Is It Chemistry, Or Is It Love?

healthy relationships self-awareness self-learning Apr 25, 2021
couple holding hands, attracted to one another, looking into each other's eyes


You know that feeling you get when you meet someone with whom, for one reason or another, you just have undeniable chemistry? It can be exciting, almost riveting. If you’re single, you might start imagining what can happen (Is a date in the future? A few dates? A relationship?) and if you’re coupled, you might get a bit worried (What does my chemistry with this other person mean about my relationship with the person I’m with?)


Imagining a future with this person with whom you have strong chemistry if you’re single, and wondering what it all means about your relationship with your partner if you’re partnered are both absolutely normal responses. And it begs the question, what is chemistry? Where does it come from? And what’s it got to do with love?



Let’s get into it.


What is Chemistry & Where Does It Come From



We can think of chemistry as that sense of being incredibly attracted and pulled to another person. Our genes want us to reproduce and they are grabbing for this one person around whom we more likely than not have a fluttering stomach, blushing cheeks, and a racing heart beat. And it’s all because the experience of chemistry comes with a physiological cocktail of cortisol, epinephrine, and dopamine. But that’s not it– whether we like it or not, chemistry also commonly comes with preoccupying thoughts, strong emotions, and powerful infatuation. You can thank the accompanying low levels of serotonin in that physiological cocktail for that.


The thing about not enough serotonin... It makes all of your critical thinking skills go on vacation. Bye-bye. No critical thinking here. So, when someone comes around that mesmerizes you, you are pulled towards them like a rubber band, unable to see their bad traits. And it’s not necessarily because they’re the Prince Charming or Princess Pretty you’ve been waiting for your entire life!

The thing about not enough serotonin? It makes all of your critical thinking skills go on vacation. Bye-bye. No critical thinking here.

Strong emotional reactions like those that come when we feel mesmerized by someone’s presence, scientists say, come thanks to our brain’s ability to store unpleasant memories of problems past. Because our brain stores and values unpleasant memories to protect us, these memories are more easily activated.


So when you feel that pull (you know which one I’m talking about), it’s likely because the person you’re feeling pulled to is reminding you of something familiar from childhood. Because they’re familiar– for example, they’ve got a personality or vibe similar to mom or dad– you are automatically drawn to them, even if mom or dad weren’t so great to be around. Our unconscious mind notices this familiarity and thinks it might be a great way to help us recreate past patterns and heal and overcome them this time around. Pretty noble, huh? The familiarity grabs us and we often mistake it for the sense that “Whoa, this person is my perfect match!” or “ I’ve finally met ‘the one’!”


If the people you spent your time around in childhood represent the kind of person (in terms of personality, values, and responses to conflict) that you really want in a romantic partner, then that person would be a match. But more often than not, that’s not at all what we’re looking for (it’s the rare lucky person that consciously says, “I want to marry someone like my mom/dad”) and the person we notice incredible chemistry with ends up being quite the opposite of a great match. In fact, most people would say that the last thing they want is someone who resembles their mother, father, or primary caregiver, yet there they are, mesmerized by someone who is similar to these very people in some way– all thanks again to that physiological cocktail of greater cortisol, epinephrine, and dopamine and all too low levels of serotonin.


What is Love & Where Does Love Come From


Love… it’s more than simply a chemical reaction. It’s a bond that people have the opportunity to develop consciously and conscientiously over time. Shared interests, a deeply rooted friendship, respect, kindness, compassion, and communication are all things that characterize love that lasts. This kind of love comes from intention, desire, and conscious effort. To build a connection that’s based on mutual understanding and appreciation as opposed to pushes and pulls is like a construction project. You might create the plan in a number of weeks, but the building of it takes years.

Love is like a successful construction project. You might create the plan in a number of weeks, but the building of it takes years.

What Does Chemistry Have To Do With Love?


So when you ask what chemistry has to do with love, I say “absolutely nothing”. The literal chemistry that leads us to feel pulled to someone might mean a fantastic physical relationship with just the right amount of sexual tension but in many cases, it couldn’t be farther from what we need if a healthy, loving relationship is what we want. Sure, we need some passion and romance, but when it comes to choosing a long-term or lifelong partner, the person whose familiarity reminds us of our past often couldn’t be further from an ideal match.


You see, if you get into a long-term relationship with this person, the chemistry might blind you from noticing that they’re just as unpleasant to be around, or just as controlling, just as unavailable, or just as [fill in the blank] as mom or dad were (these are just examples), and you will relate to them with the same (often dysfunctional) patterns as you learned in relating to mom or dad as a kid. Our partner will be doing the same; after all, they were unconsciously drawn to us for reasons similar to why we were drawn to them. Take two people who were chemically attracted to each other who each have dysfunctional patterns of relating (e.g., poor communication, disrespect, poor boundaries, lack of cooperation) and you’ve got a recipe for disaster! I don’t blame you and you shouldn’t blame yourself, either. Your critical thinking faculties were on vacation, remember?


Why Strong Chemistry ⧣ Love


As the typical relationship progresses and two people get to know each other better, these chemicals change and therefore the chemistry between them changes. And, all of a sudden, you think “the love has faded”. Well, the love hasn’t faded but the initial chemistry, lust, and attraction has. And those two are not the same thing. So now it all comes down to what’s left. What’s left now that the lust and attraction are gone?


In our world, we often mistake strong chemistry for love and we build lives with others according to strong chemistry while disregarding the building blocks of love. And chemistry without the building blocks of love is just chemistry. And if this is the case, what’s left in the relationship or marriage when the chemistry is gone?




So what should you do if you want to find love? What should you do if you want to build more of it in the relationship you’re in? Join us in The Happiness Hub to continue this provocative conversation! We are talking all about love and chemistry and what it means for you, whether you are single or partnered! Not to mention live segments with me, Dr. Sophia, on enhancing your confidence, happiness, and ability to manage thoughts, emotions, and relationships every single week! I will see you there!


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