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Romantic Chemistry Explained

10 ingredients for creating more chemistry on your dates.


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Romantic chemistry, at least in western society, is considered the catalyst in our relationships; the driving force behind if a first date will lead to a second or third date. It is believed that romantic chemistry happens on a subconscious level. It’s intangible, unspoken, energetic. It is the impulse that you have to see this other person again. It can be described as a profound connection, a bond, a “spark.” As one woman put it, “I got tingles all over my body.” Bodily sensations, such as getting tingles all over your body, is our experience of chemistry on a biological level. We may also feel our heartbeat increase, sensations of excitement that are often similar to sensations associated with danger, increased blood pressure, flushing of the skin, redness in the face and ears, feeling of weakness in the knees, uncontrollably smiling whenever thinking about the other person, and even a sense of obsession over the other person, longing for when we can see him or her again.

But what is it that causes us to feel tingly from head-to-toe? What is it that causes us to have a permanent grin plastered across our face? In simple terms, what causes chemistry? In this article we’ll discuss the 4 different types of romantic chemistry, what causes romantic chemistry to occur, and how to create more chemistry on your dates. Let’s dive in.

The 4 types of chemistry

I remember my first date with my boyfriend, Diego, like it was yesterday. I sat on a cafe patio in Mexico City sipping a glass of wine. I saw a tall, dark, handsome guy walk over as he pulled off his motorcycle helmet and unzipped his black leather jacket. Before saying anything, he flashed a coy smile. I knew immediately I liked his “vibe.” Physical chemistry √. As we began talking, I could tell he was a very open-minded person and liked to discuss philosophy and spirituality. Intellectual chemistry √. We had similar backgrounds and upbringings, despite me being from the northern tip of North America, and him the southern tip of South America. I felt like I immediately understood him when he was telling a story or explaining a personal opinion. I just “got him.” Emotional chemistry √. He took me to a party on our fourth date. I liked how he moved throughout the room and made a point to speak with everyone. He loved meeting new people, and it seemed people liked meeting him too. Social chemistry √. What I’ve just described are the four types of chemistry:

Physical chemistry

Physical chemistry can also be described as sexual chemistry. It’s the desire to be physically intimate with someone.

Emotional chemistry

Emotional chemistry is the desire to connect with someone based on spirituality, emotional capacity, attitude, beliefs, or shared experiences. It may also involve partners being able to sense each others’ emotional states.

Intellectual chemistry

Intellectual chemistry is the desire to engage with someone because of their intellect or interests; being able to openly discuss ideas, challenge each others’ beliefs, encourage learning by your partner, or share what you have learned.

Social chemistry

Social chemistry is the desire to engage with someone because of their social aptitude; humor, confidence, and likability.

10 ingredients for chemistry

Masculine/Feminine Polarity

The masculine/feminine polarity is a driving force behind sexual chemistry. Let me explain. Newton’s Third Law of Motion says, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” It means that forces come in pairs: negative and positive, action and reaction, masculine and feminine. The more opposed the sexual energies between two people are – masculine vs. feminine energy – the stronger the attraction will be in the relationship. Physical attraction thrives in a relationship when there is a distinct sexual polarity between the energies of both partners.

On the flip side, there is something called depolarization. Depolarization is what happens when one partner or both try to change their energy to please the other. And so, for example, if a feminine partner feels unsafe or unloved, she may make up for it with more masculine tendencies. If a masculine partner feels questioned or controlled, he may become less decisive and lose direction. The partners no longer have the play of masculine and feminine energies between them. When both partners are channeling the same type of energy, the relationship becomes stale, tense or unbalanced.

