Don’t Let ‘Chemistry’ Fool You in Later Life

Take it from this therapist — it's not always love at first sight

I have always been passionate about love and marriage. I’m a romantic who still believes in finding the love of my life and living Robert Browning’s words: “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be.”

But after two failed marriages, to say that I felt “cautious and fearful” would be a huge understatement.
I met Carlin at an Aikido class. She was traveling south from her home in Oregon and stopped in at our dojo in Mill Valley, Calif., to train with the well-known Aikido instructor and author, George Leonard. A mutual friend introduced us.

Early Hesitation

I wasn’t looking for another relationship and was still trying to recover my balance and my sanity after getting out of a destructive relationship with a woman who slept with a gun under her pillow.
Practicing Aikido was my way of learning how to remain peaceful in stressful situations. It never occurred to me that it would be the place where I would find the love of my life. Unlike most of my previous relationships, this one started so quietly and peacefully I didn’t even recognize it. In fact, I hardly noticed Carlin at all, beyond a simple, “Hello, nice to meet you,” when we were first introduced.
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No Sudden Passion

I probably would never have seen her again if we hadn’t met a week later at a conference in San Diego. I was surprised when she came in the door and recognized her from our earlier meeting, but again, no sparks, no fireworks, no heat.
“Nice looking woman, pleasant,” I thought to myself, but clearly not someone to pursue. I always believed you were either attracted or you weren’t. If you were, you might get to know the person and see if she had “potential.” If not, there was no reason to put any energy into getting to know her better.
I did not quite subscribe to the notion that my best friend espoused, “I could never be friends with a woman I wasn’t sexually attracted to,” but it was pretty close. In the course of the three-day conference, Carlin and I crossed paths a number of times and exchanged pleasantries, but that was about it.
Until something unexpected happened. “Why are you ignoring me?” she asked.

A Question, Then a Shift
I was totally taken aback. I stammered something like, “Ah, well, I….” That led to our sitting down and talking, and we talked and talked for three hours. It turned out we had a lot in common, and all of a sudden there were sparks, and heat, and something more interesting — emotional connection.
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After the conference, she returned to Oregon, but we called and wrote each other. I came for a visit and met her children. She came down to California and met mine. After a few months, it felt like I had found my soul mate and she seemed to feel the same.
But then it was like all the air was let out of the tires. The heat dissipated, along with the passion. I didn’t know what had happened and neither did she. My pattern from the past was to quickly practice one of the “50 ways to leave your lover.” Hey, when the spark goes out, I’m out of here.
But this time, I didn’t run.
Hard Discussions

We got together and we talked. Rather than blaming ourselves or each other for the shift in our attraction, we talked about what happened. We went below the surface to see what subconscious elements may have been involved. She finally blurted out, “I’ve never been involved with a guy who is shorter than I am.”
I felt my face get red. I wanted to run away. I fought my impulse to make light of the comment or to come back with, “Well, I’ve never been involved with a woman who is taller than I am.”

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We realized we had hit on something important. We all have these aspects of love and attraction that generally go unnoticed. They are part of the “chemistry” that is either there or not there. It just seemed natural to both of us for the man to be taller. Even a few inches made a difference to our psyches.
That recognition led me to admit that I felt a little uncomfortable being with a woman who was older than I was. Again, not that much older, but even a few years seemed to make a difference to my psyche.
Fortunately, we both knew something about evolutionary psychology and were aware that there was some survival value for women to be with a tall, strong man who could protect her and her children. There was also survival value for men to be with younger women who were generally better able to have healthy children.

Knowing What's Important
Now we both wanted qualities like love, humor, connection, intelligence and honesty. But our subconscious mind pulled us in other directions. The more we talked, the more we decided to act against our “instincts.” If we had done what comes naturally, we would probably never have connected in the first place and when the flame dimmed, we would have gone our separate ways.
Instead, we chose to go deeper. We learned to laugh about the “height and age” bias. We decided we had finally learned to live with love and we got married. Of course that didn’t mean all our problems disappeared. We had to deal with things like depression, irritability and anger. But these were real problems we could learn to solve.
We’ve been together now for 35 years. We’re even more in love than we were at the beginning and we continue to fight our subconscious programming that seeks to pull us apart. We’re still learning how to love deeply and well. I feel incredibly blessed to have met Carlin and doubly blessed that we resisted the temptation to run away when the heat was turned down.
Jed Diamond, PhD, is a therapist, marriage and family counselor and author. He has written 12 books on health-related issues and specializes in the area of gender medicine and health. See his work at MenAlive.com.

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