What comes first: chemistry or friendship?

What is the most important ingredient in a brand new relationship: chemistry or friendship?


On a recent Sunday, a gaggle of my friends and I discussed what is the most important ingredient in a brand new relationship: chemistry or friendship? Jo, a successful wine importer, was adamant: If there’s no chemistry, forget it. I have plenty of friends. I am looking for a new life partner.”

Wendy, a graphic designer, twice divorced and now happily remarried, said that she and her husband were great friends for more than a year when they realized that their relationship had blossomed into love. “My first two marriages started with instant attraction that seemed to overshadow all other considerations. We really had no basis for building a solid relationship.”

We researched various singles surveys starting with the statistics from the US Census Bureau focus on singles above 18 and learned some startling facts:

  • 109 million people are classified as single, which is 45% of all US residents; 53% women and 47% men.
  • 63% have never married.
  • 24% are divorced, and 13% are widowed.
  • 19 million are 65 or over, constituting 18% of all singles.
  • 59 million households or 47% nationwide are maintained by singles.
  • 35 million people live alone, 28% nationwide.

Clearly these numbers indicate there are plenty of singles out there. So the issue is how to find your one-and-only!

At this point, we decided to create a road map for singles to help others find their treasured partner. Here is our credo that will lead to success:

The first step is to identify what you really want. Are you looking for...

  • A friend you trust and share all kind of events with, but remain just friends?
  • A relationship that includes sexual contact, but neither of you is ready to commit to or contemplate marriage?
  • A partner wanting a committed relationship and/or marriage?

Once you figure out what your needs and expectations are, you’re a big step closer to finding him or her. 

Research shows that at least half of all singles in the over-forty category seek a partner to go to the movies, travel, talk, share meals with. It is the friendship connection that makes life more fun and more meaningful. When we looked at sexual practices among the Boomer set, we found a very high percentage of both single women and men had had no sexual activity for many months. So how important is “good sex” in a mature relationship? Is it really an important building block, as is often stated?

According to John Gottman PhD in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, “The chance of a first marriage ending in divorce over a forty-year period is 67%. Half of these divorces occur in the first seven years of marriage.” And few will be surprised to learn that the majority of second marriages don’t last either.

What’s the missing ingredient? In Another Chance for Love – Finding a Partner Later in Life, Sol Gordon, PhD and longtime relationship expert, suggests that developing an intimate friendship before romance is the key to a lasting relationship. “What does matter is the active pursuit of closeness to another person. It is about finding your way to a best friend first, which may then evolve into a love relationship, marriage, or committed friendship,” he writes.

I believe there are no absolute answers. But I find that the dynamics for building a lasting love or intimate friendship are really quite similar. Both blossom when we are able to communicate openly and honestly, when we share values and common interests, have realistic expectations, pursue similar lifestyles, and learn to respect and trust each other. To me that is the magic formula for finding and nurturing the gift of friendship or love.


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