Attraction

Sexual attraction is one of the most dominant factors of chemistry. This can be attributed to the fact that 80% of what we take into the human brain is visual. Attraction is culturally influenced, and people within those cultures also differ in what they consider attractive. However, research suggests there are some universally attractive features in women, including large eyes, high cheekbones, a narrow jaw line, a slender build, and a lower waist-to-hip ratio.¹ For men, attractive traits include being tall, having broad shoulders, and a narrow waist.² Social traits that people find attractive in potential female mates include warmth, affection, and social skills; in males, the attractive traits include achievement, leadership qualities, and job skills.³ People tend to pick someone they view as their equal in physical attractiveness and social desirability.⁴

However, sexual chemistry and attraction does not always lead to love. This is because we’ve evolved distinct brain systems for mating. “One system controls the craving for sexual gratification. Another system rules over romantic love – that obsessive thinking, craving, and focusing on one individual,” says Helen Fisher, Ph.D. “They’re not always connected, which is why you can be madly in love with someone and only have so-so sex, while you can have intensely passionate sex with someone you never want to see again!”⁵ However, one can trigger the other.

Similarity

If you're under the impression that only opposites attract, biochemistry will tell you otherwise. According to research, we are attracted to people with similar DNA.⁶ Thus, we are attracted to people with similar facial features, personality traits, and language styles. When we meet others who are similar to ourselves, we feel a sense of ease and comfort to disclose information about ourselves because we believe the other person will understand us, and vice versa; we feel that we can accurately interpret their facial expressions and emotions. This ability to understand each other leads to feelings of non-judgement and mutual trust. Lastly, we seek people who are similar to ourselves because we understand that long-term compatibility is more likely with someone who shares the same traits.⁷

Familiarity

Fear of the unknown if one of life’s greatest fears. We find comfort in the familiar. We like knowing what to expect. The same goes for our relationships; we like knowing what to expect from others and in our relationships. While this is often on a subconscious level, research has found this to be one of the most basic principles of attraction.⁸ For example, a young woman growing up with a controlling father may be attracted to other controlling men not because she likes being controlled but rather because it is what she considers normal (i.e., familiar).

Communication

Communication, in all of its verbal and non-verbal forms, is a vital component to feeling chemistry. When two people experience a deep connection, communication will feel very open and you will feel as if you’ve known the other person for a long time very quickly. This can be described as being on the same wavelength; you are resonating with very similar vibrations.

Everything in the universe is moving and vibrating at different frequencies. Everything has its own vibrational frequency – even our thoughts and feelings. Thoughts have the strongest and fastest measurable wavelength, and when we feel chemistry with someone, we will often find they have similar thoughts to ours. This is the universal law of like attracts like, a.k.a. the law of attraction. This law, which is based on the law of vibration, states that we attract what we are sending out. Hence positive energies attract positive energies and negative energies attract negative energies.

In terms of romantic chemistry, vibrations of similar frequencies are magnetized to each other. In other words, the dominant vibrational frequencies of two individuals are in resonance (two frequencies attuned to each other). This is why when communication styles match or complement each other, and two people make similar assumptions, it’s easy to create rapport, and they rarely bump each other out of rapport. This rapport is what leads to a deep romantic chemistry.

Reciprocity

Reciprocity is the give and take in relationships. We contribute to relationships, but we expect to receive benefits in return. When we invest time and energy into a partner, we expect that person to also invest time and energy into us. Satisfaction and commitment build in a relationship that has balanced reciprocity. In most cases, it comes down to open communication, clear expectations, and mutual respect.

Self-disclosure (the sharing of personal information) is a vital component of reciprocity. Have you ever shared a deep and personal story to a partner, and in turn, your partner also disclosed a personal anecdote? Did you feel closer to your partner afterward? Most likely, the answer is yes. We form more intimate connections with those with whom we disclose personal information about ourselves. Self-disclosure is a characteristic of healthy intimate relationships, as long as the information disclosed is consistent with our own views.⁹

Mystery

Mystery is important in feeling romantic chemistry. You fall in love with somebody who's somewhat mysterious because mystery elevates dopamine in the brain, which pushes you over the threshold to fall in love. Dopamine is critical in all sorts of brain functions, including thinking, moving, sleeping, mood, attention, and motivation, seeking and reward.

