On Chemistry- or the lack thereof

I was talking to an ex recently. We had dated briefly, a couple of years ago over the course of a month, one summer in India. I was nineteen and he was twenty one. I was dropping by on vacation from university in Canada to visit family, and he was home for the summer from an engineering school in the South. He was one of those people the internet had dropped into my life. We’d met through Blogger. We had a few mutual acquaintances; I’d stumbled onto his blog through one of them, and had been amused by his particular brand of self deprecating humour and snide commentary. I’d left a comment, and he’d visited my blog in return.

We began chatting in the Winter, over Gtalk and Skype (but never webcamming)- and soon we were talking almost daily for an hour or so. I was charmed by the way he used big words nonchalantly, and the slightly awkward, verging-on-flirtation texts he sent me. Here was a boy who’d read Douglas Adams, who discussed Iron and Wine with me, who was actuallyfunny. Who going by Facebook, also appeared to be six feet tall and ripped. We were so compatible. We agreed to be each others’ back up if we were still unmarried at forty. As someone who’d been told throughout high school to save my vocabulary for an essay, I felt like a starving woman, suddenly told she was now a judge on Top Chef.

I had no idea what was going through his head, but I found myself crushing on himself in the way that a nineteen year old girl can crush on someone she’s only ever interacted with online.

The two of us made plans for the summer when we were finally going to be in the same place. Then suddenly, inexplicably, my crush wore out. By the time I was in Calcutta, sweaty and going to meet him for the first time at a chain coffee-place, it was only a vague memory. The conversation flowed easily that first day, as we sipped overpriced lemonade, and I listened somewhat uneasily to Akon singing about his Lamborghini Gallado. I commented on the unfortunate choice of music we were being subjected to, and he looked somewhat sheepish as he confessed that he quite liked Akon.

Okay. Was not expecting that.

Nevertheless I shook it off, as we left the coffee shop and started ambling down the dusty greenery of the city streets. We talked and laughed, our hands lingering by the invisible line that marked the space between our bodies, never working up enough courage to actually touch. I think I took his arm, in a brave attempt at crossing it. We repeated this sort of pseudo-date several times over the course of the next week, and then on one of these repeats we were joking about being back-ups when he said carelessly, “So do you want to try it out? For real?”

I froze in disbelief, mumbled something about needing to think about it and ran off home. As I rolled over the question in my head that evening, I wondered why I hadn’t just said yes.

Here was a boy who’d read Douglas Adams, who discussed Iron and Wine with me, who was actually funny. Who really was six feet tall and ripped. We were so compatible.

And yet, there was something missing. I called him over the phone and asked him why he was asking me out. “What do you mean?”, he said. I stuttered, trying to phrase it correctly. “I mean, there doesn’t seem to be any mush… does there?”.

I don’t remember his reply, but I ended up saying yes, and so we introduced our social circles to each other and went on actual dates. Then we kissed. Several times. And it became clear to me that this was not going to work. “It was like kissing a goldfish!”, I wailed to my friends. I had it on good authority that he was a good kisser- he’d dated a friend of a friend before- so it couldn’t be that. “Are you seriously going to break up with him because your kisses are shitty?”, my best friend asked me.

As it happened, I did. I wound up breaking up with him over the course of one of our long walks, and getting together with another boy- a musician with dimples, a fondness for distorted guitar riffs I didn’t understand, and a limited vocabulary (our kisses were altogether more satisfying). It wasn’t a terrible loss to the Ex though. As it turned out, he wasn’t quite over the friend-of-a-friend and asked her out again. It was quite an amicable break-up and we continued to talk over the years.

Here was a boy who’d read Douglas Adams, who discussed Iron and Wine with me, who was actually funny. Who really was six feet tall and ripped. We were so compatible.

But we have no chemistry”, I told him as I said goodbye.

