Chemistry is real. Some pairings do feel special fast. On her second date with the man that later became her husband, Leslie, a 53-year-old editor, admits she just felt he “smelled right.” He soon told her he felt the same way. “It’s so fundamental we have it inscribed in our wedding rings—‘I love your sniff.’ We have gone through some terrible fights and difficulties together, but even during our worst times, if we breathe each other in, we reconnect. We both work at home, I sometimes have to be careful to keep a little physical distance, because if we smell each other, we might end up in bed. We’ve been married six years, together seven, and we probably make love on average 10 times a week.” Wow.
But there may be something to this. It’s said that scent alerts one’s consciousness to the best mates for baby-making. Among the genes controlling the immune system are a group called the major histocompatibility complex (MHC). Our bodies look for MHC that’s dissimilar to our own in an ideal partner.
In one study, when 49 women took a whiff of six different men’s two-day-old T-shirts, the ones they preferred most had MHC that was unlike their own. Women taking the pill were the exception, the study found. Men’s saliva may also contain traces of testosterone, which can increase the sex drive in a woman, suggesting that kissing is kind of a catalyst for sexual chemistry.
“It’s probably happened to me three times in my life,” says Mary, a 55-year-old website designer. “Your heart skips a beat, and they smell nice and you can’t keep your hands off of them. One man was short, fat, bald and a slow runner—but boy, I could not keep away from him.” For the last two years, Mary has been dating a man with whom she had terrific chemistry in high school. “Thirty-five years later, I saw him and I thought, it’s still there.”
Romance isn’t necessary. Ideal chemistry isn’t the only hallmark of a good, lasting sexual relationship, psychologists say. “Those who are intensely in love from the outset are only slightly more likely to have a good relationship,” says Aron. “Talk to anyone in India, where arranged marriages are the norm, and they’ll tell you it’s possible to grow to love someone.”
Psychologist Robert Epstein, a former editor-in-chief of “Psychology Today,” argues that “almost any two people who feel at least some attraction for each other and who don’t have too many deal breakers can work together to build psychological, romantic and physical intimacy that will get stronger over time.”
Aron says that couples can succeed if they communicate well, are in reasonable mental health and not under too much stress. Happiness is important at the beginning of marriage, but communication is key to being able to maintain that happiness over time, he explains. Arons’ research pinpoints boredom, not lack of chemistry, as a marriage killer. To keep things exciting, keep doing new, fun and unexpected things together, he says.
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