Love, Friendship, Relationships…

True Love and Chemistry: Exploring Myth and Reality

Posted by mopsky on August 30, 2007

True Love and Chemistry: Exploring Myth and Reality
by Toni Coleman, LCSW

When you think about the qualities found in a true “soul mate” relationship, what one word comes up most often on the top of your list?

Is it CHEMISTRY? Probably.

Just the mention of this term conjures up powerful feelings and images for anyone who has ever been in or seeking a love relationship. It is often described as a feeling that leaves you breathless, excited and weak in the knees. Palms sweat, the heart races and the body tingles with nervous anticipation.

It is believed by virtually everyone that true love cannot exist without chemistry. Therefore, the conclusion most would-be lovers come to is that if they experience these intense feelings towards someone, they have the basis for an ideal and lasting relationship.

Right? Maybe not. For this definition of chemistry is limited to one’s physical response to another person. It lacks an entire dimension that resides in our values, beliefs, personalities and worldview.

In order to know you have the right connection with a potential (or existing) partner, it’s important to have a basic knowledge of what real chemistry consists of, instead of embracing only the myths that surround it. This can be difficult to do. This intense, physical passion is the stuff that Oscar winning movies and best-selling books are made of. So, take a step back for a minute and see if you recognize yourself in the following.

Sarah is a thirty something, very attractive and successful, professional female. She has been in a relationship for over a year with a man who is unfaithful, disrespectful and incapable (unwilling) to make any commitment to her. Yet, when he makes late night “booty calls”, forgets her birthday, or stands her up repeatedly – she remains available and willing, in spite of her general unhappiness and upset over their “relationship”. Why? “I think I have mistaken great sex for love. I feel this intense chemistry and physical intimacy when we are having sex, even though he offers me nothing else. Over time, it has left me unhappy and feeling badly about myself.”

John is an attractive, intelligent, 30 something male who owns his own successful business. He’s dating a woman that he thinks he is in love with. He has knowledge that she has been out with other men. She cancels dates and is often critical and emotionally distant. She refuses to discuss commitment or taking the relationship to the next level. Yet, she turns to John for emotional, physical and financial help whenever she feels she needs it. Why does John continue to see her? “She’s beautiful and the sex is great”. We have such strong physical chemistry. It’s almost like an addiction for me. My friends can’t stand her and even I know she’s not really a “keeper”, but it’s hard to walk away.

These vignettes are great examples of how physical chemistry can be mistaken for the real thing. The attraction on one level is strong, yet these are not relationships that have the right elements to grow into happy and satisfying partnerships.

So, what is missing?

Kahlil Gibran defines it as “spiritual affinity”. It’s the hidden element of chemistry. It’s when two beings meet and connect on a deeper level. It can only be felt in the heart and soul. It’s about friendship, respect, humor and the feelings of warmth and contentment that come when you are in his/her presence.

People often report finding one without the other. This is understandably a cause of great frustration and confusion about whom should we choose and why. In order to understand this better, it is helpful to know how and when each facet of chemistry occurs.

Physical attraction (or lust) generally begins during our first contact with someone. It can DEVELOP into something more over time, yet some pull is there from the beginning. The chemical that results from this attraction (and intensifies it) is phenyl ethylamine – or PEA. It is a naturally occurring substance in the brain. Essentially, it is a natural amphetamine. It stimulates us and increases both physical and emotional energy. The attraction causes us to produce more PEA, which results in those dizzying feelings associated with romantic love. Another substance that is released by PEA is dopamine. This chemical increases a desire to be physically close and intimately connected.

When these chemicals are being secreted in larger doses, they send signals from the brain to the other organs of the body. If you wonder why you or someone is attracted to the “wrong” person, it may be because you are high on the physical response to these substances, which overwhelm your ability to use your head and exercise “good judgment and common sense”.

“Spiritual affinity” develops over time and repeated contact. When these feelings begin to emerge, the brain produces endorphins. These are more like morphine and result in an increased sense of calm that reduces anxiety and helps to build attachment. As relationships move into this phase they are characterized by more comfort, commitment and friendship.

Generally speaking, all “soul mate relationships” require at least some measure of each of these. The important thing to remember is that they come in stages, which is not to say that the physical attraction passes as one moves into a deeper connection. However, it changes. We cannot sustain those intense emotions as we travel down the road to commitment and a shared life. However, in healthy relationships those moments of intensity can and do occur for brief intervals at intermittent times.

Remember not to confuse great sex or deep friendship with romantic love. Instead, look for a measure of both of these in your feelings for another. For then you have the ingredients that lasting love is made from.


Q. I am an attractive, professional and intelligent female. I see myself as someone who has good common sense and judgment. Yet, I have gotten myself into a relationship (of sorts) that is making me miserable. I have been seeing a guy for over a year. We have a fantastic sex life. We really connect and are in tune with each other this way. We also have fun together and seem to relate well on a number of levels. The problem? I have found out that he has been with two other women since we have been going out. I was under the impression that we are a couple and was shocked by this information, which came through a friend.

What do I do? I really like this guy and even have feelings of love. I know he cares about me, but has not wanted to discuss the issue, which has led us to an impasse. I don’t understand why he feels the need to be with other women. I feel like a fool for not just dropping him and moving on. Any help with this would be appreciated.

A. His refusal to discuss it is a bad sign. I think you know this only too well. It appears that your impressions of how well you get along and relate to each other are accurate, at least on a certain level. You are very attracted to one another, etc. So, what’s the problem? HIM.

There could be a number of possibilities that have to do with not only who he is, but also to his past experiences and views of commitment, etc. But the only issue that you need to focus on is his (apparent) inability to remain monogamous- at least with you. This is only a hunch, but there’s a strong possibility here that he is one of those individuals who crave the feelings that come with the early and more physically exciting stage of attraction. This early time in a relationship brings that rush of adrenaline that causes the heart to race and produces a feeling of being “high”.

Some people cheat on loving partners- whom they sometimes care deeply for- because of their addiction to those intense feelings. This is how some “good” marriages come apart or why some people report a lack of control over a behavior that they know is destructive to them and to those they love.

Regardless of why he does this- unless he sees this as a real problem that he wants to change- you have no control over his behavior. Therefore, you need to focus on your own physical and emotional well-being. Continuing an intimate relationship with him could be dangerous to your health and your self-esteem. I recommend that you take a break and give yourself some time. When you are ready to date someone new, you will know it. Until then, you can spend some time thinking about what you desire and need from a relationship and what you must have and won’t tolerate from a future partner.


This issue was written to help you to have a clearer understanding of what REAL relationship chemistry is. When you have a good understanding of how you choose potential partners, it should help you to evaluate your choices better and make the right one for you. It is also helpful in understanding any problem you may be having in a present relationship.

About the Author
Toni Coleman LCSW is a psychotherapist and relationship coach who specializes in working with singles wanting intimate lasting
More by Toni Coleman, LCSW

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