When the question of a potential second (or third) date comes up, it’s often declined with a statement like “There just isn’t any chemistry.” There’s a good reason for this: it’s strong enough to send the message but vague enough not to be offensive. So, I get it. And, I definitely understand that feeling of there just not being any ‘there’ there. And so, again, I do get it.
But I also hate it. I hate the vagueness. I hate how unhelpful it is as feedback. I hate that it’s become the default — it’s what someone says when they can’t be bothered to actually think through their (lack of) feelings.
But most of all, there are three things about it that drive me crazy: I hate how tied it is to dating culture’s focus on fireworks, its impatience, and its assumption of effortlessness.
My problem isn’t so much with the idea of chemistry, as nebulous as it is — a strong sense of connection and compatibility is something a relationship can’t do without — as it with the fact that contemporary dating culture only seems to value one kind of chemistry, the chemistry of immediate fireworks. It values immediate, transcendent, combustive passion to the exclusion of all else. And, while fireworks are awesome, we’re all missing out on so much opportunity by thinking they’re all that there is.
It’s not realistic for life to be all show, glitz and excitement. And, as my experience with the man in the black sweater shows, fireworks are far from any sort of guarantee. And, once the light fades, all that they leave us is smoke and empty sky. It’s just so unfulfilling. Of course, the show is amazing while it lasts, and that’s undoubtedly why dating culture is so obsessed with it. But if that’s what we value, hedonic adaptation — that law of human psychology that causes us to need more and more stimulation to get the same thrill — demands that it’s going to leave us ever chasing something that will always disappear the moment we grasp it.
The impatience involved in demanding immediate fireworks is equally frustrating. I know so many men to whom I wasn’t attracted when I first met them, but after a few weeks or months of seeing them in action — how they act, how they live and move in their bodies, etc. — I’ve started to totally see it. And there are other guys I’ve been super attracted to at first, only to have that initial sweetness become sickly or turn sour just as quickly. We put so much pressure on ourselves and each other if we think that chemistry is always going to happen immediately.
And that’s the thing that concerns me. The thing with fireworks is even the best show is over in a half hour. I’d far prefer the slower, deeper chemistry of a slow cooked meal or a warm hearth — something nourishing and sustaining, and not just entertaining, even if it takes time to develop.
Which brings me to my third and final frustration in this rant. Often it seems people expect chemistry to happen without effort, as though they want chemistry without being chemists. “There’s no chemistry” often seems to be code for “I can’t be bothered to put in any effort.” But it takes two to tango.
And so, yes, I get it. Chemistry is amazing. Fireworks are spectacular. I’m not going to deny that, nor would I want to. But how these things actually play out in contemporary dating culture seems so problematic and counter-productive to me. The dating world would do so much better with more patience and grace, not to mention more curiosity. Of course, no one asked me, and I certainly don’t get to decide on the rules of the game for others. But I can try to play by own rules as much as possible even as I recognize that I can’t expect anyone else to. I’m by no means perfect in all this, but I am committed to trying to be patient — I’m almost always up for a second or third chance — and I make sure not to blame my dates for a lack of effort on my part.
So here’s to patience.
Here’s to effort.
Here’s to building something sustainable and sustaining.