CHEMISTRY DISCUSSION GROUP SYNOPSIS
These are approximate recreations of the discussions in the conversation group, with protections for participants such as anonymity, and the removal of specific, identifying details. The quotes are not actual quotes, but are recollections of mine that reflect the various twists and turns of the conversation.
“I studied chemistry in college,” began someone. “Chemistry is at its most basic definition, a reaction. Any reaction.”
“I like that definition,” continued another. “I liked the topic because there are many kinds of chemistry. You can have a mental vibe with someone, an emotional vibe, or a physical vibe.”
“Or all three,” someone adds, chuckling.
“But it’s not a feeling I trust,” said a woman after a pause. “I don’t think it’s that important to feel it, because once you are in a relationship, it fades. Why do we build relationships on a feeling that won’t last? There’s so much more than just chemistry.”
“I could never start a relationship WITHOUT it. How would it even be possible? You wouldn’t even begin one without it,” says an older woman with short-cropped hair.
“Well,” countered another, “That’s a really Western view. The idea of love is a modern thing, just a hundred years ago people were starting relationships based on what was best for the family, or best for wealth and security.”
“And now we’re all about romance. It’s a new concept, the idea of romance—a 20th century thing. There were no romance novels, no romantic comedies, and no TV shows about love before then. Now every channel has The Bachelor on it. When you think about it, chemistry is a promise of romance.”
“But you feel it regardless. I don’t have to watch a movie to know I have a spark with someone. It would happen anyway, it’s all physical.”
“That’s true. But that’s physical chemistry versus a romantic chemistry, which is physical PLUS emotional.”
“I think romance can develop from nothing,” says a woman who is sitting back, “I’m Malaysian, and my grandparents actually had an arranged marriage, and they always told me you can develop love. They got to know the person they married, and they decided they loved them. They stayed together, too. So I think chemistry doesn’t have to be instant. It can develop slowly, over time, like that.”
“I disagree. If I don’t feel it right when I meet someone, I never do,” said someone in a matter-of-fact tone. “Chemistry and love aren’t the same thing—love can deepen but chemistry is just a spark.”
“I never thought about it before, but I might be thinking of chemistry just in ways I have seen it happen in the movies. I think maybe that we only identify it by what we see on-screen,” someone said, considering her words carefully.
“But there’s pheromones… and those are in people and animals. I think even insects have them, some kind of chemical communication. These things happen whether we want them to or not.”
“Well, what is that feeling like?” I asked the group. “We keep talking about a feeling, but we haven’t decided what our experience of chemistry is actually like. When do you feel it? How do you feel it?”
“It’s eye contact. You know when your eye catches another person’s and it just lingers a little too long.”
“You can feel it in the air. It’s electric, like a buzz. It makes the air between you seem very thick, makes that person feel too far away from you. You want to be closer.”
“Your heart beats fast. You feel excited, exhilarated.”
“Yeah!” agrees another. “Like you’re on a really scary ride and you don’t know what is going to happen next.”
“I think it’s something you feel when somebody touches you. Like, your hair stands up on end, and you feel something else. Something beyond that touch, something extra.”
“It feels like energy goes between you and someone else. You exchange energy. I know that sounds really new age, but it’s mutual. You cannot have one-sided chemistry.”
“I agree. You can usually tell if it’s being given back to you.”
Everyone smiles at this.
“I think you can misinterpret someone’s signals though. You can feel chemistry with them if they don’t feel it. Because you aren’t thinking rationally about it, you are under the influence of chemicals. You can’t control yourself.”
“You can control it, though,” says someone who was quiet to this point. “I am in a long-distance relationship, and I really do feel chemistry with other people I meet, but I don’t act on it.”
“You cut it off? You stop it entirely?” someone asks her, incredulously.
“No. But I can manage it.”
“It seems natural that you would feel chemistry for other people you meet, because it’s about new people, isn’t it? We don’t feel all fluttery and excitable about people we have always known. It’s the element of newness that makes it interesting.”
“That’s true. Because in relationships, chemistry doesn’t last… when we’re first falling in love, we’re crazy—we are just mad and we can’t live like that for the rest of our lives. It’s natural for chemistry to fade.”
“I wonder if you could re-ignite chemistry in an old relationship if a big change happened, and suddenly one spouse got into… punk rock or something. If the other spouse suddenly realized they were into punk rock too, it could be really exciting and create a spark again, because they would be seeing each other in a new light.”
