Q – I’ve been dating a guy for a few weeks who is great on paper. We both love to travel and our kids are similar ages. but I am a little ashamed to say that he is not my physical type. Can love work without chemistry?
A – It is said that the eyes are the window to the soul. Unfortunately, when it comes to dating, many potentially epic love affairs end before they start simply because we don’t like how he looks. Let me ask you this – if you were blind, would you find him attractive? Many people confuse good looks with attraction, and they are not the same. Sure, we turn our heads when a hunky man swaggers by, but if we talk to him he can quickly plummet from prince to toad -hot outside and empty inside. Alternatively, a guy with crooked teeth and a bit of a paunch can reveal confidence and playfulness that slide him into our heart, and into our bed.
Attraction appears to be a mystery, but it can be explained by science. Sure, how he looks plays a part as does how he sounds (my friend almost canceled a first date with her now husband because she wasn’t keen on his phone voice) and even smells. In what is know as the sweaty tee-shirt experiment, researchers found that women were sexually attracted to the smell of men who were genetically dissimilar from themselves, indicating that mate selection is influenced by subliminal scent. If this initial lust was the real thing it would stand the test of time, yet most of us are familiar with so-called chemistry that fizzled. So you like this guy, he has some of the major qualities you want in a mate – can you make yourself fall in love?
According to research on love and marriage, rather than accidentally fall in love, we can step into it and sculpt the outcome. We can create a deep bond by cultivating skills that lead to trust and connection. Psychologist Robert Epstein studied what he calls Western love matches and compared them to arranged marriages. He found that the feelings of love and affection in love matches fade by as much as half in the first eighteen months of relationship, but the love in arranged marriages grows gradually and eventually surpasses love matches. He set out to learn how we fall in love with a stranger, himself choosing a woman he met on a plane who agreed to experiment with him. They created intimacy through trust building exercises such as sharing vulnerabilities, deep eye contact, cultivating affectionate touch, and seeking shared adventures – many of the relationship skills I write about in this column. And they fell in love. He later taught university students to connect in similar ways with friends and strangers. The students who created intimate moments reported greater feelings of closeness with their partners.
Whether you like the way he looks or not, you have more say than you think in this crazy little thing called love. Don’t confuse finding him good looking with finding him sexually and romantically attractive, and don’t discard a guy just because the sparks aren’t there on the first date. Leave chemistry in the lab. Then close your eyes, pull him close, and conduct your own real-world experiments with attraction, lust, and love.