I remember a while back hanging in a bar with a group of girl- friends for some after-work drinks. There I was approached by a fairly attractive guy who delivered kind of an original line. I wasn’t quite sure what to say when he said to me quite enthusiastically, “You’ve got one of the sexiest faces I’ve ever seen”. Young, inexperienced married woman that I was, I don’t think that I’d ever heard “sexy” and “face” in the same sentence, but I guess I understood intuitively what he meant; even though now it’s still hard to articulate. Something about the twinkle in my eye or maybe my body language communicated that I was confident and comfortable with my sexuality, and as any testosterone loaded male, he was quick to pick up on this and voiced his appreciation. At least I think (hope?) that’s all he meant.
Never having been one to be on the prowl in a bar or at a party looking to be “picked up” (yeah I found the love of my life really early and settled), I’ve nonetheless been one to keenly observe the workings of those sex hormones after the sun goes down and the alcohol begins to flow. Yes, there is definitely something to be said for muted lights, laughter, chinking glasses, soulful music, wine, beer and the week-end horniness that goes into so many of the bad sexual choices chalked up to “sexual chemistry”.
We’ve become so seduced by the multiplicity of chick-flicks which assault our senses that we need to pause long enough to distinguish reality from fantasy. Such shows rope us into the belief that we will one day find true-love unexpectedly in a bar, an elevator or in the vegetable aisle at the supermarket; once the “chemistry” is right! As such, we grow to associate the “idea” of love with butterflies in the pit of our stomach and the unexpected surge of good pleasure that infuses us when our eyes make four with a stranger or when, like in my example, a guy hands us an irresistible one-liner.
But is this sexual chemistry all that it’s cracked up to be and is it at all predictive of a deep abiding long-term relationship? When we become addicted to the chemical responses which are characteristic of early attraction, we begin to believe that this is what should constitute a good relationship. This has unfortunately influenced today’s social habit of falling in and out of love. Some of us may dismiss this discussion as irrelevant and think that such behaviour is only characteristic of giddy-headed adolescents. I’ve however witnessed first-hand my fair share of marital break-ups or of committed relationships which went awry simply because one partner got caught in the chemistry trap. In such a scenario what appeared to be a totally solid relationship, is suddenly abandoned because one partner has suddenly fallen “out of love” with his/her spouse, and “in love” with someone else.
What these individuals fail to realise is that they have really fallen “in love’ with their own chemical responses and are in danger of being in love with love. Dr. David Givens, author of Love Signals describes sexual chemistry as the basic engagement of the brain’s pleasure centre (so that guy who says he’s hooked on you, is actually hooked on how you make him feel). Other researchers in the field of sexual attraction have discovered that romantic relationships often progress in stages which are determined by our responses to particular hormones. So according to this theory, there is a physical, chemical, scientific reason for that can’t-get you-out-of-my-mind-kind-of-feeling, which features prominently during the initial stage of a romantic relationship.
Where we end up in trouble is where we find ourselves to be always in search of this chemical high and as a result, get caught up in either emotional or sexual infidelity. Even if this does not happen, we can grow to believe that there is something decidedly missing or wrong with our primary relationship, simply because the butterflies have died. Research carried out on a number of couples, actually found that so-called “love” or “passion” hormones were in fact at much higher levels in those in the early stages of a romance, than in those who were in a long-term relationship. Others have confirmed that the chemical high of a new love-interest only lasts for about two years.
Should this normal relationship flow then be the premise for us to allow our eyes to roam? Should it cause us to perceive that our relationship in its changed state is severely lacking? Of course there is much to be said for keeping love alive, working on keeping our marriages interesting, re-igniting passion and the like. No quarrels here with those ideas. Nonetheless, it is perhaps imperative, for our own peace of mind, that we accept that the change in chemical responses in a relationship need not signal the death of excitement nor a need to go back to what a couple initially had. The truth is, where long-term relationships are concerned, you can “never go home again”. In other words, your relationship will never be what it seemed at first; and perhaps you shouldn’t want it to be.
This is not to say that sexual chemistry is necessarily a bad thing. The way I see it, this initial intense attraction provides the basis for a good “couple memory” as it were. It allows the couple in question to share a memory of that intensity which propelled their relationship to a new level; and this is good. It creates a shared history upon which they can always reflect. Where the whole chemistry equation becomes problematic, is where we fail to recognise that as our relationship changes, so will our chemical responses to it. If a couple does not come to terms with this, or if one party’s expectations remain immature, then dissatisfaction will continue to characterize the relationship. This dissatisfaction is also responsible for many of the “accidental” affairs which occur. You know the kind where you sort of slipped and fell into another guy’s bed because you were searching for some needed sexual excitement.
This is why couples must actively work at constantly refining and redefining what they have together. There is much to be said for deep love and the attachment which is stimulated by the hormone Oxytocin. As couples continue to kiss, hug and connect sexually, they are in essence solidifying their relationship in new ways. The more active the sex-life, the more deep will be the connection. It may not be the heated rush of ripping off clothes as you did the first times you made love but as you grow to know your partner more, love-making becomes a more meaningful display of your commitment which is born out of knowledge and intimacy. This explains the pleasure which married couples often derive from cuddling together on mornings; there is a sense of intimacy and belonging that actually supersedes the heat of the early relationship. As expected, if you’ve been married for ten years, who you were as a lover at twenty-five, won’t be who you are as a lover at thirty-five; and hopefully your partner would have grown sexually with you.
For those in committed relationships, the next time you are tempted to go ‘what if . . . “ after some guy or girl, comes on to you, do the double-take. Reflect and recognize that every new relationship is likely to go through the same sequence. Besides, throwing away what you have built together, to recapture what you have lost, is usually not worth the pain. In two years time, you’re likely to be in the same position, no matter what the romance novels say. There is something then to be said for our need to redefine true love as a decision of commitment as opposed to it being the simple animal response to a chemical reaction. We humans can be a whole lot more than that.