Real courtship means waiting to act on initial chemistry


Your [9/23 View column] is thought provoking, and rings true. I'd like to hear more about the conflict that "chemistry ... so compelling and so beautiful ... utterly out of our control ...," and "even when chemistry happens, it doesn't mean that it's good, right, or necessary to act upon it sexually, let alone proceed into an intentional courtship." There's where it hits the fan, isn't it? How, and when, does one know whether a good relationship can develop from an initial chemistry? And along those lines -- if there's no chemistry at first, can it be developed over time as the relationship grows? It seems unlikely, based on what you've said [in this column.] CPK, Las Vegas

You pose two questions ...

If there is an initial chemistry, how do we know whether/how to procede? One can only imagine the chaos that would follow were we to act upon every passing chemistry.

Married people, for example, learn to simply enjoy the 'chemistries' that, over the years, cross their path. To enjoy them like you enjoy a beautiful sunset as you drive down the highway. You don't stop the car. You don't turn the car to the west and drive like hell to chase it. You just look, breathe, smile, nod to yourself, and go on driving home.

But, for single people, how do you know whether/how to act on a compelling chemistry?

That's just it. You don't. You can't, not ultimately. There's no way around the risk. You can't know whether sex works between you until you have it. You can't know whether a healthy and meaningful relationship is possible until you jump in to explore it. And living together is not, in fact, a way to test the viability of marriage, because only getting married can provide the opportunity to experience marriage.

It's the difference between testing a wing design in a wind tunnel and the actual maiden voyage of a new aircraft. In the end, the only way to know whether it will fly is to get in and take off.

But ...

We do have one ally to mitigate the risk, and thereby make the risk more reasonable and measured. That ally is time. We can let time pass.

We can decide to override sexual longing and desire; indeed, to harness those energies in service to steady, meaningful courtship. In real courtship we meet. Really meet. We begin to lay the foundation of friendship. We shape the terms of loyalty, meaning, and intention. The maddening, breathless desire of chemistry surrounds the courtship, yes. But it is not a siege that chokes and starves the courtship; rather, it is a welcomed torment that beckons and compels it. Sex is always more powerful and consequential than we think. So, respecting that raw power, the courting couple tkes the time to build a bond capable of containing that energy in service to meaning, respect, and wholeness.

Now, I'm not saying that, in every case, sex on the first date is the fatal flaw which must doom a deeper, long-term relationship. But let me assure you that some people use sex to make certain they never meet anyone. and to make sure no one ever 'sees' them. Knows them.

Ironic, yes? Moving quickly to be naked so that no one ever sees you naked.

The difference between seduction and courtship is endurance.

And, lastly, if there is no chemistry at first, can it be developed over time as the relationship grows?

Sometimes. There are stories out there of two colleagues who become good friends over months and even years. Then, one day, the both look up as if slapped. Eyes meet. Chemistry erupts. Both will later swear they never before thoght about the other in those terms. But now they are both choking on chemistry.

I've only had that experience once in my life. Really surprised me. Just looked up one day at a woman I'd known for almost two years -- and that only collegially -- and found myself admiring her blue jeans as she walked away. Twice in my life I've been in love, and that moment was the beginning of #2.

But, more commonly, people meet and decide within minutes (and I mean MINUTES) whether this person is or could ever be a person with whom chemistry would ever happen. If not, these relationships are filed under other headings -- friend, colleague, acquaintance, good times ... but not under the heading of Possible Courtship.