Several years ago, I was in a situation that felt meant to be. After abruptly abandoning the online dating account I’d opened in the wake of a breakup, I was invited to dinner with a couple I knew. Little did I know, it was a set-up.
Dinner ended up being at the home of a single, male friend of theirs, someone they thought I would like. I liked him a lot. Still, as he cooked for us, easily making a pan sauce and artfully pouring wine, there was something I couldn’t put my finger on—he seemed familiar.
Later in the evening, it hit me: he was one of the matches I’d had before I’d closed down my account, not feeling quite ready to start dating again. When I logged in to confirm my suspicions, there he was. It seemed that if we didn’t meet online, we were destined to meet somehow.
That night, after dinner, we all went to a poetry reading at a local coffee shop. I was so busy talking with him that I didn’t pay much attention to the poetry. He was smart and interesting and he never broke eye contact. I loved the attention.
That night, before we went our separate ways, he said: “Could I take you on a date?” In a world of ambiguous “Want to hang out sometime?” questions, my go-to response was usually: “You mean like a date?” but this time I just said, “I’d like that.”
We set up a dinner date and our mutual friends were overjoyed. I chose a restaurant I love and drove myself there. I’ll never forget the pep talk I gave myself, sitting in the parking lot before going in. I was nervous. My hands were shaking, and my stomach seemed to be missing. “If you ever want to get married, you have to do things like this, Cara,” I told myself. “It’ll be better once you get inside.”
But it wasn’t.
Although we had a really stimulating conversation, and even laughed a lot, I couldn’t get rid of the tight feeling in my stomach.
That feeling didn’t go away over the course of several more dates—all of them planned by him and just the sorts of things that I wanted to do on dates. It was like he was reading my mind. We went out to eat, to a play I’d been eyeing, and we headed downtown with our cameras for an afternoon of photography. Still, something just didn’t feel right.
I tried to figure it out when we were apart. He was attractive and kind, brilliant and interested in the same things I was. He wanted the same things out of a relationship. On paper, we were absolutely perfect for each other, startlingly so. What could be missing?
I finally confessed my feelings to him over burritos, one afternoon. “We’ve been out quite a few times now and I like you so much,” I said. “But I just can’t relax around you.”
“I know,” he said. “I feel that way, too.”
I was surprised, I’d thought I was the only one, that I just needed to pull it together.
“After our dates, I’m so tired, like I’m trying to make it work,” he said.
We had both been holding on, knowing that we seemed to be such a perfect match—but deep down we knew it wasn’t meant to be.
“Do you want to keep trying?” he asked.
“You know, I think that what we’re missing is either there, or it’s not,” I said.
Many years after that fateful burrito, I know what was missing from our fledgling romance: chemistry.
Although it has many definitions, for me it’s that certain something about another person that makes me want to keep talking to them long after everyone else has left. It’s that feeling that you’ve known each other forever, even if it’s been five minutes. It’s the magnetic quality that some people just have between them.
While this is important in romantic relationships, I think it’s just as crucial in friendships. The friends that stay in my life are usually the ones I’d like to have along on a desert island, or in line at Disneyland. We both think the other person is really cool, and we almost can’t help spending time together. We are at ease in each other’s presence.
In friendship, as well as romance, I’ve tried to will chemistry into being (always unsuccessfully). I’ve learned that I’m just not going to mesh well with everyone, however hard I try.
I still think that relationship from my past was meant to be. Through our conversations and interactions, I learned so much about myself. I learned that I would rather be alone than with someone who wasn’t the right fit—and I learned that if I was feeling something, chances were, the other person was feeling something similar, too.
Now, I’m much less quick to jump into things just because they look good on paper, and I’m willing to give things that don’t seem as promising a try, if chemistry—that elusive ingredient—is undeniable.
Cara Strickland writes about food and drink, mental health, faith and being single from her home in the Pacific Northwest. She enjoys hot tea, good wine, and deep conversations. She will always want to play with your dog. Connect with her on Twitter @anxiouscook or at www.carastrickland.com.