Research shows that dopamine causes us to want, desire, search, and seek out in attempts to feel pleasure and reward. From an evolutionary stand-point this is critical: the dopamine seeking system keeps us motivated to continue learning and surviving. Dopamine makes us curious and fuels our searching for information.¹⁰ From a human relationship stand-point, it makes sense that mystery would increase our dopamine levels and cause us to seek out more information about this person. We are constantly intrigued and engaged by their mysterious aurora.

Dopamine is also stimulated by unpredictability. When something happens that is not predictable, it stimulates the dopamine system. This is why we are attracted to people who might like us. When receiving clear signals of interest from another person, a person is momentarily pleased, adapts quickly, and the case is closed. But when interest is unpredictable, this leads a person to seek out an explanation, causing them to think of little else. Eventually the person interprets this arousal and stimulation as a sign of liking the other person. This is why "playing hard to get" in the initial stages of a relationship can actually work.

Sincerity

Kelly Campbell, Ph.D. says, "Chemistry occurs most often between people who are down-to-earth and sincere. This is because 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, even if perspectives on important matters differed."¹¹ Thus, sincerity is an important factor in romantic chemistry, and in my personal opinion, the most important. You must be sincere in your actions in order to build mutual trust — the foundation for any successful relationship. I have found that people who are the most comfortable with themselves have taken the time to get to know themselves. I have dedicated an entire article and podcast to this topic, The Most Efficient Way To Meet Your Life Partner, where I discuss how to get to know yourself in preparation for a relationship.

Smell

The human body produces natural odors called pheromones. An article published by Scientific American states, “Scientists have found evidence of a response to pheromones in the human brain. These volatile compounds--secreted by one member of a species to elicit a response (either behavioral or physiological) from another individual--and their use in communication has long been documented in lower mammals such as rodents and pigs. But now, in a study published in the August 30 issue of the journal Neuron, scientists at Huddinge University Hospital in Sweden have detected a pheromone effect in humans.”¹²

"We've just started to understand that there is communication below the level of consciousness," says Bettina Pause, a psychologist at Heinrich Heine University of Düsseldorf (H.H.U.), who has been studying pheromones and human social olfaction for 15 years. "My guess is that a lot of our communication is influenced by chemosignals."

Variation in the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), an important set of immune system genes, imbues each of us with a unique "odorprint," like a fingerprint. "With the exception of identical twins, no two individuals are likely to have the same odorprint," Wysocki says. In nature, the sexual union of unlike MHCs yields offspring with more diverse and thus more robust immune systems. Instinct may also guide us in this manner: Previous research has revealed that human females preferred the musk of sweaty T-shirts worn by men with suitably different MHC genes.¹³

Humor

Jeffrey Hall, associate professor of communication studies, found that when two strangers meet, the more times a man tries to be funny and the more a woman laughs at those attempts, the more likely the woman is interested in the man. However, the reverse was not true for women who attempted humor. When both laugh together, it's an even better indication of a romantic connection.

Hall offers four explanations for why humor is so important in finding partners:

Humor points to having a sociable and agreeable personality. "Part of what it means to be social is the ability to joke along with people," Hall said.

Men use humor to gauge if women are interested in them. "Men are trying to get women to show their cards," Hall said. "For some men it is a conscious strategy."

When men make jokes and women laugh, they may be performing a script in courtship. Men acting like jokers and women laughing along may be part of it, too. "The script is powerful and it is enduring, and it dictates everything from asking someone out to picking up the tab," Hall said.

Humor is valuable for humor's sake. "Shared laughter might be a pathway toward developing a more long-lasting relationship," Hall said.¹⁴

How to create more chemistry on your dates

Be comfortable in your own skin

I’m going to repeat this quote from Kelly Campbell, Ph.D. because it’s so damn important. "Chemistry occurs most often between people who are down-to-earth and sincere. This is because 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, even if perspectives on important matters differed." The only way to be comfortable in your own skin is by getting to know yourself. Turn off your phone and spend time with yourself. Get out in nature. Write. Meditate. Do you like being in your own company? What new things are you learning about yourself?