We hadn’t talked in a while when he pinged me on Facebook a few days ago. I am now twenty two. I’ve believe that sexuality is fluid, and gender is performative. My taste in music has become more obscure, I’ve become a strident feminist, and I try to question the language I use and the cultural and social prejudices and expectations I’ve been taught to consider as the way things “should” be. I have also been dating a skinny, incredibly sarcastic Editor with the personality of a grumpy old man, for the greater part of the last two years. He looks nothing the suave pretty boys I used to date, he will probably never make a lot of money, our first kiss was terrible, and he doesn’tdo romantic gestures, but he makes me laugh. Two years on, we haven’t yet run out of things to talk about and I still find myself hooked. What I’m saying is that I’ve changed a fair amount.

The ex is single, and finds himself weary of hook ups; he wants a real relationship.

“I look around and suddenly everyone I know is in a long term relationship, and I’m thinking wtf have I been doing?”, he confessed to me the other day.

He doesn’t seem to have changed all that much, though he’s become more set in his tastes, and switched from Engineering to Management. I recomended OkCupid to him, while warning him of the creeps, and although it hasn’t really taken off in India yet, he messaged me to thank me for the suggestion, and asked me to check out his profile. I obliged and noted that the site screamed “You’re a 93% match!” at us.

“Just shows you how the algorithm can’t really account for chemistry”, I said.

He agreed, but added, “ It’s about place, time, state of mind, openness, objective at that point of time, and a lot of other things, which put together you call chemistry. It’s not like it could never exist between the two of us. It just didn’t back then, otherwise arranged marriages would never work.”

I privately thought that I’d changed so much since, that we wouldn’t really be compatible today, despite what OkCupid thought. On chat, I agreed with him, and he told me that the fact that we hadn’t had a chance to really spend time together hadn’t helped our case back then. Neither did we really have common friends.

“We were doomed to fail”, he said.

I disagreed with him. “You can like-like someone from online. We may have been compatible, but there was no real mush there, and that was the problem.”

He countered by insisting that you couldn’t possibly begin to connect with someone online.

I’d met the Editor only once (at a Farewell party for their graduating class ironically enough), and I’d started to like him from the long conversations we’d had on Facebook since then, before we met in person again. We’d had no common friends at the time.

“You have to be in the state of mind to really want a boyfriend at that point then”, the Ex said.

Again, not true. At the time, I hadn’t been looking for anything. I was once again, visiting India over the summer, and I had no intention of leading myself to heartbreak when I left. He wasn’t even in the same city for the majority of that summer.

“ But there are unconscious pressures, which you can ignore just as easily as give in to, like friends and their expectations, age, opportunity and curiosity again, the intangible part that’s difficult to reason”, the Ex argued. “There has to be some common ground to go on”.

At our first meeting, the Editor and I had barely spoken to each other, but I was strangely drawn to the scruffy, lanky man with glasses, who refused to step into the rain with the rest of the drunken rowdy bunch, and stubbornly swigged his beer inside the house, as he rolled joint after joint. I snuggled up to him briefly in my drunken haze, and gave him a kiss on the cheek before I left the party.

“Aha!”, said the Ex. “That was your common ground. Something to laugh about and bond over later.”

Not quite. When I remembered later, I was mortified, and as when I finally brought it up two weeks after we started talking on Facebook, it turned out that he didn’t even remember, given how drunk he had been. And when I hesitantly brought up my unexpected crush to my friends, the general reaction I received was one of bemused puzzlement.

“So no common ground, no common friends really, he wasn’t even my type”, I said.

We argued back and forth for a bit, both of us firm on our stance.

“My theory is chemistry is a state of mind”, the Ex declared, at the end of our conversation. I still disagreed, but it was late, and I was sleepy, so I said good night.

I am most decidedly not a romantic, but from my romantic misadventures, I’ve come to believe that whether two people connect or not is one of the more unpredictable, unexplainable things in life. Chemistry is either there, or it isn’t.

Companionship, sure, that can come with time, and it needs to if you’re looking for something long-term- but unless that indefinable something exists in the first place, that something that turns someone ordinary into someone whose every orifice the sun shines out of, compatibility isn’t going to quite cut it.

– Written for Medium 


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