Let's focus for a moment today on the trap, the falsehood, the illusion that is chemistry.
How many times have you consoled a friend after (or even before) an inevitable breakup with some callous loser where she has cried into your shoulder declarations of "But I don't think I'll ever feel this way about anybody else ever again!" Or maybe you've been said friend. Either way it's a common scenario. Even though your relationship has turned so stressful as to be a total pain in the ass to be in, you're worried that the chemistry you feel with your partner is precious, irreplicable, a miraculous strike of lightning that couldn't possibly hit you twice.
Well, you're wrong. Chemistry is actually pretty easy to achieve, because mother nature is doing most of the work for you. You are biologically programmed to feel the attachment that you feel to your mate, because mother nature wants you to stick with him long enough for you to do your part in furthering the species.
Have I mentioned this before? I'm sure I have, but it's important, so I'll say it again. Mother nature doesn't give a shit about whether you're happy. She basically wants to pair you up with a guy whose pheromones are compatible with yours (that means that the two of you each have different genetic strengths and weaknesses so that your offspring will have the greatest chance of being physically healthy), and she doesn't care whether that guy is a jerk or a sociopath or an alcoholic or a pathological liar or a philandering cad. She cares whether his DNA and yours are a good match for healthy kids.
There are countless reasons why we fall in love with one person and not another. Pheromones have a good deal to do with it (you are attracted to the scents of men with whom you are the most genetically compatible), as do what scientists refer to as "love maps," what my hero Dr. Helen Fisher defines as "a template replete with brain circuitry that determines what arouses you sexually, what drives you to fall in love with one person rather than another." Things like mystery, timing, and your balances of estrogen vs testosterone and serotonin vs dopamine play key roles as well.
But once you find someone whom both you and mother nature deem to be a suitable partner, the attachment that grows from there, I'm afraid to tell you, is incredibly commonplace. Your feelings aren't terribly special. Even though it feels like you are the only person in the world and indeed in all the history of time who has ever even remotely felt this way about another human being... well, that's how everyone feels.
Researcher Dorothy Tennov (author of Love and Limerence) collected hundreds of responses from men and women in love and discovered remarkable similarities about their experiences. Subjects in love recounted viewing everything in their day-to-day lives through the filter of their experience of being in love (what would their loved one think of the book they're reading or the movie they just saw, for example). "Many informants said that, as the obsession grew, they spent from 85 to 100 percent of their days and nights in sustained mental attentiveness, doting on this single individual." For real -- 85 to 100 percent of their entire day spent obsessing over their crush! I thought I was the only one who did this, but apparently I'm not alone.
Your brain chemistry plays a huge role in all of this. When someone comes along with the right pheromones, who fits your love map, where the timing and receptiveness and all the other factors come together to work out just right, your brain has a chemical reaction. It releases this lovely little neurochemical called phenylethylamine (my favorite drug), which is a naturally occuring amphetamine, an upper that causes you to feel energized, giddy, happy, and in love with life in general. Basically your brain puts you on speed.
Then, once you become sexually active with your partner, your brain engages in something called pair-bonding. At the chemical level, during sex your brain releases a neurochemical called oxytocin (or, in guys, vasopressin) which is responsible for the bang-crazy that happens to you after you have sex with a guy a few times. Researcher Diane Witt puts it this way: "You first meet him and he’s passable. The second time you go out with him, he’s okay. The third time you go out with him, you have sex. And from that point on you can’t imagine what life would be like without him. Since the release of oxytocin can be classically conditioned, after repeatedly having sex with the same partner, just seeing that partner could release more oxytocin, making you want to be with that person all the more, and you bond."
Sound familiar? It is. And it happens to all of us.
Here's the real kicker though: Pretty much none of this science behind why we fall in love and with whom has anything to do with whether we have actual compatible values and lifestyles with the person we're falling for. Lord knows I've fallen for plenty of guys who looked like Edward Scissorhands or Nikki Sixx who smelled amazing to me when they were sweaty but who weren't actually suitable mates for me beyond their appealing pheromones and their consistency with my goth-rock love map.
