Do You Two Have Chemistry?
By Amy Spencer
Sweaty palms? Sort of. A pounding heart? A bit. Even so, you’re still not completely sure there are sparks between you. Understandable: While it’d be nice to think that the earth moves and the angels sing when you’ve found The One, sometimes the signals that you two are truly meant for each other are much more subtle than that. Here are seven dead giveaways that singles often miss—know that if you spot one or more of them on your next date, that’s good news.
Subtle sign #1: You turn into a total klutz
So far, you’ve dropped your fork and knocked over your water glass…and that’s before the entrées have arrived. While embarrassing, these gaffes are actually a good sign. “When you have serious chemistry, your body produces elevated levels of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine,” says Helen Fisher, Ph.D., research professor of anthropology at Rutgers University. This, in turn, can make you jittery, uncoordinated, and a little accident-prone. And if you’re embarrassed by your klutziness, that’s a good sign, too! Because if you don’t care what your date thinks of you, you probably don’t think much of your date.
Subtle sign #2: You notice a tiny dent in your date’s pinkie nail
Or that your date’s hair flips up on the left but under on the right. You’ve never noticed something like that about a person before, so why now? Because when there’s true chemistry, the body’s levels of the chemical dopamine rise and lead to “imprinting,” a theory of attachment discovered by German ethologist and Nobel Prize winner Niko Tinbergen. This imprinting makes you focus on this one person more clearly and notice the tiniest, most insignificant details about a person—and their possessions. Says Dr. Fisher, “His car in the parking lot looks different. His backpack looks different. His coat on the coat rack stands out. Everything about him is special, novel, unique.”
Subtle sign #3: You agree to split the spinach dip appetizer—and you don’t even like spinach dip!
True chemistry makes us more mellow than usual—so don’t be surprised if you find yourself being agreeable with your date in ways you might not with anyone else: You don’t mind walking 10 blocks with your date from your parking spot. You’re suddenly up for seeing a Corky Romano movie. And even though you’re not a fan of Indian food, what the heck, you’ll give it another shot. “When you’re falling in love, you more easily surrender your boundaries because of a strong desire to merge with that person,” explains Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., author of Keeping the Love You Find.
Subtle sign #4: The room you’re in seems brighter than usual
Did someone nudge up the dimmer switch? Perhaps. But it could also mean you’re smitten, thanks to a physiological reaction discovered by University of Chicago biopsychologist Eckhard Hess, a pioneer in the area of “pupillometrics.” In short, Hess found that when people look at something or someone that causes positive feelings or sparks interest, their pupils dilate in an attempt to take in more of it, also letting in more light as well.
Subtle sign #5: You’re more fidgety during the date
If you find yourself tapping your leg or otherwise fidgeting during the date, rest assured: Whether you fully know it or not, you like this person. “These are ‘displacement gestures’—what you do when you’re trying to decide what to do with yourself,” explains Dr. Fisher. “If someone is smiling at you and you can’t decide if you should smile back or look away, you play with your hair. Or you run your tongue along your teeth.” This happens because your brain is over-stimulated, leading you to vent the extra energy with a little self-grooming. Some experts even argue that stroking your own arm or leg indicates a subconscious desire to reach out and touch the person you’re with.
Subtle sign #6: You keep forgetting there’s food on the table
When you’re out with someone who doesn’t float your boat, boy, do those garlic mashed potatoes taste good. But if you’re feeling a chemical attraction to someone, the food being served is the last thing on your mind—and not just because you’re nervous. Blame this on elevated levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which fuels feelings of desire. Higher levels of dopamine, according to Dr. Fisher, “give you a feeling of lightness, increased energy and a feeling of minor ecstasy. And you’re definitely not hungry!” So if your date seems disappointed that you only ate four bites of your steak, you can clear it up later by explaining what a five-star sign it really is.
Subtle sign #7: You feel more “familiar” with your date than “lusty”
Sure, most people think it’s a good sign when they want to jump over the table and rip their date’s clothes off. But let’s be honest—there are plenty of acquaintances you’ve wanted to do that to, and there was no deeper, underlying chemistry there. A stronger sign is that instead of feeling lust for your date, you’re overwhelmed by a feeling of familiarity—a sense of, “Gosh, I feel like I’ve known you before.” The chemistry at work, says Dr. Hendrix, “is due to the emotional center in your brain’s limbic system recognizing qualities in the person that resemble qualities about the caretakers we had during childhood.” For example, a man might recognize a feeling of being at ease and nurtured the way his mother made him feel. A woman might feel comfortable with the dry humor of her date, similar to the way her father interacted with her. “This intense familiarity triggers the release of dopamine, which can lead to that ‘Wow’ feeling,” explains Dr. Hendrix. Oh, and by this point, it’s also definitely OK to want to jump over the table and rip your date’s clothes off!
New York City-based writer Amy Spencer has contributed to Glamour, Maxim, New York and Real Simple.
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