It takes much more than just sexual chemistry to create that elusive spark. Doctor NerdLove offers a guide to increasing emotional engagement on a date.
[Editor’s note – This is the second post in a series exploring the question: What is Chemistry? Read Part 1 here.]
So we’re talking about chemistry – that ineffable ”spark” that theoretically you either feel or you don’t when you meet someone.
The idea of chemistry-as-fate, this moment when two compatible people meet has taken on the level of myth in our culture. It’s become another way of saying “love at first sight” or “soul mates”… the idea that by random chance, you have found someone with whom you just click, something you just “feel in your bones”.
The problem of course, is that it’s not fate that’s pulled you together, it’s a combination of factors including sexual tension, intellectual engagement and emotional connections… and you can make it happen in the people you meet.
Now last time, we talked about the physical aspect: taking attraction and ratcheting it up via sexual tension. This time we’re going to talk about the other side of chemistry: the emotional and intellectual connections that make up that elusive, mythical “connection”.
I LOVE YOU FOR YOUR MIND…
Physical desire is all well and good, but for true chemistry, you need more than just sexual attraction. Even when you’re burning up the sheets every night and twice on Sundays, the hottest of relationships can be brought down when the two of you simply can’t hold a conversation afterwards or agree on what to watch on Netflix. While “hot and dumb” does have it’s appeal for both genders, most people are looking for more than just animal attraction. They also want to feel that they connect with someone on an emotional and intellectual level.
To that end when we talk about chemistry, we often talk about how “it felt like we had an instant connection,” or “we just had so much to talk about,” or “I just had so much fun I lost track of time!”
In other words: you want to do more than just get inside your date’s pants, you want to get inside their heads.
YOU MUST COMMUNICATE YOUR PASSION
Passion is attractive. We are drawn to people who have passion for something in their lives; it indicates that the person we are talking to has depth and interests outside of the hum drum day to day ”get up, go to work/school, come home, eat, go to bed”. We are drawn to passion in others because it kindles our own emotions. Passionate people have a certainty about them and when they can talk about the things they are passionate about, it’s hard not to get caught up in their emotional rhythm.
Tom Cruise remains one of my go-to references for how passion can create connections: even if you think he’s a couch-jumping nutjob, you can’t deny the man’s charisma picks you up and carries you along when he gets excited about something… because he can express his passion clearly and without restraint, even when talking about something painfully boring and mundane.
This clip from Mission Impossible 3 is one of my favorite examples of how he communicates his passion for something that is ultimately pretty goddamned dull. He’s unapologetic – he doesn’t say “yeah, my job kind of sucks”, he speaks with pride and enthusiasm. He has a firm gaze and a light tone, speaking with a smile, as opposed to looking down and away, shuffling his feet or otherwise giving an indication that he really isn’t that enthused about his work. He doesn’t get bogged down in technicalities about how traffic is responds like fluid or the history of freeways or dip into insider jargon – cutting straight to the aspects that he finds fascinating in a clear and concise manner.
When you feel passionate about something and you can communicate that passion to other people, they can’t help but feel connected to it.
INTERESTED IS INTERESTING
Want to get someone interested in you? Show them that you find them fascinating.
We like to think that we’re all special snowflakes with a rich inner core of wonder and beauty waiting for other people to discover it. This is part of why we instinctively like the people who like us and who show interest in our lives; it validates our belief that we are, in fact, awesome.
This isn’t to say that the path to a person’s heart is by shoving your nose as far as possible up their rectum; being a suck-up isn’t going to get you far with anyone who isn’t holding open auditions for the role of “toady”. Instead, you want to make a point of getting to know them by being an active listener.
One of my best friends networks the way other people breathe and can make friends with just about anyone. Her trick is that she immediately shows that she’s interested in hearing what they have to say about any topic that comes up by asking questions, then using those answers as a springboard to getting deeper into what they think. She makes a point to relate to them, pointing out how their experiences or interests intertwine or contrast, and then moves on to asking about another conversational subject. Repeat the process a few times and she comes away with a valuable new contact who thinks she’s a cool person to know.