So let's be clear on one thing. Yes, you will feel this way again about someone else. You're biologically programmed to! Mother nature is going to do all the work for you -- once you find someone basically passable, and then have consistent sex with him, your brain is going to go all haywire and make you feel crazy in love because that is what it is wired to do. Isn't that great? You're already set up for success where falling in love is concerned. Evolution desperately wants you to fall in love. It's got your back. You're good to go.
Where you really have to concentrate here is your vetting process (something I mentioned a few blog entries ago that I'm particularly terrible at). You are responsible for finding a partner with whom you share not chemistry, but actual compatibility.
I like to define compatibility as having similar values and similar lifestyles -- basically, the things that make a relationship work without too much forcing or compromise on anyone's part. For example, for me to feel real compatibility with someone, he has to keep similar hours (matching circadian rhythms are important as falling asleep together is a huge priority for me) meaning he's probably a night owl like me, meaning most doctors and lawyers and bankers and other guys my mom wishes I'd date are automatically crossed out. He also has to have similar life views, which means he's probably a bit of a free spirit, since I'm not the right gal for anyone looking for the mom of their 2.5 kids behind a picket fence, which means he's probably a little lenient where "monogamy" is defined but is steadfast where loyalty is concerned (psst -- loyalty and monogamy, not the same thing!). He has to be responsible with drugs and alcohol, or simply not use them at all, and he has to be if not completely mentally/emotionally stable at least on the path to self-awareness and improvement where that's concerned. And he has to value things like adventure and curiosity and picking things apart, and being creative and openminded and possibly spiritual but not in an organized religion kind of way, and he has to really, really like sex, a lot, and with great frequency and intensity. So it kinda falls naturally that I end up dating a lot of musicians and models and nightlife personalities, because they tend to match me where most of those values and lifestyle components are concerned (except for the responsible use of drugs and alcohol and the desire for emotional stability, which are harder to find in those social circles but not totally impossible). See? Not just because guys with guitars and cameras are hot. I mean, they are, but still.
Your values and your lifestyle are probably different from mine, but the fact remains: It is up to you to find someone who is compatible with you. Because mother nature isn't taking care of that part for you. She doesn't care if you end up with a jerk just so long as that jerk has good genes and is going to help you pop out a baby. Mother nature is kind of a bitch.
While we're on this subject, let's talk about something not to do, shall we? Do not, when you feel a sudden panic set in on your life, or your career, or your youth, or whatever else you feel is being threatened at the moment, decide suddenly to settle down with that person you were just "kind of seeing" because they seemed a decent way to pass the time for a while. Granted, I have more often seen guys do this than girls, but I've been susceptible to it once myself. All of a sudden it begins to look like the carousel is slowing down, the roller coaster's pulling into the station, you're not as big a deal as you thought you were, people seem less interested in you personally and professionally, your big career move turned out to be a flop, and you panic and crave some stability in your life, so you settle down into a relationship with that person you were casually seeing because you know they're a sure bet. Because you crave the spurious feeling of stability that comes with the comfort of being in a relationship. However, the comfort of being in a relationship isn't actually comfortable if you're in a relationship with the wrong person, and when you're in that panicked and vulnerable phase, you are far more likely to gloss over your vetting process and fail to choose someone who is actually compatible with you. As my hero Dr. Helen Fisher writes, "Once an individual becomes receptive, he or she is in danger of falling in love with the next reasonably acceptable person who comes along." And then you have all that sex with them that releases all that oxytocin and vasopressin in your brains, and all of a sudden you're pair-bonded to them. And you're stuck in it. And trying to get out of it makes you feel like you're in a pit of quicksand, because that chemical attachment keeps bringing you back again and again. Sometimes for years. And it's only after you've been away from them for enough time that the chemical haze finally leaves your brain and you think to yourself Oh my god, what was I thinking? How could I have wasted so much time and never seen that person for who he/she really was? And then you feel like an idiot.
So yeah. Don't do that. Please, please, please, for godssake as I bang my head on the keyboard... don't do that.
When it comes to finding a suitable mate, you need to be your own lawyer and lobby for your own best interests. Biology will ensure that you fall for someone and feel that amazing chemistry that you swear each time you will never feel again with anyone else in your life -- but only you can look out for what kind of person is actually right for you and find someone who possesses the compatibility that will make your relationship one that is actually good for you and not a total pain in the ass to be in.