Be curious

The key to a successful conversation is reciprocity. When someone shares something about themselves or asks you a question, always reply back by sharing a story, or by asking a question. It shows you’re curious about your date, plus everyone — and I mean everyone — enjoys talking about themselves.

Someone who is curious shows his innate intelligence and zest for life. So, if your date brings up something you know nothing about, rather than thinking you have nothing in common, ask questions. Your date will be happy to divulge on a topic they like (and you ideally will return the favor), and they’ll see that you’re a curious person. This is a more attractive trait than most of us realize.

Be in the right mindset

Energy is everything. Joe Dispenza states in his book Becoming Supernatural, “Our emotions are energy in motion.” When someone experiencing a strong emotion walks into a room, their energy is often very palpable. So, it’s so important to get into a great frame of mind before your date; because our emotions are literally radiating off of us, and when we put off better energy, we get a more positive response from our date in return. Getting into a great frame of mind before a date could look like listening to a great podcast, reading a great book, calling a best friend, going for a run, or doing something you really enjoy.

Let go of fear and anxiety

I feel like the reason we experience nerves before our dates is because we fear the unknown. When we can’t predict an outcome with certainty, it becomes a risk. For example, when we can’t predict with certainty that our date will like us, it becomes a risk to our ego. But fears are not based on reality. Fear of the unknown is based on a pile of self-limiting beliefs based on what we think may happen. These self-limiting beliefs leak out in different ways; we fear our dates wont find us interesting, attractive, funny, or whatever insecurity we may have. As Ambiance Matchmaking’s founder Leslie Wardman always says, “Insecurity is the root of all evil when it comes to relationships, and especially dating.” However, we can dissolve our insecurities and fears so that we can stop worrying and start connecting with our dates on a whole new level.

In order to conquer our fear of the unknown, we don’t just ignore it, we embrace it. We embrace the unknown because it brings change; and that’s a good thing. The one thing that is a constant in our dating lives is change; we’re constantly changing and evolving by meeting new people, hearing their ideas and stories, and trying to make sense of why we did or didn’t click with someone; and that’s a beautiful thing. So, let’s stop trying to predict the outcome of our dates, stop worrying about what people think of us, and embrace change. At that point, we can start focusing on connecting with the person sitting in front of us. Read more about letting go of fear and connecting with your dates in my article and podcast, Data From 20,000 Dates Reveals 6 Steps To The Perfect First Date.

Master the art of storytelling

Storytelling is such a great way to display our personalities and give insight into our lives. It’s one thing to tell your date that you’re spontaneous, but it’s another to show them through a story. People love stories. People relate to stories. We use stories to make sense of the world, to understand where we come from and where we’re going. When we hear a story, it activates our left and right brains. Our brains process information almost as if we were actually there instead of just turning words into little factoids that will soon disappear. Stories are emotional, experiential, and creative. In short, they matter. Try telling a story about yourself on your next date.

Be aware of body language

Non-verbal cues are just as important as verbal cues. Be aware of your body language and make adjustments as needed. Here are four important body language cues:

Open Torso: Research has shown that keeping your torso, chest, and abdomen open to the world is the best way to show availability. Crossed arms, clutching a wine glass in front of your stomach, checking a phone in front of your chest, or hugging a purse to your center are all ways we close our body language and seem unavailable. Studies have shown that we actually close our body language when we are feeling mentally closed off.

Hands: We love to see people’s hands. Studies show that when we can’t see people’s hands we have trouble trusting them. When you put your hands in your pockets, tuck them under the table or hide them behind a coat, your attractiveness decreases because people can’t open up to you.

Eye contact: Eye contact is a sign of respect and interest. Maintain eye contact 50% of the time when speaking and 70% when listening.

Smile: Ambiance Matchmaking’s founder Leslie Wardman says, “I believe a smile is an incredible way to express the fact that you’re comfortable in your skin, easy to be around, and happy with what you see (your date). I can’t think of anything that’s more powerful and positive as a first impression.”

