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“Love shouldn’t play by rules, it’s all about chemistry.” ~ Rachel Bilson
What is chemistry—not the kind you practice in a lab, but the kind that transpires between two people?
It is such a mystery. Unmistakable and unshakable when feeling it, and at other times, it’s a gaping void.
I would argue that we experience chemistry with platonic friends too—it isn’t just about sexual attraction and romantic love. But the chemistry we experience with the people we want to get naked with is the chemistry I want to explore.
When I was a young woman, chemistry surprised and confused me. As a teen and in my early 20s, I was never certain if what I was feeling was some mutually experienced phenomenon, or if I had an embarrassing crush and was acting foolish.
I have since decided chemistry is mutual. Although we can never know what another person is feeling, I’m confident both parties are aware of chemistry, and that it is reciprocal. What I think creates chemistry between two individuals, and what this chemistry signifies, has shifted for me over the years. My thoughts on the subject are constantly shifting, like sand under waves.
When I was younger, I assumed chemistry hinted at compatibility and trusted it implicitly. I have since come to view chemistry with subtle suspicion. I have, over the years, entertained a variety of “theories” about where chemistry comes from, and have nicknames for each of these four theories that were born out of my desire to understand chemistry—and my desperation to know if it can be trusted.
1. Cosmic Chemistry
“We have calcium in our bones, iron in our veins, carbon in our souls, and nitrogen in our brains. 93 percent stardust, with souls made of flames, we are all just stars that have people names.” ~ Nikita Gill
Despite never having been a religious person and often feeling an uncomfortable level of cringe with both organized religion and the woo-woo, new-age stuff I’ve encountered, I am still a spiritual person—probably more woo-woo than my teenaged self would have accepted.
I love crystals, believe in astrology, celebrate pagan holidays, follow the cycles of the moon, have an affinity for tarot, and love talking about reincarnation, souls, energy, and everything magical. I believe everything is connected; everyone and everything is made of stardust.
From a young age, I understood chemistry and love from a soul perspective. Intense chemistry indicated a cosmic connection with another soul. Maybe we knew them in another life, and that is why a stranger can feel familiar. I’ve flirted with the concept of twin flames, wondering if intense chemistry resulted from an ancient soul contract made long ago, while wearing different skins.
I feel embarrassed admitting these thoughts. They seem hopelessly naïve and illogical; but if I am honest with myself, I can’t rule this possibility out. There is so much in life that as-of-yet cannot be explained by science.
“Our souls already know each other, don’t they?” he whispered. “It’s our bodies that are new.” ~ Karen Ross
2. Energetic Chemistry
“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency, and vibration.” ~ Nikola Tesla
The theory of chemistry that bridges the gap between science and spirit for me is all about energy, and this view has its basis in physics. If everything is made of energy and vibrates at different frequencies, maybe the people we have chemistry with vibrate at the same frequency we do, or maybe the complete opposite frequency?
If this were true, it could explain how sometimes we have chemistry with someone and then one day we wake up, look at them sleeping on the other side of the bed, and feel nothing. Rather than being pulled into their orbit, we feel repelled. We have grown apart.
Maybe our vibration changed, or maybe theirs did. Regardless, it is obvious the two are no longer vibrating toward each other. This seems like a theory that people who are into the law of attraction will appreciate.
For me, this theory for chemistry is both mysterious and material. There is a tangible explanation for that undeniable pull we feel toward another person, but it doesn’t carry the weight of fate, destiny, and soul contracts. It is just a fact, like gravity. It gives me pause, though. That like attracts like makes me look at my exes and wonder if I am a selfish person?
“I think people who vibrate at the same frequency, vibrate toward each other. They call it—in science—sympathetic vibrations.” ~ Erykah Badu
3. Animal Chemistry
“No, this trick won’t work… How on earth are you ever going to explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon as first love?” ~ Albert Einstein
After an exceptionally awful experience dating someone I had unparalleled chemistry with, I moved on to this reality—human beings are animals. Everything we experience as chemistry has an evolutionary, biological basis.
I’d like to think of myself as something more than an animal. I would also like to believe there is something more than a biological drive to procreate behind the mystery of chemistry; but when we read about the neuroscience of lust, attraction, and attachment, the data is compelling and persuasive.
This theory is rooted in biology and neuroscience. In a nutshell, we feel lust for people we would make healthy offspring with. Pheromones, hormones, and neurotransmitters collaborate, igniting, lust, attraction, and attachment. I think we have all had the baffling experience of having chemistry with someone who is not our type, and of being repelled by that great guy who looks perfect-for-you on paper but you can’t stand in reality; you can probably blame pheromones for those surprises.
This neuroscience explains the temporary insanity that can take over when people become intimate. The animal chemistry theory suggests chemistry is rooted in our biology as a mechanism to ensure procreation. This view takes all the magic out of chemistry, but it explains toxic relationships perfectly.
There is something missing for me in this theory though. People in same-sex relationships experience lust, attraction, and attachment. Procreation isn’t the driving factor there. People who are no longer fertile still experience desire and chemistry. So, a biological explanation for chemistry is lacking an important element making chemistry the universally human experience it is.
“One thing you can’t fake is chemistry.” ~ Blake Shelton
4. Psychological Chemistry
“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” ~ C.G. Jung
When I started reading about adult attachment, it blew my mind and changed my life. After reading the book Attached by Amir Levine, I developed a different theory about the origins of chemistry. I came to believe what I have experienced as chemistry in the past was the anxious-avoidant trap, a roller-coaster of emotional highs and lows simulating love.
After learning about adult attachment theory, I viewed chemistry with suspicion. Are all the guys I found myself drawn to in the past avoidantly attached, and therefore a problematic match for someone like myself, who is anxiously attached?
Were my wounds running the show? Should I view chemistry as a red flag? Will dating people I have chemistry with lead me down the same unsatisfying, crazy-making roads I have walked before? Maybe.
Maybe chemistry is just two people recognizing another person who will play the necessary role to keep them stuck in unhealthy, but familiar, relationship patterns.
“I have to remember it is not love that has hurt me, but someone who could not love me in the right way.” ~ R. YS Perez
Maybe my desire to understand the source of chemistry is my way of distancing myself from it?
My way of intellectualizing something that is born in the stars, the spirit, the body, or the mind. Maybe…by trying to understand where chemistry comes from, I am trying to control it, to take its power away; I’m trying to discover if the chemistry is something I can trust when I should learn to trust myself again. It’s hard to trust your own instincts after you have made mistakes. Mistakes that lead you down dark roads paved with pain and regret.
If you have made mistakes in your past, like I have, letting people into your heart, life, and bed, who betrayed your trust—remember that the most important trust you will give is to yourself.
Do the inner work to trust yourself again. Trust that you have learned and grown through your mistakes. Trust the path you are on is yours alone, and you can’t compare it to the paths others walk. Trust that you can make good choices. Trust in your roots and your wings. Trust in your strength.
“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to be.” ~ C.G. Jung