The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is a reaction, the two are transformed. ~ CG Jung
Everyone says alchemy is the best there is.
But why do we say that? What exactly is alchemy and is it really the best indicator of a good partner?
The man I had the most chemistry with (we’ll call him Patrick) treated me as an option and was never particularly attentive to my needs, wants, or feelings.
I remember the day I met him, and he opened the door and smiled from ear to ear. I literally thought to myself, “This guy is going to break my heart.” Even though I knew he would, and despite his attitude, I remained with him in a long-distance and intermittent relationship for two and a half years. And finally, it broke my heart.
Why did I have feelings for him and the desire to be with him at the expense of my own sanity, safety, and needs? Why do we do it over and over again? Why do we value alchemy over compassion?
What is alchemy?
According to anthropologist Helen Fischer, alchemy is actually a mixture of hormones (testosterone and estrogen) and neurotransmitters (dopamine and serotonin). In her book Why We Love, she presents a theory that there are four distinct personality types, each made up of varying degrees of hormones and neurotransmitters.
The four personality types
- The explorer, defined by a strong dopaminergic activity, is adventurous, in search of novelties, creative
- The manufacturer, with a high serotonergic activity, is careful, conventional
- The manager, swollen with testosterone, is aggressive, determined, analytical
- The negotiator, more influenced by estrogen, is empathetic, idealistic, a great thinker
But, underlying this biological chemistry is a psychological chemistry, which is when we look for someone to heal the damage done in our childhood. It is in this chemistry that our problems come into play.
Most of the time, we don’t know that we are attracting this kind of parent figure to us in a quest to get them to do things right by us this time around, thereby mending our hurt hearts. Sometimes we realize it, but we keep moving forward anyway.
With Patrick, I knew it immediately. I sensed his avoidance and emotional unavailability. My intuition told me to run away as soon as I met him. Unfortunately, my hormones, my soul, and my heart told me otherwise, and I continued in a pattern of love and disdain for over two years.
With all my other boyfriends and even my husband, it wasn’t that easy. Some appeared later and some were worse than others. But I felt an immediate connection with each of them and went from being single to being a relationship within days.
So is it all or nothing?
Not once did I take the time to figure out how they treated me. Not once have I taken the time to observe their behaviors and their willingness to meet my needs. I let chemistry and my feelings for them prevail over common sense.
It doesn’t mean they are to blame or that they were bad guys, because they weren’t. My childhood issues guided my actions and have been for as long as I can remember.
Each of them had the same characteristics. They were all kind, honest, and kind. But none of them seemed to care about my needs as much as theirs. Their life revolved around them, their wants, needs, and wants, and I was just supposed to accept it. Unfortunately, I accepted it. I did it for as long as I could until finally, I left.
However, this is not a healthy way to interact in a relationship. I should have asserted myself, expressed my opinion and discussed my needs. I guess I felt I was lucky to have some, and if they said they loved me, that should have been enough. But it wasn’t.
There was always an underlying chemistry with each of them that made me stick with them. One evening when I was separated from my husband, he spent the night at my house after we had gone to dinner. I remember lying next to him. My body wanted to be physically next to it, but I kept looking at it and thought to myself, “I really don’t like you that much. “
Alchemy can trump our common sense and it can make us stick with someone who doesn’t suit us or treat us badly. Alchemy can be the most amazing thing on the planet. The effects you feel are incredible. Unfortunately, the lows that can also accompany it are very strong. So what to do?
I know from now on I’m always going to be chemically drawn to someone who has an avoidant personality. Emotional ambivalence seems safe and normal to me at first. It’s like love and it’s like home. Sadly, this type of love is not at all fulfilling as an adult and I have to find a way to rewire my brain.
I’m not a doctor or a therapist, but I know myself and think I’m smart enough. In the future, I will consider my choices more carefully before diving in.
Almost any dating expert will tell you the same thing: relationships are built on mutual trust, intimacy, and how willing each partner is to meet the needs of the other.
If you haven’t heard of John Gottman’s study, here’s a quick recap. They put couples in a room together and let them interact. They have followed them over the years and have come to this one conclusion: each person turns to their partner in an attempt to make an emotional connection. They called it calls for tenders.
They found that couples who were happiest and who stayed married responded to their partner’s emotional offers eighty percent (80%) of the time.
Gottman has identified nine distinct emotional offerings which include:
4. Extended conversations
5. Emotional support
7. Enthusiastic engagement
What does this have to do with choosing a partner based on compassion rather than chemistry?
It means you have to watch them. Do not rush. Don’t choose someone just because you like them very much or because you have a lot of chemistry with them.
When you try to make a connection, how does your partner react? Are they responding to your offer or moving away from it? It doesn’t matter whether they do it consciously or unconsciously; what matters is how they react.
Of course, it’s your responsibility to communicate your needs, wants, and wants, and if you don’t, you can’t just blame it on your partner. But if you still can’t keep up with your offers, your relationship is likely doomed.
It doesn’t matter if the person you choose has the looks, the job, the sense of humor, the ethics, or the personality that you covet and appeal to you. If they fail to respond to your offers of emotional connection, you will end up being unhappy and that is very likely not to work in the long run.
So take the time to write down what you need in a partner. What are your non-negotiable? It shouldn’t really include things like height or hair color or body type.
Non-negotiable are things like:
- I consider my needs as well as his
- Not selfish
- He or she makes me laugh
- Able to communicate their needs
- Wants children / does not want children
- He or she listens to me
Here is a basic list of some things to consider. Before you invest time in dating, you need to invest time in yourself. Figure out what you can and cannot do without. Write down three to five of your non-negotiable items and stick to them.
I’m not saying it will be easy to do. The heart wants certain things, and chemistry can be a powerful force. Perhaps this is what we should all be thinking about if we continue to choose alchemy over compassion.