Worshiping at the
Golden Calf of Chemistry


Larry Barnhart
January 2000

Each age has its popular myths. While our age resorts to many euphemisms and myths to hide unsavory realities, this article will only address one such myth.

Before Intimacy, Let's Be Friends First

In discussion groups we often hear, especially from the women, "Before I get into another relationship, we have to be friends first." That is a wonderful theory, but I have been doing some research and have discovered that if that ideal does happen, it happens very rarely.

After reviewing my own experience, I have found that it is easier to convert lovers into friends than it is to convert friends into lovers. In fact, although I have had dozens of female friends over the course of my life, not one has ever evolved into a romantic partnership.

Once I stumbled onto this realization, I started checking in with friends regarding their experience. One friend thought he had found an exception because one of his lovers went to being a friend and then back to a lover again. Upon reviewing the sequence, he had not found an exception after all.

Of course, one could simply point to our times. People get into relationships quickly, and once the excitement dies, they exit out the other side, all-the-while bypassing the marriage process. However, bypassing marriage is what's new, not hasty chemistry-based unions.

For some time now, having strong chemistry with a romantic partner has been the primary consideration in choosing a relationship. Consider this quote: "When two people are under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive, and most transient of passions, . . . they are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, and exhausting condition continuously until death do them part."1 This quote was made by George Bernard Shaw who lived and wrote in the late 1800s.

While I was enjoying a nice brunch last Christmas eve, an older woman told her story of attraction and marriage: "When I first saw him I told my friend that I was going to marry him. We got married 3 weeks later. I got the wedding ring and his fiancee kept the engagement ring. Our parents said it wouldn't last, but we were married for 53 years when he died."

In those days there wasn't the tolerance for sex outside of marriage that there is today. However, that doesn't mean they dated longer or took more time to know each other -- they just married more quickly. And in spite of the extra pressure by society for people to stay married, the myth of long-lasting marriages is brought into question "by a flatfooted statistic from the Bureau of Census abstract: "The median duration of marriage before divorce has been about seven years for the last half century. "The computer had caught up at last with folk lore."2

Chemistry was king back then and it is still king today. The defining feature that separates a romantic relationship from all other relationships is the prospect of exciting sex and other fantasies that bring on adrenaline rushes and hyperventilation. The only creator of excitement that compares might be the prospect of winning the lotto.

Consequently, the devil's bargain is that if I take time to get to know a woman as a friend, I will automatically be disqualified as a lover. There are several good reasons why this might be so. First, we have a chance to add up the costs without the benefits of romance to make paying those costs more feasible. Second, once a man becomes a friend, becoming a lover can be thought of as a form of incest. (In general, men are more willing to cross the barrier from friends to lovers. Of course, the man who is willing to be a "friend" is going to be less attractive simply because he is a "nice guy," but that's another story.)

In any case, if something does not happen quickly, it is unlikely to happen at all. Either the connection will be broken completely, or a friendship will ensue. (Which is not a bad thing -- it is only the expectation that it should be otherwise that can cause problems.)

What Is Chemistry?

Generally, chemistry is thought of as a strictly physical phenomenon. Were that true, many people of modest physical endowments would be disqualified to engage in the "breeding process." One of my favorite cynical philosophers put it this way: ". . . if one of those three-brained beings 'loves' somebody or other, then he loves him because the latter always encourages and undeservingly flatters him; or because his nose is much like the nose of that male or female, with whom thanks to the cosmic law of 'polarity' or 'type' a relation has been established which has not yet been broken;. . . ."3

When I was younger I tended to take a woman's rejection or acceptance personally. Since then, I have learned that there are many things out of my control, a big one being whether or not the shape of my nose reminds her of her favorite uncle. Who I am is of little importance, but what or who I remind her of is all important.

In the game of romance fantasy is all-important. "A vast number of people marry someone who does not exist save in their imagination."4 Or, as Maurice Chevalier has been given credit for saying, "Many a man has fallen in love with a girl in a light so dim he would not have chosen a suit by it." That is both the good news and the bad news. If it were not for fantasy, there would be less truth in the saying that there is someone for everyone.

Men in particular are prone to falling for the myth that says if they are successful, they will attract more women. However, there is one more component of chemistry that makes this untrue. A large percentage of the population is still beating a drum for their most disapproving parent. Consequently, expressing disapproval will make one attractive to more prospective partners. Peter Breggin, for one, lays it on the line: "Nearly every client in my practice has been tormented for years by his or her parents, all the while hoping for some crumb of affection from them."5

If you are too accepting, which is a popular social ideal, you might just be reducing your attractiveness. Consider this observation. "Wanting my product, (myself) to have a great demand in the social marketplace, I began to act more and more selfish with a myopic, uninterested view toward relationships. The strange thing was, the more uninterested and selfish I became with women, the more women would be waiting in line to spend their boyfriend's hard earned money on me and sell me on the idea that relationships can not only be fun and exciting, but one of the best long-term investments of my life. . ."6

Here lies another devil's bargain: being unhappy and impossible to please generally attracts more romantic partners than being successful or beautiful or happy. Of course, one can easily become a burden to oneself. If you choose to be less attractive by being happier, just keep in mind that you must meet more people in order to find a playmate.

As chemistry has little to do with improving our practical affairs, and is usually predicated on "unfinished business", there is no reason why we should take the whole game so seriously. It is not the fact that relationships fail so often that causes our pain -- it is the belief that they should work. (The popular belief that anything less than perfect and anything less than forever is a ripoff.)

So, rather than hide in a dark corner for fear that the next relationship might not be perfect, we might be better off being a little more cavalier: fail fast, fail often, enjoy the benefits until the costs outweigh them . And should your chemistry-ignited union lead to a practical, long-term association, so much the better.

1. Gail Sheehy, Passages (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1974), p. 152.
2. Ibid., p. 20.
3. G.I. Gurdjieff, Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, Vol. 1. (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1950), pp. 357-358.
4. Eustace Chesser, M.D., Love Without Fear (New York: Roy Publishers, Inc., 1974), p. 13.
5. Peter R. Breggin, The Psychology of Freedom (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1980), p. 155.
6. F.J. Shark, How To Be The JERK Women Love : Social Success for Men and Women in the '90's (Chicago, IL: Thunder World Promotions, Inc., 1994), p. 47.

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