Relationship Chemistry: Can Science Explain Instant Connections?
Why friends and romantic partners click.
Posted Aug 21, 2011
Why do we foster instant connections with some people? I initially became interested in this topic because my friends were so eclectic. In each case, I had formed a relatively quick connection with a person, despite our sometimes disparate ages, cultural backgrounds, and lifestyles. It made me curious as to what caused our close and easy bonds.
I began asking people in my network about chemistry. The first person I asked was my hairdresser. I said, "I want to study chemistry, which is the natural connection between two people. Do you know what I mean?" Her response, "Oh sure, you just have it with some people. Like the other day, I had it with this kid who came into the salon." Later, I was in the car with my friend and asked, "What causes chemistry?" He thought about it and said, "My friends and I share a sense of humor. We're also pretty good looking guys. I'd say those are the commonalities." Over dinner, another friend and I had a long discussion about it. We tended to think chemistry occurred most often between people who are down-to-earth and sincere. If a person is comfortable with themselves, they are better able to express their true self to the world, which makes it easier to get to know them. Understanding oneself would also make a person more tolerant and accepting of other people, even if perspectives on important matters differed.
Another relevant variable is the degree to which we disclose information about ourselves. The theory of social penetration describes that at the beginning of a relationship, individuals tend to discuss a wide array of topics. If this initial discussion is rewarding, they begin to disclose more personal information. Although disclosures are good for relationship development, revealing too much too soon is not the best strategy. Even in long-lasting marriages, partners tend to balance self-disclosure with some degree of secrecy. It is perhaps this element of secrecy or mystery that maintains the excitement within friendships and romantic relationships.
So are some people more prone to experiencing chemistry? I originally suspected that extroverted people would encounter chemistry most often. Extroverts tend to thrive on positive interactions and seek out such exchanges. They are additionally at ease in social situations, which makes other people comfortable in their presence. Surprisingly, my prediction was not supported by the research. Instead, I found that people were more likely to experience friendship chemistry if their personalities were open (e.g., adventurous, imaginative, and emotionally in-tune), conscientious (e.g., competent, disciplined, hard-working), and agreeable (e.g., friendly, cooperative, and considerate). Openness and conscientiousness were key determinants of romantic chemistry as well, but agreeableness was less important.
In the end, my journey to understand chemistry afforded many answers. But even after the personal reflections, discussions with friends, and research studies, I still question whether chemistry involves something that cannot be explained by science. Part of me thinks so. Maybe it is caused by a spiritual connection, remembering the future, or destiny, I don't know. I do know that when I first meet someone and experience that feeling, it puts me into the flow of life. I am rejuvenated and eager to learn more. Whatever causes that experience, I hope it continues because in getting to know others, I have been able to discover new parts of myself.