When Conversation Stirs Chemistry — When To Go All-In And When To Stop Talking

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Woman speaks with man over coffee

In my new red trench coat, I walked alone into a posh Georgetown party without specific expectations. But I felt ready for a small adventure.

Leaning against the fireplace mantel was a short man with dark, regular features. He stared intently at me. Wow, I thought; he seems pretty arrogant. 

Since the party had been in motion a while, I made my way to the buffet toward the back. When I returned to the living room with my plate of food, the only place to sit was next to Mr. Arrogant.

Surprisingly, we fell into an intense conversation ranging from transistors to politics. I was a young diplomat at the time, Richard had a New York Times byline.

Although we used similar skills for our work, I found his profession impressive and kinda sexy.

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The conversation

As the conversation continued through a range of topics, I felt engaged and stimulated. There was also a frisson of excitement and mutual interest.

Though the content of the conversation was not suggestive in itself, the eye contact, flow, attention to what I said, as well as mutual interest certainly was. With effective listening and sequencing of in-depth themes, the intense conversation itself felt almost erotic to me.

Toward the end of the evening, Richard said “my place or yours?” Sounding out of a novel, his frankness did not surprise me given my initial impression. I suggested that we go to a local piano bar. That was my idea of safety and sophistication at the time.

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The relationship

As with some relationships, dating and greater involvement over some time was neither linear nor consistent. Yet it remained interesting and stimulating to me. I was hooked by our conversation, his status and the people such as Nora Ephron at parties we attended.

But eventually, the relationship lost some heat and dwindled from irregularity and other reasons I will spare you. I remember clearly, though, the last time we were together was ironically mostly silent, with little energy and engagement.

That was at his dramatic home near the Calvert Cliffs at the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. Since Richard drove me there for a long weekend, I was dependent on him for transportation back to Washington.

I lacked the courage to be frank about what was bothering me about the situation over time and while we were at his home. When he gave me the first Christmas present over the years, I did not open it. Instead, I threw the package on his sofa in a fit of pique as we were leaving.

During the long drive home, I finally mustered my courage to tell him what was on my mind. I don’t remember his saying much. Maybe that was because my clear frustration and anger was not something he was willing to talk through or past. What I said could have closed the door, in fact. Perhaps he realized the relationship was losing steam.

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The coda

For too long, I succumbed to holding important issues to myself and avoiding addressing them incrementally.

By then, I felt too much frustration and resentment. The energy of engaging conversation was only occasional; the trust in and hope about potential felt fleeting.

Ultimately and poignantly, the fear of risking the relationship by being open contributed to its end, even though broaching issues sooner may have as well. Either way, time, energy and the quality of experience suffered. There was no fun.

Converse to contribute to your better choices

Be suspicious of initial chemistry not supported by the risk and trust of openness. Instead, sow the seeds of sustaining it by risking what may inhibit you: the fear of loss.

What brought you together may shift over time in any event. Anthropologist and expert on romantic love, Helen Fisher, suggests initial sexual attraction wanes after about two years anyway.

Be suspicious of initial sapiosexual excitement based on externals such as the other person’s work, intellect, lifestyle, connections, appearance and importance — or any combination.

Begin to wonder about what keeps you in a relationship even when the initial frisson and excitement wanes, especially when replaced with unaddressed emotional issues and even comfortable routines. Perhaps that’s a hint that the glue that keeps you connected may be attached to weak scaffolding.

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Deeper learning from exploring within

As I plumbed just what the glue was that kept me connected to Richard, I thought further back in time before I met him. Then, I remembered unfinished “business” and patterns from my past.

Here are the three imprints of physical, emotional, experiential and intellectual influences I uncovered.

1. My main connection with my serious, brilliant father was intellectual, the exploration of ideas and information.

Did that set me up for sapiosexual attraction?

2. Another male influence was my Uncle Dick, by marriage. He was also a dark-featured guy who felt more attentive, though very intermittently, than my father.

He gave me spontaneous gifts such as paying for airfare to return home for a holiday from my work abroad. Dick even gave me his cashmere sweater off his back when I admired it. He drank heavily, as did Richard.

3. Then there was my short, dark-featured high school English teacher, HR Shaw. He encouraged me to explore and express myself without inhibition in class as well as in writing.

I felt as though he “got me.” One example was a poem he may have written for someone else that he wrote in my yearbook when I went back to him, complaining that “good luck” was not enough. “Quiet fire, hot flame, a mind of light, and permanent warmth.”

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Your next steps

I hope you’ll use this story to explore the people who imprinted your life. For example, who and what influenced your behaviors, tendencies and choices in romantic and sexual relationships

What patterns of communication and risk-taking do you notice, repetitive or reactionary?

Based on your insights, what specifically would you do differently now as you choose and communicate with people who intrigue and have potential meaning for you? To avoid overwhelming yourself, identify a few key behaviors and decisions.

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Ruth Schimel Ph.D. is a career and life management consultant and author of the Choose Courage series on Amazon. She guides clients in accessing their strengths and making viable visions for current and future work.