Dear Dr. G.,
I am really stuck and need your help badly. I am a 49-year-old woman and don't know how to answer my 17-year-old daughter's question. You always suggest that we answer our teen's questions about sensitive topics and that these provide us with great talking and teaching moments, but I don't know the answer. My daughter is going on a teen trip for the summer where she will be in the company of teen boys and girls from different states. She is so excited about this trip, but in between talking about what to pack, how much money to take and other easier questions, she threw in "Mom, what causes chemistry between a man and a woman? Or two teenagers?" She meant romantic and sexual chemistry. I told my daughter that I would gather some info and get back to her. I told her that I'd write to you. She and I read your column together, so please help us with this answer. And, please hurry, I'm nervous about what may happen if I give her bad answers.
A Clueless Mother
This is hands down one of the most difficult questions to answer in words. We feel chemistry. We know when it washes over our helpless bodies, but explaining exactly what the factors are that create chemistry is a very tricky task. Nonetheless, I will do my best to help you and your teen daughter with this question.
There are many theories about what creates chemistry which describe factors like smell, appearance, attractiveness, humor, familiarity, etc. I will, however, go out on a limb here and try to explain my own theory of what the ingredients are that create romantic chemistry. First, I believe that two people need to be attuned to one another on many levels. They need to "get" each other. They need to understand what makes the other person light up like a brightly burning candle, what gives the other person pleasure and a warm and glowing feeling. Also important is to be aware of what distresses your partner and to try very hard to be sensitive. We tend to be attracted and feel chemistry with people who make us feel good. If we feel chemistry with people who hurt us, then that is a matter to discuss in therapy. Romance should be a positive and healthy part of our lives.
Your daughter should also know that we tend to become interested in people who have similar interests to us. Many people will tell you that they started to fall in love when they discovered that they had the same taste in music, literature, or even art with someone who caught their eye.
Having said this, it is important that your daughter and other teens realize that we need to be careful with romantic chemistry. There are members of the opposite sex who may not have your daughter's best interests at heart, but may instead have access to her body in mind who may attempt to seduce her into feeling like she is in love. These people and I believe and hope that they are in the minority may tell her that she is just lovely, the most incredible young woman that they have ever met, and may pretend to delight in all of her opinions and jokes but who may not be authentic. I strongly encourage you to tell your daughter to get to know a person's patterns and personality style before she falls hopelessly in love and becomes awash in a sea of hormones.
I am not trying to be a killjoy or a wet blanket. I do believe, however, that when talking to your daughter about what creates chemistry, you should also talk to her about the importance of being protective of her tender feelings. It seems like she wants to experience romance, and who can blame her? All of the great literature and poetry is about love, right? And yes, the summer and the warm breezy weather do set the context for all things to bloom including romance. Yours is a very timely question.