I went on a first date the other night with someone I met on a dating site. I thought the date was pretty great. Conversation was easy and flowing, we seemed to genuinely like each other, we smiled a lot and laughed several times, and we found that we had a lot in common. I had even decided that I would give him my cell phone number if he asked, which is a huge leap of trust for me. I thought we had made a connection worth pursuing. I wanted to see him again, and was expecting him to say the same. But at the end of the evening, as we prepared to part ways, he said, “I really like you and I’ve really enjoyed talking to you, but I don’t feel a spark so I don’t want to pursue this any further.” I was quite taken aback and stopped listening, but I think he said something about how I have so much to offer and I’ll find the right person and he wishes me well and yada, yada, yada. And then he hugged me and walked away.
I appreciated his honesty and directness, but ultimately I was left quite bewildered.
I don’t know how this seemingly all-important “spark” has reached mythical status in the online dating world, but I know I’ve heard about it from numerous men I’ve dated (although never quite so directly). I told my sister about the strange ending to my date and she said, “Sparks can come later once you get to know each other better.” Yes, exactly! That’s what I’ve always thought too. But I have dated several men who seem to think if there’s not this immediate lightning bolt of attraction the moment you meet, then that means there’s nothing worth pursuing.
Honestly, I’ve met only a handful of people in my life that I’ve had those immediate fireworks with, so that sets the bar pretty damn high. What I have observed and experienced is that the typical human will be immediately and powerfully attracted to about three out of one hundred people, which leaves ninety-seven others—many of whom I’m sure are really lovely people—out in the cold. You enjoy the same things, have similar values, laugh at each other’s jokes, your personalities mesh, and you’re on the same wavelength. But, dammit, that “spark” seems to be missing, so you disregard all the other positive signs, bid that person adieu, and move on. That seems like a colossal mistake to me.
Sure, that intense attraction is lovely when you encounter it. That hit of pure hormonal chemistry, or whatever it is, can be intoxicating. But this kind of chemistry is not a predictor of love, a precursor of love, an indication of relationship longevity, or even really all that important. In my observation, the relationships that last are based on qualities other than chemistry. As my sister said, sparks can come later. What’s really important is much more nuanced than that.
Shouldn’t the yardstick be more about shared values, genuine caring, compatibility, great conversations, similar senses of humor, etc.? Is this the person you want at your side when you lose your job, your dog dies, or you’re so sick you can’t get out of bed? Sparks mean nothing when it comes to real life. When life sucks, what matters is whether or not you have a real partnership, whether or not you have real love.
I believe that sparks can come later, as you explore your deepening connection—your similarities, your differences, your beliefs, your life experiences. There is something quite lovely about discovering each other, slowly and deliciously, and realizing one day that like has turned to love and the “spark” has materialized all on its own —not because of animal magnetism, but because of real feelings.
Yes, sparks can come right away, but they can also fade with time. Sparks are also, ahem, superficial. They tell you there’s attraction, but they don’t tell you anything about the other person’s heart. Can you love—really love—the other person, warts and all, and can he or she love you? Sparks haven’t the slightest idea. They just know there’s chemistry. True love is a discovery process, while sparks are immediate, shallow, often ephemeral, and ultimately meaningless.
Let me tell you a story. Years ago I worked with a particular person. Our jobs required us to spend a lot of time together, and soon this person and I realized that we really liked each other and we became friends outside of work. As we spent more time together, I became aware that there was a powerful, almost palpable, sexual attraction between us. It was very clear that my friend felt it too. We were both coupled so we did nothing about it, but every time we got together, this attraction was almost a living thing between us. It was alternately exciting and uncomfortable. Eventually, my friend got a different job and we did not continue the friendship. I saw this person a few years later at a conference and we stopped to catch up. I was shocked to realize that the chemistry between us was…gone. We were both the same people, but the chemistry had vaporized. Where had it gone? I had no idea—I just knew it had disappeared. Although It was a very bizarre experience, my point is that chemistry can be evanescent. It comes and it goes. But true love endures. Sometimes a spark can lead to love, but love can also grow without that initial spark if you nurture it and give it time. And a spark does not mean that love will naturally follow. So to reject someone out of hand for this reason alone seems very shortsighted to me.
Yes, I get it. We are all busy and we rely on that initial spark to tell us who we want to spend our precious time with. But what if we’re leaving something really amazing on the table when we reject someone solely because we weren’t struck by lightning the moment we set eyes on them?
I think the guy I went on the date with did just that—left something amazing on the table because of something he believed was missing and could never be found. I guess it’s just as well, because I don’t want to be with someone with so little imagination and depth.
Decide what is truly important to you. Is that immediate spark what really matters for the long haul? Is that the foundation you want for a meaningful, loving, and lasting relationship? Or will the stronger foundation be built on a genuine connection that will grow and blossom over time into real love and a true spark? I know which one is important to me.
Image courtesy of Erwan Hesry on Unsplash