The distinction between chemistry and compatibility could be your needed dating mind shift.
I had a conversation with a young woman. She told me she seeks a man who will make her heart sing the high notes. She breaks up with men, telling them they are incompatible if there isn’t steamy chemistry. OK, I get it—but there is more. I wholeheartedly believe that chemistry is essential, even critical. However, true compatibility is equally important but very often overlooked. Chemistry and compatibility are like your lungs and heart. It would help if you had both working together.
Break-ups often happen abruptly, and one person will say they don’t understand what happened. Sudden break-ups like this occur when one person is chasing chemistry (they want to stay love drunk or aren’t relationally intelligent) or they suddenly realize that they don’t align with the other person in a way that will lean into a healthy relationship. So again, relationship-oriented people need to bring chemistry and compatibility in balance during early dating.
Let’s work out the distinction.
The rush of intense feelings people will have when they meet someone attractive is chemistry—characterized frequently as butterflies and a strong desire to be close and frequently together. Chemistry will come purely from attraction and relies on a flood of hormones in your brain, like oxytocin. This biology makes you love drunk and allows for missing or explaining away behaviors that will generally give you pause.
Physical appearance, playfulness, conversation, and fantasy represent a relationship’s love drunkenness or honeymoon period. Add sexual tension, and you have a lot of romantic chemistry. If it is all going on for you, your honeymoon can last from a few months to a little more than three years. The honeymoon stage will fade. You can hope it doesn’t, but don’t disillusion yourself. Work on identifying and building compatibility as a couple.
Compatibility is how you align. If you closely align, there will be less overall conflict. The ability to develop a relationship (or not) based on your alignment is a part of relational intelligence. Healthy compatibility is where values, standards, and expectations align with another human. They may not be precisely the same, but somewhere they align.
For example, I am a dog lover. I would not be aligned with someone who felt a dog should never be in the home. I am also not aligned with someone who would say it’s your dog; you can do what you want, but don’t depend on me for help. We all need help sometimes, so that would put all the burden on me for care. Fortunately, I married someone I am compatible with. My husband and I care for our dogs in a very similar way. We can count on the other if one of us is not around. We are partners.
There are more stressful situations and many more conflicts when couples have wide discrepancies in how they want to live. Compatibility looks at the details. Will you be happy living on a farm with animals, or are you an urban loft person with no lawn to care for? What does privacy look like? How much time with the extended family is too much/too little?
You know the drill: sex, finances, religion, recreation, home chores, childcare, parenting, and politics are all areas where conflicts arise. Conflict itself can be a source of conflict. How you quarrel and then resolve or manage conflict is a huge, big deal. Nonetheless, working on the minutia will remain constant throughout the relationship.
Hookup culture is so prevalent in dating culture today that it’s challenging to navigate compatibility. To work on compatibility, ask insightful questions, and remain open-minded. A safe place to be vulnerable is one thing I encourage you to continue to build in your relationship. Feeling secure and vulnerable makes insightful questions and remaining open-minded fruitful conversation.
That is a great place to start.