Friday, October 10

Chemistry Versus Compatibility

Otherwise known as:

  • Your heart versus your head,
  • Ticking boxes versus fancying the pants off someone,
  • The rational versus the irrational,
  • Theory versus practise,
  • Rehearsal versus spontaneity,
  • Romance versus convenience,
  • Safety versus danger,
  • Being literal versus being poetic,
  • The groovy versus the nice enough,
  • The known versus the unknown,
  • The objective versus the subjective.
Whatever you wish to call it, the question of which side of this conflict wins out seems to be one of the most important asked when considering someone to begin a relationship with. And if the people I've spoken with about the topic have anything to do with it, everyone seems to have their own answers too.

Chemistry is always desirable - indeed it has to be by definition. The most obvious driver behind it are looks (although usually stated in terms of someone not being unattractive rather than being positively hot), although personality also makes its mark too - the way that someone makes you feel and behave. The point is that it's supposed to be undefinable and so incalculable and if you think you know the type you'll have chemistry with then you're probably mistaken.

For some people it also occurs more often than compatibility. This either implies that its threshold is lower or that we're less fussy about the unknown than the known. Despite this, for the same people chemistry is usually not enough and it takes a single compatibility break big enough to kill the chance of any further progress. So regarding both its commonality and fragility, it's beginning to sound like chemistry is in fact the weaker of the two concepts.

Compatibility is always easy to determine and is based on both quantitative and qualitative things. The former includes stuff like having the right height, religion, age or even whether someone is a virgin or not. Qualitative wants include stuff like having the same background, lifestyle and views on life, being open-minded, funny or smart. Although many of these things are subjective that doesn't mean they belong in the chemistry category; the fact that you can recognise and so acknowledge these things mean you can make a conscious decision over them.

The truth is that sometimes compatibility is a bit too easy to recognise; so much so that some think that it's the only important thing to consider - that if the boxes are ticked, then a strong relationship is all but guaranteed and the next steps will be obvious. Add to this definitiveness the rarity of finding someone compatible and all of a sudden it becomes the holy grail.

Personally as I get on and meet more new people I've found that compatibility alone may just not be enough. Although it's still rare when I do so I have met people who are compatible but, frankly, I just haven't fancied them. It's not necessarily because of their looks (although I'm sure physical attraction helps) or anything else as shallow as that, but just due to the arbitrary lack of any spark or excitement. This is especially frustrating and confusing since there's no apparent reason why this happens to be the case.

And as someone who's steered clear of relationships in the past (casual or otherwise), I think I need some of that with any I get into now. Other people say the same thing: once you have it, compatibility just isn't enough any more either.

So which is the most important? Well like I implied above we all have our own answers, and plenty of people have had success with people they don't fancy the pants off of, while an equal number have shown that a strong and irrational attraction can alleviate any fears over incompatibility. Both can work and so both are equally as fulfilling as each other.

Of course the really lucky people are those who manage to find both things in their partners - someone who's good on paper but found to be a hotty even if that paper was torn to shreds. Whether or not that can be found easily isn't something I can answer here, but since there's nothing indicating that compatibility and chemistry are mutually exclusive, perhaps a really strong relationship can only be found when the head and the heart are in complete and utter agreement with one another?

Originally drafted 21st November 2007.