“Or they could hate punk rock,” quipped someone else, and the group laughed.
“It’s not just about interest in something new. I believe chemistry can be invested in. You can work at it. You can choose to see that person as the person you fell in love with, even if the relationship is stale. You just make the choice to flatter them like you used to, buy them gifts like you would if you were first dating. And that kicks things up, and can re-create chemistry. I’m a life coach, and I have recommended just that to some of my clients.”
“I don’t know…. Did it really work?” asks another. “I feel like it can’t come back, at least, not in the same way—or with as much intensity.”
Everyone considered this for a moment.
“I know my best friendships have an element of chemistry,” added a young woman. “I know we have only spoken about relationships but I love that mental and emotional chemistry that I have with my best friend. He’s a guy, but it never has become a physical thing because we don’t relate that way—no physical chemistry.”
“Right. I feel more animated around my closest friends,” said a middle-aged woman. “We talk so fast it’s like the words are shooting back and forth to the point where other people can’t even understand us. We just pick up on each other’s vibe and we practically talk over one another—the energy is something everyone can feel, not just us. It probably drives other people crazy.”
“Is chemistry something others outside of the exchange can perceive?” I ask the group.
“Sure, you can tell when people have that thing between them, that spark. Of course, it’s easier when it’s physical chemistry because people generally can’t stop touching each other. And that’s generally gross, if it’s not you involved.”
The room chuckles.
“I think it’s pretty uncommon for me to have physical chemistry with people. The mental and emotional kinds are so much more common. I look at thousands of people a day and never see any I find physical chemistry with. Some of them are attractive, even, so chemistry isn’t about attractiveness. It’s something else.”
“It’s rare, in general, chemistry. When you think about it, we see so many people every day like co-workers or acquaintances, and we don’t feel anything for most of them. Chemistry, any kind, it keeps things interesting. It is what keeps us open to new people—imagine if you could never feel chemistry when you met people, and you never got that exchange. What then? Life would be boring.”
“After this conversation, I know I’d never want to be without chemistry. I think I’m getting that it’s important to how we relate. It’s how we know who our people are. Who our most important relationships will be.”
“Without chemistry, we might not be able to connect with other people at all.”
“It just comes from having your antennae up. You have to be attuned to others, and out of your own head, or you might even miss what’s there. Chemistry starts with you, you have to have a genuine interest in people to feel it.”
“I like your analogy on antennae,” agrees another person in a quiet tone. “I guess we are always sending and receiving signals. It’s like we are out there sending little beacons out and seeing if people respond. It’s funny to think of it that way, like radio waves.”
“I think your ability to feel chemistry can be altered. Like when you have a few beers, or when you run a marathon—it all impacts your body’s chemistry, and that impacts your openness to others. Whether lowering your inhibitions or adding a bunch of adrenaline, in either situation you’re going to be more open to feeling chemistry with others.”
“It’s all alchemy, isn’t it? Real chemistry is happening in our bodies, and in our brains. And they are learning more about the brain all the time. And how easily influenced it is.”
“Well, when you go down that road, it feels a little depressing,” someone added. “Like maybe we aren’t being as intentional about the people we bring into our lives, and it’s all just random. Down to what kind of mood we are in when we see someone, instead of having to do with that person.”
“Even though it’s probably true that chemistry is situational. If you aren’t in the right place for it, you might not experience it—like if you aren’t single, you might not even be able to feel chemistry because you’re not looking for it. Or if you are happy with the friends you have, you might dismiss a chemistry you have with someone new you meet, just because of circumstances.”
“I know we’ve been talking about chemistry like it’s positive, but it can go wrong sometimes. It can steer you down a path you shouldn’t take.”
The room goes quiet.
“It’s like… ‘negistry’.”
“Yeah. Negistry: when it feels good to connect but you’re actually betraying your values, or your sense of what is right. Chemistry might cause you to do something ethically wrong, or want to do something ethically wrong.”
“Like anything, it’s all about what you do with it, if it’s positive or negative,” offers someone else.
“Yes. Chemistry is just the indicator—it’s the marker. Everything that happens after that is up to you.”
“Something to consider further,” I say, then close the conversation as the allotted time has come to a close.