Most conversations tend to be profoundly one-sided: one person talking, with the other making occasional monosyllabic “yes, I’m still listening” noises while they wait for their opportunity to talk. Active listening, on the other hand, means not just paying attention to what your date has to say, but making a point of engaging them – making sure that you understand and asking questions in order to prompt them to expand upon the topic.
By asking follow up questions, asking to explain something you weren’t sure of or to expand on a subject, you’re showing them that you’re interested in what they have to say.
Making a point to show that you’re listening to them and wanting to know more about what they have to say makes people feel more connected to you. And building chemistry is all about building connections.
ENGAGE HER EMOTIONALLY
Part of what makes for good chemistry is to affect someone on an emotional level. We’ve all been on dates where the strongest emotion we felt was apathy and we were hoping for something to catch on fire, if only to relieve the boredom.
The worst dates aren’t the ones where you actively dislike someone, they’re the ones where you don’t feel anything the realization that you’re watching precious seconds of your life drain away and you’ll never recover them. It’s all well and good to be able to engage someone intellectually, but you need to spur an emotional reaction as well.
You want to elicit emotions from your dates; we appreciate people who can make us feel excitement, curiosity or the warm-and-fuzzies.
Part of the reason why women rate “a sense of humor” so high on attractive features is because being able to make her laugh is part of being able to make her feel. A guy who can entertain a woman and make her laugh is someone who can get an emotional reaction out of her.
Now getting a reaction out of someone is pretty simple – act like a giant cock and you’ll get them to respond to you. You may also get slapped, insulted and or have pastries thrown at you, but it’s still a reaction.
Getting the reactions you want on the other hand: laughter, excitement, “that’s interesting” or “awwww” are tougher. One of the best ways of taking your date on an emotional journey is through telling stories. Stories are incredible tools when it comes to dating – they keep people entertained, they are a chance to show how awesome your life is without appearing conceited and, critically, when done right, they make people feel. You capture their interest and lead them on an emotional journey while conveying who you are as a person.
It’s easy to make an opportunity to tell some stories about yourself; if you’ve already been making a point to ask questions, you can use those as a springboard to set up information about yourself. If you’re talking about travelling, you have an opportunity to transition into a story about something cool that happened to you the last time you travelled. Don’t have any cool travelling stories? Pick an aspect of travel and relate that to a different area of your life.
Just remember: your ultimate goal is to make your date feel good. This is not the time to talk about when your puppy died or the last bit of wisdom Me-Maw had to offer. Save that for later.
This is because they’re an important component of chemistry and attraction. Ask somebody about what initially attracted them to their boyfriend or girlfriend – you’ll hear about how “we had so much in common” as often as you hear about their cute butt or how much they made her laugh.
We like people we have things in common with; we feel instinctively that they understand us because they’re so in sync in these other areas. Commonalities help build rapport and comfort – critical qualities when building chemistry.
How do we find those commonalities? Well, it goes right back to being interested in your date. You find them by asking questions. Take my friend the social butterfly: part of what makes her able to charm people so well is that she makes a point of relating how similar they are. Whenever she asks questions, she’s always on the lookout for points of commonality, where she can point out how their views or interests intersect.
Now, commonalities don’t have to be a one-to-one match. If your favorite movie is The Return of the Kingand your date’s is My Dinner With Andre, it doesn’t mean that you haven’t got any common ground; you both like movies after all. If you drill deeper, ask why they like what they like, you can find other areas of commonality. The more you can relate her interests to your own and vice versa, the more you will feel that you have in common together.
Another way to build an emotional connection is to ask someone to justify why we should like them.
It seems a little Jedi Mind-Trick-y and manipulative but there’s a point to this. Stick with me for a minute.
Everybody, no matter how confident or secure they are with themselves wonders why the person they’re on a date with would be interested in them. Women especially are prone to this: society has taught them that men are going to see them as sex-objects first, potential partners second. It can be hard to break someone out of this mindset, especially if they’ve gone out with a few assholes who thought they could manipulate their way into getting laid. When you’re trying to build that emotional connection, you want your potential partners to know that you see them for more than just superficial qualities whether it be money, looks, sexual desirability, status, etc.
The best way to do this is to ask them to explain why they’re awesome. We are asking them to, essentially, qualify themselves to us.
