Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Reasonability of Chemistry

I am completely hooked on the old television show Northern Exposure.  One of the many running themes in the program is attraction. Maggie O'Connell hates that she is attracted to Joel Fleischmen, and as she agonizes over his "misogynistic" and "mean" ways, Shelly Tambo offers her a bit of advice. Shelly describes a time in high school when she was torn between two men: the tall, handsome, and cool athlete vs. the president of the chess club, stereotyped as usual. She wanted to be attracted to the athlete, but found that he just didn't excite her. However, she couldn't keep her hands off of the president of the chess club. Shelly concludes, "The bod wants what the bod wants."

The realms of reason and rationality often live in tension with those of desire and emotion.  I know that eating chocolate to the extent that I do around Easter will make me feel tired and even cranky, but I want it. I can explain to you that teddy bears don't feel emotional or physical pain, but I can't stand putting my Emmie bear in a plastic bag where she can't breathe. When it comes to my chocolate eating and teddy bear protecting habits I find that reason isn't enough to change my actions, or at least not for very long.

Emotion seems like a wild and unruly creature capable of leading us astray. Yet, when putting reason ahead of emotion becomes a struggle, which often leads to more emotional turmoil, maybe reason simply is not worth the trouble. Imagine if we always put reason ahead of emotions: the less than lucrative worlds of art, music, and literature would take major hits without artists who were irrationally dedicated to investing their lives into creative endeavors. If we all put reason ahead of emotion, we'd all be like Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, funny, but not exactly who I aspire to be.

When I've asked strong couples what keeps them together they usually say "chemistry."  Apparently, when my parents met, my dad always wore cowboy boots and usually had car grease in his hair from working in auto-shop. My mom found this to be a weird combination. Nonetheless, she liked him, as she says, "for no good reason." Owen and I resisted our good chemistry for over a year as we both found plenty of good (or not so good as it turns out) reasons not to like each other. We each felt, rationally, that the other lacked certain qualities that we wanted in our partners. Sometimes chemistry is just irritating and makes us flirt with people who we don't care to flirt with.

Sondre Lerche wisely sings, "Baby, be prepared to be surprised. It's all I know." If you haven't yet found "The One," my first bit of advice is to throw out any ideas you have of your perfect significant other. A long list of reasons and overly-rational thinking can severely limit your options, and stop you from finding unexpectedly great people. Given that each of our minds are limited by our own experiences, we cannot even imagine all of the good qualities that we can find in partners with completely different life experiences. When you get to know other people with an open mind, you will find that most are pleasantly surprising, and usually their perceived flaws  don't seem so bad in the context of the whole person. And actually, keeping an open mind doesn't seem so irrational; perhaps reason can also lead us astray.

This feeling that we call good chemistry boils down to this: do you enjoy the time that you spend in the presence of this person? Seek to make decisions that give you peace of mind, which is located somewhere between reason and desire.


  1. " we cannot even imagine all of the good qualities that we can find in partners with completely different life experiences." that's a really great thing to pass along.

  2. Summer, I'm loving your blog. It's fantastic, and so you! I'm pumped to follow along! :) And I MISS you!