Ahhh the age-old question: How important is chemistry in a friendship?
I love this question, but something tells me you’re not going to love my answer.
Is Chemistry Necessary?
What you secretly hope I’m going to tell you is that it’s super important and that you’ll know in the first hour, or 5 minutes, of meeting someone whether you two could develop an awesome friendship.
You want me to say that because then it lets you of the hook for not yet having the all the good friendships you crave; you can just shrug and say, “Well I just haven’t met them yet, apparently.” You want me to say that because your ego wants to believe it’s a fabulous judge of character and that like a good casting agent, it knows exactly who you’re most likely to bond with down the road. You want me to say that because you grew up believing that a good friendship is more about finding the right people than anything else.
But, give me a few moments of your time, and I’ll tell you why you’re going to be far happier telling you that initial chemistry doesn’t matter nearly as much as you think it does.
What is Chemistry, Really?
Chemistry perhaps can best be defined as that moment when we realize that “click” with someone else. And to “click” usually means we feel a meaningful connection of some kind with another person. And often we think that the more quickly we feel it– the more genuine it must be.
Anyone who has dated remembers that there are some people you felt an instant attraction to who ended up going nowhere; and we all know people we’ve come to love who we wouldn’t have been able to guess initially.
Similarly in friendship, we all have evidence of at least one woman we adored, but then never saw again, proving that chemistry isn’t enough to create a friendship; and at least one friendship, usually someone we met at school or work where the frequency of interaction was automatic, that we ended up bonding with even though we wouldn’t have been able to initially guess we would have. In other words, think of some of your closest friends and try to image just meeting them at a coffee shop as strangers the first time, not knowing anything about them– would you be so blown away by every single one of them, convinced you needed to see them again soon? Not likely. Especially if your life looks too different from theirs. We love them now because we had the time to get to know them.
So we know that meaningful friendships get started without initial chemistry; and we know that having initial chemistry doesn’t automatically translate into developing a friendship.
But How Will I Know Who I’ll Bond With?
We also know from social science that we aren’t that great of predicting who we’re going to bond with or not. We think we need someone else who votes for same political party, is a member of the same religious system, dresses similarly to us, or is in a similar life stage as we are; but hard data bears out that it doesn’t matter at all what parts of our lives are similar to each other, only that we end up finding those similarities.
The Brafman Brothers who co-wrote the book Click share research that reveals people bond more deeply over quantity of perceived similarities than over quality. In other words, the number of similarities matters more than the content of those similarities. They wrote,
“Sharing a strong dislike of fast food, for example, was just as powerful of a predictor of attraction as favoring the same political party.”
What we consider as the “big” thing we think we need to have in common isn’t as effective at bonding us as having two or three “small” things in common. They said,
“You’d think that people who share the same religious convictions and political views, for example, would be more likely to hit it off than those who share only similar tastes in films and music… but it didn’t matter at all which topics underlay the similarity—it was the degree of similarity that was important.”
Crazy, huh? Of course now some of you might be thinking, “But everyone I’m close to is so similar to me… they’re the ones I felt chemistry with.” And indeed, if you look around at all your friends and they are similar to you then you’d be tempted to think that’s how it works. But if all your friends are the same political party, race, religion, and life stage as you are then it could just mean you’ve limited who you’ve been willing to try to bond with because you believed you needed those similarities?
Some of the other research they share reveals that more often than not we end up becoming closest friends simply with those we see most often. At one military base they tracked all the cadets to see whether they ended up bonding with others based what region of the country that came from (did Southerners gravitate to other Southerners?), what ethnic group they identified with (did Asians tend to friend other Asians?), or what life stage they were at (Did married cadets hang out more with other marrieds?). Their findings? They ended up becoming closest to others based on their last names. Because they were seated in alphabetical order– the cadets bonded most with those they sat next to all the time. We can think we know who we’re drawn to, but in reality it usually comes down to liking those we become most familiar with an who we have the greatest chances of seeing most frequently.
So… we don’t have to have this initial chemistry. And, we often don’t even know what qualities will bond us as much as we like to think we do.
What Do We Need to Know About Chemistry
In short– I’ll say this: It is important that you eventually like each other and feel connected to each other. So, yes, chemistry is important in that sense. But we don’t have to feel it instantly, nor do we have to be limited by our false beliefs of what we need to have in common with each other.
We are actually able to bond with far more people than we think we can! And that’s good news! It means you don’t have to sit and wait for the “perfect person” to show up (who more often than not you think will look like your twin!) and you don’t have to feel giddy with an instant girl crush to prove there is potential!
Instead, you get to be friendly with everyone and trust that as you keep getting to know people and finding the surprising things you have in common with each other– that eventually some of those friendly relationships will develop into meaningful friendships! And in my humble opinion, that is far greater news! It means we’re not victims just left to waiting and hoping that this exact .0001% of the population needs to find us; rather, we are women who can choose to develop meaningful relationships from nearly any of the women we meet!