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What Happens When We Feel Romantic Chemistry, and How Much Does It Matter?

drawing of romantic chemistry supplies

Verywell / Nusha Ashjaee

Key Takeaways

  • Romantic chemistry is often described as a "spark" felt between two people upon first meeting.
  • While sexual chemistry is an initiator, emotional and intellectual connections make for longer-lasting relationships.
  • Greater use of dating apps has changed our perception of chemistry and how we recognize it.

After any date, whether you're recapping with friends or evaluating on your own, one question is almost always considered: Was there a spark?

This "spark", or more generally, romantic chemistry, is the highly sought-after indication that a deeper connection has been forged. And while it's safe to say that we can recognize romantic chemistry when we feel it, being able to describe it or name its components can be a bit trickier.

There's more to it than first impressions, but with greater reliance on dating apps to seek romantic connections during the pandemic, sometimes a first impression is all you get. For many people, this has changed the perception of chemistry and how we recognize it.

What is Chemistry?

Research has defined interpersonal chemistry as "perceived instant connection that exists when meeting a person for the first time." The connection that's felt between two people can indicate "they experience their interaction as something more than the sum of their separate contributions."

A 2016 study on the subject refers to romantic love—the successor to romantic chemistry—as a natural, often positive addiction that evolved millions of years ago as a survival tactic to promote bonding and reproduction. When interacting with a person you're attracted to, research shows that the body ups its production of dopamine, the pleasure neurotransmitter.

Angela N. Holton, Dating and relationship expert

We can build chemistry by laughter and shared values, someone who speaks our love language and makes us feel seen, heard and understood.

— Angela N. Holton, Dating and relationship expert

This might explain why the experience of having chemistry with someone can feel so good. Excitement meets craving more time spent with that person. Therapist and social worker Alisha Powell, PhD, LCSW, likens chemistry to a state of euphoria.

"There's an exhilarating rush of powerlessness to control your feelings as you start to know the person better and feel more attracted to them as time passes," Powell says. "You look forward to seeing the person and daydream about your favorite characteristics of them. You may feel very self conscious around them or find yourself doing things that you hope they'll find endearing or attractive."

Chemistry is born of several different factors like physical attraction, mental stimulation, shared values and interests. The list goes on. But sexual attraction may be especially important, according to director of The Intimacy Institute Jenni Skyler, PhD, a sex therapist, sexologist and relationship and family therapist. She points to sexual attraction as "the door that opens romance."

"Without it, most relationships won't even get off the ground, let alone to a second date," Skyler says.

But of course, chemistry can change as a relationship evolves. Skyler says the chemistry of a new relationship will inevitably fade over time.

"When things are not as shiny, new and mysterious, chemistry needs to be redefined... based on the couples' perception of shared sexual beliefs, preferences, desires, and needs," Skyler says.

Because that initial physical or sexual chemistry can dwindle over time, many people require intellectual and emotional connection to achieve that inexplicable spark or "click." This kind of authentic connection has greater lasting power, says dating and relationship expert Angela N. Holton.

"There are many people who are sapiosexuals, who build chemistry with romantic partners based on intellectual stimulation," Holton says. "We can build chemistry by laughter and shared values, someone who speaks our love language and makes us feel seen, heard and understood."

Chemistry in a Digital World

In any first-time interaction between two people, the type of relationship that will be pursued—no relationship, casual friendship, close friendship, or romantic relationship—is often determined in less than an hour, and it takes just five minutes to evaluate compatibility. First impressions aren't everything, but a lot can ride on them when it comes to romantic chemistry.

First impressions carry a lot of weight on dating apps, as well. They can be make-or-break, even. And because these apps prioritize physical appearance as the initial foothold to romantic connection, the perception of chemistry has changed.

Alisha Powell, PhD

Dating apps can cause us to miss true connections and romantic chemistry because of a profile picture.

— Alisha Powell, PhD

"It's hard to smell another person over an app," Skyler says. "It's hard to gauge their energy and body language. So much is lost without the face-to-face interaction."

Swiping through a few photos and relatively shallow personality questions won't give you the kind of information an in-person meeting would. Instead, users can determine whether or not someone is a suitable partner without really giving them a chance. Powell notes that relying too heavily on these "snap judgements" can often do us a disservice.

"Dating apps can cause us to miss true connections and romantic chemistry because of a profile picture," she says. "While we may have a type, there's a strong possibility that we could be attracted to someone who may not be our typical type after having a conversation and spending time with them."

While dating apps are great tools for meeting many different types of people, the interactions often fail to provide a real representation of whether a connection is there or not. Conversations held on dating apps can create the illusion of chemistry, or lack thereof, Skyler says, based on our own projections.

"People are often disappointed to go on a face-to-face date and realize the chemistry they thought was there, based on the story they made up about this person, is not accurate," she says.

Regardless of how you meet, it's important to spend the time together that allows chemistry to unfold. In all its forms, chemistry is necessary for a lasting and fulfilling relationship, Holton says.

"Chemistry in communication, in growing together and in your values, sexual chemistry — which may not look exactly like it did in its initial stages — and emotional and mental chemistry," she says. "No two relationships are the same. Each couple creates their own rules of engagement. I believe couples have to determine what aspects of chemistry are important to them both and be committed to nurturing them."

What This Means For You

While sexual chemistry is fun and flashy, more than just physical attraction factors into romantic chemistry on the whole. Emotional and intellectual chemistry is just as, if not more so, important for a long-lasting and fulfilling relationship.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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