The energy between you and that guy you met may feel like love. But does it mean you’re truly compatible as a couple, or is it just chemistry? Magdel Louw finds out the difference
Clinical sexologist and relationship expert Elmari Mulder Craig explains the differences between compatibility and chemistry. She says chemistry is a feeling you get when you are in the presence of someone you’re attracted to, with anticipation and other elements increasing the attraction and tension between the two of you.
Chemistry centres primarily on looks and body type – although other factors also enter the picture, meaning that a person with moderately good looks can be irresistibly attractive, too, if they have a great personality.
However, she says, ‘The vast majority of women are interested in emotional and intellectual compatibility first and physical compatibility second. That’s why this chemistry also relates to the emotional connection between two people, which is where things usually get confusing.’
She points out that two people who have lots of chemistry tend to exude positive feedback and make each other feel good, which leads to that ‘in love’ feeling. That’s why chemistry is usually felt immediately and by both parties.
There are also various psychological, physical and emotional signs correlated to strong chemistry with another person. This is frequently described as ‘basic psychological arousal combined with
a feeling of pleasure’.
‘You’ll most likely experience a rush of adrenalin, which can result in a rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath and the sensation of excitement. Other physical symptoms include blood pressure going up a little, the face and ears turning red, and becoming weak in the knees. You may also obsess about the person and long to see them again,’ Elmari says.
Compatibility, on the other hand, is based on common values and life goals, similar lifestyles, a high level of comfort with each other, the ability to have fun with each other and shared experiences, she says.
These are essential components for a lasting relationship. ‘Compatibility is a natural alignment of lifestyle choices and values between two people, which will also correspond to the long-term potential for two people. For example, educated and liberal people typically date other educated and liberal people. Compatibility is also a process. It’s an attitude, a willingness to work.’
So what’s more important?
Both are important. Compatibility and chemistry may not necessarily occur together, Elmari explains. A relationship with high compatibility but lacking in chemistry is likely to be a bit boring, yet convenient, stable and predictable.
Chemistry without compatibility, on the other hand, usually leads to disaster. ‘That’s when it feels so right, but you know it’s so wrong. These relationships tend to begin quickly and passionately and then die out just as quickly once logic kicks in and reality intercedes.’ Simply put, chemistry doesn’t predict anything other than chemistry. ‘This is because chemistry can make people blind to genuine incompatibilities or warning signs. You can grow into love; you grow out of lust.’
Is it the real thing?
Elmari concedes that it can be tricky to distinguish the real from the fake. ‘Even your friends and family could be fooled. You might hear people saying, “You two are just the most perfect couple”.’
Learn to recognise the red flags when you meet someone. ‘Essentially, the fake love fades away or evaporates quickly when the chemistry wears off. But love endures, showing up in the actions and deeds of the two people,’ she says.
Pay attention to the following warning signs:
Time Infatuation, which is chemistry only, might last anywhere from three weeks to a year and a half … and then swiftly disappear.
‘Genuine love – on the other hand – loses the immediacy of the chemical rush, but grows deeper and calmer. This can take some time.’
Projection Fake love is based primarily on physical intimacy and what the two people assume about each other. They can’t see any problems and neither of them can imagine any imperfections
in the other one.
‘When this projection comes to an end, the true person will stand before them. Then they can see one another through a clear lens and decide if they are right for each other,’ says Elmari.
The future When two people meet and fall into ‘love’ based only on chemistry, they may begin to make plans for their future together within weeks. ‘But their ‘‘real’’ selves aren’t talking to each other here — it is their counterfeit selves, which cannot be trusted to make clear decisions,’ says Elmari.
What does true love look like, then?
Once the chemistry wears off, lust or infatuation involves conflict, pain and drama. In comparison, real love evolves into service, thoughtfulness, care and sincere emotions for your partner.’
‘Real love is shown in loving acts – over and over – with no one keeping score. It responds to the needs of the other, flowing effortlessly from one day to the next. Essentially, true love will happen when two people honour each other’s values, standards and purposes. They don’t just talk about it, though. They live it. They do love.’
Protecting yourself against people creating ‘fake chemistry’
Trust your gut. If something feels off, it often is. If it seems too good to be true, it may very well be. If the person does not include you in their life, inviting you to their place, meeting friends and family, red flags should go up. Look out for lies or dishonesty. Don’t move too quickly and don’t have sex too soon. The other person needs to earn your trust first. Spend enough time together to experience the person when they’re experiencing emotions other than happiness.
What to do when you ‘click’ with more than one person
Spend time with both, and stay open and honest. Write down the pros and cons of each prospective relationship. Again, trust your gut. Come to an informed decision and stick to it. Get some professional advice if necessary.