Your guide to the five kinds of chemistry in relationships
By Jonathan Small
Pretty much all of us know what someone’s talking about when they say, “Hey, I was on a date, and — wow — we had incredible chemistry.” In a nutshell, that means that these two people felt such a strong attraction to each other that they couldn’t wait to get somewhere, ahem, a little more private, right? Sure, that may be the most traditional kind of chemistry, but it’s hardly the only type. According to experts, that earth-moving, spark-flying phenomenon can assume many forms. To help you sort through all those crazy feelings you may have for someone, we’ve described five of the most common types of attraction you can experience. Recognizing and savoring all of them can lead to a fantastic, long-lasting relationship.
Type #1: Physical chemistry
This is the most common type of chemistry, but it’s also the most misunderstood. After all, pretty much everyone’s made the mistake of confusing physical attraction with love. Is there a way to differentiate one feeling from the other? Helen Fisher, Ph.D., an anthropologist at Rutgers University and author of Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love, explains it this way: “Lust is basically the craving for sexual gratification,” she says. “It generally dissipates after the act and returns hours or days later. You can feel it for several different people at the same time, and you don’t necessarily feel ‘possessive’ or jealous. But when you’re in love, you are very possessive.”
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No one is saying that sexual chemistry is evil or that you should necessarily hold out for something deeper to develop. Nor should you fret if you feel like lust is all you have in common with someone at first. According to Dr. Fisher, sleeping with someone can trigger a peak in the feel-good chemical dopamine — which, over time, can produce genuine, bonafide feelings of love. Hang in there, and it just may happen!
Type #2: We’re-so-comfortable chemistry
Have you ever been with a man who finishes your sentences or a woman who’s so easy to talk to that you feel like you can be totally unguarded around her? Welcome to comfort chemistry — that effortless rapport and connection that can exist between two people. “People who share this chemistry often feel like they’re a unit,” says Harry Reis, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. “When they talk to each other, they almost feel like they’re talking to themselves.” Worried that all this familiarity makes you better friends than lovers? Never fear, simpatico feelings can often lead to lust later. “When you fall in love, the elevated activity of dopamine can affect levels of testosterone and trigger a heightened libido,” explains Fisher. Translation: You two may become passionate partners in no time!
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Type #3: We-laugh-like-crazy-together chemistry
Ask someone to give you a wish list of what they look for in a mate, and humor almost always appears near the top of the list. “Everybody likes to laugh,” says Kate M. Wachs, Ph.D., a psychologist and author of Relationships for Dummies. “We’re all looking for a mate that helps us have fun.” Researchers have even found that laughing together increases how attractive people look to each other. So, don’t automatically relegate jokers to the role of “great to invite to a party.” Where there’s laughter, long-term love can follow: Just think how much easier it’ll be to get through all those rocky points that every relationship has sooner or later.
Type #4: We’re-so-complementary chemistry
While it’s important for us to find a mate who shares our values, we’re also attracted to those who are different from us. “We like complementary personalities who accentuate our good parts and mask our flaws,” says Dr. Fisher. For example, a sexy fashion model might have real chemistry with a nerdy mathematician — and vice versa. Why? She makes him feel sexy, and he makes her feel smart. Same goes for the antisocial type who marries a people person. We’re drawn to those who make us feel like better and more well-rounded people. The famous line in Jerry Maguire (“You complete me”) is a perfect example of complementary chemistry in action.
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Type #5: We-have-so-much-in-common chemistry
As anyone who has ever searched profiles on Match.com knows, finding common interests with your potential mate is a huge plus — whether that’s a penchant to cruise flea markets for that one-of-a-kind antique, or a love of camping deep in the wilderness. “We tend to gravitate towards people who share similar interests as us,” Dr. Fisher says. Not only does doing so make spending time together insanely easy, but sharing an activity you both enjoy allows you to get to know each other in a low-pressure environment. Plus, just think of what a bonding experience it would be if you both scaled those waterfalls at Yosemite together! These touchstones can become the foundation for a lot of fond memories — and a solid relationship.
Now that you know the five types of chemistry, be on the lookout to experience them all. Even if you don’t feel that “lightning has struck!” sensation when meeting someone, you two still might have excellent chemistry, if it’s given time to grow.
Jonathan Small is a Los Angeles-based writer who’s written for Glamour and other publications.