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*Editor’s note: This article is an excerpt from Amy’s upcoming book, Dating Empowered: a personal growth guidebook for dating… and life! You can find it here. This article also follows Part I on understanding romantic chemistry.
In the first part of this article, I proposed using the metaphor of scientific chemistry to understand romantic chemistry.
Just like molecules, people bond matter-of-factly not subjectively. They either bond strongly, weakly, or not at all.
Dating can be very emotionally taxing for us sensitive people if we don’t have some good self-care skills. Seeing romantic chemistry as scientific can give us more detachment around the whole experience of dating. In true romantic chemistry, there is always a mutual, strong, matter-of-fact bond that can’t be faked or forced.
There is no such thing as one-sided chemistry when it comes to true chemistry.
This can be a pretty major consolation prize in some true chemistry circumstances. Knowing that the chemistry is real is affirming: it lets us rest into ourselves and trust our attractions and our natures. Whatever we are truly attracted to, on a body and soul level, is also attracted to us. This is beautiful to realize.
Let’s explore what is going on in cases of unrequited attraction. Whenever we feel an attraction, one of two things is happening. Either there is true chemistry, or we are projecting.
Situation #1: True Romantic Chemistry
Sometimes, attraction is a true chemistry situation. The bond is mutual and equal on both sides. Given the right environment (without lots of other competing molecules around), we would bond with this person. Yay!
However, several environmental and psychological components must comply. Because we are human and not just free-roaming molecules, many factors affect our choices and perceptions regarding true, romantic chemistry. People often build walls—consciously or subconsciously—based on both circumstances and beliefs, regardless of chemistry.
Often, there is a potential for true romantic chemistry, but the connection doesn’t develop. For example, if we feel strong chemistry with someone who is in a committed monogamous relationship, they will likely choose to not entertain or engage the chemistry. I call this “blocking” chemistry.
Even with strong compatibility, issues like distance, marital status, finances, and children are common reasons for one person to create a block or set a boundary. Every person has the right to not act on, or even validate, chemistry.
Some people block others based on identities: they may only be open to connecting with certain “types” like tall, blonde women, trans/gender diverse folks, muscular bodies, big breasts…or not attracted to certain types including entire genders, ethnicities, weights, looks, or heights. The presence of chemistry doesn’t mean that a romantic relationship will happen; many variables affect our choices.
But that doesn’t mean the chemistry isn’t there!
I hope that by knowing this, when you sense true chemistry, you will be relieved by the scientific perspective of romantic chemistry: if it’s true, it’s mutual.
There is no reason for anyone to descend into a pit of rejection. We so easily default to negative self-esteem, but perhaps the other’s choice is the greatest gift we could receive. We can choose to trust the rightness of it; they are freeing us to connect with others who are way more compatible.
It might also help to think that people don’t reject people; they reject situations that aren’t working for them, attempting to make the best choices for themselves. They cannot affect true chemistry through will or choice. Chemistry is there or it isn’t. They might choose someone else over us, but it should never touch our self-esteem. Their choice has nothing to do with our attractiveness, value, or self-worth and should never create insecurity.
One of my favorite lines is, “You can’t force a relationship that isn’t meant to happen, and you can’t stop a relationship from happening if it is meant to.”
People suffer unnecessary fear, nervousness, and anxiety based on the false belief that chemistry can be one-sided. But from the “chemistry is chemistry” perspective, if there is a true attraction to someone, instead of thinking “I am attracted to them,” you can instead realize, “They are attracted to me!”
Things went way better for me, internally and practically, with this “Chemistry is Chemistry” foundation. It gave me a sense of ease and confidence when the time came to share my perception of the chemistry. By knowing I was always naming the truth, my inclination toward caretaking dissolved. There was a newfound sense of equanimity, and far fewer feelings got hurt.
We can all celebrate our innate beautiful—yes, attractive—natures! Ungrounded beliefs about ourselves, like feeling we aren’t sexy, are completely false and unnecessary. We are each simply certain kinds of molecules…and molecules are sexy. To the right others, they undeniably are. And those right others, amazingly and wonderfully, are the exact ones we are truly attracted to. Thank you, nature!
The next time you feel an attraction to someone, check it.
How do you know there is chemistry? True chemistry produces an altered physical state that can be experienced in the whole body.
Or, is the connection mostly in your head?
Is it dominated by thoughts, stories, or memories of connections from your past?
Does this person remind you of someone else, an old unresolved or unrequited experience?
If so, you may be projecting.
Situation #2: Projection
When we project hopes and fantasies onto a person, our perception of chemistry gets distorted. We are not present to the actual connection, but are instead in our heads, trying and hoping to make something happen. In this state, we are altered—in our minds—and not able to sense the truth.
It is difficult, frustrating, and usually unsatisfying to try to make a relationship happen when there isn’t sufficient, true chemistry. If a connection isn’t flowing in the way you wish it would, check to see if your experience is more fantasy than true romantic chemistry. Is your mind more active than your body in the attraction? Are you going into the future or the past, imagining how it might be, or longing for what should have been?
Be careful. This is the realm of fantasy. Chemistry happens in the body, in the present moment.
Fantasy/Projection is psychological in nature, often related to past experiences, societal imprints, and our core erotic theme.
Core Erotic Theme
Most of us have an attraction kryptonite, a sexual myth that originates from an early, formative experience around sexuality or attraction. Jack Morin calls this our core erotic theme: something grabs us, and we are forever sensitized to it. When a friend of mine was a child, he saw a woman bend over, and her blue bra showed. It gave him his first tickle of sexuality. From then on, blue bras always triggered an entire inner, fantasy world.
For me, it’s baseball hats: I had an unrequited attraction to a boy in junior high who wore baseball hats, and to this day, I almost always do a double-take when I see one. It reliably twists something in my heart.
It is good to study your own core erotic theme. What is your “type”? When did it originate? Is there pain connected to the thing you keep going for? Did you get hurt and feel less-than or rejected?
Park your core erotic theme in your fantasy toolbox, but be aware of your vulnerability when it comes to seeking love and compatibility. True chemistry is full-body, full-system. It’s real.
If you are wondering, check your body. True romantic chemistry, in the absence of psychological fears, elicits a full-body response of relaxation and/or excitation. Every cell engages; we feel integrated and whole in our response. Psychological attractions get triggered when someone represents the thing we are attracted to. We often get a sharp, somatic response in a specific area of the body, or instant nervousness and fear.
The mind and the body get entwined in a panic: a fight, flight, or freeze trauma response. Tightness, constrictions in the body, and the emotion of anxiety are all signs that you are probably in projection more than true chemistry. Try to settle into your body and feel into what’s underneath. If it’s true, it’s mutual, so you can relax!
Magic happens when the nature of the bonds between people are mutually recognized and named. Even with “acquaintance” dates, speaking the truth puts a sparkle into the air. And, if you’ve ever been in love, you probably remember the unique experience of undeniable, mutual chemistry.
You don’t have to make it happen. You can’t. It just is.
Ultimately, because we can’t force a relationship to happen if it isn’t meant to happen, and we can’t stop a relationship from happening if it is meant to be, we could all relax a little and let science—and life—dance through us. Learning to speak in terms of matter-of-fact chemistry, rather than preference, eases everyone’s discomfort in dating.