Chemistry: An equation for finding love?
In my year of post-divorce dating, I have been privileged to meet many great men. Some have fabulous jobs, like the global salesman who asked on our second date if I wanted to join him in the Bahamas. Some are amazingly sweet, like the marketing guy who held me in his arms while I cried on his couch. Some have great bodies, like the paramedic with strong shoulders who presses 100+ pounds. Some have world-class sexual prowess, like the nearly-forty executive recruiter who, like he was eighteen, took me five times on our first date. Some have really hot cars, like the auto dealer who let me drive his Aston Martin the first night we met. One was amazingly generous with gifts, showering me with jewelry and Michelin-rated meals.
So … what’s the problem, right? It sounds pretty darn good, doesn’t it?
The problem is that I cannot find those qualities in one person, or at least not a person with whom I have chemistry who is also available to be with me. I want those internal fireworks that make my heart race and my body tingle. I want a man whose skin I cannot wait to touch, a man whose smile brightens my whole day. I want the man who I think of texting the moment I wake up, and who I have to keep from sexxxting at midnight. The one whose slapstick sense of humor has me stopping in my tracks.
Of the twenty coffee-drinking, ice-skating, gourmet-dining, bar-hopping, forest-hiking first dates that I have had, only four men have really lit that chemical fire. For reasons related to geography and religion, while maybe interested, those two men were unavailable for more committed relationships with me.
I am not so very unrealistic as to expect I would find the perfect person to date long-term or to partner with me for a lifetime. Indeed, I am not perfect myself. I am fun, have a great job, prioritize loyalty, posses a toned body, volunteer my time, but I am not perfect. I like yoga and running in general, but will never run a marathon or really enjoy tennis (I’ve tried!). While not a slob, I am also not a neat-freak. I have a young daughter, so I come as a package deal. I am full of contradictions, well, on occasion. I get it. I have many appealing qualities, but could never be another person’s perfect. But could I be a perfect yin to someone else’s yang? Can anybody?
The puzzling problem for me at the moment is what to do when I find someone who has a huge number of appealing qualities, but the chemistry is missing. I used to believe that chemistry would build over time. Now I am not so sure. One of the men I am seeing currently is really nice. Bret is handsome, loyal, intelligent, kind. He has a great job in sales and is independent. He has raised successful daughters, so we share that experience. Like me, he loves sports. He is talented under the sheets, including having tremendous patience as I do every sexual maneuver under the sun short of having sex. With full appreciation of his other amazing qualities, I have gotten over his short stature.
Always with the agreement that we were not exclusive, Bret and I have dated for about three months. With every additional date, I get an increasing sense of dread that chemistry won’t grow – over rugby games, long drives, or great pinot. In fact, I continue coffee dates with other men and check my online dating profile regularly. I respond to men who text in the middle of the night. Occasionally I engage in texting (read: sexxxting) with at least one man with whom I had chemistry. I find my thoughts drifting to men I would rather be with… because with them I had…
When I started thinking more about chemistry, it became very difficult to define. As I often do in matters of love and sex, I went to my friends. They identified different types of chemistry, including sexual chemistry, interpersonal chemistry, cultural chemistry, and “just that feeling you get in your belly.” The best definition I heard defined chemistry as the capacity for another person to “evoke a positive state of emotional arousal.” Woah! That seems a fairly intellectualized definition for what feels like a primal sensation. Probably the most consistent thing I heard from friends is that everyone experiences chemistry differently. While only a few friends could define chemistry, everyone knew it when they felt it.
I asked friends “How long do you stay in a relationship that is missing chemistry?” Amongst friends, all of whose dating histories are longer than mine, opinions varied more than a tin of mixed nuts. More conservative friends wondered why “drop” a person I liked. More liberal friends encouraged me to keep dating, and having sex non-exclusively, until someone better comes along. Another friend suggested that having sex with Bret could create chemistry. None of those suggestions, in particular using sex as experimentation, felt right.
My friend Erik described the “fussy suitor problem.” Leave it to an engineer (a handsome and happily married engineer) to turn dating into a statistical calculation. The fussy suitor problem is about finding the right number of acceptable dates to have in order to maximize the likelihood of selecting the best partner. Also called “optimal stopping,” the solution includes dividing the number of dates you’re willing to have by what’s called the base of the natural logarithm, a number estimated at 2.718. Once a person has dated that many acceptable people, they would pick the next best person who was better than all previous dates. Who knew that dating could be so technical? Let’s say I was willing to date 30 men. With this strategy, I would decide whether to accept or reject every new date based on whether they were more ideal than previous dates. Without knowing anything about future dates, using optimal stopping, I marry the next person after 11 men that I rated as “acceptable” life partners. The likelihood of landing the best suitor, assuming this is an optimal selection strategy, is 37%. I do not know about you, but 37% seems slim. And, even more problematic, the best chemistry I have had was with the second guy I dated. Too bad he, and his great job and very sexy body, live out of the country. In spite of Erik’s good intentions, it seems that relationships are about way more than numbers.
So… now I am in a dilemma. I see that I am holding Bret at arm’s length. At the same time, a man with whom I have a lot of chemistry is holding me at arm’s length. Maybe my expectations for chemistry are too high. I expect fireworks, when maybe I should be expecting more of a sparkler.
One of the hardest things about dating is repeatedly being rejected or having to reject. Again and again and again. Neither situation is very comfortable. I have felt those gut-wrenching pains of a person walking away. I have not yet found a way to reject with panache and compassion. Chemistry, and dating really, is a two-way street. The relationship benefits when both partners feel that indescribable something special, like the secret sauce on a great sandwich. We are all hoping for that special someone who has at least a modicum of our wish list, who reciprocates our feelings, and with whom there is mutual chemistry.
I think my conclusion is that chemistry might not grow with time. Instead, I think chemistry is an item to add to my own personal wish-list. Amidst my other must haves and deal breakers, I will add chemistry. Maybe I prioritize chemistry because I had it so strongly with my ex. He turned out to be an unstable philanderer, but a text from him during the day or the touch of his skin got my neurons firing. I will be sad to break-away from Bret. Like I said, he is really nice. And he makes me feel good. But feeling good isn’t quite enough. I will have to find a way for my faith in chemistry to outweigh sadness associated with watching a good one get away. Maybe chemistry won’t be so elusive. If Erik’s equation works, after four acceptable and really amazing-in-their-own-way men, only seven more eligible bachelors to go!