We can’t identify it, can’t describe it, recreate it, or understand it, and yet we believe it is an unequivocally essential element of any relationship.
Yes, folks, I am referring to the infamous “spark.” Also less commonly referred to as “chemistry.”
Disclaimer: never having put much stock in the “spark,” I’m liable to treat the subject in a more cavalier manner than is typical for me.
Anytime we admit that we don’t fully comprehend a concept (the spark) , but then insist that we do understand a specific element of it (that it is absolutely essential to relationships), I’m skeptical. If we admit that we don’t understand it, aren’t we also admitting that we do not understand the role that in plays in our lives and interactions with others? We can’t have it both ways. Yet we continue to insist on that inherent contradiction because we like the romantic mystery it brings to romantic encounters that we don’t want to understand it, and we like it so much that we aren’t willing to give it up by admitting complete ignorance.
Let me propose of an explanation of this romantic lubricant: when someone flatters us in just the right ways, it tickles us, gets us giddy like schoolchildren, and in that state of mind, we’re high as kites, jonesing to see our special person again. In large part, the spark is what happens when two people use each other in exactly the way they crave, like scratching a good itch.
To be fair, we don’t often realize that we’re using each other. On the other hand, we don’t want to realize it. It feels too good momentarily. Take two people completely starved of any real substantial love in their lives, and if the girl bats her eyes prettily enough and they guy showers her with enough masculine attention, in the eternal words of Taylor Swift, “Sparks fly.”
Am I saying that the spark is a bad thing? Not necessarily. I am saying that our priorities are jumbled. The world is packed to the brim of potential mates cute enough, witty enough, and capable enough with constructing compliments that it’s a veritable furnace. Forget one measly spark.
Sometimes we do just genuinely like some people more than others. Conversation is flows more easily, we don’t have to over-exert ourselves and it just seems like we’ve known them forever. Even with friends this distinction exists. It should just be way, way down the list of things we look for in the people we associate with.
By far the most important quality in friends we choose and spouses we pick is a willingness to learn. With that as a foundation, anything else can be worked out as a matter of mere detail. I have friends that I am significantly more awkward around, just as a result of our particular idiosyncrasies. And yet we manage to have fulfilling relationships and they continue to enrich my life in a number of ways: offering me support, helping learn lessons through the examples of their own lives, etc. On the other hand there were people I met with whom the banter was great but any real substance or concern for my well-being was entirely lacking. You can judge which was more rewarding.
I am also not saying that we have to give up every romantic notion in order to enter into a healthy marriage. On the contrary, I am saying that when we establish a healthy marriage, romance can then be learned. In fact, if we really have a wholesome relationship where our sole goal is to learn to care about the other person to the best of our ability, romance becomes inevitable.
I knew Oliver for an entire year before we started dating and I knew him from a distance as a really funny douchebag that I’d like to befriend but that probably hated me. The circumstances surrounding us dating and eventually marrying are as far from romantic as is humanly possible. I won’t go into the details, but look how it turned out. I love Oliver. I eagerly look forward to seeing him every day and cherish all of our time together. Every day we care about each other more and more, developing a stronger connection through each trial and each joy. How could a deep intimacy possibly not flourish under those conditions?
When our primary concern is for what enjoyment we will personally derive from a relationship, the spark is paramount. When we decide to live differently than almost all the rest of the world and focus on how we can learn to care about another human being, the spark can come later.