every one of them had the same characteristics. They were all kind, honest, good guys. But none of them seemed to care about my needs as much as their own. Life was all about their wants, needs, and desires, and I was supposed to just accept it. Unfortunately, I did accept it. I took it for as long as I could until I eventually left.
However, this is not a healthy way to interact in a relationship. I was at fault for settling and not speaking my mind and discussing my needs. I suppose I felt that I was lucky to get their crumbs, and if they said they loved me that should have been enough. It wasn’t.
There was always an underlying chemistry with all of them that kept me there and kept me trying. One night while I was separated from my husband, he spent the night after we went out to dinner. I remember lying there next to him. My body craved being physically next to him, but I kept looking over at him and thought to myself, “I really don’t like you very much.”
Chemistry can override our common sense, and it can keep us with someone who isn’t right for us or doesn’t treat us well. Chemistry can be the most amazing thing on the planet. The highs you get are amazing. Unfortunately, the lows that can also come with it are very low. So, what do you do?
I’ve come to realize that as of right now I am always going to be chemically attracted to someone who has a little bit of an avoidant personality. Emotional ambivalence feels safe and normal to me at first. It feels like love and it feels like home. Unfortunately, that type of love is not at all fulfilling as an adult, and I have to figure out how to rewire my brain.
I’m not a doctor or a therapist, but I know myself and I think I’m fairly smart. What I think needs to be done going forward is to examine my choices more carefully before diving in.
Almost all dating experts will tell you the same thing: Relationships are built on mutual trust, intimacy, and how each partner is willing to meet the other’s needs.
If you haven’t heard of the famous study by John Gottman, here is a quick recap. They put couples in a room together and let them interact. They followed them over the years and came to this one conclusion: Every person turns toward their partner in an effort to make an emotional connection. They called these needs bids.
They found that the couples that were happiest and that remained married met their partner’s emotional bids eighty percent (80%) of the time.
Gottman identified nine separate emotional bids that include:
4. Extended conversation
5. Emotional support
7. Enthusiastic engagement
What does this have to do with moving forward and with choosing a partner based on caring instead of chemistry? It means you have to observe them. Don’t rush in. Don’t choose someone just because you like them so much or you have chemistry with them.
When you reach out in an attempt to make a connection, how does your partner respond? Do they respond to your bid or move away from it? It doesn’t matter whether they do it consciously or subconsciously; what matters is how they respond.
Of course, it’s your responsibility to communicate your needs, desires, and wants, and if you fail to do this, you can’t blame it all on your partner. But, if you have and they still fail to meet your bids, then your relationship is likely doomed to fail.
It’s irrelevant if the person you choose has the physical appearance, job, sense of humor, ethics, or personality that you covet and are attracted to. If they fail to meet your bids for emotional connection, you will end up miserable and it won’t work. Period.
So, take some time to write down what it is that you need in a partner. What are your non-negotiables? This should not really include things like height or hair color or body type.
Non-negotiables are things like:
Considers my needs as well as their own
Makes me laugh
Able to communicate their needs
Wants children/doesn’t want children
Accepts the fact that I get super fussy when I’m tired and doesn’t make me feel bad about it
Listens to me
This is a basic list of some things to consider. Before you invest time dating you need to invest time in yourself. Figure out what you can and cannot do without. Write down three to five of your non-negotiables and stick by them.
I’m not saying it will be easy to do this. The heart wants what it wants and chemistry can be a powerful force. Maybe this is what we all should think about if we keep choosing chemistry over caring.