Author and founder of Science of People, Vanessa Van Edwards offers a framework for knowing when someone is attracted to us:

They lean in.

They tilt their head as you speak (a sign of engagement).

They smile at you.

They make eye contact with you.

They reach out and touch your arm, hand, back, or leg.

Men and women also have slightly different cues. How to know if a woman is attracted to you:

She exposes her neck (to release pheromones).

She tilts her chin down and looks up through her eyelashes (called the “coquette look”).

She touches her hair (to release pheromones and call attention to her health).

She touches her lips to call attention to their shape.

How to know if a man is attracted to you:

They claim your space by draping an arm over your chair or shoulders.

They lean in toward you as you speak.

They take any opportunity to touch you.

They rub their chin or the back of their neck (to release pheromones).¹⁵


REFERENCES

  1. Singh, D. Body shape and women’s attractiveness. Human Nature 4, 297–321 (1993). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02692203.
  2. Buss, David M. (1989). “Sex Differences in Human Mate Preferences: Evolutionary Hypotheses Tested in 37 Cultures.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences.
  3. Regan, P. C., & Berscheid, E. (1997). “Gender differences in characteristics desired in a potential sexual and marriage partner.” Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality, 9(1), 25–37. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1300/J056v09n01_02.
  4. Shaw Taylor L, Fiore AT, Mendelsohn GA, Cheshire C. “Out of My League: A Real-World Test of the Matching Hypothesis.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 2011;37(7):942-954. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0146167211409947.
  5. Fisher, Helen, Ph.D. (2005, January 2). "Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love." Retrieved from http://helenfisher.com/downloads/articles/04natofrl.pdf.
  6. Whiteman, H. (2014, May 25). "People tend to choose partners with similar DNA, study suggests." Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/277291.php.
  7. Dovey, Dana. (2016, April 7). "Understanding Another Person's Emotion Signals Similarity, And May Make You Find Them More Attractive." Medical Daily. Retrieved from http://www.medicaldaily.com/interpersonal-communication-attraction-understanding-emotions-381059.
  8. Zajonc, R. B. (1980). “Feeling and thinking: Preferences need no inferences.” American Psychologist, 35(2), 151–175. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.35.2.151.
  9. Cozby, P. C. (1973). “Self-disclosure: A literature review.” Psychological Bulletin, 79(2), 73–91. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1037/h0033950.
  10. Weinschenk, Susan. (2009, November 7). "100 Things You Should Know About People: #8 — Dopamine Makes You Addicted To Seeking Information." The Team W Blog. Retrieved from https://www.blog.theteamw.com/2009/11/07/100-things-you-should-know-about-people-8-dopamine-makes-us-addicted-to-seeking-information.
  11. Campbell, Kelly, Ph.D. (2011, August 21). "Relationship Chemistry: Can Science Explain Instant Connections?" Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/more-chemistry/201108/relationship-chemistry-can-science-explain-instant-connections.
  12. Graham, Sarah. (2001). “First Evidence of a Human Response to Pheromones.” Scientific American. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/first-evidence-of-a-human/.
  13. Hadhazy, Adam. (2012). “Do Pheromones Play a Role in Our Sex Lives?” Scientific American. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/pheromones-sex-lives/.
  14. J. A. Hall. (2015). “Sexual Selection and Humor in Courtship: A Case for Warmth and Extroversion.” Evolutionary Psychology, 13 (3). Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1474704915598918.
  15. Van Edwards, Vanessa. (2020). “How to Be More Attractive: 7 Rules to Increase Attraction.” Science of People. Retrieved from https://www.scienceofpeople.com/attraction.

Taylor Wade

Taylor is one of the founders of Ambiance Matchmaking. She now dedicates her time to curating content for our community through her podcast and blog. Writing and podcasting is the art of great story-telling. As a relationship writer and editor, she has always sought to capture the reality of the dating experience, full of drama, friction, and joy. The best mind is an open mind, so she specializes in asking questions and approaching a story without preconceptions.

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