Both chemistry and compatibility are crucial for the survival and quality of our romantic relationships. And it can be downright catastrophic to mistake the two — it can be the reason long-term relationships fizzle and why, try as you might, others may never make it beyond the bedroom.
That’s why we’re tucking into what chemistry and compatibility are, how to identify what you’ve got, and why having them both with your partner is pro-level #relationshipgoals.
Chemistry is that ineffable connection we see in the movies.
Simply put, chemistry is that unexplainable magnetism between two people. It’s an undeniable connection, electric on both ends.
“It may be a sexual pull, a feeling like you already know someone, and/or a general feeling that you click,” says Andrea Syrtash, a NYC-based relationship expert and author of “He’s Just Not Your Type (And That’s a Good Thing).”
It’s not the same thing as love at first sight. Over half — about 57 percent — of us believe in love at first sight, according to Match.com’s 2019 Singles in America survey. (I blame rom-coms.) Meanwhile, other studies report that nearly 60 percent of people claim to have experienced it themselves. I hate to break it to you, but love at first sight does not exist. Please don’t kill the messenger.
You know what does exist and can be felt in an instant? Chemistry.
If love is a high, then chemistry is the drug that gets you there — and it comes in several different forms. While people are quick to equate good chemistry with great sex, sexual chemistry is only one face of the dice. There are many types of chemistry — intellectual, spiritual, and creative, just to name a few — and they all mix, match, and compound to give your body a shock and your brain a serious hit of dopamine.
You can’t fake chemistry.
Great chemistry cannot be created. When you have it, you feel it. And like it or not, you either have it or you don’t. In the words of Natalia Genevieve, a Three Day Rule matchmaker based in NYC, “it’s a feeling you have with someone without logically thinking about it.” Aka, you’re not actively trying to hit it off, you just do.
But don’t confuse chemistry and attraction: Just because you find someone hot AF doesn’t mean you’ll be blessed with great chemistry. For the sake of positive thinking, let’s assume you’re clicking with someone you’re really into. How do you know if what you’ve got going on is chemistry?
Personally, I always know if I’ve got good chemistry with someone when we can easily riff off one another without even thinking about it — or, as Genevieve points out, “when the conversation flows for hours without noticing how much time has gone by.”
And, sure, things like body language, eye contact, and being actively engaged are also good indicators of having chemistry with someone, but they can also be easily learned and faked. That ineffable feeling of electricity and effortless natural rhythm? Not a chance.
As you learn more and more about each other, you’ll start to understand your deeper compatibility: how you coexist.
Compatibility is how well you complement each other.
“[In my experience], chemistry is the fairytale,” says Olivia Balsinger, a former matchmaker based in Copenhagen. “And compatibility is the everyday practicality.”
Think of your personality, interests, values, and behaviors as the different puzzle pieces of compatibility. In the early stages of dating, you often take stock of the superficial level of compatibility that covers your similarities and differences. Do you both like dogs? Love ’90s hip-hop? Refuse to go to bed angry? Laugh more than you should at dad jokes? Eat vegan? Live for morning sex? That’s all good and well, but as you learn more and more about each other, you’ll start to understand your deeper compatibility: how you coexist despite all of your similarities and differences.
Balsinger had instant chemistry with her boyfriend but admits that they’ve had to put in the work to be compatible. “My boyfriend is Danish and […] he is much less similar to me (an American) culturally than I would have expected,” she says. “When I moved to Copenhagen, we both had to adjust our behaviors in order to share a compatible lifestyle.” For example, she had to learn to respect his privacy when sharing things on social media, and he has made an effort to embrace her love for adventure by traveling more.
Compatibility isn’t synonymous with commonality.
While having things in common is helpful in a relationship, people often get so wrapped up in searching for similarities that they fail to recognize that sometimes our differences can actually make us more compatible and add healthy balance to our lives. For example, if you’re an introvert, you may find that dating an extrovert takes off some of the pressure in social situations or keeps you from becoming a hermit.
That said, not all disparity makes for great matches. More often than not, huge differences in whether or not you both want kids, where you want to live, strong religious beliefs, or levels of emotional intelligence are all gongs for incompatibility.
At its core, deeper compatibility answers the simple question of, do we get along? Like, really get along. Can you survive nine hours straight in the car or a simple meal at home without ripping each other’s heads off?
It’s easy to mistake chemistry for compatibility.
Good chemistry makes us feel so damn good that we often mistake the feeling for true compatibility.
“You want the person you have chemistry with to also be compatible with you, but it’s not always the case,” says Bryan, 26. He tells me that sometimes he feels so strongly about someone that he thinks he’s compatible with them, but ends up realizing it was just the initial pull of chemistry. “And it grinds away at us, slowly but surely.”
It makes sense. Rarely are we having the time of our lives on a rollercoaster but also trying to flag down a staff member to ask about the ride’s practical specifications. When we are experiencing that exhilarating connection through chemistry, it often makes us think, Oh! We’re so compatible because everything feels so exciting and great and positive when we are together! We’re having such a good time that we don’t stop and ask if there’s actually any compatibility at play.
Got long-term #relationship goals? You definitely need both.
Chemistry may make you feel like you’re soaring through the air, but compatibility is what gives the relationship legs to stand on. For most people, relationships are a nonstarter without at least a little chemistry. In fact, Genevieve reports noticing a trend of people seeking chemistry over compatibility. However, she warns “this lopsided balance can cause people to put more weight on that ‘spark’ than actual values, lifestyle commonalities, and long-term compatibility.”
Ashley, 32, admits that she needs that initial hit of chemistry to jumpstart her interest in someone but that she’s underestimated the importance of compatibility. “It is so unbelievably significant,” she says. “And I didn’t know that until I met someone who I actually got along with for the first time in my life.”
“[I’ve found] you really do need to have both if you want to have a happy and in-love, long-term relationship,” she adds. “Otherwise you’ve got either a best friend or a lover, but not a romantic partner.”