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Dating Maze #353: Intense Chemistry

February 23, 2012 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

Does my strong attraction mean we’re not building a deeper connection?

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I'd ask my friends this question, but I'm afraid they'd tell me I'm nuts for even thinking this is a problem. I've been dating seriously for about 5 years, and for the first time I find myself incredibly attracted to the woman I'm going out with. I've dated a number of women who were pretty and pleasant to be with, but this is different. I'm so drawn to this woman that I can't even think straight when we're together.

I always imagined it would be great to feel this way about someone, but now that it's happening I'm worried about the intensity of my feelings. I'm afraid that if I fall into a relationship just because the chemistry is so strong, I'll be tempted to skip all the other steps that we need to have the right "building blocks" for marriage.

The two of us come from similar backgrounds and are on the same page in terms of world outlook. We've only been on four dates so far, and I see that the fun we have being together is standing in the way of us connecting on a deeper level. What can I do to help this along? And how should I proceed in this courtship without letting the chemistry overwhelm me?


Dear Max,

We understand why you're concerned about how your friends would react to your "dilemma." Many of them probably wish they could feel as you do about someone they're dating! That hope is fueled by our culture, which idealizes the concept of instantaneous, magnetic chemistry in order to make movies and novels more entertaining. That creates two myths that many of us have come to believe: 1) feeling this way when we meet someone is the ideal to strive for, and 2) this magnetic chemistry is the most important aspect of any relationship.

Unquestionably, it is important for a couple to be physically attracted to each other. However, healthy physical attraction is not usually as intense as what you're describing. Some daters can feel attracted because they like the other person's looks and feel comfortable with the idea of a physical relationship, while others feel a slightly stronger drive. There's nothing wrong with your more intense feelings about this woman, but it is rare and isn't something most daters should expect to feel.

[For many people, physical attraction starts to take root after two or three dates, particularly if the person they're going out with has a different "look" than the one they may have imagined. Those who are disappointed that they don't feel an instant attraction on the first date may prematurely conclude that the other person is not right for them. Our advice is that if you’re at least “neutral” about the other's looks, then get to know the other person better over the course of another few dates.]

You are very astute to have realized that there's a downside to being extremely attracted to the one you're dating. A person can get so caught up in the attraction that they don't feel a need to develop other vital aspects of a good relationship. They fall head over heels, or feel a magnetic physical attraction, and think, "This is it. This is exactly what I've been waiting for."

It may be a great feeling, but it's not a way to determine that you've met The One. For a relationship to endure over time, two people need much more than good chemistry. Psychologist Robert Steinberg proposed that "love" has three components:

  • passion – drives that lead to romance and physical attraction
  • intimacy – feelings of closeness, connectedness, and bonding
  • commitment – a decision to love someone and maintain that love

Steinberg maintained that absolute, or "consummate" love, can only exist when all three components are present. Someone who feels passion, yet hasn't developed emotional intimacy or made a commitment, is simply infatuated.

Shared values are the glue that binds them together.

You are wise to realize that in order to achieve your goal of marrying the right person, you need more than infatuation. Since this is the first time you've had such strong feelings, you may not know that in time, those intense feelings will fade. It may take a few months, or even a year or two, but they will inevitably lessen in intensity. When a couple has worked to develop the other important ingredients of a relationship, they won't miss those more intense feelings, because attraction necessarily takes a lesser role in the context of their relationship. Their emotional bond, history together, and shared values and goals become major components of the glue that binds them together.

When passion fades, a couple who only related to each other on the basis of chemistry eventually realizes that there's little to hold their relationship together, and in time the relationship falls apart.

Better Dating Strategy

You've asked how you can look past your attraction and try to build a deeper connection with the woman you're dating. Our first recommendation is to limit your dates to twice a week, and to not "date" over the telephone. This will give you enough time to process your experiences and keep you from rushing into the relationship too quickly.

Try to choose different venues each time you go out. It's important to see each other in different contexts. Some of your dates should be interactive – playing a board game or shopping for a gift, for example. Go on at least one long date, six hours or more, to see how you each react when you're tired and have been with each other a long time.

Give each date a purpose. Think about what you'd like to learn about her, and what you'd like to share about yourself, and weave that into your conversation. It's important to discuss what each of you wants out of life over the long term and short term, and how you plan to get there.

You need to date long enough to realize she's “not perfect.”

Give yourself time to get to know each other. Talk about your tastes, opinions and feelings about different aspects of life. Ask each other questions to gain a deeper understanding of the other's character, values and ideas for the present and future. The emotional bond you want to have with your future wife takes time to develop.

Now here’s the kicker: You need to date long enough to realize that she's “not perfect.” Both of you need to realize there are qualities about each other that you may not like. Hopefully, you will be able to accept each other as a whole person who has a lot of amazing qualities, as well as a few that are less than perfect. Once you’ve reached this stage, then you know you’re seeing the other person much more realistically.

And finally, hold off on a physical relationship. Getting involved physically – especially with your strong attraction – is certain to get in the way of your developing many of the important qualities a lasting relationship needs. That's because you may find yourself focusing on the physical aspect of your relationship more than anything else. Particularly when dating for marriage, it's vital to have the clarity to evaluate whether or not the person you're dating is right for you. Getting involved physically can only cloud that vision.

If you follow these recommendations, we believe you'll be able to see beyond your strong physical attraction and discover all of the other qualities about the woman you are dating. Hopefully that will lead to the kind of relationship that brings you success in navigating the dating maze.

Rosie & Sherry


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