There will be some people who use this as a way of trying to frame the situation as “you are seeking my approval, proving you are worthy of being attracted to me”. This isn’t the approach you want to take; your attitude should be wanting to find out more about what makes this person awesome and then agreeing with them that yes, it does make them awesome.
(Side note: another benefit to using qualifications is that you can screen for traits that you like in your relationships. If you’re an adventurous type, you don’t necessarily want to be trying dating someone who is more of a homebody; you want someone who wants to go jumping out of planes and exploring jungles with you.)
Qualifications are easy to work into the “getting to know you” stage of dates. You start off with low-investment questions – “Are you adventurous?” – that lead to reasons to compliment them – “Awesome, I love adventurous people because they’re so exciting and into trying new things” and then taking it a bit further; “So what’s the most exciting, whacked out thing you’ve ever done and please don’t tell me it was something lame like sneaking into a movie you didn’t pay for…”
See what you did there?
Right there, you’ve asked them to tell you that they’re cool (because they’re adventurous), complimented them for being cool (because you like adventurous people), and engaged them a bit further with a challenging, flirty tease… tying back into building a physical rapport via sexual tension, while also showing that you find their experiences interesting.
You can change the subject with another question (“What are you passionate about” “So is $JOB something you’ve always wanted to be growing up, or did you want to do something else?”) or take it further by making an observation and turning that into a qualification – “You know, I can tell from $INSERT_QUALITY_HERE that you’re $INSERT_DESIRABLE_QUALITY HERE and that’s really cool; I like people who are $DESIRABLE_QUALITY because…”
As a general rule, you want to keep your questions – and the resulting compliments – non-physical. The message you’re sending someone when you use qualifications is that you understand them as a person, that you can see that there’s more to them than what’s on the surface – a pretty face, a hot body, outward signs of wealth or status, etc.
One of the surest ways to kill chemistry is through ambiguity.
Nobody likes sitting through a date with “Does she like me?” going through their heads. The more mental energy your date has to spend trying to figure out whether or not you actually are interested in them, the less time they’re spending actually enjoying themselves. In fact, if they’re interested in you but you’re so worried about showing interest back – whether it’s a mistaken fear of being seen as creepy1 or for fear of losing “power” in the interaction – that you never display any… well, they’re going to feel rejected and hurt.
So yes, you want to let your date know that you are, in fact, interested in them. Now, this isn’t to say that you want to declare your undying love right then and there – that demonstrates a lack of boundaries and low social intelligence. However, you can indicate that you like someone in a way that is non-threatening or intimidating. You tie it into a compliment about them – a “this is why I like you” statement, as it were.
For example, let’s get back to the question of “What’s the craziest, most exciting thing you’ve ever done?” When they tell their story – and they almost always have one – then you take that as an opportunity to be direct and show that you’re interested. “You know what, you really are $DESIRABLE_QUALITY, and I like that about you. People who are $DESIRABLE_QUALITY are more $OTHER_DESIRABLE_QUALITY, and that’s always awesome.”
When you demonstrate interest, you still need to keep the push-pull dynamic I mentioned in the previous article. Sometimes, for whatever reason, your date may be a little uncomfortable with being complimented or told so directly that you like them. When this happens, you want to give a release as a way of making them more comfortable – a socially acceptable way of dropping the subject and moving on to something else. As a general rule of thumb, I recommend a gentle, playful tease: “It’s too bad that you’re X,” especially if I can call it back to something we’d mentioned earlier. It works to prick the bubble: you’re not hitting on her now, you’re joking with her and the moment passes, allowing her to become comfortable again.
… BUT I WANT YOU FOR YOUR ASS
Keep in mind: chemistry is a mix of physical attraction and emotional engagement. You need to make sure that you have the right balance of sexual tension and emotional connections. Too much sexual tension and not enough emotion and that spark becomes purely physical – great if that’s all that you’re both looking for, but there will be plenty of people who want more than just a physical connection. Too much emotional engagement without sexual tension, on the other hand, is one of the ways you end up in the Friend Zone.
Find the right balance and the next thing you know, your date will be telling their friends about how you just had that “spark” from the very first date.
Lead image of couple courtesy of Shutterstock
Photo of bored couple courtesy of Shutterstock
Photo of couple in restaurant patio courtesy of Shutterstock
Photo of kissing couple in restaurant courtesy of Shutterstock