Whenever I ask people about attraction, the word “chemistry” inevitably comes up. Although it is often explained through scientific definitions – something to do with a combination of pheromones and looks – it is ultimately a mystery to us. What attracts us to some and not to others?
More to the point, why are we never attracted to our platonic friends? How often have we heard others talking about a friend of the opposite sex favorably, categorizing him or her as “a great catch,” but claim there’s no chemistry between them? How often have we said the same about our friends? Just what is it that prevents us from forging a romance with a friend?
Is it that friends have become too familiar to us – familiar in the sense of familial, too much like a family member –to be a potential mate? Some scientists may agree with this idea. In fact, one theory is that pheromones were designed so that we could literally sniff out if someone was related to us or not. This, of course, was needed in the days of early man, before modern technology could yield the same answers.
But here’s another way of looking at familial friends: Obviously, as long as they aren’t family members, wouldn’t their familiarity be an asset? Wouldn’t it be great to start a relationship with someone you’ve already known? Imagine the great comfort in knowing all about your mate – likes and dislikes, quirks, charms, passions and habits.
Moreover, think of how wonderful it would be to have a shared past with that person. Building memories together, in fact, has been proven as one of the strongest bonds between successfully married couples. Think, for instance, of those dorky 7th grade photos. It’s one thing to show them to a romantic partner; it’s a whole other thing to remember the day it was taken.
Shared memories and close, familial ties present another important factor in building a loving bond with someone. With our platonic friends, we’ve had the chance to build a type of love that is sometimes not present in chemistry-focused relationships: philia, love in friendship. This type of love has respect, compassion, consideration and empathy built into it. These are all things we would desire in a relationship, but often, the time and effort required seems daunting.
In fact, relationships based on chemistry often have a more difficult time in building this type of friendship-love. The desire for it alone does not make the process of building it any easier. I would venture to say, in fact, that chemistry may even provide a barrier to this type of love.
Of course, the idea of dating a friend is not very appealing for most people simply because without chemistry, there’s no mystery, no rush, no heady thrill. But if chemistry – and the lack thereof – is the only thing preventing a friend from becoming closer, think of all the problems that arise when chemistry is the only factor in choosing a mate. We’ve all seen it, and most romantic comedies have capitalized on it: love can addle our brains and lead us into some unfortunate, even frightening, situations.
Depending on chemistry
One CatholicMatch member famously said in the forums that depending on chemistry was like walking a huge, poorly-trained dog: It leads us into all kinds of trouble. Wouldn’t it seem wise and prudent to avoid that kind of trouble with a trusted friend?
Familial friends have another benefit: shared community. I remember reading somewhere that if our elders could look at our current dating practices, they would be appalled at the lack of community in the process. Take a moment to consider how it was done then: a family or community member arranged a meeting between two families. Everyone already knew everything about each other, or could find out easily.
While I’m certainly not advocating for arranged marriages, I still think there’s something to be said about knowing someone who is part of a shared community. And don’t we have that with our friends, someone we’ve shared our education, pastimes, athletic events or worship with?
In contrast, think about how contemporary dating works: we look at pictures on a screen, make contact, meet, and take it from there. Beyond an Internet search, our date’s background, family and community are unknown to us. One thing that certainly made me second-guess the dating process was the intricate, complex and ultimately exhausting process of getting to know a total stranger. If it is done in the spirit of cynicism and detachment – as it often is in Internet dating – it leads to the dreaded Relationship X-Ray Machine. And that’s the last thing anyone would want. Obviously, a long-term platonic friend poses none of those challenges.
I’ve read many testimonies from elderly married couples who’ve shared decades of time together. Nearly all contribute the success of their long-term relationships to trust, companionship, support and respect – things friends already have. Very few would agree that chemistry alone is enough to sustain a lifelong marriage.
So, in the spirit of trying out something new – or, more accurately, something old – why not look at your friends in a new light? You might be delightfully surprised!