That instant connection could blow up in your face.
Why we’re attracted to certain people and not to others has always been a mystery to me.
When I was dating online for the first time, fresh out of a decade-long marriage, it appeared the Internet had made it easy to find the right person. It was down to a science: fill out a profile, answer a bunch of questions, and you were presented with a list of matches, complete with compatibility ratings for each one.
And yet, again and again I would meet someone who seemed perfectly suitable – smart, funny, handsome, employed – and feel no spark at all. This isn’t particularly surprising or unique; everyone’s had the experience of meeting someone who ticks all their boxes, but who just doesn’t do it for them.
It made me realize how truly random attraction can be, and to wonder even more: where does chemistry come from?
Author and couples therapist Mira Kirshenabaum, who wrote Is He Mr. Right? Everything You Need To Know Before You Commit, says chemistry is the number one factor in deciding whether or not someone is The One. A relationship can make no sense on paper, but according to Kirshenbaum, if the chemistry is right, the two of you can still live happily ever after.
I don’t know about that, though. I’ve had plenty of chemistry with plenty of very wrong-for-me guys. (To be fair, my toxic ex would have been wrong for anyone, not just me.) I figured the secret to a good relationship couldn’t only be down to chemistry. Sure, chemistry is essential – but can you rely on it to be an indicator of the future health, happiness and longevity of your relationship? I don’t necessarily trust chemistry.
So when I read that Scott Carroll, MD, a psychiatrist in New Mexico and the author of Don’t Settle: How to Marry the Man You Were Meant For (Balboa Press, 2016), thinks it’s possible for a couple to actually have too much chemistry, I was intrigued. “Certain attachment styles are super attracted to each other, but then these combinations produce dramatic fights and breakups,” says Dr Carroll. That sounds familiar.
But what are these ‘attachment styles’ Dr Carroll speaks of?
In a nutshell, it has to do with the way our caregivers behaved toward us when we were babies, and how securely attached we were to them. (So yeah, maybe you can actually blame mom and dad for messing you up when it comes to relationships.)
Dr Carroll outlines four attachment styles: Secure, Insecure-Avoidant, Insecure-Ambivalent, and Disorganized.
Securely attached people had attentive caregivers, and formed healthy bonds with them. Their approach to expressing love is “calm and consistent,” says Dr Carroll.
Insecure-avoidant types were raised by reserved parents who punished them for expressing their need for connection. They learned to hide their distress, and in a relationship, they tend not to show their inner turmoil on the outside.
Insecure-ambivalent people had unreliable caregivers and, says Dr Carroll, they learned to “turn up the volume” to get their needs met. They tend to be dramatic and very expressive.
Finally, disorganized types were often victims of childhood abuse and neglect, or were raised without a consistent caregiver. According to Dr Carroll, disorganized people “lack empathy and see other people merely as objects to be used. They may act in loving ways early on in a relationship, but it is only to make the target more compliant and vulnerable to being used and manipulated.”
So, what happens when these different types get together?
Watch out for the quiet ones
“Insecure-avoidant types tend to be reserved and stoic in their expression of love,” says Dr Carroll. But beware: they often crave the dramatic expression that comes more naturally to people with other attachment styles. They find people with secure attachment styles boring. When they get together with an ambivalent or disorganized person, the chemistry can be tremendous. But the avoidant partner can’t sustain that level of expressiveness. When they retreat back into their shell, the partner provokes a fight or tries to leave, causing the avoidant person to panic and become expressive again, until they burn out – at which point the cycle repeats.
Should avoidant people stick together, then? Dr Carroll says that’s not necessarily any better. “They have limited chemistry, but the two have chosen to settle for the calm familiarity of a stoic, unexpressive relationship. They have very few fight or disagreements, but it tends to be a life of quiet desperation.”
Turn up the volume
It’s a cliché because it’s true: lots of women aren’t attracted to ‘nice guys.’ To some of us, there’s nothing worse than a sensitive man. But why? Maybe it’s because we have Insecure-Ambivalent attachment styles. When two ambivalent people get together, the chemistry is extreme and intense. Both partners crave attention and drama – they’ve both learned to “turn up the volume,” as Dr Carroll puts it. The result is explosive fights, followed by passionate reunions. It’s a roller coaster that has the potential to turn violent.
Beware of love at first sight
The ones to be most wary of are the disorganized types. The thing about them is, they tend to have instant, overwhelming chemistry with people and fall in love easily. Watch out though, because they can also turn on a dime, suddenly hating their partner for seemingly no reason. Generally, although a securely attached person may be attracted to a disorganized person, they will quickly distance themselves. Ambivalent and avoidant types are more likely to fall prey to a disorganized person because they’re more easily manipulated than securely attached people. Disorganized folks are so charismatic and generate so much chemistry that they can be very dangerous.
The question is, what do we do with all this information? If we were raised in an abusive or neglectful environment, is there no hope for us? Are we doomed to be chemistry bombs, destroying every relationship that comes our way with our excessive drama and neediness?
Maybe not. Dr Carroll says the key is to seek “moderate chemistry” with a securely attached, or “stable” partner, avoiding the extremes of chemistry we might find with other partners. And fear not: even if your attachment style is the dreaded “disorganized,” you can learn healthy relationship behaviors with enough good therapy.
Images and GIFs via Tumblr.com, wifflegif.com, and giphy.com.
Comment: Have you ever been in a relationship with too much chemistry?