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How long should I wait for chemistry?

Dear Dr. Warren,

I recently went out with an eHarmony match. He was a nice guy and we had a pleasant time. I’m sure lots of women would be pretty happy with him. He is tall enough for me. He has a good job, and objectively he is even handsome. We talked and laughed and he seems like a good, kind soul. I could go on and on listing his great traits, but I never felt a sense of chemistry. We had a simple kiss at the end of the night and I thought maybe that would jump-start the fireworks. No. It was a pleasant kiss that left me very confused.This man obviously likes me, and has called for a second date. I don’t know what to do. During our first evening together, I didn’t feel any chemistry with him, but will that come later? We’re compatible. We laughed together. Should the fact that I don’t feel a strong sexual pull toward him on the first date mean anything?

–Mandy – Tulsa, OK

Your wonderful letter has gotten right to the heart of a common problem. Many eHarmony members have expressed the same question about chemistry, and I have some strong ideas for you to consider. I’m a big proponent of physical chemistry in a relationship. I think couples who don’t share strong chemistry may have additional problems during the ups and downs of a life together. After 35 years of counseling couples, it has become clear to me that a strong physical bond helps two people want to fight through the problems between them. It gives the relationship passion and drive in a way nothing else can.

Often chemistry is instantaneous. A particular person may not act on it immediately, but he or she feels the attraction within. This is so common that people have come to believe that chemistry is either there or it isn’t, and that you know within seconds. My professional experience tells me that this isn’t always true. I have talked with many couples – many successful eHarmony couples – who had to nurture their chemistry a bit. In some cases I’ve been told, “He isn’t my usual type, and it took a couple of dates before I really felt comfortable with him.” These are couples who have been married five, six or seven years and enjoy strong chemistry now, but it didn’t present itself at the first date. As you know, a first date can be a high-pressure situation. People may be nervous or act in an awkward manner. This can significantly alter the energy that flows between them. Sometimes one of you has travelled a significant distance in order to meet. This can also add to the sense of pressure and awkwardness.

Here’s my best advice for you given this situation:

1. Promise yourself never to go forward with a relationship unless you share strong chemistry.

The passion is going to have to carry you forward for years and years. This means that you need to feel it AND your partner needs to feel it before you start to build an ongoing relationship. If you’ve been on several dates with someone and you don’t feel that he or she shares a sense of physical chemistry with you, you need to address the issue.

2. Be prepared to give it some time – a short amount of time.

As I mentioned, for various reasons you may not feel passionately the first time you see each other. That’s okay. But if by the second or third date you don’t feel a strong inclination to kiss the other person, be near him, or hold his hand, you’re probably never going to feel it. I’ve seen couples who didn’t have immediate chemistry build it over time, but you don’t want to go too far into a relationship on the hope that you can create chemistry where none currently exists.

3. Don’t mistake “attractiveness” for chemistry.

As you point out in your letter, Mandy, chemistry is different from attractiveness. You’re able to objectively determine that this man is handsome, yet you don’t feel a strong physical pull toward him. This is one of the reasons that photos are often misleading when it comes to chemistry. The perfect person isn’t perfect for you if you don’t feel a deep sense of chemistry with him. The fact that you share great conversation and he has a good job, looks nice and is funny will likely not overcome the negative effects of low passion on your relationship through the years.